Spotlight: Inspiring Women Changemakers

2 December 2021

Founder of Inspiring Women Changemakers, Anj Handa, recently worked with the Smallwood Trust to develop and deliver two workshops for grantees requiring capacity building and other non-financial support. We asked her about her journey to becoming a changemaker for women.

Please introduce yourself and Inspiring Women Changemakers.
I’m Anj Handa, Founder of Inspiring Women Changemakers, a community of changemakers of all genders who have a focus on fairness and safety for women – at home, at work and in wider society.

I’ve worked in professional lobbying since 2003 but it was in 2014, when I led a high-profile campaign on behalf of an asylum seeker. I pulled together a top legal team to build her case and led a Change.org petition which gathered 126,500 signatures and the interest of global media, MPs and influencers.

After some reflection, I acknowledged that I already had advantages that helped the campaign get the attention that it did. I had the benefit of public policy and lobbying expertise and knowledge of how to navigate ‘so-called corridors of power’. With significant public speaking experience, communications skills and media training, I knew how to deal with politicians, journalists and campaign groups. I also had a broad network.

Overall, it was the wholehearted people, mostly women, who generously offered their skills and connections that made it possible to make an impact on such a massive scale.

And that’s how Inspiring Women Changemakers came about. I knew that networking, asking for contacts, support or resources doesn’t come naturally to many people so I wanted to provide a launchpad for other changemakers to get the help they need at points in their changemaking journey.

What kind of changes do Inspiring Women Changemakers want to see for women who engage?
Our mission is to guide and inspire women to speak up about the things that matter to them, to take responsibility, and to take action.

We support each other in making the world become a safer, fairer place for women, tackling deep, serious issues - yet we still have fun.

Through the Inspiring Women Changemakers community, we amplify member stories across social media, open doors and make introductions (to journalists, policymakers and politicians, other changemakers, and encourage and support each other when things feel difficult.

How did you and the Smallwood Trust get to know each other, and why did you believe we would be a good fit?
I first worked with the Smallwood Trust when I ran an aspiring trustee workshop for board shadowees and other women connected with the Smallwood Trust. As a consultant and trainer, one of my Associate roles is the Course Director of Getting on Board’s Charity Board Leadership Programme. Getting on Board (and therefore, me) had been invited to deliver the workshop.

Most of the cohort were black and brown women who opened up about their experiences during the session. Perhaps they were so open because they found me relatable, although I am generally known for my ability to create psychologically safe spaces for nuanced conversations to happen.

However the conversations came about, Smallwood’s CEO Paul Carbury and I saw right away that there was scope to offer this kind of forum to your grantees.

You recently ran a couple of workshops for our grantees of all sizes who support women to be financially resilient. Did you go in with any expectations, and what have been your main takeaways from this experience?
My recommendation for the grantees’ sessions was to run two – one for grantees with a turnover of under £250,000 and the second for larger grantees. Through the work I’ve done with my own community and from working with charities of all sizes, I had a good idea what the issues could be.

However, it was important not to begin with any preconceived ideas, so we took a theme – ‘Change’ and our speaker in each session presented on what change had meant for her and the charity she was involved in.

The main takeaway, whether the charity is large or small, is that people want their voices to be heard and valued, and that they thirst for supportive conversations with their peers. It’s all about relationships.

Building on what they’ve done before, Smallwood Trust brought together an assortment of grantees from various areas of work and it felt really important for us to do that and introduce them to one another so they can begin forming their own connections.

The process of Smallwood Trust’s grantees forming connections began straight after the two sessions, with introductions made by the team. We’re now discussing how we can facilitate further peer connections, using a similar model to the one I introduced when I set up the Inspiring Women Changemakers community.

I share Smallwood Trust’s approach of setting up sustainable, self-directed initiatives that are valuable to the grantee community and do not rely heavily on intervention and facilitation. I’m excited to see where our discussions will take us and what we will be able to offer.

There may be readers who have never heard of Inspiring Women Changemakers and are interested in getting involved. What’s the best way for people to get in touch with you?
If you…

  • work in women’s rights and want to exchange ideas with peers, wherever they are based
  • and/or you have an urge to do more to ensure that women get the opportunities and recognition they deserve,
  • and/or you or someone close to you has experienced unfairness or harm and you want to turn those negative experiences towards good
  • and/or you want to be connected to, and inspired by, women changemakers
  • and/or you believe this work is needed and want to support us

…then join us! Just head to the Inspiring Women Changemakers website: https://www.inspiringwomenchangemakers.co.uk/