Cocktail parties and chats at plush hotels aren't what the Women's Institute for Alternative Development (WINAD) is known for. The 12-year-old Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) has a weighty and far-ranging agenda that includes research on issues related to arms control, advocacy for gender equality, human rights and citizen participation in decision making as well as a slew of projects aimed at raising awareness on development issues.
But on June 4 they will host the first of what will become their signature fund-raiser—a lecture at the Hyatt Regency featuring Susan L Taylor, the former Essence Magazine editor-in-chief cum advocate and motivational speaker. Taylor will speak on the theme "Journey to Womanhood" and WINAD hopes the event will "educate our women and girls about how they can become self-sustainable and leaders".
"We decided to bring Susan Taylor for two reasons," revealed Ann Marie Narine, WINAD's Finance Coordinator (and former financial services ombudsman). "She is very involved in working with women on mentorship programmes and has dedicated her life to community work. Also, she has Trini roots and worked her way up from humble beginnings."
In both word and deed, Taylor personifies the potential of women to overcome and attain. Born in Harlem to West Indian parents in 1946, Taylor was taught about the determination of her family to make a better life. She heard stories of her maternal grandmother's courage—leaving a broken marriage and six children in Trinidad in 1916, settling in Harlem, working and saving and bringing her children and mother to the United States. From racist police officers to biased school principals and even the federal government, the matriarch trained her guns on anything and anyone that stood in the way of her family's advancement.
"Like the women of her time, my grandmother didn't wait for change; she initiated it," Taylor noted in one of her iconic and inspirational "In the Sprit" Essence columns.
Taylor's own mettle was tested when she found herself a down and out single mother, diagnosed with anxiety at 24. The road to transformation began with her internalisation of a simple, powerful message:
"Our minds could change our world," she remembers a preacher saying. "No matter what our troubles, if we could put them aside for a moment, focus on possible solutions and imagine a joyous future, we would find a peace within, and positive experiences would begin to unfold. It was the beginning of my realisation that our thoughts create our reality."
Not only did Essence's circulation increase drastically under Taylor's tenure but she infused it with the mandate to "deliver strategic information and inspiration to help black women make a triumph of their lives." In addition to her success editing Essence, Taylor has also excelled as a business executive and in television. Today she travels widely to address conferences for women and to speak on the state of black America. She is looking forward to sharing her inspiration with the women of T&T and reconnecting with her island roots.
Narine explained that while its basic objective is fund-raising WINAD thinks it is important for women from all walks of life to join in its June commune.
"We are trying to reach as many women's group as possible and we're approaching sponsors to help bring in women from various levels in the community for whom the cost of attending the event might be prohibitive," she said.
Narine added that while its various projects are currently funded by organisations ranging from the United Nations to a handful of High Commissions, they consider it important to become more self-sustainable. All proceeds will be funneled into WINAD's work. Last year the organisation produced a documentary, Our Story: Women Peace and Security in Trinidad and Tobago. At present most of their work surrounds community and national initiatives to combat crime, violence and the small arms trade.
To learn more about WINAD's work please visit www.winad.org. Journey to Womanhood comes off at 7PM on June 4 at the Hyatt Regency. For tickets and information please call at 621-2495 or 760-9714.