February 6th 2019 was my fourth opportunity to travel to the US. However, this particular trip was a totally different experience; from the fact that I was to urgently travel within five days of notice, to the unusual secondary level security checks at customs offices in DC because my letter of invitation indicated that I was invited to the White House, to the unexpected speeches I had to make and to the surprise honor of standing next to the US President Donald J. Trump on February 7th as we witnessed the signing of the National Security Presidential Memorandum launching the Women Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative.
This blog post will hopefully respond to some of the many but similar questions that I have since received from a number of friends and other people reaching me online and physically, seeking to know exactly what W-GDP is, who the target beneficiaries are, how they can benefit from it, when the program would commence and how I ended up to be a part of this great initiative!
The Women Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) initiave:
We all have witnessed how providing women with opportunities to better their health, education, and well-being have effects far beyond a single individual. A woman multiplies the impact of an investment made in her future by extending benefits to the world around her, creating a better life for her family and building a strong community, yet women in many developing countries still face significant barriers to full and free participation in the global economy.
The Women Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) initiative is the US-Government effort focused on advancing women’s full and free participation in the global economy. The aim is to reach 50 million women across the developing world from the start of President Trump Administration in 2017 to 2025
“This is the first US Government, whole-of-government approach to empowering women in developing world,” said Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the US President, who is also the brain behind the W-GDP initiative.
The W-GDP Initiative will have three pillars of focus:
- Helping women to prosper in the workforce by improving women’s access to quality education and skills training
- Continuing efforts to fund and support women’s entrepreneurship and access to capital, markets, technical assistance and mentorship; and
- Working to identify and reduce the policy, legal, and regulatory barriers to women’s participation in the global economy and promote improved practices.
According to DAI , the new W-GDP initiative establishes a fund to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to support projects that help women succeed in the economy, with an initial allocation of $50 million and an initial focus on workforce development, entrepreneurship and access to capital, and policies, laws and social norms that promote women’s economic participation.
I represented as the Projects Manager for the AFCHIX USAID–Funded WomenConnect Challenge project: “Gender-Sensitive Approach to connect the unconnected using community network models”,
The WomenConnect Challenge, is part of the Women Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative and was launched by the Advisor to the President –Ivanka Trump and the Administrator to USAID -Ambassador Mark Green on the International Women’s Day 2018. Through this project, AFCHIX is helping rural women establish and operate community-based telecommunications infrastructure and provide internet connectivity to underserved communities in Senegal, Morocco, Namibia and Kenya. The entrepreneurial program empowers women to establish their own companies as local internet service providers and work as network engineers.
Being the behind-the-scenes kind of person that I am, I treated my visit as the usual visit for any event –a back-end participant, ready to do more of the listening and watching and only talk when called upon or to make connections. The only difference here was that it was a high profile meeting at the White House! Even when I had earlier received communication from the USAID communications team assigned to me, that one or two people among the guests would be selected to speak, I did not see myself as being the one to be selected among all the guests present. “It definitely can’t be me of all the guests present,” I thought to myself. Nevertheless, I prepared for the unknown.
But as the world sometimes chooses to work, it turned out that I became one of the two speakers that were selected at each of the four stages of the event!
Every stage of the event was different and unique. It brought with it a mix of excitement and anxiety. First, we the representatives of the beneficiaries of the US Government Programs had the privilege to interact one–on-one with Ivanka Trump, where she had the opportunity to learn about us and what each of us is doing back home. It was at this point that she listened to each of us and had to select which two representatives were to speak on behalf of the rest of the amazing teams that had represented. However, none of the teams present was aware of the plans.
Our next session was a video shoot, followed by the round-table discussion where I further had the opportunities to elaborate about the WomenConnect Challenge project we are implementing in Senegal, Morocco, Kenya and Namibia.
At the round table, I talked about the impact of economically empowering a woman. I shared a story of my own grandmother (R.I.P), who having married to an already married man with family and yet there was limited resources, realized that her children’s future was blurred. All she needed was little capital to start growing cotton for sale. During non-school hours and days, she went to the gardens with her children as additional man power. It was through cotton growing that she single handedly educated and fed her children. To-date, her efforts are witnessed down to the third generation.
Given even for the round table I was caught off-guard, I was not too certain about how I presented until when the President of the World Bank walked up to me and made a very kind and evidently hearty remark: “That was excellent, please have my business card and let me know if you need to do more of your work!” I must admit this was one assurance that came in just at the perfect time.
One of my most fascinating scenes was the fact that the room was fully packed with different people; high profile politicians, Ambassadors, Chief Executive Officers from both government and the private sectors, major funders, scholars, business men & women and women change makers in their different capacities from around the globe, all convened in support of and speaking one language –Promoting Economic Empowerment for Women as we celebrated the US Government’s commitment to the advancement of women around the world.
The invited delegates included the Trump Administration, Members of Congress, External Participants and the Beneficiaries of the US Government Programs.
The White House:
- President Donald J. Trump
- Ambassador John Bolton, National Security Advisor
- Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the President
- Secretary Mike Pompeo, Department of State
- Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Department of the Treasury
- Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Department of Defense
- Secretary Wilbur Ross, Department of Commerce
- Administrator Mark Green, United States Agency for International Development
- Marie Joyce, Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Department of State
- Michelle Bekkering, Senior Deputy Assistant of the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment, USAID
- Jody Olsen, Director of the Peace Corps
- Katie Kaufman, Managing Director of Global Women’s Issues, Overseas Private Investment Corporation
- Jonathan Nash, Chief Operating Officer at the Millennium Challenge Corporation
Members of Congress
- Sen. Dan Sullivan, AK
- Sen. John Boozman, AR
- Sen. Chris Coons, DE
- Rep. Mike McCaul, TX
- Rep. Mark Meadows, NC
- Cathy Engelbert, CEO, Deloitte
- Kristalina Georgieva, Interim President of the World Bank
- Henriette Fore, Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund
- Selina Jackson, Vice President, Global Government Relations and Public Policy, Proctor & Gamble
- Laura Lane, President of Global Public Affairs, United Parcel Service
- Josette Sheeran, President, Asia Society
- Liz Schrayer, President and CEO, U.S. Global Leadership Coalition
- Sarah Thorn, Senior Director of Global Government Affairs, Walmart
- Olowo-n’djo Tchala, Founder, Alaffia”
External Participants (U.S. government program beneficiaries)
The invited US Government program beneficiaries consisted of 12 women from 11 countries across the globe representing the WomenConnect Challenge beneficiaries, the Millennium Challenge Corporation beneficiaries, Fulbright fellows, Humphrey Fellows, business women among others. Among these great women were Researchers, Students, Law and Human Rights Advocates, Human Trafficking officials, Clerk of the court of Appeal, Gender Digital Divides advocates and a Prosecutor:-
Daniele Staicu,(Romania),Amalia Rodriguez Valencia, (Colombia),Sediqa Fahimi, (Afghanistan),Nino Elbakidze, (Georgia),Coumba Ndokh Ndiaye, (Senegal),Fatema Ahmadi, (Afghanistan),Lubna Nasser, (Jordan),Darlene Pajarito, (Phillipines),Anna Mansfield, (USA –New York),Ella Zande, (Malawi),Lughano Munthali (translator –Malawi),Alina Rashid, (Pakistan),Nino Zambakhize, (Georgia) and Lillian Achomo, (Uganda).
I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to the White House, fhi360 and USAID for the opportunity and to other individuals including contacts at DAI who provided all the support and ensured that I represented successfully
My participation has brought with it more visibility to not only the AFCHIX WomenConnect Challenge project but also to the WomenConnect Challenge (WCC) as a whole. For instance, after my follow up email with the president of the World Bank, a number of her staff have been inspired to learn more about the project and WCC. My hope is that this relationship will yield to more support for the initiatives.
At a personal level, the opportunity was an eye-opener to the fact that it is us to bring the change we want to see in our communities. We are the voice of the voiceless women and men in our rural communities who are helpless. We have the knowledge and ability to think through the solutions to the existing challenges that could lead to positive impacts.
I am glad I am a part of the many impacting different communities and my hope is that with this, I will continue get more support to impact even more communities including those from my rural village.