Our leader for the years 2020-2021. Elena Pawęta has been elected District Director at the Online Conference. The warmest of smiles, the most amibtious of women and the most important of all district leaders. Who is Elena?
Q1: Let’s start with a hard question. Tell us a bit about yourself, but without mentioning Toastmasters 😉
Not mentioning TM? Hm. I am originally from Russia, from. St. Petersburg. I have lived in Poland for 12 years now. Professionally I am a business trainer, I have worked both inside and outside Poland. I am a lecturer at the Warsaw School of Economics (Szkoła Główna Handlowa). I specialise in entrepreneurship, business planning and international business. I am also very active in different non-profit initiatives. I am organising TEDx Conferences in Poland. When I used to live in Łódź I was doing it there, now I organise such events in Warsaw. Speaking more personally I have 2 daughters, 7 and 10 years old, who inspire me to do various activities regarding equality. Currently I have an interesting project related to communication and women in business.
Q2: Okay, now a bit easier. What is your TM journey? How did you join? Why did you stay?
Well, I got to TM because of 2 reasons. One of them is obvious – I wanted to improve my public speaking skills. As a PhD student I was supposed to speak in front of students. I was a bit nervous, especially that I had to it in Polish, which is my third language, after Russian and English. Now it is not stressful anymore. In Toastmasters I did my first 10 projects, Competent Communicator, in Polish in Łódź Toastmasters Club. It was a huge boost. I remember my 10th project, when I was already comfortable with speaking, even about private topics, in front of a group of people. It was a great school. After that I joined Leader Ship Club, also in Łódź, where I started to speak more in English and also develop my leadership skills.
Q3: When did you start engaging in the higher structures of TM?
After about 1 year in Toastmasters I started taking some leadership roles within this 1 year in the club. I was Vice President Education, which is how I expanded my leadership skills. After some time I decide to go to a District Conference. Back then we had a bigger district, half of Europe was District 95. The conference was in Romania. I decided to invest and to see what is there. I realised TM is not just my club, or my city or my country. This is a huge organisation and it is so inspiring. If you ever have a chance to go to a District Conference, not only an online one, but a real one, I really encourage you to do this. As VPE I was at the District Council Meeting, cause if you are a President or Vice President Education, you take part in two business meetings per year. I was voting for our district leaders, for the realignment, cause this was the year Europe was split into several smaller districts. I realised I wanted to be a part of this, cause district leadership is so exciting. And after this I became an Area Director. Soon, step by step, every year I was taking different roles in the District Leadership and I never regretted this, because every role can teach you something new.
Q4: So far you have been Area Director, Division Director, Club Growth Director and Program Quality Director. Which of the roles was your favourite?
When you are in the core team of the district a lot of the things you do are administration and management work. It is very rewarding because you learn a lot about the higher level of management, but you don’t have so much contact with the people. Which is why for me the best role in the District Leadership and certainly the role than I can recommend to anyone is Area Director. You are an ambassador, between the District and the clubs. You help the clubs, you can support them, you can talk to them and ask them what problems they have and then reach to the district for solutions to those problems. You feel that you can actually make the difference, not only for your club, but for a broader community.
Q5: What do District Director’s duties look like?
Being a leader means that you need to be available. This is why during the day I am available for people interested in asking different questions. However, at the District level, I rarely have contact with the clubs, as clubs usually contact their Area Directors and Division Directors to get the information. And they are very competent and answer easily. I also get a lot of information from the Toastmasters International, because District leaders connect the District with the TMI. In the headquarters they are working really hard, especially nowadays, with all the changes regarding moving online and adjusting the procedures, so I’m constantly bombarded with lots of information which I have to communicate to the clubs. So I’d say my duties are dealing with a lot of information and a lot of contacts. There is also a great deal of responsibility, that’s a big part of my day. It’s a bit like having children. You always have it in the back of your head somewhere, even when you’re sleeping, you’re wandering whether everything is okay. You always feel this responsibility, that you have to care about something, even if what you are doing at the moment is not directly connected to it.
Q6: What are your plans for the upcoming year?
This year we were a bit weakened by the coronavirus and this situation that we had to move all our activities online, including contests and conferences. I think that we have a lot to work on next year, because we achieved Distinguished level in terms of quality of our clubs and number of clubs. However membership in many clubs in our district decreased. So what we have to work on during upcoming year is increasing membership in our clubs. Ideal membership named in all manuals is 20-30 members. So we always encourage to strive for 30, because usually only part of members attend a given meeting, so to achieve this vibrant, energetic, positive atmosphere, you need around 17 people at the meeting. Which is why this year we will work on our membership, we have some awards for membership and quality.
Q7: If you could say something, that every single member of our District would hear, what would that be?
I’d say congratulations on being a part of this organisation, because being part of TM you can achieve so, so much. Many of us joined the organisation just to become better speakers, but in fact we can learn so many transferrable skills, which we can use in business and life. Management skills and conducting meetings for the Presidents. Training skills if you are Vice President Education. We have a lot of experienced members, who are still members and still benefit from being a part or organisation. As a Vice President Membership or PR you can learn marketing. As a Treasurer you can learn budgeting and so on and so on. A lot of skills we can get here, as well as confidence in speaking and leading. Another thing is this is a great community which is really supportive. You can get a mentoring not only for your role and ask if you are a good President, but also ask for it in other areas, like making podcasts. This is the kind of support we have in Toastmasters, always ready to uplift each other and with so many experts you can always find somebody who can help.