In April 2020, Jill Myers founded Women in Olive Oil (WIOO), starting with a small Facebook group that expanded globally in just a few days. On Facebook, WIOO summarizes its goal: “to contribute to individual and societal advancement of women through the common link of olive oil.” The movement has now grown to include 1200 women in almost 50 countries.
A New International Network for Women Who Work with Olive Oil
Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, Jill Myers came up with the idea of forming WIOO while seeking a way to connect women in the olive oil sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. Talking with some of these professionals, she realized an active international network of women who work with olive oil would be useful. The initial result: a Facebook group with a level of activity and enthusiasm that demonstrates a widespread, previously unsatisfied, hunger for such a community.
Myers created WIOO to unite a diverse group of women across the entire olive oil industry and support positive changes worldwide through initiatives related to health and nutrition, culinary arts, education, environmental and agricultural practices, olive oil production, fair trade, marketing, import, export, and gender equality.
By amplifying women’s voices and offering a rich forum for sharing cultural and intellectual wealth, WIOO aims to empower and uplift women. This global network aspires to establish a platform where women can share knowledge, expertise, and experiences as well as obtaining tools, encouragement, and backing for new projects that will assist individual women and benefit both local communities and the wider olive oil world.
WIOO takes advantage of social media technology that now enables women to connect with each other far beyond the local area where they have long formed productive bonds to help them care for their families and communities, as well as the land. As the WIOO website states, “WIOO strives to recognize the important contributions of women as leaders, stakeholders, educators, professionals and experts,” and then to unite these women for productive action.
Considering education one of the central aspects of WIOO’s mission, Myers aspires to teach consumers about the part olive oil has traditionally played in the nutrition and wellness of many cultures, and the contribution olive oil can now make to the health of the global population. Promoting professional and business development and eventually including mentoring and internships, WIOO also has the potential to become a lobbying group with a strong voice for women in the olive oil world.
Members include olive oil industry leaders, chefs, farmers, millers, chemists, researchers, tasters, educators, importers, exporters, and retailers. All women who work with olive oil are invited to join the group. According WIOO’s website, “this cultural diversity of professionals provides fertile ground to establish many innovative projects and synergies which in turn will improve the way we farm, consume, transport, access, research, teach and sell olive oil.”
Having “grown and received global attention,” Myers told Greek Liquid Gold, WIOO believes there is also “funding on the horizon,” although the organization is still in early stages, with a great deal of work underway to prepare the framework for future projects. As Myers reports, “right now we are getting the foundation of this global organization worked out: registration, policies, and the important details that come with such a movement. The structure of the organization is being formed; our country representatives are building their teams at a local to country level. The creativity and energy behind these WIOO is incredible.”
The Example of Greece: Thoughts from a Few Women in Olive Oil
Typically the producer of the third largest quantity of olive oil in the world, Greece is well represented in this international women’s group. Cristina Stribacu, co-founder of LIÁ Premium Olive Oil from Messinia, Peloponnese, is part of WIOO’s leadership team. As Director of International Relations, Stribacu is dedicated to the organization’s mission of uniting women to inspire positive changes worldwide. Other Greek members who shared their thoughts with Greek Liquid Gold--producers, tasters, consultants, and educators—similarly emphasize the value of this community for collaboration and education.
For example, Barbara Rousaki, who co-founded Of Dreams & Knowledge in Patras, is “looking forward to getting to know each other better, to share our ideas and vision.” Specializing in research and development of biofunctional foods, Rousaki considers WIOO “a great initiative with great potential.”
With an olive grove in Akrata, Peloponnese, Ioanna Kanellopoulou is also delighted “that there’s a big community of women willing to help and support each other.” Formerly a journalist and television presenter, Kanellopoulou embarked on “this wonderful olive oil adventure” four years ago, when she became a mother. As “a student, a learner, I believe in teams and the miracles teamwork can do. And this is one of the reasons it feels so good” to be part of WIOO.
Christina Chrisoula, EVOO producer, co-founder of Taxidi Olive Farm, and olive oil tasting event leader in Zakros, Crete, “believe[s] that together we can do more,” because “belonging to a community makes me feel stronger.” As part of this community, she is “inspired by other great women's stories.”
Also inspired by WIOO, Marianna Devetzoglou is an olive oil sommelier who produces Oleosophia EVOO as well as leading olive grove tours and educating professionals and consumers in Kalentzi, near Corinth. Devetzoglou joined the WIOO team partly because she sees it as a place for “safe exchange of information, concerns, questions, ideas, etc. For me, WIOO represents unity and integrity.”
An olive oil producer, professional taster, educator, and tour guide at The Olive Routes in Androusa, Peloponnese, Dimitra Mathiopoulou says “the passion, the dream, and the inspiration” of “friends that also love and work with olive oil” encouraged her to embrace this “unique opportunity to meet women of olive oil and to be connected with them.”
What do members expect from the connections they are forming through Women in Olive Oil? Mathiopoulou believes “bigger things and new challenges are on the way” for this fledgling organization. Devetzoglou hopes WIOO “will bring together many women that are willing to teach from their experience, help with our education through online (ideally) workshops and events, contribute to networking through a B2B section, and remain a reliable point of reference about the world of olive oil.”
In addition to “bringing change to the olive oil world on multiple levels,” Chrisoula suggests that WIOO could “help spread the word about high quality extra virgin olive oil” to more consumers. Along the same lines, olive oil taster, consultant, and educator Anita Zachou, founder of Mykonos Olive Oil Tasting, would like to see WIOO both “support EVOO women around the world to grow and flourish in this industry” and “start an educational campaign around the world to teach the consumer to select, evaluate and enjoy a good EVOO.”
Zachou told Greek Liquid Gold that as one of the group’s first members she has enjoyed watching WIOO grow from “another Facebook group” into “a movement.” She believes “collaborations and synergies are the only way to get over the crisis” the world is enduring during the coronavirus pandemic. In this difficult time, WIOO founder Jill Myers quotes Isabel Allende: “I can promise you that women working together - linked, informed and educated - can bring peace and prosperity to this forsaken planet.”
(This story was originally published on Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (greekliquidgold.com). See that site for recipes with olive oil, photos from Greece, agrotourism and culinary tourism suggestions, and olive oil news and information.)