Strong Women, Strong Girls, which supports at-risk girls in grades 3-5 using college and middle school mentors, focusing on the study of female role models, has received The Boston Club’s 2017 Advancement Award. The Award will be used to expand a training program developed with the YW Boston to build mentors’ racial and cultural awareness. Read More
We are honored in the work that we do to come alongside inspiring people with inspiring ideas to make cool things happen in the world for people in remote places. One such example is Courtenay Cabot Venton, an economist working in global development, who has spearheaded the development of an app that is going to scale around the world through a web of partnerships to enable “self help groups” in impoverished places make use of technology to empower and uplift their members… In many ways Courtenay’s story of creating this app to empower women around the world itself shows the very nature of empowerment that is changing the world and bringing people together to create solutions to some of our world’s most vexing problems.
I met Meseret for the first time in Nazareth, a town south of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Meseret is a member and leader of a Self Help Group (SHG) approach that I had been asked to evaluate. We were sitting in a small room, rain falling on the tin roof, as she told me about her journey with her SHG. It is a story that will stay with me forever – and inspired me to develop tools that could help to share this approach with as many people as possible.
Self Help Groups (SHGs) are groups of 15-20 people – mostly women – who come together to save, invest in small businesses, and support each other and their communities. By saving together they are able to lend to each other for small business activities. But more importantly, by working collectively, the women feel empowered to create change in their communities. What’s more, the approach tends to go viral once seeded, with existing groups helping to set up new groups.
Determined to do something more, I pulled together a team and we collectively developed an app that would help facilitators to strengthen and spread the Self Help Group model. The app is designed for the facilitators of the groups, and digitizes the weekly content that they use to run a meeting; we could see the potential for an app to help to deepen and strengthen the spread of the approach.
At the time, I had no idea where this would lead, or if we would be successful. With seed funding from private donors, we started small and developed a prototype. That led to catalytic funding from the UK government. Three years in, we have funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a vision for a digital platform to help scale the Self Help Group approach globally.
The Inspiration: Meseret’s Story
Meseret came from a poor family, but they managed to get by. Her parents supported her and her four siblings to go to school, and Meseret had plans to go to university. That all changed when her father unexpectedly died when she was 14. Meseret had to work in the evenings after school to help support her family. Her mother wanted to marry her off to an older, wealthy man, but she resisted and married Belay, her childhood sweetheart, when she was 18.
The next year they had their first child – a daughter named Kalkidan – and moved to Nazareth to find work. They slept on the floor of a rented room. They had no money or food, and Meseret was struggling to nurse their baby. Belay would bring home the lunch that he received at work, and they would share that one meal.
Some of the local women invited Meseret to join their Self Help Group. They were meeting each week and working together to save, start small businesses, and create change in their community. Meseret was skeptical – she was very poor and didn’t see how she could change her life. Nonetheless, she began to save a small amount of money – as small as a few coffee beans a day – and quickly realized that by working together with the women in her group, she was growing in confidence.
When she applied for a local government job – and got it – her husband began to beat her. She was disrupting the traditional role for women, and he didn’t like it. He finally gave her an ultimatum – him or her work. She chose her work. She knew that she deserved to be independent, to honor the education given to her by her parents, and to provide for her children.
Her Self Help Group was her lifeline. Meseret’s savings and income grew, she was able to buy a small house, and send her daughter to school. But more importantly, the women had become her family. When I ask Meseret how long she thinks her Self Help Group will stay together, her first response is a confused expression. Then the smile creeps across her face, and she begins to laugh. “We will be together forever. We are sisters.”
Disrupting traditional approaches to aid
As an economist, I have been asked to evaluate many different types of projects – from water to health to education. And while there has been a lot of success, there has also been a lot of failure.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have been in poor communities around the world, and witnessed perfectly constructed schools, standing out amidst a horizon of mud huts, but with no teachers or teaching materials…
Hospitals with no medical supplies…
Water pumps that are no longer delivering clean water…
The Self Help Group approach instantly caught my attention. It was the first time, ever, that I sat in a village, speaking with a group of people affected by poverty, and not a single person asked me for assistance. Quite the opposite, they were talking over each other, overflowing with examples of the ways that they were creating change in their communities, Read More
Building on Tostan’s tremendous success, we are excited to embark on a new journey as we seek an exceptional individual to work with our talented founder, Molly Melching, along with the Board of Directors, and our African team to lead the organization into a new strategic era of expanded reach, partnerships, and impact. ~ Dr. Cheikh Mbacke, Chair of the Board, Tostan Read More
Tuesday, May 16, 2017, from 5:30-6:30pm
689 Massachusetts Ave, 2nd Floor, Cambridge, MA 02139
Every day, we read in the news troubling stories of refugees and wonder what we can do to help. Even in the midst of refugee bans and dangerous journeys, we can all do something to help refugees resume normal lives.
Come visit us at RefugePoint for a casual open house and a short presentation about the emerging needs of refugees. Join us (and invite a friend!) to learn about the refugee crisis and about how we can help refugees improve their own lives. We will discuss new solutions in humanitarian response that help refugees build self-reliance. We will also share stories of refugees who are facing urgent dangers with suspension of refugee resettlement to the US.
Philanthropy Women is scaling up! Consider subscribing to receive updates on the latest developments, research, and breakthroughs in philanthropy by and for women at all levels of giving toward a wide range of issues that empower not just women and girls, but whole communities. Kiersten Marek, founder of Philanthropy Women, divides her time between her social work practice and writing/editing for Philanthropy Women and has a fabulously curious mind to spot trends in philanthropy and use her platform to spotlight and dig deeper into the many facets of women-led giving and social change. “We want to track all this progress”, says Marek, “as well as any backward movements, in the long fight for women’s equality. We know we are not there yet, but it seems like now we are really gaining steam. Thanks for joining us!” Read More
“When I co-founded the Imago Dei Fund, Mark Petersen became a friend, partner and guide on my journey of learning to give with heart, soul and strategic impact. I was drawn to Mark’s signature humble, wise, and highly collaborative approach to philanthropy which gave me a window into how one could embrace – with joy and a sense of humor – the tensions and power-imbalances implicit in philanthropy. This book is a treasure trove of insights and inspiration born out of 15 years of collaborative philanthropy. This book is a gem of a guide to help you on whatever pilgrimage you are on to give and be part of a world that is stronger together.” ~Emily Nielsen Jones, President, Imago Dei Fund, Boston Read More