U.S. Visit Spurs New International Women’s Initiative

November 14, 2014

“This program is one of a kind,“ said Abeer Al Zaghari of the Education and Activism for Young Women project that brought 19 men and women from around the world to explore the benefits and challenges of developing women’s leadership skills in American civil society.  “It taught me, empowered me, and influenced me in many ways,” she continued as she spoke of her observations in volunteerism, coalition building, and youth empowerment.

The State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) sponsored the project to nurture leadership in these young professionals through the exploration of both public and private sector organizations – particularly those spearheaded by women leaders.  As Shamima Yasmin from Bangladesh learned, “Leadership doesn’t always mean in politics. It is everywhere – family, social life – wherever you are, you can promote ideas.”

The group’s first meeting was with the Director of Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, who was the first U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues. This meeting inspired Ji Hyun Park of Korea, who gained a new perspective on leadership when she heard the Ambassador say, “Some people see a problem and ask why? Women leaders see a problem and ask, why not?” 

In addition to meetings and leadership workshops, the visitors also enjoyed a volunteer activity in New Orleans at Girls on the Run, an organization that builds self-confidence and enthusiasm for learning in young girls through a track program. “I saw the passion and happiness in volunteerism. It convinced me to go more into volunteerism,” said Aleksandra Nizynska of Poland.

These emerging leaders met with a variety of people across the United States during this multi-regional project. In just three weeks, they traveled to four cities, networked with several executives, and enriched their critical thinking, self-awareness, communication, and team-building skills.  Ruth Cadet from the Bahamas loved the variety of the program and summed up her experience saying, “I learned that my thoughts matter – we can start a movement.” By the end of the program, they did just that!

 

At the closing session, the delegation presented an action plan to develop a formalized network called the International Civil Society Women's Initiative, which will focus on leadership and education for women. They appointed a working group of five to formalize the organization. This group will also develop a technical and management plan with the ambitious goal of holding National Conferences in each of the 19 represented countries next year as well as a 2016 biannual conference in Kosovo.

The formation of such initiatives after just a short visit to the United States captures the essence of the IVLP, but Rekhraj Singh of Malaysia adds, “I realize that global peace is not a fairy tale anymore. There are people with different cultures, religions and races, and we got along very well. We should work to make the world a better place.”