A North Whidbey woman will soon head up a continent-spanning organization that seeks to empower women and facilitate their education worldwide.
Stephanie Smith, longtime member of the Oak Harbor Soroptimist club, will begin her year-long term as president of Soroptimist International of the Americas on Sept. 1. Even before starting, she got the chance to speak with Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Prize laureate and the most famous advocate for girls and women on the planet.
Soroptimist International of the Americas is one of five federations in the nonprofit organization and comprises clubs in North America, Latin America, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines. During her tenure, Smith will preside over the organization’s board of directors, support and oversee fundraising efforts, participate in training sessions with regional leaders and represent the federation to local clubs within her jurisdiction.
Smith first became involved with the Soroptimists in 1986, shortly after moving to Whidbey Island. She became a charter member of a Venture group, a club for young professional women who did not meet the requirements for Soroptimist membership that existed at the time.
She joined the club initially as an opportunity to network and make friends in her new community, she said, but what kept her involved was “the mission and the work and the service.”
Soroptimist International is an organization that encourages women’s empowerment and helps them fulfill their educational goals. It does so through programs such as the “Live Your Dream” award, which provides women who are their families’ primary providers with funds to cover basic expenses while they pursue further education, or the “Dream It, Be It” program, which provides mentorship and career preparation to high school girls.
Smith enjoyed the camaraderie with others who shared the same values and passion for helping women. She became president of the Venture club and moved up through regional and federation level leadership positions until she joined the Soroptimists proper in 1994.
While moving through the ranks of Soroptimists International, she also had a successful career as a development consultant and vice president of senior learning with Wells Fargo. She retired in December of 2021, after 31 years, but rejoined the workforce earlier this summer in Island Transit’s human resources department.
Eventually, Smith became the Oak Harbor Soroptimist club president and, once again, grew into regional leadership positions and eventually served on the board of directors of Soroptimists International of the Americas. Last year, she was elected to serve as the organization’s president.
As president elect, Smith had the opportunity to interview Nobel Peace Prize winner and education activist Malala Yousafzai. The interview was recorded and shared at the federation convention in Philadelphia last month.
“It was an honor and a privilege to connect with her,” Smith said, adding that meeting Yousafzai in person and learning about her work — and in turn, to hear such a renowned advocate for girls’ education acknowledge the work and mission of the Soroptimists — was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Smith said she is looking forward to meeting with as many Soroptimist club members as she can. Her involvement with the club has positively impacted other areas of her life, she said.
“Find the opportunity to give back to your community, because you will get back way more than you ever put in,” she said.