Category Archives: Grantees

New Grantee: Young Feminists Movement in Pakistan

IMG_1369

Pakistan is only second to Yemen in a list of the ten worst countries for girls to be born in according to The Global Gender Gap Report in 2013. Women receive 43% less educational opportunities than men, there’s a 21% gender-based income gap, and only a quarter of the national labor force are represented by women. When it comes to violence against women, according to a study by The Ministry of Law, Justice, and Human Rights, just from January 2012 to September 2013, there were 860 honor killings, 481 incidents of domestic violence, 90 cases of acid burning, 344 cases or rape or gang rape, and 268 incidents of sexual assault or harassment.

In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in Northern Pakistan, girls and women are living under a tribal and Feudal system that promotes male dominance, presented as Islamic norms and values by religious groups. These traditions create even more extreme gender inequality and chance of gender-based violence as girls and women can be forced into marriage for the sake of peacemaking between tribes, are excluded from political activities, plus face violence and religious extremism when making efforts towards promoting girls and women’s rights. All of this is what sparked an international movement behind young activist Malala Yousafzai after she survived the Taliban’s targeted shooting for her promotion of girls’ rights to education.

In a place where even young school girls face extreme violence for speaking out, and “feminism” is a bold concept, Spark is thrilled to support giving these young women a voice through our newest grantee, The Young Feminists Movement.

The Young Feminists Movement was created in 2011 by young women at various local colleges from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and adjacent tribal areas focused on raising awareness around gender equality issues plus giving young women a safe space and a voice in an oppressed society. They provide 5-day trainings for girls ages 15-25 around equal rights, reproductive health and abuse prevention, plus they promote activism around girls’ and women’s rights and gender equality. From these trainings and other activities, they form “Girls Power Clubs” which continue the cultivation and promotion of feminism and activism. So far, they have successfully organized a group of 23 young women who speak for equal rights and are equipped with the knowledge and tools to challenge the patriarchy, plus they have influenced many more through their activist activities.

IMG_4495

A Spark grant will cover:

  • 50 scholarships for girls to attend the training program, and
  • Volunteer services in the areas of development plus organizational and financial management.

If you are interested in being a part of providing these volunteer services, we would love to hear from you. Email programs@sparksf.org.

We are so excited to feature this progressive and innovative organization at our upcoming Cocktails For A Cause event!

Please join us at SparkSF’s Cocktails For A Cause event on April 23, 2014 at Mr. Smiths in San Francisco to help raise funds for the young feminists of Pakistan. #MoreMalalas

Fostering Social Entrepreneurship in Rwanda

It’s not every day that you get to see the foundations of graduate school flourish into a burgeoning non-profit organization halfway across the globe. So, when one of my close friends from graduate school told me in 2008 that she was starting an organization in Rwanda where she had been living, I was of course eager to support her. And the more I learned about Rwanda and the work her organization was undertaking, I became invested in seeing its success grow.

Named The Komera Project (in Rwanda the word “Komera” means “be strong, have courage”), Margaret Butler developed the idea to start the group over the course of her many runs through the Rwandan countryside. She noticed that sometimes girls from the local villages would jump in and join her on these runs until she realized that her behavior wasn’t going to be considered socially acceptable. Combined with the fact that Margaret was seeing first hand how most girls did not make it to secondary school, she decided to host a girls-only ‘fun run’ one day to promote the education and rights of these girls. As they started off, supporters shouted “Komera!” to the girls, and the group was born.

Image

Working with the local government, schools, and some on the ground staff from Partners in Health based in Rwanda, Margaret steered the first of Komera’s 10 girls onto their fully funded secondary education path. Komera has since grown to over 60 scholars, and has expanded their reach beyond just funding the girls’ schooling. They now also provide mentorship, a leadership program, and now a social entrepreneurship program.

Some context and understanding of Rwanda is essential to underscore how significant this is. Only 17% of girls in Rwanda go to upper secondary school (high school). 87% of the country lives in rural areas. All Komera scholars are from these rural areas and live on about $1 a day from families working as subsistence farmers or tin miners – so these girls would be farming, mining, and/or working in their households if not in school. Komera focuses on supporting the girls in grades 10-12, since the majority of girls begin dropping from school in grade 10. Komera never takes on a scholar unless they have the cash to fully fund them for those three years – this cost is $500 a year for tuition, uniforms, boarding, all school supplies, and personal supplies like hygiene products.

By 2010, the focus at the Komera Project had shifted from primarily scholarship to figuring out how to keep the girls in school and create a real Komera community, and that’s when the themes of mentorship and leadership came into play.

The transition into boarding at school can be really difficult for the girls, especially since they are spread between 13 different schools. In Rwanda, once you have the funds to pay, the local government decides what school you will go to, so while Komera would prefer all the girls to be in the same 4-5 schools, that isn’t possible. However, they are all in the same district (there are 30 districts in the country total).

To help combat some of the difficulties around these transitions, Komera provides school-based volunteer mentors for all the girls – female staff or teachers who meet one-on-one with the scholars every week. They actually use curriculum to cover topics like health education, financial literacy, what their rights are as women in Rwanda, to any personal concerns they may be having. The girls also meet with the Komera social worker (one of only two paid Komera staff members!) regularly when she visits each school throughout the year. Their next goal is to launch a university mentoring program, and they have started to do some outreach to universities in Kigali (the Rwandan capital) to see if there is interest among Rwandan university women to mentor these girls.

Leadership is another key component of the Komera Project. The Komera scholars attend Leadership Empowerment camp during their month-long summer break, where they take part in the now-annual Girls Fun Run and participate in workshops focused on topics like English-speaking skills, how to use computers, and sex education. These have been essential for the girls, because these month-long breaks can be vulnerable times for the girls who go back home. Most stay with extended family, get pulled back into working with the family and can potentially be convinced that they need to leave school – especially true for the nearly 20% of girls who come from families who don’t fully support their education efforts.

In regards to the new Social Entrepreneurship Program that Spark is helping to support, most recently the idea of sustainability has come up – how does Spark keep the momentum of being a Komera Scholar going once the girls graduate from secondary school? This was particularly pressing since 15 girls will be graduating in 2013.

The girls had been requesting a social entrepreneurship type training for some time – wanting to learn the skills necessary to starting and maintaining a business, a non-profit or grassroots venture. When asked about social entrepreneurship training, all the girls said that they had never even considered how they might be able to give back to their community or considered themselves leaders, and they were really excited about the idea of learning how to create something to benefit and incorporate their community.

The winter break, in November-December hasn’t been able to be filled by Komera because they haven’t been able to fund camps both in May-June when they have the leadership and empowerment camps as well as during the winter months. Finding funding for this new social entrepreneurship training became essential, as well as a way to get a tested and evaluated curriculum in their hands.Komera Scholars

A local Rwandan group, Global Grassroots, has been offering entrepreneurship, business training, and skills-based workshops for women in Rwanda since immediately after the genocide – and they’ve been doing so pretty successfully. They have agreed to modify their program for a weeklong intensive program for teen girls, as well as moderate the weekly follow-ups. This will be called the “Girls Academy for Global Conscious Change.”

The girls will work in groups of ten, separated by interests – they’ll select a topic they want to focus on, like health, education, water, and they will learn how to craft a mission statement, develop a program goal and implementation plan, and how to write and follow a budget. They will be given small grants of $50, which will be managed by the social worker and through each phase can retrieve part of the money for supplies, then implementation or advertising. The goal is to have them create these mini-organizations and incubate them throughout the school year, with the hope of maintaining it beyond that year, turning it into a profitable business, and growing it beyond their immediate school community.

When I heard that this was their well thought out plan, I thought Spark would be the perfect place for Komera to seek funding help to cover the costs of the girls supplies, food, transportation, and personal supplies throughout the training. The perfect way to blend two of the organizations that are most dear to me.

The Komera Project embodies the exact kind of values and practices that Spark looks for in grantees, and I look forward to what these budding entrepreneurs are up to in just a few years.

Check out their Facebook and Twitter pages, and visit their site to learn more about Komera and meet some of their scholars.

Spark’s Seal of Approval

By SARAH MIERS

In addition to providing financial and in-kind support, Spark’s investments increase awareness of little-known, grassroots women’s organizations. Spark’s grants often act as a seal of approval to other  well-established funders, helping our grantees secure larger investments in the future. We’ve seen this success with grantees like Akili Dada, and our 2011 grantees are no exception. From receiving a personal honor from President Sarkozy of France to winning New York’s prestigious Union Square Award, our 2011 grantees are propelling into the New Year with substantial support.

At Spark’s Spring Speaker Series, members meet with Jenni Williams, founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). We were so inspired by WOZA’s  nonviolent push for democracy and human rights that many Spark members immediately chipped in with funding and technology donations to improve WOZA’s ability to organize. Since Spark’s initial grant, others have caught on to WOZA’s exceptional work, including the French government. Just a few weeks ago, President Sarkozy awarded Jenni Williams with the French National Order of Merit.

photo

Spark New York’s first grantee, Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition, also received substantial recognition and support. Much like Spark, YWCHAC understands the benefit of linking fun with volunteerism. Their unique model resulted in the successful engagement of New York’s youth in comprehensive HIV/AIDS education–not an easy task. Last week YWCHAC won the prestigious Union Square Award. This award includes a $50,000 general support grant. For a small organization this level of unrestricted funding will be transformative.

Spark seeds grassroots women’s organizations with cash grants, pro bono services, connections and attention. Our intention is to position these incredible organizations for larger funding opportunities. The recent success of WOZA and the Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS shows this model in action.

You can help Spark’s efforts with your own seed grants! Choose the cause you want to support, and we’ll help leverage these funds in 2012.

Supporting Women Weavers in Guatemala

By SARAH MIERS, Spark Fellow

Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. The civil war in the 1980s devastated the county and the financial crisis in 1998 crippled its projected economic recovery. Today, the country is still facing serious development challenges:

  • 51% of Guatemalans live on less than $2 a day and 15% of the population lives on only $1 a day.
  • Guatemala is reported to have the most unequal income distribution in the hemisphere.
  • Its social development indicators, including chronic malnutrition, illiteracy and infant mortality, are some of the worst in the Americas.

I had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala last summer in the highlands near Quetzaltenango and Lake Atitlán and was greatly affected by the reality of these challenges.

Indigenous rural communities are particularly impacted by poverty and malnutrition. Many of these communities create beautiful textiles and artisanal crafts, but they do not have access to markets or resources to insure consistent income from these goods.

I am therefore very excited about Spark’s newest grantee The Chuacruz Women’s Weaving Cooperative, as it will work to support women weavers in the village of Chuacruz and help them generate sustained income.

The grant will provide the following:

  1. Foot-pedal Loom: The women in this community are back-strap weavers, a time-intensive weaving method that makes it impossible for them to create and sell enough textiles to support their families.  Spark’s grant will supply a traditional foot-pedal loom and foot-pedal loom classes  to increase their skill set and production capacity.
  2. Business Classes: Additionally, Spark’s grant  will provide a 12-week Business and Design Curriculum to teach these women business skills that will help them turn their unique weaving into a sustained income.
  3. Microbarter Loan: After the women are successfully using the foot-pedal loom and have completed their business training, our grant will provide the community with microbarter loans to start a business. This unique opportunity allows the women to pay back their interest-free loan by selling their goods in the US market. Our grantmaking partner Nest will assist the consistency of these sales by connecting them with a vast network of designers and distributors here in the US.

We are so excited about the success that our grantmaking partner Nest has had in other Mayan communities in Guatemala and this opportunity to support this community in Chuacruz that we have decided to feature this new grantee for our upcoming Cocktails for a Cause event.

Please join us at Spark’s Cocktails for a Cause event on April 20, 2011 to help raise funds for the women weavers in Chuacruz.

Water is a Women’s Issue…in California

BY SARAH MIERS, Spark Fellow

Last Tuesday was World Water Day. For me, it was a much-needed reminder of the scarcity of our fresh water resources.

What’s in your water? The clear water from East Orosi is more contaminated than the murky water on the right from Ducor. (Photo by Erin Lubin)

Around the world, women in our roles as caregivers are disproportionately impacted by scarcity and contamination. Because the task of providing safe water is often delegated to women, the time and effort devoted to collecting water steals away from potential time spent on education, childcare and self-development.

But I live in California. I sort of assumed that I wouldn’t have to worry about the availability and quality of fresh water here in the Bay Area. After some further prodding it seems this isn’t necessarily the case…Fitting enough, this year’s theme for World Water Day is urban water management- a theme that definitely resonates with me here in California.

Take a look at the following facts on CA water management issues:

Spark grantee Community Water Center addresses such problems in the San Joaquin Valley. The Community Water Center works with women leaders within these communities with limited access to fresh groundwater resources, advocates for better water management practices and works to improve the quality of existing water reserves in the Valley.

I hope this post gives you some fresh insight on the water issues we face today. Water is our most precious resource- we all rely on it, and we can’t forget how scarce it is.

Human Trafficking—Scope and Solutions?: An Activist Asks Questions

By K. Kerr

K. Kerr is a lawyer, human trafficking activist and Director of Programs for Freedom House, the first transitional shelter dedicated to supporting survivors of human trafficking in the San Francisco area.  K. Kerr has been a Spark member since 2009.

I have spent the last five years in the fight against human trafficking.   I have worked and written on this topic and still I am left with a lot of unanswered questions.  In this, I am not alone.  I can repeat what the U.S. Government, United Nations and various nonprofit organizations report.  I can tell you what I have seen in working with populations vulnerable to trafficking and survivors of trafficking.  Despite this, key questions around scope and solutions, remain unanswered.

Continue reading

Spark Grantee CAMFED is innovating monitoring and evaluations—with cell phones!

Here at Spark, we’re all about partnering with organizations who find innovative ways to empower women. So we were very excited to hear about past grantee CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education) and their exciting new use of a rapid-growth technology: cell phones.

CAMFED Student

Continue reading