Helping women ‘save the world’

Younghee Overly and son, Adrian
Younghee Overly and son, Adrian

Ret Boney

Headed to the hospital in the fall of 2006 after a serious car wreck, Younghee Overly had an epiphany that led her to shake up her professional life to focus on helping women around the world.

“I was on the way to the emergency room and was thinking I could have died,” she says. “I felt I needed to do something more with my volunteer life.”

Eighteen months later, Overly had moved from full-time to part-time at IBM to give her time to launch and lead the North Carolina chapter of the U.S. National Committee for UN Women.

Since then, she has spent three days a week in her corporate post as program director for social business transformation, and two days in her volunteer gig as president of the local chapter.

One of 10 local chapters in U.S., the North Carolina group supports its parent organization’s mission of “ending violence against women and empowering women to bring peace to their countries and to end poverty,” says Overly.

A native of South Korea, she moved to the U.S. at age 14 with her family, leaving behind a patriarchal society she says was discriminatory.

“I lived inequality and discrimination and I know what it does to one’s soul,” she says.

Those early experiences led her to volunteer for local women’s organizations, including InterAct of Wake County, which works with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and the Raleigh Women’s Center, a nonprofit that serves homeless women.

But after the accident, Overly yearned to have a broader, even global, impact.

“I believe policies are critical, both at the state, national and international levels,” she says. “We live in a global world.”

In 2008, she started the North Carolina chapter, which works to raise awareness of the U.S. National Committee’s goals, raise money in support of the mission, and encourage UN member states to change policies affecting women.

With about 100 members, and 100 more who have donated, the local nonprofit works closely with Triangle-area universities to educate and get the word out.

And on June 11, the local chapter will host the U.S. National Committee’s fourth-annual conference, titled “Unite for Peace: In Our Homes, In Our Communities, In Our World.”

To be held at the Witherspoon Student Center at N.C. State University, the full-day conference will focus on building collaborations to help end violence against women locally and abroad.

Most of the expected 500 attendees will be from North Carolina, providing an opportunity build momentum for the effort in the state.

“With press coverage, this should raise awareness even for people not coming to the conference,” says Overly. “Hopefully that will mean additional donors and volunteers.”

Having lived in North Carolina since 1979, Overly believes the state is poised to hear and act on the message of the U.S. National Committee for UN Women.

“I believe the citizens of North Carolina are ready to be part of a global cause,” she says. “When they learn about causes like this, I think they’ll jump in. Our challenge is to make them aware and make the cause stick to people’s hearts.”

And someday, Overly hopes to supplement her work on the global policy level with service to women in need in the Triangle.

“Right now, I don’t feel the direct impact I felt at InterAct, and I long for that direct impact, too,” she says. “One day I hope to have more time to do that as well. But at this stage, I want to do something globally.”

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