Op-ed: Why building a culture of influence must start with you

Posted at 7:00 AM, Jul 10, 2017

Sarah Wagoner is the national account manager for Mead Johnson Nutrition, and a member of the PR Committee of the Network of Executive Women (NEW) Cincinnati, the largest women's leadership organization for retail and consumer goods.

I recently returned from a two-week trip to Dar es Salaam and the rural outskirts of Tanzania. In the days it took my body to acclimate from 100 degrees to the milder Cincinnati climate, I had time to sort through the highlight reel of the life-changing trip. A specific ministry stood out — Sifa Threads. At its core, this program offers 20 young women the chance to change their life’s culturally accepted trajectory by equipping them with the skills and resources to start their own business. One woman began the program by reaching out to one young girl, and building a curriculum on a back porch. This ministry is now leaving a sustainable legacy and changing conventional thought.

Sarah Wagoner

Thirty days and 8,000 miles after my Tanzanian adventure, I sat in an air-conditioned banquet hall of Cincinnati’s JACK Casino, waiting with over 700 other business women and men for Geena Davis to grace the stage. Yes, Geena Davis, the poised, articulate MENSA member and actress. The Network of Executive Women’s spring learning event afforded people like me the opportunity to briefly intersect lives with an onscreen legend. While she good-naturedly addressed a burning question — “What was it like to work with Brad Pitt?” — her real reason for standing on the stage was to talk about the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. It’s a research-based organization that identifies bias in the media and restructures characters to bring greater equality. The idea for the institute came about as she was watching television with her daughters and noticed how little screen time female characters received. She identified a heartfelt opportunity, and is now using her talent and resources to create a culture of change.

I believe the human desire is to leave a legacy, to influence for the better. But perhaps we feel overwhelmed at how to begin, wonder if the impact is sustainable or even question whether our efforts will make a broader difference. Admittedly, I’ve waited for a pinnacle moment to arise in my life which shifts the sands of time and induces monumental change for good. At 33, with no major event throwing my world off its axis, I’ve come to realize that the subtle and consistent shifts in behavior, the setbacks and progress all build to something greater. Each of us has a unique sphere of influence shaped from experiences, blunders, successes and passions. I encourage you to identify a need. Map out how your particular strengths and network can benefit the need. Be consistent in your pursuit of change. And please, give yourself grace. Sifa Threads founder Stephanie Boone shared that mistakes were made early on, but they were part of the foundation from which the ministry grew. Learn and move forward.

Building a culture of change doesn’t have to stem from a seismic event. It doesn’t have to be tied to a company’s corporate responsibility model. You don’t have to be a critically-acclaimed movie star or travel across the world in extreme heat to be of influence. Change can start with a party of one — you.