Samantha Karlin’s passion to help women become phenomenal leaders drove her to develop the Women’s Leadership Challenge to give women the tools to create transformative change. Samantha is an entrepreneur at heart and excels when it comes to finding a need and meeting it with results-driven solutions. As the host of Samanthropolitics and CEO of Empower Global, she has built a career around analyzing women’s needs and consistently meeting them with whatever it takes, whether it be for information or inspiration–providing training on everything from inclusive and feminist leadership to diversity and inclusion.
During the height of the initial COVID wave, Samantha took time to really look around and listen. Paying attention to the isolation people were feeling and how many were struggling, she realized there was a need among women for meaningful connections and community. At the same time, she saw that women’s progress toward leadership was going backwards; a trend that continues today. She also realized the only solution that can reverse that is more women leaders.
“I believe we need women leaders who don’t reinforce the patriarchy, women leaders who lead in innovative, creative, courageous ways that are true to who they are.” Samantha said, “It’s not just about having more women leaders; it’s having women leaders who are committed to change. It takes women at the top who are not afraid to speak out.”
Through her company, Empower Global, Samantha created and launched the Women’s Leadership Challenge to call out to women around the world who have similar commitments and need help to lead in ways to create transformational change. The Women’s Leadership Challenge gives participants the skills practiced by the great feminist leaders of today – Jacinda Ardern, Christine LaGarde, Stacey Abrams, and Angela Merkel among others. It also equips them with the tools they need to counter imposter syndrome and self-doubt and discover what is most unique about them as a leader. Each session also explores gender-specific challenges and delivers strategies to help women navigate them and change the system. Overall, participants gain the courage to advocate for themselves and others, learn to speak truth to power, utilize their strengths, and become agents for change.
“When women graduate from the program, they absolutely and truly believe in themselves as leaders and have crafted their leadership mission and vision,” Samantha said. “They are committed to creating workplaces where women and marginalized voices are able to rise, while supercharging their own career growth simultaneously. They are ready to lead, to move forward, and to be vocal.”
Each Challenge class, or cohort, is limited to just 8-10 participants, some virtual – generally international – and some in person, limited so far to the Washington, DC area. Samantha usually has one of each going at the same time, and while she has generally done four per year, this year may result in five or six due to increased demand. The Challenge consists of 14 sessions covering everything from “Deconstructing Your Inner Patriarchy” to “Speaking Truth to Power” and “Building Your Own Damn Table.” There is also a bonus session for final presentations. Samantha routinely brings in speakers during the sessions – social entrepreneurs like Rachel Kiddell-Monroe, founder and executive director of See Change Initiative; and Hasina Kharbhih – who’s Impulse NGO was selected as one of the top three models in the world for its innovative development and practice, and has transformed the way Southeast Asia confronts human trafficking; women in Senior Executive Service positions in government like Jennifer Miller, acting Assistant Secretary of the Airforce; heads of DEI like Dr. Naomi Mercer, Senior Vice President, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the American Bankers Association; and entrepreneurs like Tory Graf, CEO of Trillium Creative Solutions.
“I really like to have people across borders. You gain perspective on the lives of women far different than yours, from other countries, industries, races, and religions, increasing your ability to lead diverse teams,” Samantha said. “By taking this course, women join a global community of women leaders who will encourage them, support them, and supercharge their growth.”
The Empower Network
The Challenge does not end for participants once they complete the curriculum, graduates transition to The Empower Network where they can continue networking, connecting in referral circles, a soon-so-be launched women’s leadership mastermind, and even virtual and in-person parties. While women have had the time to bond with others in their own cohort, once they reach The Network, they are also intentionally paired with other members of the Empower community for one-on-one networking meetings based on what they want to achieve in their lives. These meetings expand their world views, foster collaboration opportunities. While the program is still young, Samantha envisions growth and partnerships throughout multiple cohorts happening as a result.
Samantha described the course as intensive with amazing results. She said, “Women are getting salary raises, promotions, winning leadership awards, becoming CEOs, starting their own businesses, shifting policy. I’ve seen so many amazing results from the women who go through this program.”
For example, Samantha is especially proud of one Challenge graduate who is putting together a humanitarian action network to change the humanitarian aid industry to be more human focused and gender equitable. The graduate has put together a task force of women from across the different cohorts who are all in the humanitarian aid space.
“Another woman was doing work with indigenous communities, and I had a feeling about two other women who would be interested so I matched them all at different times,” Samantha added. “Now they are all working together on a sustainable finance initiative for indigenous communities.”
Samantha plans to continue to grow the Challenge, do more with her alumni community, and expand the program further with additional trainers focused on specific geographic regions. She is also in discussion with several corporate clients about bringing the Challenge to their workplace and is working to secure additional fiscal sponsorships so she can continue to offer partial scholarships. If your company would be interested in sponsoring the program and reserving a few spots for female leaders and rising stars, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for sponsorship options.
Cohorts are forming now. To learn more about The Women’s Leadership Challenge or to register for an upcoming cohort, go to WomensLeadershipChallenge.com.