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It all began with a conversation in a coffee shop. Over lattes, a group of friends shared hope for better leadership development in emerging nations. World Impact Network, a Christian humanitarian organization, started right then and there, and since 1996 WIN has provided some form of aid to over 300,000 people around the world.
“We were sitting around a table at a Starbucks one afternoon, and really that is where the vision of World Impact Network was birthed and formulated – on a Starbucks napkin,” said founder and executive director Gabriella Van Breda.

Today, the non-profit group strengthens communities both locally—in Washington state’s King County—and internationally, in countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, the Congo, Sri Lanka, China, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Nepal and China.

WIN is the culmination of the Van Breda’s lifelong dedication to altruism. “I was always drawn towards helping others and started volunteering in South Africa at an early age,” she told The Suit. Just before starting WIN, she was engaged in humanitarian work in South Africa, working in squatter settlements like Soweto and Phola Park. She is trained as a minister, has an extensive educational background, and has an innate compassion for others; these traits make her well-equipped to lead her organization towards continuing success. The wide range of assistance offered by WIN can be attributed to Van Breda’s uniquely flexible approach.

“We look for what is needed in a community, and then develop creative ideas of how we can help resource people, add value and making a lasting contribution. That’s what we’re about as a nonprofit,” she said.

Their largest local program, the Renewal Food Bank centered in Bellevue, Wash., is a part of the Northwest Harvest Hunger Relief Network and is a partner agency of Food Lifeline. It has helped to put food on people’s plates since May of 1998, feeding around 3500 people a month. Since opening their doors, they’ve seen their impact on the community swell.

“During this current economic crisis over the last couple of years, we have been able to make an enormous contribution to our local community,” said Van Breda.  “That being said, it could never have been accomplished without extensive community partnerships.”

The rise in unemployment has made their efforts more necessary than ever. “I would love to say that the numbers at the food bank have shrunk substantially because of our work. However, the current reality is that while unemployment hovers at almost 10 percent and people remain under-employed, our numbers will continue to rise” Van Breda explained.  “People may be surprised to know that there are a number of professionals needing assistance with food security at this time.”

That’s why the organization goes beyond just food. WIN’s primary focus is resourcing others through education and skill building.  “Last year we ran reinvention forums for about a hundred professionals who had lost their jobs. Ninety eight percent have been reemployed since then,” reports Van Breda.

In the United States and abroad, WIN’S major focus is education and training.   In cooperation with other non-governmental agencies and accredited educational institutions, WIN provides the necessary tools leaders need to succeed in their own communities.  Furthermore, it equips them to succeed in an increasingly global world.  Even rural leaders in Africa are now part of the social network conversation as a result of the training provided by WIN.  “In Uganda, WIN trained over 200 women in income-generating skills. At least 50 percent of those women are now running their own businesses and employing other people. So, of course, we are no longer needed there,” Van Breda said proudly.

Reliant on individual contributions and grants, WIN faces their own financial challenges. It’s not easy to find sufficient funding for their ambitious goals, but Van Breda’s background in business and intercultural communications helps her to make it work. “We need to be continually rethinking our business model. We need to be progressive. We need to be trailblazers rather than just sheepish followers,” she said.

Rather than only seeing barriers when looking at the economic situation, Van Breda sees a chance to proactively learn and grow as a business. “I believe that crisis births opportunity,” she said. 

WIN’S educational opportunities offer others the ability to become self-sufficient.  “None of this could be accomplished without teamwork – we all need one another.” Van Breda said.  

These lessons go both ways, and WIN always finds new opportunities to develop its own identity as an organization. One important lesson for Van Breda has been the importance of collaboration. “We cannot do anything on our own,” she said. “We can only succeed if we establish partnerships and do this cooperatively.”
Although times are tough and help, in one form or another, is an ongoing universal need, Van Breda remains optimistic about future possibilities. “If you look carefully you can see what is happening, what is panning out for the future. This helps us adjust what we’re doing and ensures that we stay in the forefront of our industry.”

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