By Cecilia Cross, Executive Director, San Antonio Council for International Visitors
Exchanges play a valuable part in advancing efforts to promote the roles of women in society and eliminate the obstacles that prevent women from reaching their full potential. In recent years, the San Antonio Council for International Visitors (SACIV) has welcomed hundreds of remarkable women leaders to San Antonio, TX participating in International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) projects designed to help support and expand their contributions to social, economic, and political change in communities across the globe.
These programs focus on empowering women entrepreneurs, politicians, activists, and community leaders and included meetings with local groups and individuals advocating for increased engagement in these fields.
IVLP participants have opportunities to learn effective strategies, and hear inspirational stories of success from local leaders. Former Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, the first woman elected to the position, often speaks with our groups about her experiences as a woman in traditionally “male” roles, such as military and law enforcement. Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, another local elected official, frequently shares her journey of rising to a position of political leadership while overcoming adversity and challenges, a story shared by women around the world. These conversations provide our international visitors with both the encouragement and skills to enhance and continue their work in public service, civil society, politics, government, community organizations, or the private sector.
Organizations like Haven for Hope, Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition, and the Bexar County Family Justice Center showcase work aimed at providing women with the resources to promote and effect social change. Visitors exchange best practices with their NGO counterparts on topics such as running community health programs, combating domestic violence, and providing women of all ages with access to education, training, and career advancement.
Many programs also focused on exploring the role of women-owned businesses in driving economic development, democratization, and stability around the world. Meetings with organizations such as LiftFund and the Women’s Business Center expose international visitors to the resources available to female entrepreneurs.
Our visitors often describe a metamorphosis that occurs during their program, as they gain role models, share knowledge, exchange ideas, and plan for future collaboration. They also understand the importance of serving as multipliers by sharing their experiences with other women and entrepreneurs in their communities.
It is incredible to hear from these talented, accomplished women that they depart San Antonio knowing they are better positioned to effect real change as a result of their participation in these exchanges, as well as see how the local leaders they’ve met with are also equally inspired by their passion. It gives me great hope in our ability to transform the landscape for future generations of women and for the good of all, at home and around the world.