Tag Archives: leadership

Talk it out, Brit Love Fest & Afghanistan’s Sheryl Sandberg

Talk it out, Brit Love Fest & Afghanistan’s Sheryl Sandberg . This is your Spark News Digest.

Read, Discuss, Share.

Authored By Spark Fellow: Linn Hellerstrom

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Roya Mahboob Afghan Citadel Software Co

ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Afghanistan’s Sheryl Sandberg

Roya Mahboob, Afghan tech entrepreneur, is shattering the concrete ceiling. Her company, Afghan Citadel Software Co., has become the foundation for social change. In a country, where women’s literacy hovers at 15%, this business leader is using her acumen to change the state of education in her country. You can see why Time Magazine calls her one of their 100 Most Influential People.

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POLITICS: Love is legal in England and Wales

The royal baby isn’t the only thing to celebrate. Same-sex couples will be able to get married in England and Wales after a new measure became law. Tally Ho!

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U.S NEWS:  Violation of women’s rights within prison walls

Shockingly, 150 female inmates were sterilized in California prisons between 2006 to 2010. Hundreds more have been sterilized since 2000. This outrageous act is an unwanted reminder of the 70’s brutally forced sterilizations.

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POLITICS: Q: What do Boris Johnson and the Princeton Mom have in common?

A: Both are sexist and ridiculous. First, the Princeton Mom pens an open letter about the importance of finding a husband during college, then, Boris Johnson makes the same irresponsible suggestion. Boris and the Princeton mom should be sent to the Principle’s office to think about their comments.

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GLOBAL:  Communication Never Gets Old

Let’s talk it out. In deeply rooted cultural practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), change making is difficult. When determined to do something about the widespread problem, a pro-women group in an Ethiopian village made remarkable achievements. Read about how their strategy of  “community conversations” led to effectively ending female genital cutting in their home village.

 Read the full story 

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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.

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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.

Egypt: What Does This Mean for Women?

What I know for certain is that this uprising will forever alter the position of women in Egypt.  What I don’t know is how.  Political unrest impacts disempowered communities differently—both positively and negatively.

Here are some trends that I am watching:

Women are key actors in this movement.

Women are protesting side by side with men. Renowned Egyptian feminist and human rights activist Nawal El Saadawi reported from Cairo, “Women and girls are beside boys in the streets…We are calling for justice, freedom and equality, and real democracy and a new constitution, no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslims and Christians, to change the system… and to have a real democracy.”

Young women, in particular, were instrumental in initiating the protests–inspiring men to speak out.

Asmaa Mahfouz has been credited with sparking the fire with her YouTube video posted several weeks ago calling for a protest to bring down Mubark and his regime.

The secular, rights-based impetus for the protest may not remain central during a political transition.

I am watching the developments and hoping that the spirit of the protests perseveres the volatility of this political process.  Both Scott Atran and  Carrie Rosefsky-Wickham cautioned against the misunderstanding and over-simplification of secular and religious political factions. However, the ascendance of a fundamentalist regime would have a negative impact on women in Egypt and the region.

This has turned into a humanitarian crisis.  When food and other resources are scarce, women and girls loose out.

Gender inequalities are exacerbated during crisis.  This is true of natural disasters, war and political uprisings.

This historic moment in Egypt will change the country and the region.  While I don’t know how this will impact women in Egypt, I do know that attention matters.  We will continue to monitor the situation and report findings from our four Spark members in Cairo and other partners on the ground.

Friends, Coffee and Networks that Raise us UP

Spark Co-Founder Fiona Hsu

It was December 2009 and Spark co-founder Fiona Hsu’s evenings were filled with holiday parties, dinner with girlfriends and the occasional late night at work.  Fiona’s dear friend Dan Nguyen-Tran who loves her both for her frenetic pace and the passion that she has for women’s rights convinced Fiona to drop whatever she had planned and to come meet his friend, a professor at University of San Francisco, Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg. Continue reading