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How burnout led one woman to create an organisation that supports all women

Cath and Ida, March 2018

At Spabreaks.com we are passionate about supporting women to balance work, life, confidence and independence. So we were excited to meet Cath Harris, the Founder of One World Women. Launching this month, One World Women is a social enterprise that encourages women in the UK to travel and share their professional skills with women in developing countries. Here, Cath explains how the idea emerged after she suffered from burnout in a high pressure job and was looking for a purpose that other women could relate to as well…

What is One World Women?

One World Women is a non-profit social enterprise. Our mission is to empower businesswomen the world over. We do this by leveraging one woman’s privilege to enable another woman to thrive. We curate programmes for individuals and groups of corporate employees who want to use their skills and experience to help people from developing countries.

What was the impetus for setting it up?

Back in March 2018, I was in Gambia, in West Africa, with a friend on holiday. On one of the final days we went to a cookery school to learn how to make traditional Gambian cuisine. I had the fortune of meeting Ida Cham who uses the profit from her cookery school to help local women.

Whilst the food was cooking, I had a chat with her about culture, traditions, and what life is like in the Gambia for women. It really inspired me to consider what I could do with my skills and experience to help the women she works with. Fast forward a couple of months, and I flew up to Manchester to meet Ida again. That’s when I pitched her the idea of One World Women.

Cath and one of Ida’s kittens wearing traditional West African clothing, March 2018

The concept was that I would bring groups of experienced businesswomen to the Gambia. Through an immersive week we would partner them with local women for mentoring and consultancy.

I spent a while doing research about the Gambia and the African Union. I was very inspired by a few things. The global sustainability goals are being used by various governments across Africa to encourage local people to set up their own businesses. One reason in particular is that by 2050, 60% of the African population will be under the age of 25.So the population are being encouraged to set up their own enterprises in order to create a better future.

The difficulty is that specialist business help is few and far between. Knowledge tends to stay within particular communities. I saw a real opportunity to make an impact on the ground with individuals, that could ripple out into those communities. Rather than a top down approach, like many large non-profit organisations, I could see an opportunity for grassroots project like this.

What were you doing before?

Back in 2016, I was having a pretty rough time running a successful creative agency in Exeter. We had just won one of our biggest clients and I was also buying my first house. The culmination of months of pressure was burnout. I sold my business and took the time to re-evaluate things a little bit.

I spent 2017 working out what it was I wanted to do with my life. I decided on a few key points:

  • I wanted the flexibility to look after my mental health.
  • I wanted the flexibility to travel.
  • I needed to do something that had purpose at its core.
  • And I wanted to work primarily with women.

When the opportunity for partnering with Ida came up in March 2018, it just seemed like all of the paths in my life had led to this point. It was too good to be true!

One World Women – Pilot programme participants, November 2018

How can people get involved?

There are always programmes being planned into the calendar and so signing up to our newsletter is the best way of being first in the know.

There are a number of ways that people can get involved and this depends on your skills, experience and how much time you have available.

We have open programmes that are groups of individuals who go out to various developing countries. They include Gambia in 2019 and Tanzania and Malawi in 2020.You can either self-fund or ask your employer for budget.

Or you can apply to be part of our Worthy Women Support Fund, where we sponsor people who can’t afford to pay for themselves to come out on one of our programmes. Or you can get involved with fundraising or volunteering.

Is it just for women or can men get involved too?

Our cause is primarily for women, yes, but men can get involved with fundraising and volunteering efforts too.

What do you hope people will get from it?

Through our sustainable development programme, we have created an opportunity for busy career women to experience life in a developing country and use their skills and experience to give back.

This is a life changing opportunity for the women who want to get involved. In every corner there’s opportunity to develop your own personal skills, coaching, mentoring, resilience, emotional intelligence, leadership, team work, conversation. The list goes on.

Plus, you get to meet loads of other like-minded women from all over the world. Together you culturally immerse yourself in a different community and make lifelong friends.

Why do you think that is important?

I think that sustainable development is really important in Africa. For example, there are piles of clothes on the sides of the road where people in the UK donate items to charity, in good faith, but somewhat blindly.

They assume that the items get used up, but actually they don’t. Many just go to waste. There are also a lot of charities who give money out to people but don’t actually follow up with them. This can cause so many problems in the community.

By giving people skills rather than handouts, we are allowing them to make decisions for themselves and enrich their community with knowledge.

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