Inspiring Change at the House of Lords – March 2014

I was honoured to be invited by the Universal Peace Federation to be on the international speaker panel at the House of Lords this month. Hosted by Rt Hon Baroness Verma and in aid of International Women’s Day, the topic was ‘how can we inspire change’ and tackle the issues that are facing women and young girls around the world.

As I scanned the room, I was struck by the diverse representation of cultures, age, religion – all brought together in one room to share a mutual passion and goal; to achieve gender equality and basic universal human rights. Topics from FGM (female genital mutilation), human trafficking, accessible education for all, rape used as a weapon of war, economic participation and many more; I was both humbled and moved by the power and emotion of the room.

I also noted in a room of 115 people, I could count the number of men on one hand. From my experience of these events, this is also the norm. As many of you who know me, will know that I do not see myself as a fervent feminist. Instead I believe in being a humanist. We know from research that the issues we face in our societies are deeply cultural and deeply rooted in our history, therefore, we need to shift the imbalance.

For change to happen, as the dominant power group we need more men ‘leaning in’ and inspiring change with us. And whilst many are shocked and dismayed by acts of oppression, suppression and aggression around the world, feeling an emotion about this is not enough. We must move from a place of good intentions and feelings, to taking actionable steps to inspire change. This is as much about the day-to-day acts of fairness and standing up for each other as it is about large-scale change. So my first call to action was a challenge for men and women to inspire both groups to take ownership for making change happen.

I also shared 3 key stories from my book connected to the Inspiring Leadership model.

MQ – Moral Integrity: I spoke of Mena in India who was faced with a moral dilemma when offered a large sum of cash for her charity by a businessman as long as it was not receipted. She sought advice and chose to do the right thing.

PQ – Purpose and Meaning: I shared Liz’s story of working in post-war and disaster zones. Struck by crippling fear having had her life threatened on many occasions, she continued on. She believed she had her calling and was making a difference.

LQ – Legacy: Finally I shared the story of Lucy who, after a successful career, returned to her village in Kenya to set up the charity Help For Teenage Mothers. She now provides education, health centres and childcare for young girls giving them a new start and hope.

Whilst all of the women that I have met and interviewed come from a variety of backgrounds, there have been a few behaviours and attitudes that have been consistent including:

1. Authenticity – a clarity on who they were and what they stood for, not squeezing themselves out of shape to fit an organisation, culture or societal norm because of others views.

2. Courage – they did not watch in silence as willful bystanders, but were the interrupters. They used their voices and power to inspire change. Even when they were afraid, they found their strength and courage to step into the arena.

3. Pay it forward – in a world fuelled by narcissism, they believed in the selfless act of paying it forward so others can benefit, with no expectation of anything in return.

Inspiration does not need to be externally driven, by others who appear to have more power and visibility than us. Inspiration starts from within and exists in all of us and as Ghandi wisely said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”