Women of Action – Wilma Murdoch of 4b Serve and TOMS Shoes

By: Kashay Sanders

The VOICE team is starting a new blog series called Women of Action. The columns will be a monthly profile of female Change Agents working here in Hyderabad, India! We want to share with our supporters the women who help the social sector, and hence, VOICE, thrive in this space!

Wilma Murdoch:  4B Serve Senior Associate, Education programs/ TOMS Shoes Project Coordinator for Hyderabad

Wilma Murdoch, the youngest of seven siblings, hails from a small town in South Wales in Australia. Realizing she loved the energy of Sydney, she decided to attend the University of Sydney, and there received her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, and then her Masters in Human Development, Adult Education and Child Protection. She and her family moved to Hyderabad roughly a year ago, as her husband’s job required him to travel to and from India frequently. She now works as the Senior Associate of newly formed NGO, 4B Serve and serves as the Project Coordinator for Tom’s Shoes operations in Hyderabad. 4B Serve is a program which is focused on “integrated development” solutions and seeks to facilitate alliances between all the players that have a role in poverty alleviation (i.e. health organizations, schools, clean water organizations). TOMS gives new shoes to low-income children. Read below for Wilma’s thoughts on education, girls in India and what it means to be a Woman of Action!

Why did you choose to study education and what keeps you passionate about this field?

Wilma:  A couple of things pulled me to education. One thing being: I’m the youngest of seven, and the oldest of a basically a second family of nieces and nephews. I always took care of them, and I think there was this nurturing side of me, which became attracted to education. And then there was the play part of me, just a sense of learning being fun and enjoyable and creative and exploratory.

I see on your CV a number of jobs you had that was INFLUENCED by your education background, but have you ever actually taught?

Wilma: I taught on and off. I graduated and actually went to work for a child-protection service.  I worked casually in schools and then decided not to be in schools because they were so restrictive. I had this philosophy of education that it should be fun and enjoyable, and yet I kept finding myself in classrooms where I was just told “Teach This.” 

 What brought you to Hyderabad?

Wilma: [My husband] Chris had taken on working for *Opportunity International and traveling to and from India. He was becoming immersed in poverty alleviation and microfinance.  I was working a nice desk job at the time. He came back from India one Saturday night, and that Sunday morning I presented him with a coffee and toast and said, “Let’s go.”

So how did you ultimately get connected with 4B Serve and TOMS Shoes?

Wilma: 4B is something that Chris and another friend conceived of. My role is to investigate the education market and bring people into partnerships. So if there are other organziations doing something, then I’d connect them with someone else in the area. It’s all about connections. I spent time talking to educational organizations in Hyderabad and trying to see if we should invest in a product or service to roll out in the communities in which we work, because we don’t duplicate existing services. We strongly believe in Indian ownership and Indians driving the programs. If we can find the right product or service, we want to be able to invest in it if its ready to scale, but we don’t want to build something that’s ours.

TOMS landed in front of me. A family friend and colleague of Chris’ asked me one day what I knew about kids’ shoes. I said—nothing.  He asked for a channel to get shoes into India.  They have systems working in Africa, but unfortunately have never been able to enter India. But we”ve got the shoes here! They’re in Hyderabad. My main task is to be in communication with the USand oversee the project so the shoes get on kids feet I’m working with**IDEX and other programs to make the delivery an educative development program in a bigger sense.  I want to do something sustainable around feet and hygiene and health for the kids. I want to know what kids think about shoes and why they need to the wear them. I’m interested in their stories.

What do you think it means to be a Woman of Action? What has it taken for you to become one yourself?

Wilma:  Being a Woman of Action is determining that want you want to do is right because it fits, like your skin. But also because you care about other people, and you’re not just going to be a Woman of Action who is SO focused that you ignore everyone else. You’re passionate, but you try to reconcile preserve relationships and inspire people sometimes by being quiet.

 What do you think is one of the main roadblocks to women taking control of their own lives? Do you think there is a way to get around them?

On one hand, you say men, but if women keep blaming men then they never take agency. So let’s not say it’s just men, let’s say its women and let’s not say its women as individuals. Women need groups of women who think similarly and who maybe bring different experiences to the table. Women need to be strong in themselves, but sometimes you get that because you’re a part of a group of women who are strong—and you can borrow and lend and ebb and flow ideas. We must say, “If I don’t like what’s out there, I can’t change that, but I can change me”.. Don’t wallow. Go, “That was really painful” or get angry, but then be positive and proactive as opposed to just reactive.. Women should take responsibility for what they CAN control.

What do you think to inspires you to be a Change Agent? What keeps you sane in this line of work?

Wilma: Going Gray, I think. Just going “You’re older, you’re wiser.” Looking back at choices that I made and realizing I don’t need to be ashamed or fearful, that I can just embrace the NOW. Being here, I can’t plan the same way or predict the same things. It inspires me to make changes because I’m not a control freak anymore. I’ve let go of the need to control everything. Life’s good!

What advice would you give to young women who are afraid of some of the repercussions of being a woman of action? It comes with some kind of sacrifice, often.

Wilma: You tell them to find strength within, and strength without. Examine your own heart and life, and know who you are. Know that you are a unique and special person and that you can find a purpose. You don’t have to compare yourself—you don’t have to be like your friend or your mother.  For some of girls I have met:, because no one’s told them that they are special, that they are unique. Look within and take some time to find your core that makes you YOU and draw strength from that. And then look out and see who’s there for you, find a friend. If at any stage in your life, you find one good friend, you’ve got a blessing.

TOMS is an American shoe company founded by Blake Mycoskie. TOMS sells quality shoes in the west, and then ‘gives’ identical numbers of shoes to children in need. It’s called a ‘One for One’ model of philanthropy.  (http://www.toms.com/)

*Opportunity International is an American-based microfinance organization which “provides financial products and strategies to over 2.5 million people working their way out of poverty in the developing world. Clients in more than 20 countries can use these services to expand a business, provide for their families, create jobs for their neighbors and build a safety net for the future.”  (http://www.opportunity.org/)

**IDEX Fellowship in Social Enterprise is a professional development fellowship for recent graduates that wish to become immersed in the vibrant and diverse social enterprise sector in India. Applications are open! (http://idexfellows.com/)

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