Agency and voice — Sister Eubank’s keys for making positive change in the world

Menou Tchako has been in the United States for 30 years. As a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, she knows what it is like to be in a new place, where life, people, culture, language, etc. are unfamiliar. She also knows there is a power that comes from taking action, asking for help and working to meet her family’s needs.

“This is a tremendous story of someone who said, ‘I’m not going to wait for somebody to organize something for me. I have the power inside me to ask, to work, to grow,'” said Sister Sharon Eubank of Tchako.

In her 30 years in the U.S., Tchako has helped all four of her children graduate high school and go on to university education. She has completed a Utah-based program called the Circles Initiative, which helps get people out of poverty — and now she helps volunteer in that program as an ally for others.

“I have a dream,” she said simply, explaining why she now spends time helping others who are in the same situation she was 30 years ago — unsure of what to do and where to get help.

Sister Sharon Eubank invites Menou Tchako to stand and share her story during an address at the Utah Women's Leadership Speaker & Dialogue Series, held in the Clarke Building at Utah Valley University Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.
Sister Sharon Eubank invites Menou Tchako to stand and share her story during an address at the Utah Women’s Leadership Speaker & Dialogue Series, held in the Clarke Building at Utah Valley University Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. Credit: Gabriel Mayberry, UVU Marketing

Tchako’s story is a perfect example of the power that individuals and organizations have to make real change in their lives and the lives of others, Sister Eubank said, speaking Wednesday night, Feb. 19, at the Utah Women’s Leadership Speaker & Dialogue Series on the Utah Valley University campus.

Joined by Dr. Valerie Hudson, a university distinguished professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, Sister Eubank was invited to share insights from her role as president of Latter-day Saint Charities and the first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency in discussing the topic “The Status of Women Worldwide: Becoming Informed & Empowered as Global Citizens.”

The great thing about the topic of the event, Sister Eubank told the audience of hundreds of women and a handful of men, is that it has a “built-in call to action.” And that was her challenge for all those in attendance on campus or watching via a livestream broadcast — to choose a valuable cause to commit to and make a difference.

For Hudson, the cause she has committed herself to, particularly in her research as a scholar of international affairs, is the cause of women around the world. Sharing some of her recently published research, Hudson explained how the subjugation of women in societies around the world is a threat to families, communities and nations. 

Valerie Hudson gives her remarks during the Utah Women's Leadership Speaker & Dialogue Series, held in the Clarke Building at Utah Valley University Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.
Valerie Hudson gives her remarks during the Utah Women’s Leadership Speaker & Dialogue Series, held in the Clarke Building at Utah Valley University Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. Credit: Gabriel Mayberry, UVU Marketing

“What you do to your women, you do to your nation state,” she said, explaining how the mistreatment or subjugation of women — which usually begins at the household level — has been proven to be a major factor in causing the instability of nations. 

Too often, explained Sister Eubank, following Hudson’s presentation, the framework for women’s rights or elevating women within their societies is discussed as though it comes at the cost of men losing their rights.

“I reject the idea that in order for women to progress, men have to lose, or that for matriarchy to get its due, patriarchy has to lose,” Sister Eubank said. “In my experience, the best achievements come from men and women working together focused on improving life for the next generation. The interdependence of men and women is the aim I seek.”

But in order for men and women, organizations and individuals, or individuals and societies to work effectively in tandem — with both sides seeking the benefit, talents and influence of the other — two things are required, she said. Agency and voice.

“Study after study shows that when members of groups express their voice and agency equally, the entire group benefits economically and psychologically,” Sister Eubank continued. 

Agency, as it is defined by the World Bank Group, is “the capacity to make decisions about one’s own life and act on them to achieve a desired outcome, free of violence, retribution, or fear,” Sister Eubank said. And voice is defined as “the capacity to speak up and be heard, from homes to houses of parliament. It is the ability to shape and share in discussions and decisions that affect the [person herself].”

Elaine S. Dalton sits next to Sharon Eubank at the Utah Women's Leadership Speaker and Dialogue Series held at Utah Valley University in the Clarke Building on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.
Elaine S. Dalton sits next to Sharon Eubank at the Utah Women’s Leadership Speaker and Dialogue Series held at Utah Valley University in the Clarke Building on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. Credit: Caroline Sheanshang, UVU Marketing

Although scholarly research and data are good and necessary to understand the world and the changes that need to be made to improve it, they don’t often generate change on their own. Rather, in order to make cultural and behavioral changes, people need to have “new experiences that change their minds about old traditions,” she said.

As a leader in two prominent global organizations, Sister Eubank said her experiences have taught her the importance of a few key leadership characteristics that are applicable across global, large-scale organizations and smaller, grassroots organizations alike when working to evoke change. 

Sharing some examples of those characteristics in women from Utah’s contemporary and early history, Sister Eubank explained how women like Martha Hughes Cannon, Pamela Atkinson, and even lesser-known women like Sarah Bateman and Menou Tchako have embodied these characteristics. 

The characteristics are simple, she said. First, don’t wait for others to do what needs to be done. “Be the change you seek.”

Second, build personal and lasting relationships. Seeking for the help of others and maintaining positive relationships with them makes implementing changes easier and more widely effective, she explained.

Third, don’t let issues destroy those relationships. Not everyone will agree on everything, but if differing individuals or organizations can find common ground, they can progress toward their shared goals and build ongoing trust.

Sister Sharon Eubank gives an address during the Utah Women's Leadership Speaker & Dialogue Series, held in the Clarke Building at Utah Valley University Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.
Sister Sharon Eubank gives an address during the Utah Women’s Leadership Speaker & Dialogue Series, held in the Clarke Building at Utah Valley University Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. Credit: Gabriel Mayberry, UVU Marketing

Highlighting some of the ways women can get involved in their communities and start taking action to make a difference in the causes that matter most to them, Sister Eubank highlighted the plethora of opportunities available through the Church’s JustServe website. Within a five-mile radius of the UVU campus, Sister Eubank pointed out that more than 100 service opportunities are listed — including ones with the Circle Initiative, which Tchako now volunteers with as she continues to make a difference in what matters to her.

Closing her address with a personal experience, Sister Eubank shared an account of the heartbreak she has felt for the people of Syria since war broke out in their country nine years ago. At the time the war started, Sister Eubank was in the country working for Latter-day Saint Charities on a number of projects, she explained. Since that time, there have been many moments when she has felt powerless to help the people she came to know and love all those years ago, despite the many resources at her disposal. 

“But I don’t believe anything is impossible,” Sister Eubank said. “With God all things are possible. I, with my faith, have to trust that God sees those people. He hears those people and He responds in ways that are Godly and divine, and I committed that I will use my energy and everything that I have and then count on Him for the rest. There is always hope.”

Prayer and faith are powerful tools that can be added to active efforts for change and magnify them, she explained. And each person, if they are willing, can not only become part of the change they hope for but also, by using their agency and voice, they can “give evidence to the fact that men and women can work together … for our security, for our economics, and most of all for our families and children.”