Jan./Feb. response: United Women In Faith Digital
Providing an online space for resources and community.
by Praveena Balasundaram
“United Women in Faith Digital allows us to connect with one another in real and meaningful ways, to access digital versions of the print resources we have come to know and love, and to deepen our faith and spirituality,” says Shannon Priddy, former president and now staff of United Women in Faith. Priddy has been an integral part of the research and development of this platform.
Why this digital space and how did we get here?
The beginning of this platform has its roots in the pandemic of our lifetime. The arrival of COVID-19 began to lock down the United States in March 2020, just as we were getting ready to get the Program Book ready for printing. With life becoming “virtual” overnight, we pivoted to adapt programming for online settings. Members needed immediate help to move from face-to-face to programs for online gatherings—ways to get together meaningfully when meeting in person was not an option. Immediately following, the Program Book staff started working on revising the Mission u curricula for online settings. Learning and teaching had to be quickly adapted to e-learning. We were learning on the fly to support our members through this time.
In early fall of 2020, Nora Asedillo Cunningham, spiritual growth executive and I facilitated conversations with the program advisory group along with Priddy, then president, and Sue Raymond, board member, to hear about members’ needs. By that time we had experienced not just the deadly health impact of the pandemic but also economic losses and the strain of isolation.
For the first round of questions, we asked:
- Why do we come together?
- What are the barriers to connection?
- What do we want to do when we come together going forward?
We learned that community of faith/sisterhood is a key reason that women want to come together. Other reasons included making our offerings, giving voice to social justice, and being heard.
We pushed further, and asked:
- What will increase involvement in the local groups and engagement/networking/learning in the community/world?
Again, we learned from you that you’re looking for online community experience or programming that supports connection locally, nationally, and globally; and digital models for our print resources including e-learning.
We listened to you and a digital solutions team was organized with staff and program advisory group members to start exploring platforms that will bring together what we value and how we want to grow.
The research process included exploring:
- Tools for online content experiences—content that is shaped for a digital environment, including Teachable, Coursera
- Customizable platforms for curricula
- Downloadable pdfs
- Print on demand
Where we landed and what you can expect from United Women in Faith Digital
In the summer of 2021, we started testing the Mighty Networks platform with a small group of member leaders. Two years later, during which we conducted regular surveys of members in the network, we completed the pilot phase of this online space. Mighty Networks is the platform for hosting United Women in Faith Digital since it meets the need for both online community and content development and delivery.
- Free access to the United Women in Faith network.
- Opportunities to engage in fellowship, networking, and community building with sisters from across the country and around the world.
- Activity feed that lets you read inspirational messages, respond to polls, ask questions, and engage with community.
- Discussion groups you can join according to your interests, or groups to support your leadership roles.
- Community Guides to guide us in regular engagement and respond to your questions and concerns.
- Digital versions of your favorite resources, including the Program Resource, Daily Prayer Guide, and Mission u curricula, to name just a few.
- Multimedia to complement your resources, including facilitator guide videos.
- Free downloadable PDFs if you prefer to print your materials.
- Program Resource subscribers get Monthly Community Gatherings with the author to support you as a leader.
- Regular educational and inspirational content from the Reading Program, Faith Talks, Voices From the Field, and Soul Care.
Monthly Community Gatherings are offered for women to connect across the country with the larger community of women for spiritual growth, soul care, and social action.
Alice Staley, a regular attendee of the monthly Community Gatherings remarked, “I have always enjoyed the Community Gatherings I was able to be a part of, not only for being able to learn and worship, but also the community of women.”
Another United Women in Faith Digital user, Bea Gilmore, says, “I do like where Mighty Networks as a platform and United Women in Faith Digital is taking us with this new online community. We just need some getting used to it all. And the only way to adjust is to jump in and start playing around with the features.” I am reminded that Hebrews 12:1 says, “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” As the Message version says, “all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on.” In United Women in Faith, we don’t just act alone; we work together supported and strengthened by one another to make a difference in the world. So, as the verse goes on to say, “let us throw off everything that hinders.” (NIV)
This platform is in response to conversations with women like you! What started off as a response to a challenge is also an opportunity to offer more options for our members and reduce our carbon footprint in the world. Stacie Hawkins from Texas looks forward to what we can accomplish with this platform: “I am so grateful for this digital platform to learn and share ideas! I look forward to greater exposure of this platform, so that more of our local units can be energized and re-engaged with our wonderful organization! United Women in Faith still has so much to offer!”
Praveena Balasundaram is director of Communications for United Women in Faith.