Empowered women, empower women | SierraSun.com

Empowered women, empower women

Locals may recognize Jen Gurecki as the CEO and co-founder of Coalition Snow, a ski and snowboard company designed specifically for women.

However, she supports women in more ways than originally meets the eye.

Gurecki's way of giving back to the world took shape in the form of her foundation Zawadisha, which she started as a way to give women in Kenya access to renewable energy and water after seeing their needs firsthand.

"I was in Kenya doing research for my master's degree and learned quite a bit about what the women there believed would help them most to gain greater status in their communities," Gurecki said.

Over the years she has found that women having access to household items like solar lights and rainwater tanks was a huge need. Through her foundation she helps Kenyan women finance their livelihoods.

"Fundraising is never ending; nonprofit or for-profit you always need money coming in and that's just the reality of the world we live in today. There are traditional fundraisers for nonprofits and a lot of them are dinners and silent auctions. With the Women as Change Makers event, I wanted to do something different where people felt that they really got something out of it," Gurecki said.

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Women as Change Makers is an annual summit hosted in Reno drawing the best and brightest women business leaders and influencers for discussions and breakout seminars on how to elevate your personal and professional life as a woman.

Zawadisha is a Swahili word that means to give a gift. The organization is run in the spirit of giving to the women in Kenya, and Gurecki says even their fundraising efforts are designed to also extend gifts to those who support their cause.

"One of the greatest gifts we can give is reciprocity. Women as Change Makers attendees are getting something valuable out of the summit, while also supporting our lending program in Kenya. I wanted to create an event that is relevant to this community," she said.

This event is a way for women to come together and make change in their personal and professional lives in the short term. Long term, Gurecki encourages women to see themselves as global citizens and choosing to do their part in giving back.

"We live in a time where everyone is too busy and we miss out on opportunities like this to connect with other people and pull ourselves out of the trenches, while still doing something professional. But just to come up for a moment, meet people who can support you in your business endeavors and build camaraderie between women," she said.

Zawadisha and the Women as Change Makers initiatives have supported women for years, something Gurecki says seems to be trending now.

"I just think it's fascinating because investing in women is trendy now, but it's something that we've been doing. The future is female, we need to invest in women because they represent 50 percent of the population, and there is so much data that reveals that the more women we have in leadership positions, the healthier our communities and business ecosystems are, the more financially productive companies are, and the list goes on," she said.

The one-day Women as Change Makers professional summit provides Zawadisha supporters the valuable gifts of education and networking in exchange of attendee's ticket costs which directly support the nonprofit's efforts in Kenya.

An underlying benefit of Women as Change Makers is fostering camaraderie among powerful, likeminded women in favor of making positive change.

"Another thing is this stereotype or notion that women are each other's worst enemies and that has never been my experience. This event also demonstrates how we come together as women, as opposed to the idea that we supposedly tear each other down," Gurecki said.

Women as Change Makers is hosted once a year, but people can get involved to support Zawadisha year-round by visiting their website and signing up for the email blasts with information on additional mini summit events, ways to donate and opportunities to volunteer in Kenya.

Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at cwalker@sierrasun.com, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.