Women and Power: Amelia Merrick
March 26, 2015 By vgen
Who run the world? Despite Beyonce’s girl power anthem, the stubbornly resistant answer across the world tends to be: men. But as a global community, we have so much to gain through harnessing the power of women and girls. We focus on empowering them with self-determination and ownership of their voice and honouring their capacity as local and global leaders of change.
So to inspire our VGenners to respect and celebrate the leadership potential (and action) of women across the world, here’s our favourite reflections from an interview we conducted with Amelia Merrick, CEO of World Vision Laos.
On why she got involved in World Vision:
Amelia started her change-making journey early, as a 16 year old embarking on a short-term mission trip to Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
For the first time, I remember going out to this mountain village and seeing all of these children who were working and living in really difficult circumstances. At that point I decided I didn’t just want to do my life like other people did: make plastic, sell plastic and buy plastic. So, the following year I went to Palestine on a short-term trip and it was there that the seed was sown so deeply: I wanted to do something meaningful.
Amelia’s first exposure to World Vision was running the 40 Hour Famine at her high school. Following graduation from university, she embarked on a year-long immersion volunteer program in Indonesia.
Thirteen years later I’m still working at World Vision. It’s a place I feel really deeply connected to. I love our vision: every child has potential and has more to offer than what their environment usually provides them. World Vision allows children to realise that remarkable potential.
On women and power:
As a woman in a powerful position, Amelia is no stranger to the notion that in many countries, developing and developed alike, communities may reject the idea of female leadership. But she is adamant that the benefits of women in power are multiple, across all parts of the world.
Women are the ones who can connect people, we can be peacemakers, we can be targeted and goal-oriented, we can make hard decisions and we can use compassion and empathy in our leadership- there’s no limit to our capacity to lead well.
In countries like Laos and Bangladesh, women can struggle to achieve higher positions of power in their communities because of deeply entrenched biases and cultural norms which privilege male leadership. But Amelia suggests that these attitudes can be dismantled, largely through exposure to different power structures, different opportunities and a different vision to what communities can do when both genders possess power and status.
I’ve found especially for most young women, having a mentor is really important to help us rise up in our leadership and to demonstrate to us what a powerful female looks like and what she can accomplish. It changes long-held attitudes and beliefs. Staff have said to me “Amelia, when I look at the leaders in our office, we only have one woman in 24 managers, I want to see two thirds of the managers be women, that is my dream!”. So I find it a great privilege that just by doing my job, I am able to show women that there are more possibilities for them, professionally and personally beyond what they imagine. That they can claim their innate capacity to lead as their birth-right.
Advice to aspiring young change-makers:
Amelia believes there’s no limit to the potential of young people once they believe in themselves and draw strength from those around them. As the first girl in her family to finish high school and the first to go to university, she admits that being National Director of a global organisation wasn’t an expectation her family had of her. But here she is.
Set your sights high. Take hold of the opportunities that you do have and use your gifts to inspire others. The world can be a hugely difficult place to navigate and we could respond with negativity, despair and pessimism. Or you can choose to see inspiration; to be an inspiration of the lives of others. Do that with full force and see how much of an impact you can create. And do it together, young people are strongest as a collective.