Meeting our US Board Jamie Greenawalt


We are thrilled to have Jamie on our US board as she brings her expertise and skills to our organization! Jamie currently consults for the World Bank in Washington D.C. focusing on agriculture, food and nutrition security issues in the South Asia region. She has been working with a group of social enterprises in the region that aim to empower women economically, which is what she is most passionate about and why she was thrilled to be a part of the very important Women LEAD mission. She recently visited Women LEAD in Nepal and was thrilled to meet our young women LEADers! We got a chance to speak to her and know more about her experiences.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I have been working in the international development sector for about 12 years and right now, I am working for the World Bank and that is what has brought me to Nepal for some project work. I work with women entrepreneurs, primarily with women farmers and agriculture in the South Asian region. It is a natural fit for me to be a part of Women LEAD.

How do you feel is the situation of girls and young women around the world?

My primary experience with young women has been through Women LEAD. There is a lot of hope and work to be done in terms of empowerment, giving women opportunities to work outside the home, to be self sufficient, to be empowered to make a life decision based on what they want and not what their family wants of them. I think that it is happening but there is opportunities for improvement everywhere.

What inspired you to be a part of Women LEAD?

The fact that I work in the South Asian region now has been a great opportunity for me to learn about the region, its culture and fall in love with Nepal. My interest has always been to work with and support women and girls and one can do that it many ways. You can do that through advocacy, policy, directly through training and capacity building or through economic empowerment. When women are empowered, that is what gets me the most excited. So when I heard about the opportunity to be a part of Women LEAD, it was an obvious choice.


Why do you think girls and women are important for the development agenda?

Women are part of the economy and the invisible work that women do are not always counted towards the Gross Domestic Product of a country. Women are often marginalized by default and we, as women, have to fight that. We have to give an opportunity to our governments, organizations and the economists of our country to count our work. Child care, labor, cooking at home or even selling goods outside of the home needs to be counted. So, I think that in terms of the importance of women and girls for development, it is critical that women not just acquire skills, but that they also advocate about the things that they are contributing towards.

What are some of the challenges faced by women globally?

Unfortunately, Gender Based Violence and Domestic Violence are very common and it is a challenge for women in South Asia. Other than that, there are some cultural challenges like when joining a family after their marriage. Another challenge is believing in yourself as a woman and having the courage to have a voice. I think a lot of times, women are not as lucky because they do not have a support system to rely on. It is such a unique opportunity for all the girls who are involved with Women LEAD because that is your home, your support system. It is like you have this sliver of sunshine, hope and joy that you can be a consistent part of.

Do you a woman who has been an inspiration in your life?

My mother really inspires me. She was a single mother for a number of years before she remarried. She has always been very selfless and giving and has always reminded me that I can do anything that I want to do. She has always encouraged me to be strong and to never give up. Even as a 34 old woman today, she still does that. She is my biggest cheerleader. I think that being empathetic and to be able to show support and love for another person is not necessarily innate in people but more of a learned skill. I think I learned to be empathetic to others from my mom and it affects my life- both personally and professionally. She is a great role model for me.

What advice would you give to aspiring future women leaders?

Anytime you find someone you admire, never be afraid to up to them and talk to them. Tell them that they have inspired you and thank them for doing so and ask them if they would be willing to help you. If they say no, ask them if they would be know someone who would be willing to help you because we as people, have to give back to other people. It is our duty to give and help other people. So as long as you are willing to help one another and to ask for that help, then the returns and yield you get from that is much greater than what we can imagine.


Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Sylvia Friedman

Interview by Megan Foo, Women LEAD Blogger


Sylvia Friedman is a Hong Kong-based Canadian journalist, book author, documentary producer and advisor to philanthropists. She has won multiple awards for her work, including the International Human Rights Press Award (TV Special Merit) in 2013 for her series on slavery and human trafficking in China, Hong Kong and Thailand. Dedicated to anti-trafficking initiatives and activism, Sylvia founded the 852 Freedom Campaign, a campaign focused on mobilizing people in Hong Kong to end global sex trafficking and slavery. Since 2005, she has directed more than US$9 million to humanitarian and non-governmental organizations and projects that have impacted at least 1 million people.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Sylvia Friedman: I’m a journalist, author, filmmaker, advisor to philanthropists and have directed more than US$9 million to NGOs; and wife to an amazing man.

Women LEAD: You are currently a founder and leader of the 852 Freedom Campaign, a campaign dedicated to mobilizing people across Hong Kong to fight human slavery. What inspired you to found the 852 Freedom Campaign (852FC), and what are your hopes for this project?

Sylvia Friedman: I’ve been directing funding to NGOs for 10 years now and I’ve met dozens of NGO leaders in the region. I co-founded the 852FC because I felt it was filling a void in the counter-human trafficking space not only Hong Kong, but in Asia. The 852FC is a fast growing mass movement and it’s empowering housewives and stay at home mothers, teachers, bankers, artists, creative directors, communications and technology specialists and so on to donate their time and talents to help end human trafficking and modern day slavery in our lifetime. We will soon be campaigning with a TV channel and more doors are opening for ordinary people to get involved in ending modern slavery.

Women LEAD: On a personal level, what motivates you to continue fighting for social justice, specifically in the anti-trafficking movement?

Sylvia Friedman: I’d say it’s in my blood. My great-grandfather fought for justice in politics in South Korea back in his day. My great-grandmother was a wonderful humanitarian and fed the poor every week in her home. My mother grew up watching their example and naturally followed in their footsteps. She’s been helping low-income families for more than 30 years in Vancouver. Another reason why I’m fighting slavery is that I could not forget the faces of the slavery victims and people in exploitative situations I have met over the years. It’s surprising when I learn that people working in anti-slavery NGOs have never met a single victim.

Women LEAD: Why does women’s empowerment matter to you?

Sylvia Friedman: Women by nature are catalytic influencers. If you empower a woman, you can not only transform her family, but influence many. It still boggles my mind that about 100 years ago, Chinese women had bound feet and were not considered a person until they were married (another man’s property really). (Thank you for initiating this blog. You’re doing an inspiring work of empowerment yourself, Megan!)

Women LEAD: What are some of your most memorable experiences in your years as a journalist?

Sylvia Friedman: My near death experiences. I’ve been blessed to have some extraordinary adventures early on in my career. I have been surrounded by angry gangsters and mama-sans in a red light district in the middle of no where in Yunnan province. I’ve walked by gun wielding Burmese soldiers. Some of the Cambodian children’s faces I’ve met in Poipet have stayed with me. These kids are at risk of exploitation and of being trafficked. I also cannot forget the emaciated heroin addicts near the Myanmar border.

Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

Sylvia Friedman: My mother has been an extraordinary example of a classy humanitarian with the finesse of a Madeleine Albright. Being raised by her was like attending a finishing school led by a football coach. She literally would rebuke me whenever I was slouching or standing with one foot out. Her ability to inspire and coach is amazing and she has mentored many young people over the years. I admire her integrity and the way she has had no enemies in her life. She has class.

Women LEAD: Are there websites, books, or films that are inspiring you right now about gender equality or individual empowerment?

Sylvia Friedman: I’ve just finished my second book “Silenced No More: Voices of Comfort Women” and I am embarrassed to admit it was a project that took me 14 years to complete! I kept my promise to the comfort women survivors who asked me to tell the world about their experiences and the book came out last week on Amazon.

Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Jo Farrell


Interview by Megan Foo, Women LEAD Blogger

Jo Farrell is an award-winning documentary photographer and cultural anthropologist based in Hong Kong. The creator and leader of Living History, which documents the lives of the last remaining women in China with bound feet, Jo is deeply passionate about representing tradition and culture through the vehicle of art, particularly women’s traditions that are about to fade away from history. She has presented at the TEDxWarwick 2015 and TEDxWanchaiWomen 2015 conferences on perceptions of beauty, tradition, and culture, and her work has been featured in a variety of print and online platforms, including BBC, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and The Smithsonian Magazine.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Jo Farrell: After I left school I worked for a publisher of art and architectural books and magazines, initially doing layout and design which expanded to writing articles and doing research. I recall writing reviews on new photography books including Eugene W. Smith and CHIM—it opened up a whole new world for me. Over the past twenty years I have worked with numerous publishers, which progressed to being a Communications and event organiser. I have coordinated the marketing and book publishing needs for architects in London, San Francisco and Hong Kong. On the last architectural book, I coordinated the ten chapters on Asian cities and their projects, which included all the research, text, image sourcing, and commissioning of new material. I find publishing extremely rewarding as there is a finished product and a pride in what you have put together. It has also taught me valuable tools for being an artist. You can be an outstanding painter/ photographer / sculptor but you have to get your work out there, network, be your own social media and promotional guru. You cannot leave it to chance – you have to believe whole heatedly in what you are doing and follow your passion.

As to why I am a photographer—I had been surrounded by photography books and transparencies most of my life. It wasn’t until I went to Beijing in 1998 and started getting up early to photograph the backstreets of the city that it finally dawned on me that this was my passion. I realized like a ton of bricks falling on me that I did not want to do anything else.

Women LEAD: You led a photography project and wrote a book called Living History: Bound Feet Women of China, which documents the last remaining women in China with bound feet. What inspired you to start these initiatives?

Jo Farrell: I have always been interested in traditions and cultures that are dying out. My father is an architect and a lot of his work has been about rejuvenating and regenerating buildings or areas, rather than demolishing and building something new. I deeply value this idea of looking at the cultural significance and history of a place—which expanded, into my own interest of recording the world disappearing around us and endeavouring to capture it on film. The loss of what was once important.

As a woman, I decided to focus on Women’s traditions that are fading away before they are totally eradicated. To capture their essence before it is too late. Having been in and out of Asia for the past 20-25 years, my first thought was of women with bound feet. I have many books on China, starting with the books: Wild Swans and Life & Death in Shanghai which introduced me to foot binding. I assumed that there were few women left alive who had bound feet and started asking my contacts in mainland China if they knew. I eventually came across a driver who said his grandmother had bound feet – she became the first women in the project. Since then it has been through word and mouth that I have discovered more women.

After meeting the first woman, Zhang Yun Ying—I became more and more interested in why they followed this tradition. On the day I met Zhang, she showed me her feet and I held her foot in my hands—it was so soft, small and perfectly formed like a sculpture—I was in awe, what this woman had gone through to achieve what was considered beautiful and expected in her own society. It made me start thinking about what women will do in order to attain status, to be considered worthy or marriage potential.

Women LEAD: What has been the impact of these initiatives?

Jo Farrell: I believe that my project on women and bound feet has opened up a discussion of not only why women themselves accepted this tradition but also questions our actions in modern day society. My aim was to show the lives of these women, looking beyond the feet and giving them a voice. The majority of books and articles are about the beautiful embroided shoes of the wealthy and detailing the eroticism behind the practice. I wanted to show these women in a new light, how strong and courageous they have been to endure footbinding, live through the Cultural Revolution and the great famine and now in their 80s and 90s are still active. It’s more about recording for prosperity the lives of these incredible women.

Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

Jo Farrell: In the 70s and 80s my Mother, Rosie, owned and ran a restaurant in England—it served Victorian and Edwardian recipes, and was recommended by the Michelin and Egon Ronay food guides. I briefly attended an all girls school where I was teased that my Mum had to work for a living – how very short sighted they were. My Mum gave me the confidence and continually gives me the confidence that as I woman I can chose my own path, and try new things. I have never questioned whether I could or could not do a job because of my gender.

Women LEAD: On a personal level, why does women’s empowerment matter to you?

Jo Farrell: I think it is important for everyone to have the freedom to be in control of their own life and to be an active part of the system that shapes the decisions in their community. Discrimination in any form is deplorable, empowerment is about being treated as an equal. We also have to be sensitive to other cultures needs and values without enforcing our own believes on others. Women play an important role in perpetuating patriarchal norms to concede to their own society. Women’s empowerment is about building confidence, trust and support. It is about encouraging others to shoot for the stars.

I have always been independent minded and have certainly worked in situations which have had their gender-centric bullshit. I won’t put up with it and speak out about concerns that I have—it is typically not well received but that is as expected as it is coming from people who have issues in the first place. If you don’t say anything it will go on infinitum, so you have to start somewhere and get people to think about their own actions.

Women LEAD: What does being an artist mean to you?

Jo Farrell: I am a very visual person, so my thought process on a daily basis is about what I see directly in front of me. It is about exploring and discovering new things; pausing and capturing. I want to hold onto the memories.

One slightly strange thing I like to do is to make sure I travel the same road in both directions, seeing the same thing from a different perspective is very eye opening. I often feel like a fly on the wall, watching the world go by from a distance, behind the lens. Always being visually stimulated, As Jack London said: “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”

Being an artist means being engulfed in ones passion and trying to make a basic living. I could be still working in the corporate world but I would not be fulfilled. As an artist you rarely have any form of security but you do have satisfaction in what you create. You have to weigh-up being fulfilled vs. being financially stable—it’s a hard choice. Being insolvent is extremely stressful.

Women LEAD: In your opinion, what is the role the arts play in galvanizing social change?

Jo Farrell: Art encourages people to look at things from a different perspective, creating insight and engagement. Art is subjective and begs people to question what they are looking at. It can integrate creative ideas with social issues to address or highlight what is going on in the world around us. It creates an open dialogue. Art gives a voice to many topics that the public can absorb and be reactive to.

You look at projects by photographers like Mary Ellen Mark or Sebastio Salgado who have captured the plight of labourers, prostitutes, the homeless, basically those on the edge of society—they have documented economic and social change that is often ignored.

Women LEAD: What advice do you have for people interested in making a difference?

Jo Farrell: Try. Fail. Try again. The more you are invested in a project, the more likely it is to succeed.

Women LEAD: Are there websites, books, or films that are inspiring you right now about gender equality and women’s empowerment?

Jo Farrell: In my research I have come across documentaries and websites about labiaplasty—cosmetic surgery for female genitalia, where women are opting to have a surgeon slice away at their vulva to be more aesthetically pleasing. These procedures are becoming more and more common place—I believe because of greater access to pornographic imagery—as all too often women think that there is something wrong with their own bodies. In the documentary “The Perfect Vagina”, the researcher speaks to the artist Jamie McCartney whose work includes “The Great Wall of Vagina” where he has made over 400 plaster cast moulds of women’s vulvas in aim to show us how each one is unique and nothing to be ashamed about. In the documentary a woman chooses not to go through with the surgery after having Jamie makes a mould of her vulva—to me that is empowerment. I met up with Jamie in June this year and discussed his project, I asked how as a man had this project come about and he told me that he has had very strong women in his life and felt that this was an important issue to address.

Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Joyce Ou


Interview by Megan Foo, Women LEAD Blogger

Joyce Ou is a freshman at Yale University. An avid journalist and passionate advocate for education, she has been involved with initiatives including leading her school’s paper and serving as the Editor-in-Chief of the online magazine of Givology, an online nonprofit that aims to address educational opportunities in the developing world. Joyce hopes to pursue a career at the intersection of molecular biology and global affairs, and aspires to improve healthcare systems and global health within and beyond the US.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Joyce Ou: I immigrated to the U.S. when I was five. I grew up near inner city Los Angeles before moving to a much nicer suburb in the Los Angeles County. The move opened my eyes to economic disparity, and on a personal level, the difference an education – which my new classmates’ parents definitely had more of than my own – can make. This, alongside with my experiences as a 3-year-member member of my high school’s journalism staff, has driven me to adopt an attitude of global consciousness and empathy. I hope to do more work on a global scale in college, with a specific desire to work on global health.

Women LEAD: You are the Magazine Editor-in-Chief of Givology, a P2P nonprofit that leverages dollar donations to fund education projects in the developing world. Can you share with us some of your experience with Givology?

Joyce Ou: My friend introduced me to Givology because he thought it stood for a cause that I deeply care about: access to education. Givology’s transparency and mission statement drew me in, and I decided to get involved so that I can finally convert my passions in actions. Givology is fantastic about allowing new members to head their own project. Knowing this, I pitched the idea of an online magazine to our CEO, Joyce Meng. I strongly believe in the power of writing and wanted to do more journalism work, so I figured overseeing an online magazine was perfectly in my wheelhouse and would be valuable to the organization. Joyce was immediately enthusiastic and supportive, and my primary contribution to Givology was launched. As editor-in-chief, I do the entire layout of the magazine and oversee the writing, which includes editing articles and assembling content. We’ve completed our first issue which is focused on women’s education a few months ago, and I’m currently prepping for the second.

Women LEAD: What inspires you to keep fighting for global access to education?

Joyce Ou: Initially, my parents instilled in me a deep held belief in the value of education. It’s not simply the fact that they constantly told me to focus on my schooling, but rather, I became increasingly aware of the transformative power of education as I grew up and saw the sharp differences between my life and my parents’. My parents face limited job opportunities because they lack a college degree. It didn’t matter that my dad probably understands physics better than I ever will or my mom never really got a fair chance to properly complete schooling. Because getting an education was never in doubt for me, I will make more than they do because I’ll have a college degree. The injustice of this astounds me, and this shock propels me to be invested in educational opportunities for everyone.

Moreover, I saw a change in myself as I advanced through my years of schooling. I grew aware of my privilege, and by extension, I simultaneously grew aware of my power in society as a result of my education. This empowerment should be freely available to all – it’s essential for anyone’s character growth – so I hope to use my power to make it so that education can continue to empower people like it did for me.

Women LEAD: Why do you think journalism is an important vehicle for instigating social change?

Joyce Ou: Well-written articles have moved me and compelled me to reexamine my viewpoints. This is exactly why I think journalism is an important tool in social activism. Social change may involve policy reform, but true social change ultimately comes from a shift in people’s attitudes. Journalism is a driver in this, from courageous investigative pieces shining light on ignored issues to passionate opinion pieces encouraging a new point of view. It can get masses of people to listen, and then, hopefully, to care.

Women LEAD: On a personal level, why does women’s empowerment matter to you?

Joyce Ou: I briefly touched upon this two questions ago, but to reiterate, I think empowerment is something that everyone should feel. Empowerment for me personally has encouraged me to challenge the limits of my potential, to do things that enrich my life with a purpose. In simplest terms, I believe empowerment correlates with happiness. Moreover, I believe more individual empowerment will lead to a greater fulfillment of societal potential, or essentially a better society. Women’s empowerment is not merely an issue of feminism, but rather one of equality. Of course, men around the world still enjoy more privileges than women, so to achieve equality, women’s empowerment needs to be at the forefront of people’s minds.

Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

Joyce Ou: Perhaps this answer is obvious, but my mom has been a big influence. Both implicitly and explicitly, her lack of education has shown me how important education is, from her constant outcries wishing she was more educated to the restrictions she faces because she doesn’t have a college degree. It’s her example that motivates me to increase accessibility to education.

Women LEAD: Are there books, movies and websites that are inspiring you right now about gender equality, women’s empowerment and education?

Joyce Ou: One of my favorite books is Half the Sky, which sparked a serious interest in women’s empowerment for me. It opened my eyes to the many injustices women face, from sex trafficking to poor maternal healthcare. Suddenly, the oppression of women transformed from a vague horror story that I could distance myself from to a grim reality that I could no longer ignore. For example, I never even considered how dangerous pregnancy can be, considering how relatively safe it is in the U.S., but Half the Sky gave me an in depth understanding of the lack of maternal healthcare in developing countries as well as the obstacles facing the advancement of maternal healthcare. I can’t begin to imagine dealing with the oppression the women in the book faced, and after reading the book, I would like to help make it so that such oppression is not a reality for more women.

Youth Empowerment Curriculum with FIT


All of us at Women LEAD have had an amazing week working with the incredible Field Innovation Team (FIT). After a series of virtual trainings over Skype with the LEADers, the FIT team officially arrived here on June 2nd, 2015  to work with us for a week on youth empowerment and community rebuilding after the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on 25th April, 2015.

The first day of the workshop began with the FIT team working closely with our LEADers and familiarizing them with the Youth Empowerment Curriculum. The Youth Empowerment Curriculum was packed with an exciting set of fun, interactive and educational activities designed to foster teamwork and develop leadership amongst the students. The activity ‘Story of You’ was a powerful medium where the LEADers got a unique chance to become authors by writing their own book that contained their personal experiences about the earthquake and the inspiring moments that they remembered from it. LEADer Anjali shared that the activity was a cathartic outlet to the mental trauma that they had boxed inside them. We also had a theater instructor Lisha come in and conduct a physical activity that was based on trust. Her session also included an expressive way of emoting the way they reacted during the time of the earthquake.


After our LEADers were trained, we set out to conduct the activities out in the local community from where our LEADers are from. We partnered with All Hands: a volunteer organization that was constructing Temporary Learning Centers at Assapuri School in Kavre district. Our LEADers immediately bonded with the students there and conducted fun activities from the curriculum such as the Marshmallow game, which allowed them to work better in teams by building the tallest tower. Another
game they played was Monster Man, which encouraged them to use their power of imagination and unleashed their creative side. They also played a fun health game called ‘Diarrhea’ which taught the students to be hygienic by washing their hands and keeping the disease at bay. Rather than limiting learning to just books, the Youth Empowerment Project emphasized making learning a really fun and collaborative experience. Our LEADers also got a hands-on experience to do physical reconstruction work by building a bamboo-based temporary learning center. They did an incredible job, working in energetic teams to gather the raw materials such as bamboo from the forest, to drilll holes, lift rubble and chop bamboo.

Our LEADers also coordinated with their schools in their local communities to conduct the project. One of those schools was our alumni Tara’s school in her community at Harisiddhi. We got to partner with an amazing team called Circus Kathmandu, the only leading circus organization in Kathmandu, who led an adrenaline filled dance workshop for the students and also amused them with their acrobatic stunts. Similarly, we got the opportunity to work at our alumni Anjali’s school in Khokana. When we asked one of our alumni about her experience working with FIT, Samikshya shared, “Being a part of FIT was a very enriching experience. The students were initially shy but after they got a chance to share their story in front of their friends, their confidence level increased. There were students who wouldn’t talk to each other, especially boys and girls. But our games such as snap pass and tie the knot acted as an ice breaker and connected them to each other. It is very nice to observe and experience that positive change in the students with whom we have developed a special bond within just a few days.”

FIT summed up their experience working with Women LEAD as an incredible journey. “There have been so many highlights, but the most special moments were observing the Women LEAD trainees and alumni excitedly take the lead in their communities, showing that this project will continue on after we depart. That is the greatest gift of all.” We are incredibly grateful to FIT for giving us and our LEADers a unique opportunity to help our communities.


Alumni LEADer Sharmila shares about her experience in Korea!


We’re thrilled to announce that one of our 2011 alumni Sharmila has been selected for an exchange semester at SookMyung Women’s University in Seoul, Korea. Sharmila will be there from March to June. She is currently majoring in public health at Asian University for Women (AUW) in Chittagong, Bangladesh. At SookMyung, she is exploring diverse courses like Social Entrpreneurship, Business Startup, NGOs in developing countries and Korean traditional dance.

Sharmila is passionate about the idea of merging public health and entrepreneurship together. This summer, she and her batch mates are going to conduct a summer project in Nepal as a part of the curriculum. Sharmila says, “We are planning to conduct research on a village in Gorkha to understand and improve school girls of age 13-15’s knowledge about menstruation. We aim to teach them how to make cheap and eco friendly sanitary pads and analyse if they find it comfortable to use such pads as well encourage them to use it regularly.”

Sharmila shares, “Living in Kathmandu, Chittagong, and Seoul, it has been a very thrilling experience so far exploring the three diverse cities. It is a different feeling even walking on the streets. For instance, in Chittagong, society is conservative and there is a look of surprise on people’s faces when they see me walking alone in jeans. Here in Seoul, everybody is in their own world and nobody stares at me. I am also really impressed at how organized the transportation system is here. I am very excited to spend the rest of my time here at Seoul.”

Spotlight on 2014 LEADer Alina

Alina Khadgi is a twelfth grader, currently studying management at NIC College. When asked about the reason for joining Women LEAD, she confidently replied: “I joined Women LEAD because I wanted to make better use of my time. Before joining Women LEAD, I felt like I was not doing anything productive in my life. My life was confined to the routine of going to college and back and I was bored of my monotonous life. I wanted to make my life more interesting – I wanted to experience something new and learn new things.”
Looking back at the sessions that really stood out in the LEAD Course, Alina recalls two sessions specifically. She shares, “Public speaking and active listening have played an important role in improving my performance at school. The course encouraged me to make more eye contact with my teachers and as a result; my interest and performance in the class increased significantly. Before, I had the notion that the teacher made eye contact only with rude students. But after the LEAD course, I learned that making eye contact is actually an important communication skill, so I applied the technique in my class.”
“I also started to feel more confident and started getting positive feedback from my teachers. Active listening also helped me improve my grades significantly. I realized I started giving more attention to the teachers and I was able to recall most of the things that were said in class. Answering questions during exams became much easier than before.” adds Alina. Alina deeply cares about eliminating corruption and gender inequality in her country.  She recalls, “When I went to get my citizenship card along with my father, the man shouted at me and asked if my father was there in person. I know many children today face problems to take citizenship from their mother. The fact that attaining a citizenship is only limited to the father portrays a grim picture of the existing gender inequality in our society.”
Alina also adds, “Women LEAD has given me the awareness to help me choose between right and wrong. Had I not joined Women LEAD, I would have never known that corruption is a bad thing. Sessions like the civic engagement session made me politically aware. I now understand that making a constitution involves a complex procedure. I also learned that it is important to assimilate everybody’s views and mould it into one in order to have a collective consensus”.
Alina conducted the School Leadership Program at New Zenith English School this year. ‘Conducting the School Leadership Program was the best part of joining Women LEAD’, remarks Alina. She adds, “Apart from a significant improvement in my public speaking skills; my communication skills such as the ability to interact with new people have also improved. Similarly, the fact that we get to pass on our knowledge to somebody else feels great. Ever since childhood, I loved being a teacher. I still recall playing the game where I would become a teacher. To be living that childhood dream of actually becoming one gives me immense happiness. Alina wants to become an entrepreneur in the future and wants to start her own company to provide employment opportunities to women.

  Clinton Global Initiative University: A Reflection by 2010 alumni Dipeeka

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When our team submitted the commitment for the CGI U conference, little did we know that it would lead us to one of the best and most inspiring weekends in Miami, Florida. Launched in 2007 by President Clinton, Clinton Global Initiative (CGI U) is a growing community of young leaders who discuss global challenges and take concrete steps to solving them [1].

Our commitment to action is Artha: Finance for Young Minds, a financial education program for low income and underprivileged youth in Kathmandu, Nepal. Our aim is to address the lack of financial literacy in underprivileged communities by teaching them about personal budgeting, savings, banking options and bookkeeping.

Thanks to the funding from our individual schools (Seton Hill University and Westminster College), we were able to attend the CGI U conference. The conference commenced on March 6th with a Student Networking Reception. Ever since the bus ride into University of Miami, we started networking with amazing leaders and learning about their commitments. The passion and determination shown by each commitment maker was commendable and very inspiring.

After the networking reception, our first plenary session was called “Fast Forward: Accelerating Opportunity for All”. The session began on an exciting note with remarks from Chelsea Clinton and President Bill Clinton. The panelists for the session were America Ferrara, Paul Lorem, Tawakkol Karman, and Vivek Murthy.  As I heard their inspiring stories, be it nonviolent overthrowing of dictatorship in Yemen, combating HIV/AIDS in rural India, working as a Latina activist, or spearheading an agri-business in Kenya despite growing up in a refugee camp; I could not help but agree with Ferrara’s remarks that we cannot silo issues as if they do not affect each other: we are all connected and have a shared future for humanity.

Our plenary sessions on March 7th included discussions on harnessing data and Internet use to address global challenges, and on the future of energy: ensuring access to modern energy through affordable renewable solutions [2]. I also attended a skill session on strengthening organizational capacity, where the speakers Ben Simon and Rachael Chong shared their experiences on recruiting passionate members for our commitments, and scaling them by delegating areas of responsibilities. It was motivating to hear that it is more important to have committed and passionate members on your team, rather than worrying about the number.

Our highlight of the day was a working session on Financial Education: Youth as Economic Citizens. In this working session, our commitment was one of the featured commitments along with The Billhartz Initiative, a financial literacy program for lower income youth in Central Illinois [3]. Both our teams were recognized on stage and awarded a certificate for our commitment by Susan Davis, the founder and CEO of BRAC, USA. The most exciting part of the day was seeing Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton on stage, along with Chelsea Clinton talking about The Full Participation Project and Not-There campaign ( emphasizing that women are still not there in terms of gender equality.

We ended the conference on March 8th with a Day of Action, where we volunteered at the Miami Children’s Initiative. It was great to give back to the city that had welcomed us so warmly for an amazing weekend. As we ended the conference, our team is more than excited to start implementing what we committed to!

A huge thank you to everyone supported and helped us throughout this process. A special thank you to Women LEAD for motivating me to have bold visions, and CGI U for inspiring me to commit our visions to actions!



Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Nadia Hashimi


(Photo from

Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter

Nadia Hashimi is a pediatrician, women’s empowerment advocate, and the author of the novel The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, an international bestseller chronicling the lives of an Afghan girl and her great-great grandmother who overcome gender inequalities and human rights violations in Afghanistan. She will also publish the novel When The Moon Is Low in July 2015which follows the journey of an Afghan family as they flee Taliban-controlled Kabul and live as undocumented immigrants in Europe.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Nadia Hashimi: I’m an Afghan-American. My parents immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan in the early 1970s. Growing up, I was fortunate to have a large extended family around me. In all of our homes, the celebrations and traditions of Afghan cultured thrived. At the same time, we assimilated into the American culture around us. I felt like we took the best of both worlds. With the support and encouragement of my parents, I finished college and medical school and went on to become a pediatrician. In 2008, my husband convinced me to be serious about my writing aspirations and now, thanks to his wild idea, I’m also a published author.

Women LEAD: What inspired you to write The Pearl That Broke Its Shell?

Nadia Hashimi: Growing up in America, my family watched Afghanistan from afar. I was painfully aware of the vast difference in experience between me and my counterparts in Afghanistan. My cousins or other girls growing up “over there” were living in a country at war, with rockets exploding over their homes and schools being shut down. The brutal Taliban regime made a name for themselves in their remarkably cruel subjugation of women. Though the Taliban have been ousted for the most part and schools are open to girls, the situation is far from perfect. There are many crises in Afghanistan today: drug addiction, child “brides”, political corruption, education inequality, depression and suicide. I wanted to tell a story that would show how these issues affected the life of one Afghan girl because the impact of these issues is often lost in daunting statistics. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is not the story of all Afghan girls, thankfully, but it is the story of too many.

Women LEAD: Why do you write?

Nadia Hashimi: When I first started, I wrote because I’ve had a lifelong love for the written word. (I’m never without a book!) As my first manuscript came to a close, my motives evolved. I wrote because I had stories in me that needed to be told. It’s turned into a true passion, where I wake up with words and characters in my mind. I write because I love it, which is the best reason to do anything and the only way to do anything well.

Women LEAD: Why does women’s empowerment matter to you?

Nadia Hashimi: Women’s empowerment used to matter to me because I was a girl and because my parents instilled in me that women deserved equal rights. Now that I have a daughter, women’s empowerment matters even more because I want my daughter to feel she has the capability and potential to do anything her brothers can do. Thankfully, the challenges she faces will not be the same as those of girls or women in other parts of the world. In the United States, women can vote, drive and enter any kind of education program they choose. But gender inequality takes on many shapes and colors: unequal pay, a person telling her engineering is not for her, or kids teasing that someone “throws like a girl.” I want my daughter to have the voice and confidence to speak out when she sees or hears the inequality, even in its most subtle forms.

Women LEAD: What advice do you have for future women writers?

Nadia Hashimi: Consider what you want to write about carefully. To write anything well, it’s important to be passionate about the subject matter. It doesn’t have to be a social issue. It could be a well-developed character or new energy technologies. Whatever it is, you must feel a strong draw to write about it or you won’t be able to compel anyone to read it. Second, read extensively. Think about what you liked or disliked about what you’ve read. You will be picking up tricks on clarity, description and plot development. These are skills all writers need to hone. Third, begin by writing a paragraph or a page. It is daunting to think about writing 300 pages of prose but if you start with one page, the second will follow and the third after that. Afghans have a saying: “Drop by drop flows the river.” That’s definitely true for writing.

Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

Nadia Hashimi: This is an easy question to answer. My mother’s been an inspiration to me all my life. She grew up in Afghanistan and was one of only a handful of women enrolled in the engineering program at Kabul University. She was awarded a scholarship and travelled alone to Holland where she obtained a master’s degree in civil engineering. She and my father taught me to work hard, set my goals high and believe in myself. They taught me that my voice mattered. If every girl could grow up with that experience, we wouldn’t have to be talking about women’s empowerment.

Women LEAD: Are there books, films, websites that are currently inspiring you about gender equality and women’s empowerment?

Nadia Hashimi: The good news is there are a lot of motivating resources out there. I’m a big fan of the Mighty Girl website. They have a fantastic collection of resources for parents of young girls from Halloween costume ideas to books and spotlights on girls making an impact on their world. I loved Margaret Atwood’s book, The Handmaid’s Tale, because in it she created a shocking world where women are reduced to vessels of child bearing. They are barely people. When we look at what’s happening in some corners of the world, Atwood’s Gilead becomes less far-fetched. In the movie world, I watch films with a more critical eye now. I enjoy films that don’t portray all females as weak, bikini-clad maidens waiting for a knight in shining armor to save them. I like bold, three dimensional women since that’s a better reflection of our reality. I love advocates like Amy Poehler because she shows us, with a funny and accessible voice, that women can be successful, should speak up for themselves and should not think of feminism as a dirty word. I loved when she said about women who renounce feminism: “That’s like someone being like, ‘I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.’”

To learn more about Nadia Hashimi, her passion for women’s and girls’ empowerment and The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, read this blog post on Girls’ Globe.

Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Humaira Bachal


(Photo Credit: Wajih&Shirani)

Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter

Humaira Bachal is an advocate for women’s education who strives to change the attitude of people who are against women’s education. She is the Founder of the Dream Foundation Trust, an organization that aims to facilitate personal development and the enhancement of health, social living and working conditions in Pakistan. For her pioneering efforts in girls’ education advocacy, Humaira has been recognized as one of five “Bravest Women on Earth” by the Women in the World Foundation, and was awarded the 2013 Women of Impact Award at the 4th annual Women in the World Summit. She was recently featured in TIME and on CNN for her work founding the Dream Foundation Trust.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Humaira Bachal: As a 1st grader, my sister and I were the only ones from our slum settlement in Karachi to go to school while all other friends played in the streets. I used to think school was a punishment.

That is until I turned six and saw my infant cousin die, coughing blood and wheezing for a breath of air – all because she was administered an expired fever medicine. Medicine the child’s own illiterate mother had fed her. The agony of losing my baby cousin, the heart-wrenching screams of the mother… and that day I decided – I have to stop this!

It wasn’t just my cousin who was illiterate; when I moved to my hometown, I saw injustice with women and girls, obstacles for their education and chaotic situations with them. The house-arrested women were deprived to get an education. My friends and I moved forward to redress these immoral mind set.

I had the full support of my mother, Zainab Bibi, who endured social boycotts, verbal and physical abuse to make sure her daughters got an education, enabling us to break the cycle of disempowerment she herself has suffered. Backed by my mother, I overcame resistance from my father and brothers at home, as well as the conservative attitudes and reluctance of community members.

Women LEAD: You are the Founder and CEO of the Dream Foundation Trust, an organization that aims to facilitate personal development and the enhancement of health, social living and working conditions in Pakistan. Can you tell us more about the Dream Foundation Trust, what inspired you to found it, and its impact so far?

Humaira Bachal: Yes, I’m founder and the president of Dream Foundation Trust (DFT), is a non-profit non-governmental organization registered under Trust Act 1882 (# 955) of Pakistan in 2009. We have been working since 5 years in Karachi, Pakistan. DFT works on quality education for under privileged children, women’s skills development, relief for victims by natural calamities, small business grants support, awareness and advocacy campaigns, End Fistula Challenge from Pakistan and mentoring of other community based organizations in addition to enhancing their capabilities and structure.

Attending school regularly, I soon came to see that I was the lucky one and my friends were the ones missing out. I remained troubled by this until, at aged 12, I had a brainwave on how to redress this injustice: I would teach children at home the lessons that I myself had learnt in school. That’s why I founded the Dream Foundation Trust.

I have been struggling for creating an unbiased and impartial community. Despite facing innumerable adversities for the family and the community, I dream and strenuously work towards my goal. After 13 years of devotion, the community where I live is boosterish – they accept and support the initiative. Parents now agree to educate their daughters.

Women LEAD: Can you tell us about some of the Dream Foundation Trust’s programs that empower women and girls?

Humaira Bachal: Yes, we have an entrepreneurship program for women and girls in which they are trained and taught with the basics of sewing clothes and embroidery. This program not only enhances their skills but also gives them an opportunity to be independent and to be a part of our empowerment program. In this empowerment program, we raise awareness on women’s rights, especially the right to educate young girls.

We have a Youth Network which has 100 members formally associated, both 50 Girls and 50 Boys. Through this network we provide trainings on different topics i.e. Leadership skills, Advocacy and Campaigning, Social Media and its influencing, and on good citizenship. Such training not only improves girls’ leadership skills but also empowers girls to live fearlessly among men.

Why do girls’ education and women’s empowerment matter to you?

Humaira Bachal: I would consider this fact: If a woman is educated the whole family is educated. If the whole family is educated, the whole community is educated. If the whole community is educated, the whole society is educated and this outbreak can make the entire world educated. Women are very responsible citizens of our society.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

Humaira Bachal: My mother Zainab Bibi has been my Role Model and Mentor because my mother was the only one who took a stand to educate me. She chopped woods and sold them, sewed clothes and this is how she taught me. She tolerated insults, reviles from my family and was even beaten by my father but though she did not get back, she stood by me and supported my education.

Women LEAD: What advice do you have for future advocates of girls’ education?

Humaira Bachal: I have advice for the advocates of girls’ education: they should strive to work with full passion, dedication and determination within the limits of their religious or cultural consciences and conducts. Immorality on Right to Education of girls is not merely Pakistan’s problem but exists in other countries as well. Its diminishment is only possible when all activists and women get together to battle against these immoralities against girls’ education and empowerment.

I believe that education is a basic need of any human being – We need fresh air to breathe, similarly the approach of living in this world easily is possible when we have basic education. When a woman is educated, it will be easier for them to achieve their rights. Women around the world should speak up for their rights and find resources for it. Only speaking up is not the solution.

Women’s success is not only possible by lectures or talks. We all should put our efforts together to solve problems related to women’s disempowerment. We all know about obstacles women face, and work along to take them women out of isolation, to make them a productive part of our society.