Professionals today have often followed a tried and true course to get to where they are. They attended the right schools, earned the right degrees, applied to the right jobs, and climb the right ladders. How different would your life be if schools, degrees, and jobs weren’t even an option to you? What would happen then to your ambitions and dreams?
Nancy Johns speaks with us today about Women of Vision, a volunteer ministry of World Vision, and the efforts being made to provide women around the world with the opportunity to pursue their professional dreams and make a better life for themselves and their families.
4word: Tell us about your background.
Nancy: I graduated from University of California, Irvine in 1972 with a degree in Computer Science & Math. I started school at UC Berkley in the early ‘60’s, took a couple of years off to get married, then finished up at Irvine. I’m an engineer at heart, so majoring in Math at UCB, then in the ‘new field’ of Computer Science was a good fit. I worked in this male-dominated industry from 1972 until 1992. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. I still remember my first boss asking me to go home and get my husband’s permission to make a two-day business trip. My 20 years in that career were challenging and rewarding, and when I left, I was at a level where I was managing a number of managers.
In 1992, I changed careers to being a real estate broker in an effort to cut down on the amount of time I spent traveling for business. My husband was a homebuilder, and I transitioned from helping him out for a few months to being a Realtor. Trying to balance career and family, I found I wasn’t satisfied with how I was doing any of it. Add to that being out of town, and it became clear it was time for a change. This change occurred as my husband and I were struggling raising our oldest child. For our family to work, both parents needed to be available. I did miss my previous career, but in the end, the overall improvement in my deep satisfaction made it worth the change.
4word: During your career in real estate, have you ever found it hard to be a Christian in your industry? If so, how do you cope?
Nancy: I’ve been a realtor now for 20 years. As an independent contractor, I find less conflict with my Christian worldview and my job than I did in my previous career. I can determine how I get things done and how I maintain values.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a Christian is managing an office of 60 agents. I’ve learned you have to make it a point to do activities with other believers in order to keep yourself grounded in the essence of your faith. This fellowship with other believers allows you to act instinctively when situations arise. For me, being a believer in the workplace is more about being mindful of how I interact day-to-day with clients and colleagues than it is about telling others what I believe. I want folks to ask the questions to which Jesus is the answer.
God has helped me become more aware of way of sharing my faith as I’ve met people in developing countries. In my previous career, when I didn’t set the standards of business, the biggest problems occurred when my values conflicted with the company’s. The most extreme example was when management wanted me to lie to a major client about delivery times. I had to quit. That situation did teach me to be sure that the company values were congruent with mine. We get so focused on ‘what’ the job is, we sometimes forget to see if the underlying beliefs will work. At that time, I wasn’t as articulate about my worldview as I am now. Everyone operates from a worldview. Mine is that of a follower of Jesus.
4word: You are now a part of Women of Vision, a volunteer ministry of World Vision. What led you to become involved with them? What about the organization appealed to you as a professional woman?
Nancy: Women of Vision is an advocacy, education, and fundraising organization under the Volunteer Engagement part of World Vision. I became involved with Women of Vision in 2006 after being invited by a friend from church. I was excited to find a group of ladies who were like-minded with a passion for the poor.
I can specifically remember when God made me aware of His call for me to the poor. I started by getting involved with Habitat for Humanity. Habitat used my home building knowledge, management experience, and working with others at several churches to start the Habitat affiliate in my community. As a member of my church mission team, I met and listened to Adama Diouf from Senegal, West Africa, speak. Our ministry partnered with World Vision on community development in a federation of 18 villages. That was it! Not a head decision but a heart one! I knew God was calling me to use my strangely-configured self to be His hands, feet, and voice for the impoverished and oppressed. Being part of Women of Vision was just a natural way to answer that call.
Right now, our chapter of Women of Vision is supporting projects with prayer, advocacy and funding in Bangladesh (child protection), Mozambique (water, sanitation and hygiene), and Bolivia (gender equality and economic development). We operate on solid business principles using our collective skills to plan, execute, and expand our reach to members of our community on behalf of the projects we support. God has blessed us with amazing women, all uniquely gifted to move things forward. I have found it totally congruent with my compassionate, engineer self.
4word: Do you feel like your professional experience has helped shape you to be a better volunteer/advocate for women?
Nancy: As a professional woman, I have enjoyed my WOV roles that allow me use my organizational gifts and my heart for the poor. I work with a great group of women who come from a variety of backgrounds and multiple churches, all followers of Jesus with one very focused purpose. I love using my experience as a woman in industry to help women who are starting businesses to improve the lives of their families. Women around the world want much of the same things we do, especially when it comes to their families: safety, health, food, education, and a more secure future. These desires transcend ethnic groups, religions, traditions.
4word: What do the women receiving loans from World Vision have in common with American business women?
Nancy: Our chapter is currently funding part of a project in Bolivia that is addressing gender equality and providing economic development opportunities to women. I’ve seen similar programs in urban Ulanbaatar, Mongolia, rural Senegal, and rural Honduras. I don’t think many of these women would consider themselves “professional women,” but in fact, each is a pioneer in their communities, looking to improve the lives and security of their families.
In many of these communities, women are seen in a more traditional role, so their stepping forward to be leaders and business owners is amazing. One woman in Mongolia has become a cobbler doing shoe repair. She has used her loans to buy equipment required for her business. Through the success of her business, she has managed to send two of her children to college and support herself too.
Another woman I loved seeing and talking with was in Diakhao, Senegal, a rural town of 200 people. She had a small store, and with determination, has enlarged it. She now has a ‘fast food’ area that provides lunches for school children and others. What she has in common with professional women everywhere is that she wants to provide a base for her family to thrive and her children to have opportunity for education.
In Honduras, we met a woman who started a small baking company which now employs four other women. Five households benefit from her entrepreneurial spirit. She has the same joys and concerns that all business owners have: supply costs, staff turnover, marketing of her products, production improvements.
4word: What is the value of giving loans to these women? Have their communities seen an increase in quality of life? Have doors been opened for these women that otherwise would not have?
Nancy: The process of economic development is complex with lots of levels and moving parts. The process begins with starting a savings group where women put a very small amount into a joint fund, then lend to each other. The next step is to introduce small micro loans ranging in value from $150-250. As their businesses grow, the women we assist are able to pay the loans back and borrow more. I’ve seen some who now are employing others in their communities. There is quite a ripple effect!
As their communities see improvement, their own households are seeing stable sources of income which allow their children to go to school and get medical attention. The World Vision approach ensures that these women are provided with lots of training as they move through these steps so their chance of success is high.
4word: World Vision hosts “Vision Trips” to countries where they are offering assistance. What about these trips has impacted you the most? Do you have any stories of women you’ve met who have been affected by World Vision’s help?
Nancy: World Vision “Vision Trips” give travelers a chance to immerse themselves in the activities of community transformation for just a short time and see the magic happen. After going on a Vision Trip, you won’t ever be the same. You’ll notice how you use water, the kinds of small medical things we all take for granted, how our lives are not consumed by the basic needs of our families. We are so different, yet, so similar to these women. Sitting with them just talking about the basics of our dreams for our families is an amazing way to see God’s hand on lives around the world.
These moments are unexpected times for smiles and tears…seeing God’s fingerprints on the world. In the places I’ve been where Christians are rare—Senegal is 98% Muslim—I’ve had the chance to just be the hands and feet of Jesus, reflecting Him however the moment requires. ‘Being’ not ‘doing’ anything. These Vision Trips aren’t about building things. They are about understanding the challenges and successes so we can advocate for these folks once we get home. We are clear with everyone that we are there because we know God loves us, and He wants them to know He loves them.
4word: How can our 4word readers take part in World Vision’s mission to help professional women around the world?
Nancy: There are several ways 4word readers can take part in World Vision’s mission around the world! There might be a Women of Vision chapter or Circle near you. You can sponsor a child in a number of places in the world, and those funds go to both the child and the family. Some of the funding is used for the beginning of economic development, which is the formation of savings groups and starting businesses.
After these beginning steps, women can advance to taking out small loans from a microfinance organization. You can participate in a micro loan supporting professional women around the world through the WV MICRO site. WV oversees these loans and gives the borrowers training in how to organize their businesses, keep their books, and plan for future growth.
Has Nancy’s story inspired you to reach a helping hand to professional women around the world? Whether you fund a micro loan, attend a “Vision Trip,” or simply pray diligently for this cause, seize this opportunity to have an impact in the lives of women who just want the same thing you do: to see their families and communiies thrive and to see their dreams achieved.
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Nancy Johns is currently a Managing Broker with Windermere Stellar Real Estate, working full time to help folks navigate through change as it relates to residential real estate. She has previous experience in high technology marketing and product development. Widowed and the mother of three adult children, Nancy works in her church and with other women through Women of Vision to encourage and advocate for people in need worldwide and in her own community.
“The glory of God is a person fully alive” Irenaeus 2nd century theologian.