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Former Holyport headteacher and MBE elected president of Soroptimist's Britain & Ireland federation

Adrian Williams

Adrian Williams

A celebrated figure of the Maidenhead community will become the new president of the Soroptimists International federation of Great Britain and Ireland (SIGBI).

Johanna Raffan MBE, of Ray Lea Road, has been a Maidenhead resident since 1965 and worked as a former Holyport Primary School headteacher.

Soroptimist International is a global volunteer movement with 72,000 club members in 121 countries.

It advocates for human rights and gender equality, including work across eight UN centres.

“There are five federations which make up our worldwide organisation, so this is a very important position,” said Kay Heppell of the Soroptimist International Club of Thames Valley.

Johanna is one of the founders of the National Association for Able Children in Education (NACE) and became a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 2013.

She has also served as a secretary for the European Council for High Ability (ECHA).

The 77-year-old has been a member of the Soroptimists for 33 years, since 1987.

In the 11 years that took Johanna all over the world as a professional educator, she was able to connect with Soroptimists in many different countries.

“I have seen it on a global basis and it’s an amazing organisation”, she said.

“We’re a force to be reckoned with.”

She added: “Soroptimist International is 100 years old next year – it makes me president in our 100th year which is a huge honour and one I am very proud of.”

Soroptimists International addresses a range of women’s issues including domestic abuse, human trafficking and women in prison.

There are 6,000 members of the SIGBI federation, which includes all the countries of the ‘old Commonwealth’, such as India and Trinidad.

SIGBI is currently focused on helping girls in Nepal who have been trafficked or abused.

Johanna says she feels comfortable in the new role as SIGBI president and is looking forward to getting started.

“I wish it could be in better times, but we learn to live with that,” she said.

“My theme for the year is ‘believe to achieve’ which comes from my education background, believing that children can do whatever they like if we facilitate it.

“It’s the same for adults as well. If we believe we can achieve a better world for women, we will.”

Johanna will be the first president ever to be brought in virtually, at the Soroptimists’ annual conference, which takes place this weekend (October 30-31).

Ordinarily, at this time of year, Soroptimist members from all over the world would be meeting up in Belfast for the SIGBI annual conference.

The conference is usually attended by approximately 1,200 members plus their guests, from each of the 29 countries in the federation.

This year, the conference will take place on a virtual platform across two days, October 30-31, from 1.30pm-5pm.

Key speakers will still be attending as usual, with a live Q&A session for each speaker.

As part of the closing ceremony, SIGBI will be keeping with the tradition of hosting the Celtic Storm Irish dancers for the entertainment of all attendees.

Celtic Storm will perform after the Change of Insignia in the closing ceremony, when the former president hands over to the new.

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