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Building Community Leadership—One Woman at a Time

Leadership Exchange Holds Workshops

UMass Lowell Image
Youth participants in the Justice Today event included, from left, Angelica Torres, Brian Montero-Ford and Bianca Peña. They developed an action plan to improve positive community awareness in Lawrence.

By Sandra Seitz

Put a bunch of smart people in a room and good things can happen. 

Mix experienced community leaders with youth, eager to make a difference, and those good things can change a city. 

Connect international women leaders with each other and the results can change the world.

The Women’s Leadership Exchange takes this mission as its own. Funded by a Creative Economy grant from the UMass President’s Office and housed in UMass Lowell’s Peace and Conflict Studies program, the exchange aims to build leadership.

“Societies that are good for women are known to be good societies for everyone,” says Prof. Paula Rayman, director of Peace and Conflict Studies. “According to the Cairo United Nations Conference on Women, the most important indicator of a country's economic security is women's literacy. Our workshops on leadership best practices should have a positive impact on the economic and social development of communities.”

Workshops Teach Leadership
The Women’s Leadership Exchange (WLE) is holding a series of three leadership workshops in different areas of the commonwealth.

Justice Today, held on Martin Luther King Day, brought together adult and youth leaders in Lawrence for a day of discussion and community action planning, with a focus on the issues and experiences of youth. The event was hosted by Movement City, a youth group within the nonprofit Lawrence CommunityWorks that is active in the arts, academic support, leadership and civic engagement.

The panel of adults — representing such diverse occupations as teacher, filmmaker, youth worker and lawyer — discussed the wide range of problems that cause inequality. The teen participants spoke about living in Lawrence, about the negative portrayals of their city and how being immigrants can make family and school life difficult in significant ways. 

Following the presentations, working groups developed action plans for community improvement.

“With a strong community and support from others, we can accomplish anything,” says Angelica Torres, 17, about what she had learned during the workshop. 

The second workshop, WORD (Women Organizing a Real Difference), is being held in collaboration with the Lowell Community Health Center on Saturday, March 10. It will bring together teen and adult women for presentations and discussion on community activism. 

Men Take a Stand 2012 is the last of the series, co-sponsored by the Boston Women’s Fund. On Wednesday, March 21, the evening event will honor men who support women’s leadership and promote the prevention of violence against women. The recipients of this year's Social Justice in Action awards are Jarrett Barrios, David Moy and Paul Marcus. 

The Worldwide Wisdom of Women
A year ago, UMass Lowell convened the International Women Leaders’ Summit on Security through Economic and Social Development. The group of 18 notable women leaders came from seven countries, including Colombia, Egypt, Israel, Liberia, Northern Ireland, South Africa and the United States. 

“These women leaders pooled their collective wisdom and identified the key characteristics of successful economic and social development,” says Rayman. 

The result was published as The Lowell Declaration, to be distributed as part of the WLE project.

WLE also plans to develop an online network for sustained partnerships and mentoring.