Young Women Leading Social Change
Meet the Winners of the Young Women Transform Prize 2019
Rhoda Ayieko, Lusanda Magwape, and Zipho Falakhe come from different countries in Africa but have a few things in common: they are young, passionate, and lead social change initiatives in their countries. They are also the recipients of the 2019 Young Women Transform Prize.
The Young Women Transform Prize small grants program is part of YouthPower, a USAID-funded mechanism that seeks to empower young people to reach their full potential. These three winners want to make sure that other women can transform the challenges they face into economic opportunities.
“Around the world, about 98 million girls are not in school, and globally, only 37 percent of young women participate in the labor force,” said LeAnna Marr, Director of USAID’s Office of Education and moderator of the session that featured the prize winners during the Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit.
Equity and inclusion are core components of the U.S. Government Strategy on International Basic Education and USAID’s Education Policy. In her opening remarks, Marr said, “Women are one of the largest underutilized resources in the world. We know that when young women are excluded from the workforce, it reinforces gender inequality across the board and in every sector. The good news is that economically empowered women invest back in their families and communities.” The following are some key themes and highlights that arose from this session at the Summit.
Promoting Inclusion by Challenging Prevailing Attitudes
Rhoda Ayieko is an example of an accomplished young changemaker who is giving back to her community by championing women with disabilities in Kenya. She is the founding director of Kibera Community Empowerment Organization (KCEO), a grassroots organization in one of the largest urban informal settlements in Africa. She is also a 2017 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) alumni and a 2015 Akili Dada fellow.
Ayieko’s organization seeks to empower women with disabilities to enter the labor force by investing in programs that advance digital literacy, social entrepreneurship, and food security. But the inclusion of marginalized groups, she acknowledged, requires the buy-in of all stakeholders.
“We need to change how people perceive women with disabilities. We work with the private sector and the government to change attitudes,” said Ayieko. “We also focus on building the self-esteem of women with disabilities by creating safe spaces where they can come together. We tell them to stay focused on one thing at the time so they can create impact and achieve their long-term goals. We focus on the journey to entrepreneurship and self-realization.”
Learn more about the work in Kenya in this videoWatch Now
Empowerment Starts From Within
Lusanda Magwape, who is trained as an attorney with a Master’s degree in commercial law, is the founder and CEO of the Dream Factory Foundation (DFF) and is also a winner of this year’s Young Women Transform Prize. This South African organization equips young women with the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills they need to build a successful future. The premise of the foundation is that dreams are vital to the welfare of society.
“Empowerment first happens within,” said Magwape. “We are intentional about including women in the workforce. But, we must understand the young women we are working with. Many have grown up thinking they can only do certain jobs. Our goal is to change that narrative and be contextual. We want them to stay in school so they will not be stuck in entry-level jobs. We want them to discover who they are, what their purpose is, and know they can create the opportunities they deserve.”
Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Mindset
Zipho Falake, Project Manager of the Emergent Academy at the Dream Factory Foundation, said that “women’s empowerment is not about competing with men, but about having a purpose.” As a manager, her role “is to cultivate an entrepreneurship mindset in the women, help them develop business ideas, and nurture these. It is about skills development and keeping up with the changing world of work.”
The foundation’s approach encourages entrepreneurship, not handouts. Participants must contribute 20 percent collateral to go through the program. This way, they will feel more invested in it.
“If our training is going to produce economic opportunities,” Magwape said, “we have the confidence to give our students a loan because we know that at the end of their training, they will be able to pay us back. We encourage them to take ownership of this opportunity and use their own money.”
The Emergent Academy bridges the gap between unemployed to employable youth. During the six-month program, students are trained with basic coding and digital skills and provided with tools to start an entrepreneurial venture.
The STEM program encourages female students to discuss many work-related topics. “In our society, we have high rates of gender-based violence. So, we teach women how to counter sexual harassment and respond to it in the context they are in. In the Academy, we encourage different kinds of conversations that address all issues women in the workforce face every day.”
Tapping into the Expertise of Local Organizations
When asked for their recommendations to donors, all prize recipients agreed that donors should pay more attention to local organizations. They are a part of the local context and understand the challenges that communities face. “Don’t just focus on our size, but on our capacity to create great impact at the community level,” said Ayieko. “It is not hard for donors to build our capacity. With your help, we have the potential to make a lasting difference for women on the ground. Work with us.”