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Federation Conference Report Newcastle/Gateshead 31st October to 2nd November 2013.

The theme of this year’s conference was “From Vision to Action, - Soroptimist Educating to lead - Educate, Empower Enable”.  Being good Soroptimists, we Educated ourselves by attending the conference, we Empowered ourselves at night by sampling the Wine, which Enabled us to have a great weekend. For those of us that made the journey to Newcastle/Gateshead, it will be a weekend that we will remember for a while.  We made the most of the weekend, late nights and early mornings. 

The opening ceremony was on the Thursday night, and we were entertained by State Express Five, which really was six.  They played plenty of music from the 60s and 70s, something we could all identify with, which says something about the age profile of the large attendance at the conference.

The Friday morning was cold but sunny which was perfect for the Red Square Event, which was to hightlight and make people more aware of Endometriosis.  Then Andrea Wood gave a talk entitled Sex, drugs and hot water bottles. Living with Endometriosis. This was followed by Marie, Lady Stubbs, “Ahead of the Class” She said that she was delighted to be here for and that her work at St. George’s school encompasses all the values that Pat Black declared in her vision. The main points raised by this speaker were the all organisations are trying to turn vision into action. And her three Key words were,
Dreams – Thinking together
Keys – Engage everyone to deliver the promise
Teeth – Beware of people who will let you down.

Soroptimist International President Ann Garvie came on stage to the sound of Chariots of Fire, Ann wants to be and plans to be a chariot of fire – but we all need to be on the chariot. She has chosen “See Solar, Cook Solar” for her International President’s Appeal. Can you imagine finding time to earn your living if you had to spend hours every day collecting fire wood? Or how would study with no electric light in the evening? She has chosen to support projects providing women with education on renewable sources of energy and solar cookers and lanterns.  To kick start the campaign, Ann has pledged £1,000.00 and agreed to do a sky dive, she is looking for sponsorship.

SI Europe Federation President Ulla Madsen, spoke about SI Europe’s green theme, showing us that although from different federations, our Soroptimist aims are the same. We must talk, work and act green.

Programme Resolutions.

Resolution 1. Modern Day Slavery.  This Resolution was passed 96% for, 2% against and 2% abstained.

Resolution 2. Endometriosis.  This Resolution was passed 75% for, 20% against and 5% abstained.

General Meeting.

Capitation will be increased by 10% for Bands 1, 2 and 3. Band 4 will be increased by the rate of inflation.

Resolutions 1 2 and 3 were all passed once they were all amended and Resolution 4 was withdrawn.

On Saturday morning we were all up early as Sarah was presenting our National Project, Suicide Prevention, and Positive Mental Health.  Sarah’s presentation was very well received but it was the Northern Ireland Project Mums for Mums that won in our category.  Afterwards we were told that they were not aware about how detailed our National Project was and what we were doing as the famous Program Focus Reports were not completed.  Tess has being telling us for the past number of years to complete the reports and after the conference we all realised how important these reports are.  Even that we did not win an award, to have been nominated and to have had the opportunity to present our National Project at the Conference was a fantastic achievement.

Other projects were also presented on the Saturday morning and the Programme Awards were as follows;

Overall SIGBI Programme Award winners for 2013 were SI Thames Valley for their Kori Project

SIGBI Programme Award – Learning Opportunities SI Barnstable, Knockers for Knowledge.

SIGBI Programme Award – Violence & Conflict Resolution, SI Thames Valley for Kori FGM Project.

SIGBI Programme Award - Economic Empowerment SI Thames Valley Kori Women’s Development Project.

SIGBI Programme Award - Food Security & Health Care, SI Northern Ireland, Ethiopian Day Centre for Elderly Ladies Project.

SIGBI Programme Award – Environmental Sustainability SI Pune Metro East, Organic Farming Education Project.

Also on Saturday, Hilary Ratcliffe – International Director of Programme said that in our dreams everything is possible.  So never underestimate Soroptimists’ global reach.  We are a force to be reckoned with; we have more members that there are employees of BP.  She finished with an African proverb “if you want to go fast – go alone: if you want to go far – go together.

Rita Allen gave an update on the BIG Project

Nureen Naz who was the recipient of the Diamond Education Grant explained how the grant enable her to buy a much needed laptop.  Nureen is sight-impaired, and she decided that in order to increase her employment opportunities, she should take a masters degree in creative writing.

Pontso Mafethe, from Comic Relief said that “as Women and Girls’ Programme Manager for Comic Relief, her work has much in common with what Soroptimist do.  Her programme seeks to educate and empower women, mainly working in Africa and Asia.  The charity works on five strands, to create better futures, healthier finances, safer lives, stronger communities and fairer societies.  The charity firmly believes that the key to achieving this is Education and Empowerment.

Jasvinder Sanghera CBE fonder of Karma Nirvana, a charity supporting victims of violence, particularly forced marriages and honour killings. It was hard to believe that this is happening in the UK today. Jasvinder spoke from the heart giving us a brief overview of her own experience and how it has shaped her future.

Ailie Marks spoke about Mary’s Meals.  The aim of Mary’s Meals is to provide each child with a maize porridge meal in a place of learning and we were informed how this simple solution to world hunger has been an enabling factor in education.

There was an update to Programme Resolutions 2011 and 2012.

One of the most inspiring speakers at the Conference was Baroness Helena Kennedy QC. In her inspiring talk, Baroness Helena Kennedy paid tribute to Soroptimist International as a remarkable organisation.  She reminded us that equality for women is still a goal waiting to be achieved.  There is an absence of women in the senior judiciary.  Women need to take a prominent part in all areas of society and public life to reflect the world we all live in.  Baroness Kennedy recently chaired an enquiry into trafficking and the scourge of modern day slavery: looking at the women girls (men and boys too) being trafficked into domestic servitude, living in dire conditions in addition to those trafficked for sexual purposes.  She also highlighted improvements that have been made in many areas to bring about equality for women, but said that there is still much to do.  We know who much more can be done by working together.  Her words will resonate with us: we have to support each other and be the voices of those who can only remain silent.  Doing this means putting our heads above the parapet.

The hightlight of the entire weekend was the change of Insignia when Noreen took over as our National President for 2013/2014.  Noreen enjoy the year.  It is surprising how fast it goes by.

Thanks to the ladies who travelled to the conference and made it such a fun weekend.  I hope that this may encourage more to travel to Harrogate for next year’s conference.

As this is only a synopsis of the Conference, it is worth reading a more detailed report on the sigbi website: