a global voice
for women

Soroptimist International of Europe

Soroptimists inspire action and create opportunities to improve the lives of women and girls through our global network of members and international partnerships.

Message from the President

 For Soroptimists, International Women’s Day is Every Day!

The United Nations has announced ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030’ as the theme for International Women’s Day 2017 on 8 March. A new theme is chosen every year with the aim to facilitate the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, comprising 17 goals to transform the world. The key targets for women are number 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, and number 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.

As a service organisation of and for women in professions and business, Soroptimist International knows better than anyone the challenges women face in the workplace and is dedicated to rectifying these problems. Some of us may even have had first-hand experience in the subtleties of gender-based inequality! Our Unions and Clubs have initiated diverse mentoring programmes, training projects and self-help courses to overcome obstacles at work and to further careers. But empowerment can also come through learning a trade to gain economic self-sufficiency or through instruction in one’s legal rights. It never fails to amaze me when I hear about the many innovative and creative ways our members support women and girls in their education, jobs and everyday lives!

Soroptimists around the globe will be marking International Women’s Day with special events and unique projects. I wish all women a happy and successful celebration and thank our members, in particular, for their selfless and untiring efforts to improve the lives of women and girls. As the examples shown on our new website demonstrate, we are truly making a difference!

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017

Dutch Soroptimists Raise €500,000 to Help Refugees Return to School

Soroptimists are amazing women who do amazing things around the world. The thousands of projects they plan, finance and implement are remarkable on many levels and really do improve lives. If I had the opportunity, I would love to thank each and every member personally for her work, but that is simply impossible when you see that our Unions and Clubs realise some 4,500 projects every year.

However, I would like to take this opportunity to commend one particular campaign, which is representative of our entire organisation: Since 2014 2500 Soroptimists from SI Netherlands, Surinam and Curaçao have raised €500,000 for their ‘Syria Back to School’ campaign in cooperation with UNICEF. With this financial backing, UNICEF has been able to build and furnish classrooms as well as remunerate teachers so that Syrian refugees in Turkey can return to school. For details, please see News.   

The commitment demonstrated by our Dutch Soroptimists is exemplary and deserves special mention! They collaborated on creative and fun projects and events to raise the money to help school children who through no fault of their own were being robbed of an education. Many congratulations and thank you for your impressive teamwork – and partnership with UNICEF. This spirit is what makes us proud to be Soroptimists!

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017

Soroptimists Condemn Discrimination in All its Forms 

Discrimination takes many forms and affects the lives of millions of people. Unfair treatment can be based on race, minority status, religion, sexual orientation or gender. All these kinds of discrimination are violations of basic human rights and must be challenged. The United Nations Zero Discrimination Day, celebrated annually on 1 March since 2014, draws the world’s attention to those who suffer from social and economic exclusion due to prejudice and intolerance.

For Soroptimists it is a day to remember the millions of women and girls who face discrimination on a daily basis. It can be subtle in the workplace or at school. But the particularly heinous forms are manifest in violence and abuse. Let it be said that Soroptimists are working untiringly at the United Nations and at European institutions such as the Council of Europe and the European Women’s Lobby to combat discrimination – through Awareness, Advocacy and Action. Our Unions and Clubs are proactive in providing support by organising and/or funding, among other things, mentoring programmes, help lines and safe houses.

Every women and girl must be afforded the right to live with dignity and respect in a world free form discrimination. And Soroptimists will persist in raising our voices on behalf of those who suffer this injustice. 

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017

SI Germany’s Soroptimist Prize Supports Tech-Savvy Girls

The timing could not have been better. Just when astronomers revealed the discovery of seven new planets in a distant solar system, SI Germany announced Sophia.T gGmbH as the winner of its 5th Soroptimist Prize for a project which provides orientation help to young women intending to embark on engineering studies in pursuit of careers in aerospace or alternative energies. proTechnicale is an eleven-month, gap-year course for young women between high school graduation and university that helps them develop technical skills. The €20,000 endowment will finance a full scholarship and additional workshops in philosophy, rhetorical skills and improvisation theatre.

I congratulate SI Germany on its choice of a prizewinner because it perfectly embodies our biennium motto,‘Soroptimists Invest in Education’, and more specifically, the emphasis on STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) for studies and careers. 

To learn more, please click here

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017

Inspiring Women and Girls to Embrace Science

In its continued efforts to empower women and girls and to promote gender equality, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 11 February International Day of Women and Girls in Science in December 2015. Since then, the United Nation has reaffirmed the importance of science and gender equality to achieve the internationally agreed development goals summarised in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Soroptimist International of Europe will be celebrating this International Day with particular enthusiasm because in the context of our biennium motto,‘Soroptimists Invest in Education’, we are encouraging women and girls to pursue the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) as a study and career choice. This means that we are, among other things, putting special emphasis on STEM candidates in the awarding of SIE Scholarships.

However, an especially effective way of promoting young women aiming to pursue STEM careers is the decision to invite Unions and Single Clubs to sponsor young women between the ages of 18 and 25 who are either studying or working in STEM fields to attend the SIE Congress in Florence in July 2017 under the motto, ‘OWN THE FUTURE: Education, your passport to a better future’. The application form and more details are available on the SIE Congress website: http://www.soroptimistflorence2017.com/node/42. In addition to sponsoring some of our own candidates in STEM fields, the Federation will also finance the costs of Unions or Single Clubs who have identified a worthy woman or girl, but lack the necessary funds. The Board has earmarked €30,000 for this purpose. 

By opening our Congress, we are offering talented young women multiple benefits. They will have the opportunity to network with inspirational women speakers who are leaders in the fields, while experiencing our organisation of and for women.  This invitation is a very concrete way of furthering the studies and careers of women in STEM disciplines – very much in the spirit of the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis

SIE President 2015-2017


Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation

On 6 February Soroptimists will show their solidarity with the at least 200 million women and girls still suffering the consequences worldwide by marking the UN International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). On this occasion, we also repeat our call for all nations to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention which recognises FGM as a serious form of Violence Against Women and Girls.

Indeed, although it is condemned by several international treaties and conventions and banned by law in many countries, this traditional practice involving cutting female genitalia for non-medical reasons is still widespread in Africa and Asia, and is even performed in Europe. It is a violation of the human rights of girls and women and a clear example of violence against women. FGM also reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and is therefore an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls.

For all these reasons, Soroptimist International of Europe supports the target of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to eliminate FGM by 2030. To underline its unequivocal stand towards this form of violence against women, our members have worked actively to raise awareness of the implications of FGM, educate women and men about the dangers, provide shelter to victims and even played an active role in reversing the medical consequences. For more information, see our statement on FGM (http://www.soroptimisteurope.org/advocacy/our-statements).

Peace and g
ood will for the holidays! 

2016 has not been an easy year. We’ve seen political upheaval, natural disasters and horrific acts of terrorism. These occurrences are obviously out of our control, but we will not let any of them deter us in our resolve. Soroptimists will continue to defend our principles and offer support where we can. We will not allow hate or fear to rule our li

As the year draws to a close and we look forward to the holidays, I am consoled and cheered by the knowledge that despite everything, Soroptimists never tire in their efforts to support women and girls in their communities and beyond. None of the events the world has seen can discourage us from pursuing our aims or providing aid. I thank you for your perseverance, commitment and generosity. We will respond to evil and hate with friendship and optimism. When nature strikes with all her fury, we will open our hearts to help. And Soroptimists will always work towards a better understanding between cultures. 
I wish you peaceful holidays with family and friends and a Happy New Year! 

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017

Donations Aid Victims of Natural Disasters

Our call for donations has resulted in nearly €35,000 to support the earthquake-damaged area of Central Italy and the victims of Hurricane Matthew on Haiti! With this substantial sum and the amounts approved by the SIE Board from the Disaster Relief Fund for each project, our local Soroptimists have the opportunity to make a real difference in areas which have seen such horrific devastation.

We asked our Soroptimists in Italy to come up with a project which provides the affected communities with sustainable help. I am happy to report that SI Club Ascoli Piceno has submitted a proposal with long-term benefits. The idea is to erect a community centre for children, young people and families. The facility, which has been planned in detail, will offer a meeting place as well as a play area and a playground during the week so that parents are able to participate in the clean-up or go to work without having to worry about the care of their children. A team of volunteers, mostly women, will ensure that the children are looked after.

Thanks to your donations, the centre will be built, appropriately furnished and supervised. The opening with official recognition of Soroptimist International of Europe is planned for spring 2017.

SI Club Port-au-Prince has devised a project to benefit small farmers around the town of Bainet. Many of them are women, and women are mainly responsible for bringing the produce to market. Hurricane Matthew destroyed their fields, so the Soroptimists decided to provide tools and equipment to help clear the farmland and prepare it for sowing. The 100 kits will be distributed in the communities and pave the way for the recovery of this region for agricultural use. And ultimately it is all about women’s empowerment!

On behalf of SI Italy and SI Port-au-Prince, I thank you for your enormous generosity. With your help, it is extremely gratifying to see how our Soroptimists on site are able to provide practical relief with lasting benefits.

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017


Sponsoring Young Women in STEM to Participate in the SIE Congress

As the year 2016 draws to a close, the organisers are putting the finishing touches on the programme for the SIE Congress, which is so good it simply has to be shared beyond our membership! That is why we have come up with a unique idea which brings together the notions of investing in education, inspiring women interested in STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and opening our Congress to outstanding individuals who can gain an inside view of our organisation. For the first time ever, Unions and Single Clubs are invited to sponsor young women between the ages of 18 and 25 who are either studying or working in STEM fields. The Soroptimists are expected to cover their guest’s travel, accommodation and SIE Congress expenses. Unions and Single Clubs that are unable to handle these costs may apply for SIE funding. The Federation has set aside €30,000 for this purpose. The candidates will be chosen on a first come, first served basis, whereby only one nominee can be sponsored per country.

I am extremely enthusiastic about the prospect of opening our Congress to these talented young women. It is not only the fact that they have the chance to attend the Congress and experience our organisation first hand, but they will also have the opportunity to network with the highly inspirational women speakers who are leaders in their fields. And let’s not ignore the recruiting potential!

The application form and more details are available on the SIE Congress website (www.soroptimistflorence2017.com). I urge you to take advantage of this special opportunity to further the careers of young women in STEM disciplines. It is a perfect way to show that Soroptimists truly are investing in education!

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis

SIE President 2015-2017

Application form

Orange the Soroptimist world” with 16 Days of Activism

The UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November marks the beginning of the annual 16 Days of Activism campaign to raise awareness of gender-based violence. Over the course of the subsequent 16 days leading up to 10 December, International Human Rights Day, the United Nations, NGOs and women the world over will be drawing attention to this violation of human rights by taking up UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s call to“Orange the world”.

With one in three women experiencing physical or sexual harm worldwide, gender-based violence continues to be a global pandemic. For its 16 Days of Activism Soroptimist International of Europe will use the colour orange to signalise our outrage at violence directed towards women and girls and our hope for a better future. Among other things, we will“orange” our website and post a unique SIE calendar with pertinent messages, facts and figures. So, please check our SIE website regularly to keep informed of all the news and initiatives.  

Of course, the more “orange” traffic we create, the greater the impact, and therefore we invite our Unions, Clubs and individual members to join the campaign. You may choose to post orange messages on Facebook or dress up your Union and Club websites in orange. To reach a wider audience, we suggest you ask your local communities to orange streets, schools or landmarks. Let your imagination inspire you! For example, our own SI Kuwait has preliminary approval to light up the Ministry of Information in orange and illuminate the SI logo!

Indeed, Soroptimists will be taking this opportunity to remind the world that violence against women and girls is a consequence of inequality and discrimination. By mobilising women from all backgrounds and cultures and by promoting greater awareness we can and must stop violence. And remember: the 16 days culminate with the celebration of what we refer to as Soroptimist Day on 10 December! By actively participating in the orange campaign, we can also demonstrate our pride in being part of this amazing organisation!

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017


SI Club Port-au-Prince Needs Our Help!

“On behalf of Soroptimist International of Europe, SIE President Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis has sent her deepest condolences to SI Club Port au Prince following the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The club members are already active in helping the people affected by this natural catastrophe, but they need our support to fund their various efforts. Therefore, SIE President Elisabetta is appealing to your generosity once again. One long-term plan is to rebuild a school, but also to come to the aid of 100 farmers.

Please send donations to aid the club in its work. Depending on the currency of your account, you may donate to the following accounts, using the reference “Hurricane in Haiti 2016”:

If your bank account is in the euro zone (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain) or if you have a bank account in euro in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, United Kingdom, Slovakia or Sweden), please donate to Soroptimist International of Europe at CREDIT AGRICOLE DES SAVOIE, 74160 Saint Julien en G – France, SWIFT OR BIC: AGRIFRPP881, IBAN: FR76 1810 6000 3496 7040 0803 955.

If your bank account is outside the euro zone, please make your donations to Soroptimist International of Europe at UBS, CH – GENEVA, Switzerland, SWIFT OR BIC: UBSWCHZH80A, IBAN: CH30 0029 0290 IN10 5239 0.

Donations in CF should be transferred to Soroptimist International of Europe at UBS, CH – GENEVA, Switzerland, SWIFT OR BIC: UBSWCHZH80A, IBAN: CH89 0029 0290 IN10 5239 5.”

Thank you very much.

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017


Let’s nominate a Soroptimist for the EU Women Innovators Prize

We are constantly looking for ways to create better recognition of the name Soroptimist so when I saw the call for nominations for the EU Prize for Women Innovators, I thought, why not encourage Unions and Clubs to suggest one of our members? The three prizes will recognise to women who have founded or co-founded a company and who themselves or their company have benefitted from funding related to research and/or innovation. More details are provided under ‘News’ and via the link to the website of the European Commission.

There can be no doubt that women are innovators, but they often are reticent to speak about their own achievements! In some ways, we Soroptimists are also guilty of this modesty. In former times and perhaps even in some circles today, talking about accomplishments may not be considered ‘ladylike’, but let’s face it: you are more likely to be passed over for promotion, a salary rise or an award, if you are not willing to ‘sell yourself’. And our organisation could hope for more donations towards our projects or a better image, if people knew what amazing things we are doing!

Of course, the EU Prize for women innovators has a special meaning for me because it recognises women who have excelled in business in STEM areas, a main focus of the 2015-2017 biennium. The candidates must already have received funding for research and/or an innovation. The EU says that these prizes have a strong potential to drive innovation and to promote women role models. Wouldn’t it be a proud moment if one of the winners were a Soroptimist? Please reach out to your members and see if we can nominate one of own for this prestigious award!

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017

Partnering with ‘My Book Buddy’ to Promote Literacy


Marking the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day on 8 September, Soroptimist International of Europe has announced a new partnership with the Dutch organization, My Book Buddy (MBB), to provide disadvantaged women and girls with greater access to books in a joint effort to combat illiteracy. More details are reported in the news section of the website.


Many Unions and Clubs have already signed up to participate in the cooperation which involves outfitting schools and possibly refugee camps with books in custom-made bookcases and training teachers in a library system that allows children to take books home and share the reading experience with the entire family. I hope we can expand the cooperation to more areas of our Federation.


While MBB brings the expertise in implementing these unique bookcase and library systems, SIE has a strong network of clubs which can identify schools and refugee camps that can benefit from this access to reading and reference books. As a complementary programme in line with our 2015-2017 biennium theme is ‘Soroptimists Invest in Education’, this partnership offers a workable and effective method to improve the reading skills of girls and women in disadvantaged areas.


In the coming weeks we will introduce a facility to donate to this worthy cause. I urge everyone to show your support by making donations and/or organizing fundraising events. The ability to read is the key to a good education, and a good education helps empower women and girls.

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017


Donations for earthquake-ravaged Italy

A devastating earthquake has struck Central Italy once again. Fortunately, it appears that Soroptimists were not among the victims, and we can only hope that their wider families are safe as well. On behalf of my Italian sisters, I thank you all for your messages of consolation and solidarity in the face of this natural disaster. They are much appreciated.

As most of you know, SIE is neither equipped nor experienced in offering immediate disaster aid. Our strength is working together with the locals in the communities affected by disasters to come up with ideas for long-term relief, especially for women and children. If there are local SI clubs, they can act as coordinators for the projects. Many of you have expressed the desire to donate towards a project for the benefit of the Italian communities which have been so terribly ravaged.

Therefore SIE has decided to set up a SIE Fund Earthquake Italy 2016 to collect money for a project under the motto education and/or empowerment of women and girls in the affected areas. Depending on whether you are transferring from euro, CF or other accounts, please see the following instructions and use the reference “SIE Fund Earthquake Italy 2016”.

If your bank account is in the euro zone (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain) or if you have a bank account in euro in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, United Kingdom, Slovakia or Sweden), please donate to Soroptimist International of Europe at CREDIT AGRICOLE DES SAVOIE, 74160 Saint Julien en G – France, SWIFT OR BIC: AGRIFRPP881, IBAN: FR76 1810 6000 3496 7040 0803 955.

If your bank account is outside the euro zone, please make your donations to Soroptimist International of Europe at UBS, CH – GENEVA, Switzerland, SWIFT OR BIC: UBSWCHZH80A, IBAN: CH30 0029 0290 IN10 5239 0.

Donations in CF should be transferred to Soroptimist International of Europe at UBS, CH – GENEVA, Switzerland, SWIFT OR BIC: UBSWCHZH80A, IBAN: CH89 0029 0290 IN10 5239 5.

Details of what has been done with the donations will be announced at a later date, after we have conferred with the SI Italy and the nearby club.

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017




When Remaining Silent Is a Statement

It is a sad and disturbing fact that hardly a day goes by in recent times without a news flash about some horrific act of violence in one of the countries of our Federation. Like many of you, I have felt the need to comment on these atrocities and send a public message of condolence to the Soroptimists of the countries affected via social media. When I posted my personal decision to stop giving social media coverage to the hatred-based actions of these cowardly terrorists and criminals, I had not expected to open such a passionate debate.

Please rest assured that I shall continue to write to the individual Unions and Clubs which are caught up in these appalling situations. And my thoughts are with the family and friends of every victim. However, I personally feel the time has come to stop feeding the sick minds of these perpetrators with public demonstrations of sorrow. Of course, every Soroptimist must and will make her own decision as to how to react, and far be it from me to dictate how members should express their emotions or communicate among themselves, but as President of Soroptimist International of Europe, I shall refrain from commenting on every attack on behalf of our organisation. In the same way that some of the French media have decided not to publish their photos or names, I do not want these murderers to revel in our shock, sadness and consternation.

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017




Recognising Particularly Remarkable Projects

One of the highlights of our annual Governors’ Meeting is the announcement of the Best Practice Awards which recognise outstanding projects in our key areas of focus: Education, Economic Empowerment, Elimination of Violence against Women, Health and Sustainable Environment. We also take this occasion to name a Project of the Year and to present an ‘Educate to Lead’ award, which in this particular case exemplified the 2015-2017 biennium theme ‘Soroptimists Invest in Education’, specifically in the STEM disciplines.  

I warmly congratulate all of the winners and thank them for their extraordinary commitment. These projects are just a small selection of the more than 4500 projects implemented by Unions and Clubs throughout the Federation, and I commend all Soroptimists for their creativity, dedication and determination to improve the lives of women and girls. Their efforts are the very essence of our work and define our organisation around the globe. But today, we celebrate the best of the best. So please read about their accomplishments – http://www.soroptimisteurope.org/programs/best-practices – and be inspired!  

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017



Soroptimists Excel in Many Ways 

Since our organisation was founded in 1921, many Soroptimists have been recognised in their communities and countries for their outstanding accomplishments and hard work. In this connection, I have to mention Dr Suzanne Noël, the founder of the first Soroptimist club in Europe in Paris and the driving force behind the establishment of Soroptimist International of Europe. She was awarded the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur, which Napoléan Bonaparte first established in 1803 to recognise military and civil merits in France.
Over the years many other Soroptimists have collected a number of high distinctions, such as the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany or France’sl’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. The list is far too long to cite all those who have received awards, but I would like to take this opportunity to name Dr Manahel Thabet, a founding member of SI Club Gulf-Dubai, on receiving the Freedom of the City of London earlier this month. This prestigious honour was introduced in the United Kingdom in the 13th century to recognise a person’s achievements and contributions to society. Other holders include Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela.
Manahel Thabet is the youngest and only Arab to have earned a PhD in financial engineering. She says she has a passion for science and quantum physics, and as such is an appropriate role model for women and girls who would like to pursue careers in STEM disciplines. But in addition to her distinguished professional career, she has also devoted much time and effort to humanitarian causes and empowering women. On behalf of the European Federation, I congratulate Manahel Thabet for this impressive distinction and commend all the thousands of Soroptimists who like her excel in their various fields as well. We are as proud of the unsung heroines in our organisation as we are of the exceptional few! 

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017

 Soroptimists Mark World Refugee Day                                

Hardly a day goes by without some alarming report in the media about the refugee crisis. The countries of our Federation are particularly affected, which is why we have spoken out on this issue in a Soroptimist white paper and in The Link. With World Refugee Day on 20 June, now is another good occasion to highlight this problem and remind ourselves what Soroptimists are doing and can do in the face of this human tragedy. After all, we should never forget that these people led ordinary lives before external circumstances forced them to flee the protection and security of their homes.

With some 79,000 members, 34,000 of whom are structurally organized in European Federation, Soroptimist International is the largest service organization of and for women in the world. The Soroptimists in our clubs are engaged in improving lives by educating, empowering and enabling women and girls on local, national and international levels. With this mission in mind, many of our clubs are well positioned to address some of the challenges resulting from the current refugee crisis. The thousands of women refugees and asylum seekers reaching our shores in recent months face gender-specific perils related to violence, trafficking, discrimination, health care and hygiene issues. In this connection, I would like to draw attention to the publication of the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), “From Conflict to Peace? #Womensvoices” with recommendations to prevent and combat violence against refugee women and girls on the move. It resulted from the collaboration between EWL and the Women’s Refugee Commission to raise awareness on the situation of women and girl refugees in Europe.

Soroptimists are providing both short- and long-term relief. This may involve donating medical, sanitary and hygienic supplies, organizing clothing drives, volunteering in refugee centres, giving language lessons or offering vocational training. On the occasion of World Refugee Day, I would like to thank our Soroptimists for all their endeavours and commitment to help diminish the effects of this humanitarian disaster. Our hands-on activities combined with all the advocacy efforts at ground level give credence to our claim to be a “global voice for women and girls”. 

For more information please download HERE the publication of the European's Women Lobby “From Conflict to Peace? #Womensvoices” 

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015-2017

Soroptimist Scholarships Turn Potential into Reality




Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
SIE President 2015 -2017

Not counting the hundreds of individual grants offered by Unions and Clubs, Soroptimist International of Europe conferred scholarships to 17 women totalling some €110,000 in 2015. For many of the recipients, this financial support is crucial to allowing them to realize their dream profession. In their recently submitted final reports, two former grantees vividly described the difference our scholarships have made in their lives. Their stories are especially gratifying because they perfectly exemplify the current biennium theme, Soroptimists Invest in Education, and our efforts to promote professions in STEM disciplines.

Thanks to our SIE scholarship, a young working mother from Italy was able to continue her study programme for a Master in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. By her own account, the knowledge she gained in basic epidemiology, principles of social science research, health economics and healthcare services is proving useful for her work with Doctors with Africa CUAMM. It is also helping her design and develop new projects that improve the health of, in particular, women and children in seven African countries. She writes that she is extremely grateful to Soroptimist for having encouraged her to pursue a career in the Public Health sector. ‘The finalization of my studies (in 2017) will be a great achievement for me and my family.’

During her first year as master’s student in the Integrated Systems Biology programme at the University of Luxembourg, a Turkish grantee was accepted into the CanSys programme, in which students spend their second year conducting research at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in the US. Her master’s thesis project at the Institute focused on aggressive prostate cancer with the goal of identifying a novel therapy. She eventually was awarded two Masters, one in Systems Biology and the other in Cancer Biology, and is now pursuing a PhD in Molecular Pharmacology and Cancer Therapeutics. She writes that she is thankful for the opportunity to follow her dreams and take the first steps toward her aim of becoming ‘an independent woman and a successful scientist’. As she says, her experience shows ‘how the helping hand of Soroptimists can support people to turn their potential into reality’.

The benefits of Soroptimists’ investing in education cannot be explained in a better way than the personal accounts of these young women! There are of course many more former scholarship recipients with their own uplifting stories. We welcome this feedback for many reasons, not least to learn how SIE can be more effective with the distribution of our financial support.



 Dutch Soroptimists endow Professor of Human Rights Education at Utrecht University

Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis
 SIE President 2015 -2017 

I am thrilled by the news of an exciting initiative in The Netherlands: Thanks to a generous bequest by the late Soroptimist Carla  Atzema-Looman who dedicated her life to the fight for women's rights, Dutch Soroptimists will endow a Professor of Human Rights Education at Utrecht University.  The endowed professor will study how human rights, and in particular women's rights, can be given a more prominent place in education. The idea is to conduct scientific research into the integration of human and women's rights into primary and secondary education, as well as the embedding of human and women's rights in education for specific professional groups, such as the healthcare sector, teacher-training programmes and the police. Responsibilities will also include initiating and supervising doctoral research as well as raising further funds in this area of research. The chair will be part of the International and European Law department of the School of Law, in particular the Human Rights Study and Information Centre, and is closely connected with the other schools of the Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance.  

As an organisation dedicated to the promotion of human rights and improvement of the status of women and girls, we are highly suited to support such a professorship, and this move perfectly embodies the spirit of my biennium theme, Soroptimist Invest in Education.  Perhaps one of our members would be interested in applying for the chair. If so, a detailed profile is available from Lolita van Toledo at Utrecht University, email: L.L.S.vanToledo(at)uu.nl, phone +31 (0)30-253 75 13. For further information, please contact the chairperson of the appointments advisory committee Professor Barbara Oomen, email: B.Oomen(at)ucr.nl. The deadline for applications is 10 May 2016.


Letter of the President, April 2016


Maria Elisabetta de Franciscis, SIE President 2015 -2017

Dear Soroptimist friends,

I find it hard to believe that we are already six months into the first year of my biennium! Although my days and evenings are full with Soroptimist-related issues, I feel I am only scratching the surface of my long and ambitious list of tasks. In many respects, I see 2015-2016 as watershed year in the development of our organisation. With the branding campaign in preparation, we are about to embark on an exciting course to improve our visibility. We have a new look and approach to The Link, and we are in the process of revamping the SIE website. And we want to get this whole direction of Communication right! Together with the members of the working group, we are making excellent progress  – also with the branding strategy.

On International Women’s Day I addressed both Soroptimists and non-Soroptimists in the first of several anticipated videos to be posted on our SIE website. You will have seen that SIE Board members are increasingly using SIE Facebook to communicate our activities, and the feedback is encouraging. The Constitutions are under revision along the line of the mandate we received in Lisbon. I have reorganised the pre-Governors’ Meeting in Sofia to allow more interaction and dialogue in this very interesting and challenging subject. These carefully considered steps are imperative to shape our future!


When I launched the Biennium theme Soroptimist Invest in Education, I had not expected such a positive feedback from Unions and Clubs. Yet, as many of you warmly welcomed and noted: Education is grounded in every Soroptimist and is even a key word in our own mission statement:  To improve the lives of women and girls through education, women empowerment and enabling opportunities. The number of PFRs received is astonishing!

UNESCO - Earlier this year, I met with the leadership of this prestigious institution, which has its International Bureau of Education (IBE), based in Geneva. Their mission is to ensure that the curricula developed by IBE meet the needs of the local populations. Their gender equality programme looks at many elements that are highly relevant to our own objectives and therefore to our own concerns: Isn’t it our mission to ensure girls have equal chances and access to quality education? We are currently exploring a partnership opportunity between SIE and UNESCO IBE to further address these needs. I will tell you more in Sofia.

Leadership – step by step towards the SIFAF

Following the presentation of SIE President elect and SIE Liaison Africa Renata Trottmann Probst, we discussed at some length our SIE policy toward the Future African Federation (SIFAF) at the Restricted Board Meeting in January 2016. Thanks to the concerted efforts of SIE, SIGBI and African Soroptimists in recent years, many of the requirements for a Federation have been put in place. These include a draft constitution, financial rules, definitions of Board responsibilities and even a logo.

This means that SIE has achieved its main goal of helping to establish a functioning structure for the new Federation. However, there are still further prerequisites that have to be met before an African Federation can be viable. Among the immediate priorities are to grow membership to at least 2,200, secure a self-sustainable financial and administrative base and identify a sufficient number of experienced leaders to assume SIFAF Board positions. In March 2016 a new Task Force was elected at the SIFAF Conference in Madagascar to concentrate on meeting these preconditions.

We therefore feel it is time for the SIE Board to take a back seat in the SIFAF efforts and allow the very competent and committed African Soroptimists to drive the progress towards their own Federation. If specific support is deemed necessary, it will be considered on a case-by-case basis. SIE President elect Renata explained this new policy at the Conference in Madagascar, and participants have reported that the SIE Board decision was well received. Participants included SIE Immediate Past President Ulla Madsen, Soroptimist International Immediate Past President Ann Garvie, SIE President-elect Renata Trottmann Probst, SIE Vice President Emine Erdem, past SIFAF Task Force Chairperson Mariam Konate, SIE Representative on the Task Force Saida Fitouri, APD Caroline Junier, Extension Chairperson Gerda Rosiers, Scholarship Chairperson Maria Luisa Frosio, Union of Madagascar President Lilly Andrianantenaina, and Organising Committee Chairperson Fara Ratsimanohatra, amongst 160 Soroptimists from SIE and SIGBI.


Some 80 Soroptimists from all Federations attended the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60), and many were invited to meet their government’s permanent delegations. As I led our SIE delegation* (see names below), I could see that national Soroptimists (Unions/regions, etc.) are definitely becoming more visible. I was personally invited by the Italian government and shared a topic discussion together with senior officials and other NGOs to address gender-based issues. I am also pleased to say that Soroptimists were involved in different capacities at many side events. For example, under the auspices of Women for Water Partnership and the Dutch government, SI President Yvonne Simpson spoke about the SI theme ‘Educate to Lead’ and the SI President's Campaign for Nepal at one of the high-level sessions. At another session, I had the honour to talk about SIE and the Soroptimist responses to post-crisis situations.  Using the details from PFRs, I described how SI Club Murau (Austria) helped integrate migrant women and girls into their community; how SI Turkey set up a school for Syrian refugees children and organised carpet-weaving training for Syrian women in the camps; how SI Tunis Ariana/Fondateur is mentoring future leaders at a school for democracy; and how SI Rwanda has realised numerous projects in the wake of the genocide in their country.

The United Nations regularly asks us to report concrete actions. This clearly demonstrates how important it is to report about your projects (PFRs). Our role at SIE is to share this information with the appropriate institutions. Let us always remember: Soroptimists in their respective communities are credible witnesses of the challenges faced by women and girls and are recognised to be true agents of change.

* SIE Delegation at CSW60: SIE President Elisabetta, Past President Kathy Kaaf, Past President and SI President elect Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, VP Advocacy Sigrid Ag, PD Marlène van Benthem, Italian delegate Elena Trombetta, Dutch delegate Evelien Van Roijien, Icelandic delegate Hafdis Karlsdottir, and Danish delegate Inger Schmidt.

Communications – a new look for The Link

In the coming weeks you will receive the first issue of The Link in this biennium. As you will see, it has a new look and new content. We have decided to have a largely theme-driven magazine, whereby the first issue focuses on our biennium theme ‘Invest in Education’. We hope to inspire you and your clubs to initiate projects with an aim to promoting education and empowering women. As the quote by Nelson Mandela on the cover says, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world’.

A further focus of this first issue is the repercussions of the refugee crisis and the challenges that women in particular face when they leave their home countries to secure a safe future for themselves and their children. You may find the concrete examples of work done by Union and Clubs especially interesting and helpful.

As in the past, The Link is not only an important tool for internal communication, but also a means to present our advocacy work to external audiences, thus raising our visibility. Please let us know what you think about this new concept for The Link. We are open to suggestions – also for topics and contributions on the designated themes from Soroptimist authors.

SIE Governors’ Meeting

The 2016 Governors’ Meeting is fast approaching, so participants can look forward to receiving numerous reports in the coming weeks in preparation for the agenda. I repeat my invitation to a wider group of Soroptimists to join this key event of the Federation year. However, you will have to communicate your interest to your Union President quickly, as space is limited. With so many momentous decisions to be taken, this year’s Governors’ Meeting promises to be particularly exciting.


Since October 2015 I am proud to say that 10 new clubs have been chartered. This successful Extension work once again underscores the vitality of the Federation. You may have noticed that we have departed from the usual practice of only selecting officers outside the respective Union or country to present the charters. When possible, I would prefer to send experienced Soroptimists who can speak the language of the new members. This makes it easier for those directly involved to convey information on the organizational structure and the services offered by the Federation. The positive feedback from Soroptimists during recent visits to charters, club anniversaries and the Annual General Meetings of Unions confirms my impression that this new policy has been well received.

The first months of my biennium have been challenging but inspiring and very rewarding as the results are beginning to show. I am committed to the development of our organisation and look forward to sharing more with you in Sofia!

Warm regards,