On Friday 7th June, WRC held its second annual Women’s Sector Leadership Conference – ‘Currency of Change’, in collaboration with the Alternative Women’s Economy (AWE) Manchester Women’s Network. After the resounding success of our 2023 conference in London, this year’s conference took place in Manchester and was a truly enriching, uplifting and empowering day.

The conference was attended by over 150 women from all across the country. It was a day filled with sisterhood, strength and joy. It was an opportunity for women to come together and discuss key issues on the themes of economic justice and empowerment, cultivating space for radical ideas, and solutions to achieving financial independence for women and women’s organisations. It covered topics including economic justice, feminist leadership, building regional partnerships and progressive funding practices, and included spaces to reflect, build resistance through art and consider proposed manifesto pledges for the upcoming election.

WRC CEO Vivienne Hayes set the scene for the day, highlighting the current socio-economic climate we currently find ourselves in, with the revelation that only 2% of funding to the UK VCS goes to women’s organisations [Rosa 2023]. In light of this, we have to honour the strength and resilience born out of the women’s liberation movement and believe in our power that together we can change society. 

We then kicked off the day with an inspiring coffee table chat between our panel of accomplished and diverse women from across the sector, discussing strategies to achieve economic justice for women in an increasingly hostile environment. Rose Ssali from SAWN, Rosie Lewis from Project Resist and Carrina Gaffney from funder Lankelly Chase, each brought their own perspective on economic justice – from the local impact of commissioning to the global impact of capitalism and colonialism. 

The panel discussed different key themes related to women’s economic empowerment – both from the personal level and the organisational. They discussed the importance of viewing economic justice in terms of fairness and equality for all – acknowledging the unequal distribution of wealth through capitalism, which was created on plantations and is built on a system of extraction and exploitation. There was conversation around how collectively we can get to this new regenerative economy. A collectivist approach to solidarity through an ethical endowment ‘Forever Fund’ was promoted as a transformative funding alternative, where the power is with the grassroots. The message was one of hope and the importance of dreaming big – where all women’s charities owned their own buildings and together could support each other, in particular, Black and minoritised women and those with insecure immigration status. Rosie highlighted that class and ecofeminism are also key issues that are rarely discussed when dismantling the institutions. The panel ended on a note of optimism – that through solidarity and community organising, we can dismantle the systems, which will never work for us because they operate exactly how they are designed to.

There was then a chance for a wider audience discussion, where women had the opportunity to share their experiences and challenges, including those from minoritised communities and those with language barriers. Carrina was questioned on and outlined Lankelly Chase’s process of 'dismantling themselves’ as their solution to the systemic nature of oppressive funding practices.

Women then went to the first of two workshop sessions. Feeling energised from the morning’s discussions, this was a chance for women to put their learning into action and to delve deeper into specific issues on the theme of economic empowerment, developing skills and learning on specific issues. The majority of workshops were run by two women from different parts of the UK with different specialisms, as a way of truly showing collaborative leadership in action.

There were a wide range of topics to cover, from learning about cryptocurrencies as a radical alternative to our current financial landscape, to exploring ways out of poverty for migrant women, creative solutions to our sector’s funding problems, exploring feminist leadership, and building resilient voices in each English region.

Building on the importance of rest as a form of resistance raised in the morning session, an art workshop allowed women to take some time out to reflect and be creative. 

A delicious lunch and catch-ups with colleagues from across the sector were complemented by the brilliant, vibrant, and uplifting Sisters of the Yam Choir, who got everyone up on their feet, dancing and clapping and left them feeling energised for the rest of the day. Women then went to their second workshop, getting an opportunity to learn and engage with more than one topic. 

The afternoon group session opened with some poetry by T. Balogun, which got the whole room laughing. It then featured inspiring presentations from two alumni members of WRC’s flagship leadership initiatives: Feminist Leadership Training and the Network for Black Women Leaders.

The day ended with the awarding of the Audre Lorde Leadership Prize, awarded to Dr Sue Robson, who showcased her innovative and inclusive leadership style in the ‘Building Resilient Regional Voices’ workshop earlier in the day.

The day culminated in a well-deserved drinks reception, an opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues from across the sector and enjoy the wonderful music of Tashara Forrest.

With the general election only weeks away, and against the backdrop of an ongoing cost-of-living crisis which disproportionately impacts women, the day provided a unique opportunity for the sector to unite and explore ways of coming together to create lasting change. Throughout the day, women shared their thoughts and experiences in relation to WRC’s Grassroots Manifesto, which showcased our vision for a better society. You can find more resources to help you engage with the election here.

The collaborative nature of the day created a safe space for women to feel animated and re-energised in their commitment to creating a better society for women and girls. We can’t wait to continue the conversation on our Mighty Networks community platform and at our 2025 event – see you there!