“This week was so amazing – open, a place for vulnerability, honesty, and respect.”
That sentiment, expressed by Sophie Allen from the Afghan educational organization Sahar, was shared at the end of WomenStrong’ first retreat for Learning Lab members from six organizations working on girls’ education and empowerment from countries as far flung as Guatemala, Malawi, and Afghanistan.
The retreat took place from November 18-22 in Tarrytown, New York and New York City. It was designed to engage Learning Lab members in peer-to-peer learning about what works, and what doesn’t, as they implement their one-year demonstration projects with grants from WomenStrong.
These women leaders came with a number of burning questions and goals for the week, from the personal to the organizational, including:
- Which successful girls’ empowerment approaches translate from setting to setting? Which are context specific?
- How can their community-based programs, which work with girls but also boys, parents, and local leaders, sustain progress even after girls graduate from their projects?
- How can advocates for girls stay motivated, even in challenging contexts or when progress is slow?
- What does it mean to build an inclusive, supportive environment, that recognizes both assets and challenges within each of us – things that are both visible and invisible?
Our Learning Lab members spent many hours each day tackling these questions, learning from one another about their work to create a safe space for girls or to engage men and boys in their programs, among other topics.
For example, from Sahar, the group learned about approaches to intergenerational programming as they work with fathers and sons together to shift cultural norms that keep girls out of school in Afghanistan. From Visionaria, members heard about how to advance gender equality by promoting a curriculum for teachers, who are tasked to teach about social norms within their civics courses in Peru. GirlsUp Uganda spoke about how girls’ rights and safety are protected throughout all of their programming through the use of child protection protocols. Women’s Justice Initiative in Guatemala and GENET in Malawi spoke about how to build community trust and engagement in programs to advance girls’ human rights. And The Girls Legacy in Zimbabwe shared how they use community journalism to encourage adolescent girls to share their own stories.
Our members also planned collaborative products to document and share what they are learning with a wider community of organizations advancing girls’ education, and were trained in areas they identified as priorities for organizational strengthening, including in monitoring and evaluation, fundraising, and communications.
Best of all: Learning Lab members had fun and came away inspired.
“We managed to develop a trust and openness among the group that I’ve never seen in a retreat like this,” said Kate Flatley from Women’s Justice Initiative in Guatemala. “I’ve learned a great deal this week.”
We at WomenStrong agree with our members that it was indeed an “amazing, honest, vulnerable” week!
Stay tuned for more updates as we and our members document what they’re learning together over the coming months.