Spring 2012 Newsletter

  • Letter from Andrée Simon, President

    The Power of Hope

    Women in training in South Sudan. Photo by Karen Sherman

    I don’t usually make resolutions, but I do like to start the year with a rededication to the mission of this organization. My personal motivator this year is hope. I want to provide it to others and carry it with me every day

    Our year began on a high note. Women for Women enrolled 25 percent more participants in our program in 2011 than in years prior. We have changed the lives of more than 320,000 women survivors of war since we began 18 years ago. It is a wonderful thing to know that, together, we have brought hope to so many sisters. But there are still a staggering number of women in need. I think about those women every day, and wonder if we will be able to touch their lives this year.

    In South Sudan, for example, many women are still in a precarious situation. This newly independent nation struggles with the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, female illiteracy rates at an estimated 80 percent, and continued fighting between rebel forces and the Sudanese army. The women of South Sudan are still very much at risk.

    For South Sudan, I hope for an end to violence, relief from drought and an opportunity to reach as many women as we can with our work. We know that, when they enroll in programs like our Commercial Integrated Farming Initiative (CIFI), women learn to grow crops, earn a living through market-based skills, and, feed and educate their children. They gain rights awareness training and are determined to hold a place in society throughout the development of their new nation. They get access to hope that translates into real impact.

    We have made great strides, and will continue to strive to help more women each year, but we cannot do it alone. We need the help of our worldwide network of sponsors, supporters and activists to transform the lives of thousands of women survivors of war. Thankfully, we have it – we have you. And if we have you, we have hope.

  • Women’s Opportunity Center in Rwanda to Offer Safe Space for Women

    This fall, Government Ministers and the Mayor of the Rwandan city of Kayonza converged on an empty plot of land. As they arrived, they were greeted by women dancing and singing. The celebration marked the groundbreaking of Women for Women International’s Women’s Opportunity Center (WOC) in Rwanda.

    Construction is progressing on the Women's Opportunity Center in Rwanda. Photo by Bruce Engel.

    The WOC will house rooms for life skills training, income generation classes, and a market where women can sell the produce they grow in the organic farming initiative. The Center will also provide a menu of services for graduates offered by WfWI-Rwanda or through our partner organizations, such as business development, health and counseling, agricultural extension and microcredit.

    At the groundbreaking, former Rwanda Country Director, Caritas Mukankusi, spoke of the mission of WfWI and the WOC, and urged the government officials present to be active and helpful partners with the women graduates. The design for the center was provided pro bono by Sharon Davis Design. Bruce Engel, lead architect on the project, shared a description of the building, designed in the style of traditional Rwandan architecture.

    At the event’s close, the Mayor and Minister laid two ceremonial first bricks to the foundation. To add special meaning to the project, the bricks used are being made by women in the Rwanda program, and ceramic tiles are being made by participants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, ensuring the structure is truly built by and for the women we serve.

    Rwanda's Women's Opportunity Center is being built brick by brick by women, providing special meaning and economic stability for program participants.

    As of this month, construction continues to progress well. Approximately 90 workers, as well as the very dedicated Mr. Engel, are on-site daily, and the project is slated for a grand opening March 8, 2013 — International Women’s Day. When it opens its doors, the Women’s Opportunity Center will be a place where women can learn, grow, and have the freedom to be themselves. It marks the beginning of a new chapter in WfWI history.

  • Finding Purpose in Her Life: Mevlida's Story

    At the age of 40, Mevlida Puscul holds only an elementary school education. She has never been employed outside the home, but works as a housewife, caring for her husband and two daughters during difficult economic times in Dumanac, in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. To make matters worse, her husband fell ill three years ago, and has endured various therapies since. His condition requires daily attention from Mevlida.

    Mevlida's successful business has helped her support her family.

    Although Mevlida loves caring for her family and dedicates herself to finding innovative methods to use what little they have to keep them well-fed and comfortable, she felt trapped in her home and was in need of support. That’s when she found Women for Women International.

    After joining the WfWI program, she immediately set goals for herself. She was determined to educate herself, create strong bonds with other women, and use her cooking skills to generate an income. Through business and vocational skills training, Mevlida expanded her knowledge in greenhouse production:

    “Business training helped me realize how easy it is to achieve one’s economic goals and vocational skills training helped me in learning how to grow healthy and quality vegetables. I would like to say that I’ve learned so much in this program and that, today, I am one economically independent woman!”

    Mevlida also learned the importance of women becoming active participants in the community. She was further encouraged to form an association of women in Dumanac. She pledged, “I will give my best in forming one such association.”

    Mevlida’s first debut as a businesswoman was during Women for Women International’s bazaar in Sarajevo. She sold products such as jam and juice which were a great success. Mevlida couldn’t have been happier. She felt extremely gratified to know that someone acknowledged and appreciated her work.

    The bazaar opened new doors for Mevlida. She now sells her products regularly and earns about $80-$100 USD a month. Her product line has expanded and her clientele now includes women she met at the bazaar, neighbors, family and friends.

    In preparation for her graduation ceremony at WfWI, Mevlida reflected on the journey that has led to her success, “I’ve achieved even more than I set as a goal for this program.”

    Unfortunately, Mevlida’s husband is still ill, but the support she has received from the women in her community has made her stressful burden much lighter.

  • Women for Women Graduates Find Success in Cooperatives

    The United Nations is celebrating 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives, highlighting the contribution of cooperatives to socio-economic development, particularly their impact on poverty reduction, employment generation and social integration. Many graduates of Women for Women International programs go on to join successful cooperatives and earn a living wage.

    WfWI - Kosovo program participants find support in one another and run a profitable baking cooperative. Photo by Simon Wheeler

    According to the United Nations, cooperatives are defined as “business enterprises owned and controlled by the members that they serve. Their member-driven nature is one of the most clearly differentiating factors of cooperative enterprises. This fact means that decisions made in cooperatives are balanced by the pursuit of profit, and the needs and interests of members and their communities.”

    Cooperative group members can share their skills, time and resources to produce and sell a product or service. Women, like those in our programs, who participate in cooperatives learn the principles of responsibility, equality, solidarity and economic parity in groups. Not only does this business model benefit the members of the cooperative, it also promotes sustainable development.

    In the Women for Women International program, a woman is enrolled in a year-long program of vocational and business skills training, rights awareness, and health education. The women are then assigned to small classes that move through the training program together. Most participants will naturally form loose social groups within the program as well. At the end of theprogram, the women have a good foundation for forming cooperatives.

    In their third month of training, women develop their individual participant plan, which includes choosing a job skill they want to learn during the rest of their time in the program. Throughout the year, they work to build the trade and leadership skills they will need to be successful in their work.

    Often, the women find strength and solace from one another while participating in our programs and decide to go into business together. Based on the friendships women build in our program, many decide to join together after the program in a cooperative business, knowing that when they work together, they can accomplish far more than when they work alone.

    As these burgeoning businesses grow, we offer additional assistance. We deliver a few basic and practical sessions to all participants. The material is tailored to their level of education, to their likely application of the principles, and to the legal, regulatory, and cultural norms of their societies.

    For those women who choose to form group businesses, we offer more support. Our Cooperative Support Officers (currently in all countries except Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo) work with members and managers togive targeted advice and guidance as the groups progress.

    For example, in South Sudan, our Commercial Integrated Farming Initiative (CIFI) has helped women move from sustenance agriculture to commercial farming with training in improved agricultural practices and related business skills. Similarly, in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), graduates are forming groups of 20 to 40 women who jointly farm a hectare or two and either sell the produce or divide it among themselves.

    In Nigeria, more than 70 groups, made up of 875 women, are engaged in small-scale poultry production. These cooperatives have broken into Nigeria’s commercial poultry market by offering a quality product at competitive prices. Consumers have responded to the production of fresh and local poultry by frequently travelling two hours down dirt roads to purchase Women for Women International-Nigeria’s products.

    One cooperative that has positioned itself as a fair-trade production powerhouse is Gahaya Links, located in Rwanda. They have established a successful handicraft business producing traditional Rwandan baskets, home décor, and jewelry of commercial-quality for export. Since 2010, WfWI and Gahaya Links have partnered with kate spade new york to produce more than 5,000 units of woven totes and beaded jewelry. Gahaya Links has brought jobs to thousands of Rwandan women and has already employed more than 270 graduates from the WfWI-Rwanda program.

    Gahaya Links cooperative members in Rwanda use the skills learned in training to produce accessories for kate spade new york. Photo by Les Stone

    The Women for Women International training gives women survivors of war and conflict self-esteem and confidence, but some participants still have fears and doubts about their future when the program ends. Many women in our programs find it intimidating to attempt to start a business on their own. Through support groups and social networks, the women learn that when they work together, they can accomplish far more than when they work alone. This is especially true when it comes to building and running businesses, micro-enterprises and cooperatives.

    The advantage of cooperatives reaches far beyond the obvious economic benefits. For the most vulnerable women living in isolated, rural areas, co-ops offer an opportunity to join a social group that is self-organized, self-managed and self-sustaining. For these women, cooperatives provide empowerment, a sense of community, and ultimately, the chance for a better life.

  • At WfWI Gala, Excellence in Women’s Rights and Economic Achievement Honored

    An energized crowd of guests and supporters came out for WfWI’s Annual Gala held in New York City in November at the Museum of Modern Art. Former ABC News anchor Katie Couric served as program host, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, Board Member and Honorary Chair welcomed the guests. Then, Country Director for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Christine Karumba, spoke of the challenges the women in DRC face and how import the WfWI programs are to those we serve.

    Women for Women International Founder poses with journalist Katie Couric at teh New York Gala. Photo by Shahar Azran.

    President Bill Clinton was honored with the 2011 “Champion of Peace” award for his work through the Clinton Global Initiative. As Women for Women International’s founder Zainab Salbi said, “President Clinton’s support of women and girls through the Clinton Global Initiative has single-handedly shifted the discussion from a marginal to a central discussion essential to world stability and success. His personal passion and commitment on the issue has touched many hearts and led to much action and his dedication to bringing real change has led to solid impact on women’s well-being through corporations and NGOs action.”

    Women for Women International’s Former Board Chair, Mary Menell Zients, was honored for her dedication to the success of Women for Women International with the “Excellence in Leadership” award.

    Rwandan honoree and WfWI graduate Euphraise Mukanyarwaya meets with President Bill Clinton. Photo by Shahar Azran.

    Also honored was Euphrasie Mukanyarwaya, a program graduate from Rwanda who also attended Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women business and management training program. She received the “Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship.” Since her graduation from both programs, Ms. Mukanyarwaya has become a successful entrepreneur, making and selling beadwork and opening a shop in Kigali. Accepting the award, she said:

    “I don’t know how to thank WFWI staff for the input and motivation that I got to have reached this standard and I thank Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women for the business and management training I acquired, and assure that this will be appliedprofessionally in my business and also to train other women.”

    The evening closed with music and dancing. The room buzzed with invigorated supporters who felt a renewed commitment to help women in war-torn nations build better lives.

  • Donor Spotlight: A lifetime Appreciation of Women's Strength"

    Our mission to support women survivors of war in their quest to reach their full potential is close to Meg Kiuchi’s heart. This is why she chose to create a lasting legacy for women around the world. As a young Japanese-American growing up in California, Meg watched her strong mother take care of her four children, sew all their clothes, clean their home and cook all their meals while working two jobs to support them. “She was the back bone of ourfamily,” said Meg. “This is when my passion to help disadvantaged women was born.”

    Meg’s appreciation of women and her realization that every girl needs a strong female role model, continued to grow during her 35-year career as a social worker within the Child Protective Services Division. “My college years at UC Berkeley and the education I received there got me out of my poor neighborhood,” said Meg. Her upbringing, college experience, and her career led her to develop a strong interest in international organizations that educate and empower women. This led her to WfWI where Meg became a sponsor. She quickly developed close relationships with her sisters, especially with Amira B. from Bosnia who she sponsored in 2006. To this day, the two of them exchange letters providing words of support and kindness.

    She has been a devoted WfWI supporter and sponsor for the past 9 years. To add to her commitment and leave a lasting legacy that will benefit women in the years to come, Meg has generously named us as a beneficiary in her estate. If you would like to learn more about making a gift through your will or estate plan to support women around the world, please contact Zeljka Jaysingh at giftplanning@womenforwomen.org or at (202)521-9665.