Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Joyce Ou

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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

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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.

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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!

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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

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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 (not-there.org) 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!

References:

  1. http://www.cgiu.org/about/
  2. http://www.cgiu.org/meetings/2015/agenda.asp
  3. https://www.facebook.com/billhartzinitiative/info?tab=page_info

Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Nadia Hashimi

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(Photo from http://nadiahashimi.com)

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

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(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.

Spotlight on 2014 LEADer Aagya

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Aagya Khanal is a 2014 LEADer who is currently studying management in grade twelve at Caribbean College. She wants to study fashion design in the future and aspires to become a fashion designer one day. She recalls her childhood memories that fueled her interest in fashion: ‘when I was in grade nine, I was a member of the arts club and we had to design clothes. We had to do dummy sketches, make patterns and design sketches of clothes. That was what sparked my interest in fashion design.
I got goose bumps when I got selected for the Women LEAD course. Our society still holds a negative stereotypical view regarding the arts. My parents were not very supportive of the idea of me studying humanities based on the good scores that I held in grade ten. Although I took up management, I was always drawn towards arts. At Women LEAD, I learned to be who I am. I learned to speak up and share my thoughts. Before, I used to worry about what others might think about my thoughts. But now, I pay little attention to what others think and have become able to freely voice my thoughts. One of the biggest lessons that I have learned from Women LEAD is that if you want to reach your goals, you need to have passion and give it 100%  of your hard work. There’s really no shortcut!” exclaims Aagya with a beaming smile.
Aagya deeply cares for homeless children. She says, ‘I can wear good clothes and get good food. But those children do not have anything. They are children like us too and they should get a chance to fulfill their dreams.’ In the future, Aagya wants to see herself as a renowned fashion designer and wants to open up her own boutique. Aagya says she also wants to contribute some of her future earnings to an orphanage home that uplifts homeless children.

Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Yasmin Belo-Osagie

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

Yasmin Belo-Osagie is a Co-Founder of She Leads Africa, a Nigeria-based social enterprise that equips female entrepreneurs in Africa with the knowledge, network, and financing needed to build and scale strong businesses. She is a management consultant focusing primarily on developing growth strategies for a number of local and international corporates. In 2011, she spent a year attending culinary school and working as a sous-chef in the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. Yasmin is a graduate of Princeton University with degrees in history and finance.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Yasmin Belo-Osagie: My name is Yasmin Belo-Osagie. I’m half Nigerian half Ghanaian. I grew up in Nigeria until I was ten and then went to boarding school in England for 8 years. After this I went to Princeton University where I majored in history and minored in finance. Following this I took a year off and spent 6 months at culinary school (Cordon Bleu in London and Paris). During this time I spent 2 months in Hong Kong working in the pastry kitchen at the Mandarin Oriental. After this I moved back to Nigeria where I started working with McKinsey and Co, a management consulting firm.

Women LEAD: You are a Co-Founder of She Leads Africa, a Nigeria-based social enterprise that equips female entrepreneurs in Africa with the knowledge, network, and financing needed to build and scale strong businesses. Can you tell us more about She Leads Africa and its impact?

Yasmin Belo-Osagie: Entrepreneurship is going to be the broad based driver of economic growth in Africa. And whilst development organisations and institutions have been focused on empowering low income African female entrepreneurs, very little attention has been paid to the dearth of female business leaders across the continent. She Leads Africa aims to empower the women who have the ambition to be the business leaders of tomorrow, creating organisations that will hire millions of young Africans and promote development across the continent.

To date, we have hosted the first even all female pan-Africa pitch contest, sponsored eight entrepreneurs attending an Investor Demo Day in Washington, D.C., established a partnership with Intel to conduct workshops for tech entrepreneurs, begun negotiations with Nigeria’s largest bank to create a low-interest lending program for female entrepreneurs, and started work on an online education platform that will feature African case studies taught by business experts.

After attending our pitch competition, Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, was impressed by the quality of entrepreneurs trained in our 6-week mentorship and has earmarked $1m in low-cost loans for us to give out. We have been featured in a number of reputable publications including ForbesBlack EnterpriseFox Small Business , Fast Company, and Ventures Africa.

My co-founder and I were recently selected as 2 of Forbes’ 20 youngest power women in Africa. That said we both acknowledge that we have much further to go.

Women LEAD: What have you learned about the state of women’s entrepreneurship through your work founding and leading She Leads Africa?

Yasmin Belo-Osagie: There’s a generational mindset shift occurring amongst African female entrepreneurs that African women have always been entrepreneurial. Indeed of all the regions in the world, Africa has the highest rate of female entrepreneurship in the world. My family is a good example of this, both my grandmothers as well as my mother were entrepreneurs. That said I’ve found that in the older generation most African women had aspirations to be small and medium business owners. Whereas today women believe that they can become titans of industry and create large multi-million dollar.

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

Yasmin Belo-Osagie: Investing in women reaps significant dividends for families and societies. Women tend to be investment multipliers: investing the majority of their income back into their families and communities. This results in better educated, healthier children who go on to be more productive, more prosperous citizens

More generally female consumers are a whoefully underserved market in Africa with very few businesses catering to their needs. I find that entrepreneurs tend to create products for people they understand. More female entrepreneurs will mean more services for female consumers which means more consumption and ultimately higher rates of economic growth

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

Yasmin Belo-Osagie: My mother, who moved to Nigeria after marrying my father and started her own law firm, has always been a big impact in my life. She instilled in me the critical values of hardword and dedication.

Women LEAD: What advice do you have for current and future women entrepreneurs?

Yasmin Belo-Osagie: Turn every moment into an opportunity and get out there and hustle. No one will fight for your success if you don’t.

8 months ago I was working at McKinsey, I’d just broken up with my boyfriend of 4 years and frankly I was really depressed. I was looking for something to do and She Leads Africa was borne after a chance encounter with my cofounder. We’d known each other for a year whilst at McKinsey but I randomly ran into her at a conference and we came up with SLA whilst having a drink at the bar. The next few months were a whirlwind as we raced towards the pitch competition (our launch event). I was a Mckinsey consultant by day, an entrepreneur by night with 2/3 hours of sleep in between. It was a constant hustle with problems coming at every opportunity but that’s what being an entrepreneur is about. You’re creating something that doesn’t exist; that often times the world often doesn’t think is needed. You need to fight for relevance every day.

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

Yasmin Belo-Osagie: Not really – real life is. I look around me and see the dearth of African female business leaders, the need for development and the lack of jobs for young people like myself. That inspires me to get out and fight every day.

Projects & Successes in Educating Girls in Developing Countries

Originally posted on 60 million girls:

It is project selection time at the 60 million girls Foundation. Choosing new projects for the upcoming year is always exciting, and we work hard to ensure that our investment will have the most meaningful possible impact with the resources that you ­­­– our supporters – so generously donate.

Our mission is to support girls’ education in developing countries by investing in two major educational projects annually in places wit the greatest gender disparity in school enrollment. Our goal is to raise at least $200,000 a year.

The successes of the 60 million girls Foundation show the important impact we’ve had on children around the world, especially girls. Over the years, we have chosen projects to support some of the world’s most vulnerable children: poor, rural girls, children caught up in conflict situations, handicapped children, and AIDS orphans.

Since 2006, we have invested a total of $1.9 million in…

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