Finally 2016 had arrived, it was my year to ‘dream, dare and do’, not only because I was finally going to run a local non-profit organization that I am passionate about and had just set up, but because it was also the year that would see many women break the glass ceiling by changing the status quo of what is the norm in most country or organizational leadership standards. The United Nations was rumoured to be selecting a woman secretary general in 2016, and for the first time the world was looking forward to the United States having its first female presidential candidate who would hopefully become the first female president of the free world. The thought of this alone encouraged and motivated me to start the year on a high note.
I had always wanted to run my own organization having being inspired by women who have founded and led organizations that are changing lives locally and internationally. My organization would be an organization that seeks to improve the situation of women and girls, by addressing all types of violence and human conflict that women face. It would also ensure that women, especially young women play a vital role in the participation, protection and prevention of violence in their lives as well as in their communities. This was my way of implementing the international vision of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on women, peace and security on a local level. As a peace advocate by profession, I was determined to use the skills; knowledge and experience gained over the years to impart knowledge to fellow women. I knew this was the beginning of a journey that would come with challenges, but I was determined to take it all the same.
On one particular day early in March, I planned my first outreach activity for young women where I had invited community leaders. I always believed that engaging community leaders was important for continuity as well as building trust between my community and I. As part of the outreach activity, I invited a special guest who was a human rights expert. The main aim of the activity was to empower young women with vital knowledge and information on human rights as well as encourage them to play an active role in conflict management and peace-building in the local community. As expected, the activity started on a high note. The young women came early by 8.00 am eager to learn, whereas the community leaders were excited to see what ‘this young woman had to offer’ in the words of the Chief two days earlier. Two hours later, our special guest had not arrived. I decided to call her in order to find out if everything was Ok. When she picked up, she informed me that she was held up in another meeting and would not make it on time. Hence, she requested to be pardoned but promised to come for another activity. I shared the disappointing news with participants and the community leaders who were present. I saw the disappointment in their face but decided to carry on with the outreach activity either way. A few minutes later, the 2 community leaders present requested to be leave. The fear of going downhill by my community leaders loosing trust in me had just begun.
These were some of the challenges I faced starting to run my non-profit organization. Other challenges included inadequate financial resources and human resources. Not being in a position to invest in human resource was one of my biggest challenges because I had to do most of the work alone. Once in a while, I got one to two volunteers on board, but it was still difficult as I had to refund their fare to and from home which I was not able do constantly.
As months went by, I got to join many social and professional online and offline networks where I met women going through similar challenges. Some had set up businesses, taken up new leadership positions at work and others were working on causes similar to mine through their non-profit organizations. I realized that we faced the same challenges, some even worse than mine. But somehow they bounced back, transforming their lives as well as the lives of members of their community over time. One example that inspired me to continue happened in July. I was privileged to be invited to attend the Ashoka East African Summit for Social Entrepreneurs as a potential social entrepreneur. During the summit, I met my former employer. We were surprised to see each other. She was more surprised to see me because she worked on social enterprise development and was wondering what I was doing in a social entrepreneurship event. We got the opportunity to chat for a few minutes where I shared with her all about my new work. Her response left me motivated and eager to worker even harder to achieve my goal. ‘Yvonne, I never expected you to stay with us all your professional life. I knew one day you would leave us and do something on your own, something that you are very passionate about and are potentially good at.’ Her words have kept me going enabling me to be resilient when facing difficult or tough situations.
As the months went by, the month of November came with many shocks than surprises which are contrary to what I expected. Well, the United Nations did not choose a women secretary general and Hillary Clinton, one of my role models, was not elected as the first female president of the United States of America. This would have been a time for me to be disappointed or discouraged, but instead, I chose to look at it as a time to celebrate the milestones women like Hillary have made as well as the prospect and hope of a brighter future. Hillary Clinton might not be the first female president of the United State of America (USA), but she dared to stand as a presidential candidate, won the hearts of millions and most important, showed that women too can go for the highest seat in the land. Hillary dared to dream. Because of her, I am inspired and determined to reach greater heights in my personal and professional life. Whereas the United Nations might not have identified a woman as its secretary general position, 3 amazing women with great accomplishment records have been identified to serve in positions previously left for men.
In December I was recognized as a Champion of Change 2016 – 2017, by UN Women’s Empower Women initiative. Being recognized as a champion of Change has left me more determined, inspired and motivated to do more. Whereas I might not always achieve what I want at the time I want, I have decided to learn from my setbacks and celebrate my milestones which I would not have achieved without passion, commitment and hard work. I urge women all over the world to join me in the same spirit where we envision a fruitful and prosperous 2017. Let us continue to dream, dare and do as we look forward to brighter years to come for women and girls.
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This post was submitted in response to New Year, New Beginning.