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Conference Breakout: Investing in Half the Sky

By Sonja Egeland Kelly

The following post by YAO member and Opportunity supporter Sonja Egeland Kelly is one of the many blog posts we published from the2010 Fall Microfinance ConferenceClick here to read all our conference blog posts… 

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s compelling book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, reminds its readers that “women hold up half the sky.” The book discusses the movement to emancipate women from opporession and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. Inspired by this theme, one of Opportunity’s breakout sessions at the Fall Microfinance Conference focused on two questions: Why women? Why now? 

Diana Negroponte, member of the Women’s Opportunity Network (WON) and the Board of Governors, moderated the session, which featured panelists Julie Hindmarsh, a member of WON and Opportunity’s Board of Directors; Ruth-Anne Renaud, VP of women’s philanthropy; and Alice Gasatura, director of credit support at Opportunity Rwanda. 

“They don’t have ownership of the property for their families. We have cities in Rwanda where men were killed during genocide,” says Gasatura. “And by God’s grace women survived, but were denied the right to property. It’s a challenge.” 

“The statistic that I find incredibly painful, having been raised in a family where education is valued,” lamented Renaud, “is that two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population is women.” 

Hindmarsh added, ”That is why investment in women is so important, because when you fund the loan of a mother, they will reinvest their income in the education of their children and better nutrition for the family. Better access to education and the ability to benefit from it provides hope for the future.”The panel was then opened up to questions. 

From the audience, A.T. Tshibaka, a member of the Board of Directors, asked that with all the emphasis on empowering women, what is men’s role and what can they do to help?  Gasatura explained, ”We encourage our women clients to go home and share what they learned in our transformational training with their husbands. This is a trickle-down effect that helps everyone learn to respect and honor women’s contributions to the community.”

Gasatura was also emphatic that young boys need to be trained in gender relations so that they grow up to be respectful men. Audience members raised their hands to concur with this point. As one added, “Motherhood is so important. A strong, empowered mother demonstrates to children that women can be decision-makers and leaders. And both fathers and mothers need to teach boys how to treat women correctly.” 

Negroponte asked Renaud what Opportunity was doing to encourage the empowerment of women in the developing world. Renaud responded by detailing two exciting programs which Opportunity champions: the LEAD Campaign and Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women Emerging Leaders Program

A few details of those programs:  

The LEAD Campaign

  • Opportunity has raised $10 million dollars to train local leaders, especially women, across Africa. A major initiative of WON, this program has identified and developed talented young professionals and prepared future leaders for senior management positions in the countries Opportunity serves.
  • In 2007, this campaign was launched to develop the next generation of microfinance leaders.  The goal was to empower over 5,000 leaders to transform poverty in their communities. The LEAD campaign helped Opportunity to better recruit and train CEOs from within and outside of the organization who can inspire their staff to adhere to our mission and core values. Today, Opportunity employs 26 transformation officers in 12 countries who were recruited, trained and supported through the LEAD Campaign. Their key focus is to highlight the importance of a mission-focused institution and staff and client transformation through the work performed by their institutions.

Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women Emerging Leaders Program

  • Opportunity has joined the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women initiative which aims to prepare 10,000 women across Africa for jobs in the financial sector. Opportunity’s 10,000 WomenEmerging Leaders Program is training hundreds of promising young African women for management careers in financial institutions serving Africans living in poverty.
  • Under this program, selected female managers participate in a four-week professional development program to improve their skills and increase their impact. There are also training programs for talented women who have been hired as entry-level supervisors and loan officers. The program has begun in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique, with plans to expand into new countries in the coming years.

To do more to empower women, share Kristof and WuDunn’s book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity Worldwide with family and friends, fund the loan of a female client on OptINnow, and visit opportunity.org/won to find out how you can take action on behalf of Opportunity International and the Women’s Opportunity Network (WON)

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