Young, poised, driven, grateful and making waves

Networking review by Deborah Valentine


What a pleasure, and honour it was for the WBII to have had Sara Kemppainen share with us her story “Something out of nothing: The story of building a Flourishing Network” – I hope I can do honour to the experience, and what we learnt. In essence, her story was one of observation – experience – acknowledgement of her privilege & mother – finding others who shared the observation and, together, taking action. But, as we all know, the devil (and delight) is in the details – which I happily share below. For no story is complete, without setting the scene.

Sara was the Founder of WIL – Women in Innovation and Leadership. A network started by, and for, young undergraduate students of Leiden University College The Hague. After speaking at one of their events in 2019, I saw a role for WBII and WIL to collaborate and mentor these young women, and together we held a few joint events (on Storytelling with Natali Drake and Presenting Potential with Jonathan Talbott) and are planning more for 2020. Inviting Sara to share her story is part of this intention for future WBII and WIL collaborations.

Solid start

In introducing herself, and where she is today – on the eve of finalising her Bachelors – she credited not only the Finnish Education she received, but also the lessons her mother impressed upon her daughters. Sara and her sister were, from an early age, exposed to and made aware of the world around them: their awareness about social and environmental issues was an integral part of growing up. Involvement, volunteering and grasping opportunities were also part of the norm, and have clearly provided the lessons she put into practice.

When she arrived at Leiden University College The Hague it was the absence of something which caught her attention, and sparked the notion for WIL She felt the absence of “… collaboration, no effective networking and lack of overall career services at the university” and felt the need, call, to do something about this, to build a network. Together with a few fellow students with whom this resonated they called others to action: “Do you have WIL power?” they asked, “WILing to meet people in an inspiring setting?”, “…interested in advancing gender balance in leadership positions?” The ‘puns’ and word play worked, and many responded and agreed to move WIL forward. But, as she asked, now what: “how do you build something out of nothing?”

Karma and confidence

Those who responded to the call to action may not have ‘had’ much, but, they did have themselves, human resources, a Socratic acceptance that they did not really know what they were doing, and a genuine curiosity to learn. Sara and her team applied what she referred to as a ‘karmastic business model’ – a business concept based on the belief that if you do good things for others good things will flow to your way. Personally, never head of this as a concept, nor was google helpful in this regard, but, judging from the reaction of those in attendance, it resonated. The WIL team knew what they could do, and what they had to offer, and found those with whom this resonated. They dug into their own networks, of people and resources opportunities they had taken advantage of had provide them with. They reached out to them and asked for what they needed. Always “working a positive angle – providing value to everyone – aligning others interest with theirs & vice versa.” Before long a comprehensive programme of speakers, meetings, workshops and presentations became a reality.

Three powerful lessons were shared with us – in how Sara networked effectively to literally, build something out of nothing, illustrating them with personal experiences which have gotten her where she is today. These were: be confident, trust your gut, and ALWAYS follow-up. Be confident in creating a vision for what can be; trust and listen to gut feelings when you meet and engage with someone, go with that as a motivation for networking – versus collecting business cards and contacts; always follow-up, respectfully, even when the initial response may not be the one you expected.

Not done yet

On this note Sara shared a story of how her application to be an EU representative at the G(irls)20 Global Summit in Tokyo had been rejected. Instead of feeling dejected, she took a moment to follow-up with the person she had interviewed with, a person she had a felt a good ‘gut’ connection with, to thank her for her time in meeting with her. As karma would have it, Sara’s email came in as the person who had interviewed her had noticed an oversight – that of her name not being included in the list – in time to correct it. So, Sara did attend the G(irls)20 Global Summit and continues to make waves for young women everywhere, contributing in her way to a world in which there will be greater gender balance in leadership positions.