Hey changemaker, who’s got your back?

By Anj Handa. Photo credit Roth Read Photography.

When I launched Inspiring Women Changemakers at the end of 2016, my aim was, and still is, to give changemakers the skills, connections and the launchpad to make change.

Connections are crucial to changemaking. By this I mean true, gritty changemaking that is rarely comfortable, rather than the kind of surface activism and light-touch empowerment and awareness campaigns you often see across social media.

You may face challenge, resistance, trolling or even suffer income or career setbacks as a result of your campaigning work. Haters gonna hate. It can be painful – but not as painful as it is for those impacted by the issue you are working so hard to change. So, it helps when you have people to support you with your mission in various ways.

The Value of your Connections

I learned the true value of having supportive connections during the thick of my Change.org campaign in 2014. There were people I didn’t know before I began the campaign who stepped up – the pro bono legal team (Felicity Gerry, Bhumika Parmar and Helen Duffy) and the Change.org team (John Coventry and Kat Sladden). My charity partners (Louise Robinson at 28 Too Many, and Heather Nelson at BHI) and media contacts (Hillary Burrage and Mary Carson). And last but not least, Lizzie Spring, who hopped on a train from London to Leeds to offer her help with fundraising.

Then there was my friend Pria Bhabra, who introduced me to Afusat, the woman on whose behalf I campaigned. She’s a consistent source of love and information. There’s my former business partner, Dr Jean Garrod and husband Tony, who helped with the laborious work of compiling multiple copies of legal bundles. Jean was also the co-author of the report The Scale of FGM in Leeds. And our friend, Ian Temple, then recently retired from Red Cross in the North helped too.

Other people who connected with me then are still social media friends today: Claire Marie Waldon, Jen Cooper, Mike Coulson and many more. And especially Liz Wright, who moved into my spare room four years ago and stayed!

Lack of support from your nearest and dearest

Then there were those that I hoped would have my back but were not supportive or encouraging. My family, who were resistant because they wanted me to be secure and to focus on my business.

Close friends who wanted my time and were upset that I was unavailable or distracted because of the intensity of the campaign. And others in my outer circle who couldn’t understand why I was so vocal about this cause.

Some behaved in hurtful ways, such as the friend whom I tried to invite to my birthday party via Facebook, only to discover that she’d unfriended me. When I called to ask her why, she didn’t pick up but sent a text to say that being associated with me might be damaging to her lucrative contract with the Department for Work and Pensions.

*As if* a senior-level, well-connected white woman really needed to worry about that. The truth was more likely that she found the conversations too uncomfortable.

Or the two ‘female empowerment coaches’ round for dinner who asked me about Female Genital Mutilation but then mouthed “So serious” to each other when I replied. What can I say, it’s a serious subject and cookie-cutter coaching isn’t my style.

When you’re supported by and collaborating with those that ‘get it’, it can be fun even when the subject matter is tough. Just ask our Domestic and Sexual Abuse Steering Group, who get some much out of sharing expertise and discovering insights when they meet over tea and snacks.

Facilitating difficult conversations

At home, my housemate Liz is a Paralympian and disability campaigner. Over the last four years, we’ve had challenging and thought-provoking conversations about race, disability and intersectionality and we’ve both grown as a result.

We feel that to get to inclusion, we need to try as hard as we can. To dig deep, be willing to hear truths you don’t want to hear or believe, asking what you can do and then following through.

In fact, we have so much to say about this, that we would like to invite you to join our free webinar on Friday 5th June 2020, where we will share our key learning points and how to hold uncomfortable conversations about the lives and rights of minorities. Join us!

Inspiring Women Changemakers is a dynamic movement of people working to make the world a fairer, safer place for women. We give changemakers the communication skills, platform and connections to amplify change.

Bring your heart, your brainpower and your connections – join us!