June 19, 2024

Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Catholic Sisters Initiative Convening in Lusaka, Zambia

Michael Nyabaige

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In a remarkable gathering highlighting the power of collaboration and shared vision, partners from over 15 countries across Africa, Europe, the USA, and Asia convened in Lusaka, Zambia. The event, themed “Embracing a Shared Vision: Impact, Learning, and Collaboration in Service of the Common Good,” aimed to deepen the understanding and practice of synodality, fostering a spirit of unity and shared purpose among diverse communities.

A Vision of Synodality and Collaboration

The convening provided an invaluable platform for the participants to exchange ideas and strategies to enhance mutual learning, strategic impact, and continued collaboration. This gathering was crucial in exploring how to integrate wellness, safeguarding, and support systems into programs and processes that protect children and vulnerable adults, ultimately contributing to the empowerment of communities and the development of integrated solutions.

Sr. Jane Wakahiu, the Associate Vice President of Program Operations and head of the Catholic Sisters Initiative at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, noted that “Coming together is an opportunity to explore the potency of networks while promoting partner engagement. It allows space for new connections and existing partnerships to be deepened as we aspire to strengthen the quality and sustainability of our collective efforts.”

The Vibrant Network of Catholic Sisters

The global Catholic sisterhood, a vibrant network of more than 700,000 vowed women religious, plays a pivotal role in advocating for peace, equity, and justice. Rooted in their profound faith and belief in the dignity of the human person, Catholic sisters are committed leaders who transform the lives of children, youth, families, and communities worldwide, particularly those suffering from structural disadvantages.

Conrad N. Hilton, the founder of the Hilton Foundation, had deep respect and admiration for the work of Catholic sisters. The Catholic Sisters Initiative, inspired by Hilton’s legacy, continues to support strong and sustainable congregations and effective services, fostering collaboration among Catholic sisters worldwide.

The Sisters Blended Value Project: A Beacon of Sustainable Enterprise

One of the standout initiatives supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is the Sisters Blended Value Project (SBVP). This project empowers Catholic Sisters to build sustainable social enterprises by developing their capacities, supporting networks, creating information hubs, and establishing robust financial services. This initiative follows a comprehensive baseline survey commissioned and funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in early 2021. Conducted in Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia, this survey identified key challenges Catholic sisters face in their transformative ministries.

The survey revealed several critical issues, including reduced donor funds, inadequate leadership skills, and insufficient financial and organizational sustainability measures. In response to these challenges, the SBVP, in partnership with the Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA), was designed to bridge these gaps. The project aims to enhance the sisters’ skills and provide networking opportunities that broaden their vision and ideas.

Insights from Leaders in Religious and Social Enterprises

During the Lusaka convening, Dr. Angela Ndunge, the Principal Investigator of the SBVP and Deputy Executive Dean at Strathmore Business School, shared insights on how the school leverages research-based results to inform the implementation of the SBVP. She emphasized the project’s goal of transforming social ministries into sustainable social enterprises. Dr. Ndunge later joined a panel discussion alongside Sr. Jane Wakahiu; Fr. Tom Gaunt, Director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate; Sr. Mary Simiyu, Research Coordinator at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate; Sr. Mary Cecilia Draru, Executive Director of the African Sisters Education Collaborative; and Sr. Mumbi Kigutha, Director of Watawa Wa Taa. The panel focused on “Building Bridges: Embracing Evidence-Informed Approaches to Foster Thriving Religious Communities.”

Building Bridges and Fostering Sustainable Growth

This convening was a transformative experience that showcased the power of collective action and shared vision. The participants discussed holistic approaches to community development, emphasizing the importance of evidence-based strategies to foster thriving religious communities.

The Catholic sisters’ commitment to their communities and tireless efforts to advance social justice and empowerment were evident throughout the discussions. Their ability to adapt and innovate in response to challenges underscores their critical role in driving positive change.

A Future of Shared Impact and Community Transformation

As the gathering concluded, a renewed sense of purpose and determination emerged among the partners. The shared vision of creating sustainable social enterprises and fostering community empowerment remains at the heart of their efforts. The Catholic Sisters Initiative, through projects like the SBVP, continues to champion the cause of vulnerable communities, ensuring that the legacy of Conrad N. Hilton endures through impactful and transformative work.

The Lusaka convening brought together diverse voices and perspectives, united by a common goal: to create lasting and meaningful impact through collaboration and shared vision. As the Catholic sisters continue their journey, their unwavering dedication to serving humanity and fostering social justice will undoubtedly inspire and transform communities worldwide.

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Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation foresees a world in which improving the human condition is a shared and sustainable goal. “Love one another, for that is the whole law,” Conrad Hilton wrote in his will. The peoples of the world “deserve to be loved and encouraged—never to be abandoned to wander alone in poverty and darkness.” That is our resolve.

Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA)

The Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa, unites and empowers consecrated women from diverse religious congregations

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