Women’s groups boost their profile and their contributions

The Business and Professional Women’s Club, probably the “granddaddy” of all local women’s organizations, is hosting the international organization’s regional conference on Nov. 6 and next year will mark its own 40th birthday. 

The club counts among its members some of Cayman’s most influential women: its co-founder Annie Multon, who helped Margo Koeman start the organization in 1976; National Hero Sybil McLaughlin; community organizer and former MLA Lucille Seymour; Velma Hewitt, Angela Martin; and the late Speaker of the House Edna Moyle. 

“It’s Cayman’s history, every Caymanian knows their names,” said the club’s president, Andrea Williams, an attorney at UBS. As an expat, she takes minimal credit for the club’s successful four decades. “I am not the foundation,” she says. 

However, she notes, “We were out there well before other organizations. We were the group of women who developed women’s rights before it was fashionable. We are still out there, recognizing women in their 80s, women who were pioneers, recognizing what they have done.” 

For example, Ms. Williams points to club members who lobbied for the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre – founded in early 2003 – “long before it was fashionable to do so. They took the lumps first.” 

Cayman’s Business and Professional Women’s Club, boasting 40 members and 500 supporters – “a huge number of supporters – on Facebook,” says Ms. Williams, is one of 95 branches of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, founded in August 1930 by Lena Madesin Phillips in Geneva. The organization has consultative status and two seats at the United Nations Economic and Social Council and participatory status at the Council of Europe. 

The four-point list of goals for the organization worldwide includes working for top standards of service in business and the professions; encouraging women’s responsibility to their communities at all levels; and working for equal opportunities in economic, civil and political life. 

 

Local programs  

Ongoing local programs include Legal Befrienders, helping women gain access to free legal advice; the annual Silent Witness March, recognizing victims of domestic violence; 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, during this month and next, to increase awareness of domestic, child and elder abuse; and the Annie Huldah Bodden Lecture Series, featuring topics salient to professional women in the Cayman Islands. 

The club also offers four $1,000 scholarships each year to the University College of the Cayman Islands and the International College of the Cayman Islands. 

Ms. Williams notes that the club offered one woman with five children a chance to boost her education, and the group’s first scholarship went to Sister Islands MLA, former Premier and current Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly. 

“We help women in need who can’t get help anywhere else,” Ms. Williams says. “We do financial wellness, awareness for budgeting, financial management, things as small as getting a mortgage or a car loan, things as basic as how to open a bank account. We’ve been into prisons, churches and high schools. 

“We have a health committee to focus on issues that affect women like mental health and a ‘happiness 101’ course that introduces participants to tools to help handle stress.” 

Between Nov. 6 and Nov. 8, BPW International’s North American and Caribbean Regional Congress will meet in Cayman for the first time, featuring speakers discussing topics that touch on the lives of Caribbean women and the work of the club. 

Next year’s 40th anniversary of the Cayman club will kick off a “he for she” campaign, “empowering men who support women and gender equality,” and a pre-birthday fundraiser will feature dinner with film and TV actor Patrick Stewart. 

 

100 Women in Hedge Funds  

BPW’s regional congress follows hard on the heels of the Nov. 4 arrival and private function with designer Nicole Miller, and a Nov. 5 fashion show fundraiser, which the club will share with one of Cayman’s newer women’s groups, 100 Women in Hedge Funds. 

“We’ll partner with NKY Collections and the Department of Tourism,” says 100WHF Chair of Philanthropy Christina Bodden, “to show [Ms. Miller’s] Holiday, Resort and 2016 Spring collection.” 

All proceeds will benefit Literacy is for Everyone, the group’s 2015 beneficiary. 

Founded locally in 2013 by Deloitte Partner Odette Samson and Maples and Calder Partner Jo Cunningham, 100WHF’s origins go back to 2001 and Carol Kim, Dana Hall and Sarah Dyer of New York, all professionals in the alternative-investment industry. 

Today, the organization boasts 13,000 members in 20 locations, and 450 members in Cayman. 

“The big thing is to promote women as professionals,” says Ms. Samson. “We promote professional education, supporting our colleagues, and philanthropy. 

“We do a lot of networking and our philanthropy positions Cayman as a jurisdiction for funds and finance.” 

That philanthropy has three chief objectives: education, mentoring and women and family health. Globally, 100WHF has raised nearly $36 million from more than 400 events. 

Locally, 2014 was the group’s first fundraising year, during which more than $40,000 from a handful of events was donated to the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre.  

Ms. Samson and Ms. Cunningham have set a $50,000 fundraising goal for the literacy organization in 2015. So far, they are within $2,000 of the figure after the Centered Leadership Workshop and the Barefoot Beach Gala earlier this year. 

“We are hoping to raise another $15,000 to $20,000 from the Nicole Miller event,” says Ms. Samson. 

“We have a program of major speakers and are always seeking to mentor good Caymanians. We want to open this up to everyone, touching as many people as possible, expanding networks and relationships throughout Cayman,” she says.  

In 2016, she says, “We turn our mind to mentoring, and are currently reviewing submissions received from local charities whose objectives align with [our] mentoring. 

“We will shortly announce a new beneficiary for 2016,” she adds, “and a new strategy to promote mentoring.” 

 

100 Women Who Care  

In mid-October, a gathering of Cayman’s newest women’s charity, 100 Women Who Care, raised $40,600 for the Crisis Centre in a single hour at the group’s inaugural meeting. 

Since not every member was able to attend, says Chairwoman Emma Graham-Taylor, the group hopes a subsequent email campaign will yield a final figure near $50,000, constituting a record donation to the Crisis Centre, which has a $600,000 annual operating budget. 

“The women of the Cayman Islands chapter chose, by majority vote, to donate it to the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre,” Ms. Graham-Taylor says. “This is an unprecedented achievement for the 100 Women movement globally, and makes history not just for the size of that donation on its own … but when taking into consideration the population of the Cayman Islands, this is an amazing achievement in its own right. 

“It also seems right that the women of this island chose to vote for a charity that protects women at the first-ever meeting of the [local group],” she said. 

Ms. Graham-Taylor founded the group in June after the nearly simultaneous creation of 100 Men Who Give a Damn, which was founded in the wake of the February 2014 creation in Halifax of the first 100 Men organization. 

Today, Women Who Care boasts nearly 350 chapters throughout North America, the Caribbean and one in Singapore. The Cayman Islands chapter counts 450 members – most recruited by word-of-mouth and Facebook, Ms. Graham-Taylor says. 

The way it works is simple, she says: “All it takes is 100-plus women to meet for 60 minutes and each to bring with them $100 to donate.  

“Our members are everyone, but you have to be a woman to join this giving circle. It’s a real cross section of our community. Put simply: They are busy women who have $100 that they can ‘spare,’ but limited time on their hands.” 

Members gather each quarter. Three charities, pre-qualified from a list of 36 local organizations, each spend five minutes addressing the group. A majority vote determines the recipient. Checks are written on the spot and immediately handed over. Everyone goes home. 

The Oct. 15 gathering was the first. “We meet every quarter for the rest of eternity. I had some fantastic help from a small but talented committee of volunteers – Maya Lewis, Karen Gunderson, Stacey Alban, Regina Oliver and Sian Weinzwieg. That’s how we pulled it together … and some amazing sponsorship.”  

The next meeting for the women will be in January.  

“We hope that the membership will continue to support this simple, yet effective, way of making a massive difference locally in a very short space of time,” Ms. Graham-Taylor says. 

“The two giving circles here in Cayman – 100 Men Who Give a Damn and 100 Women Who Care – in the last few months [more than] $90,000 has been raised and donated to local causes. This is an amazing thing, and we should all be very proud here in the Cayman Islands that we clearly do care very much and also give a damn. 

“We can achieve amazing things,” she says. 

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In the foreground, Tracey McGregor, Leanne Golding, Suzanne Jensen and Andrea Williams at a gathering in May of 100 Women in Hedge Funds. The ‘Bubbles and Bling’ evening of networking and shopping sponsored by Kirk Freeport and Kirk Supermarket raised money for Literacy is for Everyone.

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At its inaugural meeting last month, the local chapter of 100 Women Who Care raised nearly $50,000 for the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre.

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Dr. Irene Jillson, center, addressed women’s health issues at the Business and Professional Women’s Club in September. Also pictured are club members, from left, Andrea Williams, Rachel Gaunt, Susan Watling and Alyssa Christian. – Photo: Kelsey Jukam

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