Vital Voices

I’m writing this article from Johannesburg, South Africa, where I’m part of a week-long training for women leaders organized by Vital Voices. Vital Voices, founded in 1997 by Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright, identifies, trains and empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs from around the world. Their mission is to, “identify, invest in and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities.” I’ve been part of a two-year fellowship with the program VVLead, which has provided us with leadership training via online courses and in-person workshops designed to allow participants to learn, connect, collaborate and create with one another.

71 women leaders have gathered this week, representing 33 countries from all corners of the globe. The majority of participants are from African countries, but there is also some representation from the Middle East, Latin America, the Pacific Islands, and South East Asia. Two of us are representing the Philippines this year. With me is Marie Balangue, a leader from Baguio City committed to tackling issues related to economic disparities, especially concentrating on the rehabilitation of the Santo Tomas Forest Reserve. Marie and I had not met before arriving in Johannesburg, but are both alumnae of Brent School Baguio.

Being here with these extraordinary women who are all making a difference to improve lives in their own countries is incredibly inspiring. Some of the problems we collectively face are specific to individual countries or regions, but many of the economic and social justice issues are common to all our countries. I’ve started collaborating with Fellows from Nigeria, Cameroon and Uganda who are providing sexual health education to women and young people to help prevent unplanned pregnancies. I’ve shared my experiences with financial literacy training with women from Kenya, Ghana and Zambia who are using financial literacy as a tool to empower women and youth. I’ve connected with women from Argentina and Egypt who use sports to empower young girls and provide them with life skills in order to succeed. They’ve found that using sports is a great tool for helping girls to value themselves and their health, and help them avoid unplanned pregnancy. I’m eager to explore this idea with our girls in Palawan.

This program has shared a variety of inspirational quotes about women’s leadership with us, and I will leave you with some of my favorites:

“A solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.” — Maya Angelou

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

And my favorite quote from my days at Wellesley College, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” — Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Looking forward to being home next week and sharing all that I’ve learned with the amazing (women) leaders I work with in Palawan.

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