Our Approach To Women’s Empowerment

By May 19, 2018Blog

 

How We Operate

As a registered 501c3, we find charitable organizations around the world with programs for women and girls, we vet them, and then we undertake a process of discovering a project we can collaborate on that will increase their existing impact. We ask NGO staff a series of questions about what they would do if there were some extra funds, on their current reach for women and girls, and how they would grow their current operations if they were given the opportunity to do so. We select one, viable project to collaborate on, and then we get to fundraising for it. We appeal to corporate sponsors, private investors, donors, friends, and family. We recruit a group of volunteers to fundraise for every project with us, and then we craft a unique journey for them where they both volunteer and travel abroad. The journey ends up being a breakdown of about 50/50 project work and responsible adventure travel.

Our work is something that for us came to us for both personal and political reasons. As women, in many ways, it’s easy for us to identify with the underdog (globally, we are it). Depending on your personal shade of privilege, this identification comes in different shapes, sizes, and colors. There is much for us to be thankful for, as Americans. There is also much to work for, in terms of gender equality, for our country and for others. As an organization, how we hope to do our part is by bridging the resource gap for women and girls in lower-income countries. Our two current partners in Cambodia (the WRC and the PLF) provide services for women and girls who experience issues from abuse, lack of education or support services, and systemic disempowerment. This past January we took a team of volunteers to work on part of the construction project we fundraised for ($20,000 for a child care center) in Siem Reap. As part of our time there, we were able to participate in some of our partner organization’s critical outreach programs. We interviewed several community members and also sat down with the staff to learn more about their perspectives. To us, this is all an important model of global women’s empowerment. We want to learn from other women who work hard towards gender equality in their communities, and we want to support their work in whatever ways we can.

Interviewing the WRC staff

Interviewing the WRC staff

 

The WRC staff told us the reason they all (unanimously) expressed as why they do community work: because they wanted to empower families, and create more equal spaces for women and girls. Each woman told us how they came from similar situations to those of their beneficiaries, and had experienced the same problems in their own pasts: the effects of alcoholism, domestic violence and abuse, lack of access to education, poverty, and unequal division of household labor and/or child care (always unpaid and under-appreciated). We talked about how they work to change those things in their communities, through education, through creating a safe and friendly place for women to express their need, and to receive support to empower their own lives. One of the co-founders shared with us her vision for women’s empowerment in Cambodia as ultimately the power to choose, to decide things that are relevant to her life, her health, and her dreams. The practical next steps to achieving this (we believe globally) will be working with men in communities, increasing women’s access to education and jobs, and giving women more power through information, support, and positions of leadership.

The issue of sustainability is always a concern for this field and for our work. When people ask us about our long-term plans for projects, or a sustainability plan, our answer is to point to the work our partners are doing and have done. It is essential to us that our involvement in the projects we collaborate on is not mandatory or long-term (beyond our agreed upon duration and fundraising). This points to a critical (and often overlooked) part of global development: it’s better if you as a Western organization are unnecessary or irrelevant to the majority of the project work. We choose organizations that have had a history of impact on their communities. They are the experts of their communities, not us. They know what they’re doing, what their communities need, and our primary value add for them is our ability to connect them to resources beyond what they’re currently able to achieve by themselves. Because of the scope of our abilities and resources, this means we mutually design programs that our partners have the ability to run and manage long-term without us.

Workshop at the WRC

Workshop at the WRC

 

Ideally over time we’ll find more consistent streams of funding, so we are able to remain more involved with each of our partners’ work (i.e. through adding projects or expanding existing projects). Until we do, our focus will be on building a portfolio of projects, partners, and locations, and then on a 1-2 year rotation, we’ll revisit each site. We do this for a few reasons: 1) because we want to serve women and girls globally, not only in one area; 2) because our volunteer trips will be more diverse and interesting from a cultural perspective, and will offer volunteer more options for giving back; and 3) because we know short of us moving to Cambodia, there’s really only so much we’re good for per project and per location. The organizations doing good work in lower-income countries already exist, and what we can do is create responsible volunteer experiences around international community work – both of which are areas of our expertise and passion.

 

A Shared Future

International development can be a tricky field to work in at times. There are so many good intentions, organizations, models, volunteer agencies, and so on. The intentions we carry with us drive our work, along with activism, joy, commitment, and an unswerving desire to make a difference. Often this desire to uplift translates positively, but it’s also common that it doesn’t. Our goal in working with underserved women is to listen and respond to their words about their needs. We work with organizations that really seek to empower people through the process as opposed to a one-time result or outcome-driven project.

This is one major reason why focusing on quantitative data as the sole measure of how successful an organization is can be such a frustrating reality. On the surface, quantitative data presents a succinct story of impact; and when done well it can provide compelling evidence of an organization’s work. At its worst, quantitative data oversimplifies and overgeneralizes complex realities that nonprofit communities face, and under-represents an organization’s true value. Too often it also distracts from a nonprofit’s essential operations and burdens already overloaded staff. Benchmarks are helpful ways to weed through the forest of storytelling and need, especially if decisions must be made to distribute funding; we understand that. The process of monitoring and evaluating projects is something we accept as a part of how those with resources navigate need. For us, a hyper-focus on numbers and statistics threatens to dissolve the very heart of philanthropy, which isn’t logical or rational; it’s emotional and intuitive. It’s a legacy of our shared humanity. This sort of work is based on relationships built over time, not on buzzwords or numbers.

WRC community

WRC community

 

The real power of what we do in part comes from capturing a piece of what grassroots organizations are doing in their communities, and sharing it with others so that they can feel a sense of the transformative power that comes from spreading opportunities to others (opportunities we often take for granted). We want to create levels of connection for participating so that people back home can unfold their own process of discovering the power of giving, community, and social change. Generosity is a strong indicator of happiness, of feeling connected to the world beyond the self, and part of our passion is encouraging people to look outside of “me” and into “us.” Audre Lorde and MLK say it best, but we’ll paraphrase: none of us are free while others are not. On an individual level, growing a sense of global awareness and cultural sensitivity through sustainable volunteer experiences is one step that will move us towards a more equitable, just world.