A reflection from Mary Louise Marino
I vividly remember the day I showed up at EWI’s spring graduation in Alexandria in 2012, having followed EWI’s blog for several months and curious about what they were up to. I was inspired meeting women entrepreneurs and feeling the energy of the place. I remember hearing about the program manager moving on and saying to myself, “I want that job”. I remember writing a rather unconventional cover letter to Marga expressing interest through a story. And I remember telling friends how I just landed my dream job.
My background experience is eclectic. I didn’t know then how perfectly that would serve me at EWI with the many hats I would wear over the next three and a half years. Marga took a chance on me, but I always knew I could do this job. I just didn’t know how exactly. I also didn’t know how much this job would transform me. I suppose it’s because being at EWI is more than just a job. It’s a total immersion kind of experience.
That first year, Marga was my champion. She spent much time coaching, guiding, challenging, pushing, inspiring, and believing in me. It was often hard. And it was often exhilarating. She believed in me more than I believed in myself.
We often witness in our entrepreneur training programs women building a support and connection with each other as they journey on the path of entrepreneurship together. They empower each other. It is inspiring and genuine, and the effect is powerful. I know this from the many times I’ve been in the classroom, from listening to the many women I’ve met over the years, and from the stories shared from our team and volunteers.
As EWI grows and more staff, interns and volunteers have become a part of our story, I have witnessed that same effect within the organization. We connect, encourage, and support each other. It’s an intentional effort. We’re all responsible for creating a work culture that can give rise to transformation for all of us, whether in little or big ways, wherever we are in our professional path. And really, with a name like Empowered Women International we have much to live up to.
Why do I say all this? Because it’s simple. Empowerment matters.
The effect of a woman empowered – who feels and experiences even a few moments of confidence, or a belief in herself, or renewed self-esteem – enables her to take one step, then another, and another. This is where change happens. This is where we as women can begin to participate fully in our lives, in our communities, and let our dreams come to life and flourish.
In mid December I end three and a half incredible years with EWI. With plans that have been in the works for over a year, my husband and I are traveling overseas to Southeast Asia and Northeast India for three months. It’s part sabbatical, part adventure, and part connecting with artisan groups. While I am leaving my dream job, I’m also embarking on a long-held entrepreneurial dream: opening up a global artisan boutique. This is what empowerment does!
Perhaps this is what Marga inspired most in the creation of EWI: Empowerment is already within us. It just needs to be cultivated, activated and unleashed. We just need to be champions for each other to help make it happen. This is what sustains and carries me forward. I am deeply grateful to be part of a community of women making empowerment happen and matter for all of us, everywhere.
It’s my time to step aside and let others find their definition of empowerment. I leave EWI knowing the staff, interns and volunteers have what it takes to continue the powerful work together in giving women a chance to make a difference in their lives, their livelihoods, and communities.