Building Sisterhood: A Q&A with Olivia Lovell, NGO Founder & Women’s Advocate

The following interview is part of a series of conversations with young change-makers across the Western Hemisphere. From women’s rights to education to good governance, these leaders, founders, and creators are advocating for social good in a variety of ways across multiple platforms. 

In this Q&A, Olivia Lovell, the founder of Women of Destiny, an organization that provides mentorship and trainings to women who have been victims of abuse, explains how she overcame adversity and found her purpose and how she helps young women in Jamaica do the same. This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

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Tell us a little bit about your background. What inspired you to found Women of Destiny?

I was born and raised in the marginalized community of Mt. Salem in Montego Bay, St. James, Jamaica. I’m the firstborn of two girls to my parents, Wayne and Andrea Shaw. As a child, I had an interest in the sciences and so I did my very best to acquire the education needed to become a doctor. I attended an all girls boarding high school named Westwood High School between 2004 and 2009. This is where I was able to identify my innate leadership skills and passion for service. I served in various leadership roles and volunteered in extracurricular activities.

My tenure at Westwood High was challenging as I struggled with depression that led to a suicide attempt in 2008. This allowed me to acquire the clinical counseling needed to help me understand the root causes of my depression and provide strategies and tools to cope with and overcome them. My return to school after months of counseling posed more challenges than I expected. Other students bullied me as they didn’t understand what caused the suicide attempt. Withstanding the challenges, I served as a prefect and graduated with distinctions. 

In 2015, upon the completion of my Bachelors of Science in Medical Technology (with honors) from the University of Technology, Jamaica based in the capital of the country, Kingston, I returned to my home community to complete my internship at the Cornwall Regional Hospital. Even though I excelled during this internship, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled about my duties as a Medical Technologist. During this time, I had undergone loss, and it sent me into a state of questioning my purpose. Nothing in my life was filling that void. 

It was through prayer with my sister, Lovina Shaw, and aunty, Marilyn Ferrier, that I surrendered every brokenness to God. I always explain this encounter as a burden being lifted off my shoulders, because it seemed like I no longer had the problems I had been crying about. However it happened, I knew that I found clarity on why I wasn’t supposed to be locked away in a Medical Laboratory looking at body fluids. Instead, I should be directly helping people some way or another. 

I decided that I wanted to understand the challenges other women from my community were facing, how I could help them overcome these challenges, and provide similar support like my sister gave me through my dark moment in order for them to discover their God-given purpose. 

My innate skill of influencing women seemingly made the start of Women of Destiny easy, but soon various challenges posed a setback. I felt unqualified but I persisted to network and mobilize resources that would support the women to grow and develop holistically in all areas of their lives. Our work consists of mental, emotional, financial, physical and social development.

The passion to help other women stemmed from the safe bond I shared with my sister and aunt. The issue of women not being there for each other caused more problems than solutions and I wanted to foster an environment where women recognized that we are all the same regardless of how we look, where we live, etc.

Instead of bashing, shaming, and being jealous of each other, if we come together then great things can happen. I was raised by a strong woman and I had negatively influenced women before and so with my purpose awakening, I wanted to make that shift to positively influencing women to unearth their God-given purpose. 

Can you describe a typical day of working at the helm of Women of Destiny? What does the programming look like?

As the organization prepares to celebrate its 5th year of service, I am busy trying to strengthen the governance framework. This transitional period is highly significant for us and so our day-to-day operations have been altered. However, an average day in Women of Destiny begins with email and texts responding to stakeholders and members. Based on the requests or queries, I spend time engaging resource personnel for their guidance and support for a solution. 

The organization’s mission is to provide a safe haven to marginalized women. This is done through 3 program offerings:

  1. Empowerment Sessions – Sister Circle is held weekly through a guided facilitation session with a speaker that shares open and honestly on various topics. The ladies are encouraged to ask questions and speak about their own experiences. This aims to foster a safe haven that builds a sisterhood, as they support each other through their lows and celebrate victories. 
  2. Advocacy – The #IAmHER Campaign is launching soon as a project for victims of abuse. This campaign aims to train community-based advocates to support victims of abuse as they offer support to aid the reclaiming of the survivors’ lives. 
  3. Mentorship – Adopt a Sister & Little Big Sister are two mentorship projects that offer sustained support to the members of the organization. Adopt a Sister connects young women between the ages of 23 and 30 to established women in society as their mentors based on professional and personal goals. Little Big Sister connects female preteen and teenagers to young women within the organization to guide these children on a path of purpose.

For the functioning of these programs, Women of Destiny offers services such as resource mobilization and outreach services. As we serve to holistically empower our women, we ensure that they give back to society as much as they receive and this is done through our annual clothes drive, book voucher grant to the top student at the Mt. Salem Primary School, and collaborative work to Feed the Homeless on Christmas Day each year. 

What are your long-term goals for Women of Destiny? What have been the most significant challenges?

We have some audacious goals but we trust that with the correct strategy and support we can achieve them. These goals are: 

  1. To own and operate a physical safe haven for female victims of abuse.
  2. To operate a social enterprise within the beauty industry. 
  3. To operate various chapters of the Women of Destiny across the globe.
  4. To be the household name for holistic empowerment services for marginalized   women within the region. 

Our most significant challenges have been the poor governance framework of the organization that result in inconsistency of our services, the lack of a physical space to consistently facilitate sessions, and financial support to implement various programs. 

If you could wave a wand and instantly solve one of the world’s problems, what would it be?

My magic wand would eliminate violence against women and girls. This a public health issue that is plaguing the world and its tolerance has truly diminished women identifying their power to contribute and make this world a better place. 

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Women of Destiny is open to expanding its services or programs across the world. Through guided facilitation sessions aimed at bringing women together and building sisterhood, women will unearth their purpose and contribute to making this world a better place. Our sister circle concept has effectively transformed the lives of many women that society has disregarded. We want to show you how to do the same in your community. 

I am a transformational leader, blogger, and speaker and I’m available to share strategies and tips on how to foster an environment of purpose for marginalized women. 

You can learn more about Women of Destiny on Facebook (Women of Destiny, Ja), Instagram (@womenofdestinyja) and Twitter (@womenofdestinyja). 

Follow Olivia on Instagram at @livzevolve and @untoldstoriesja and on Twitter at @LivzEvolve.