Often, just one successful experience in making a difference can transform a young woman's belief in her own capacity.

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Young Women's Academy for Conscious Change

As Rwanda rebuilds in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide and Uganda heals from the reign of terror of the Lord's Resistance Army in the north, there remains a stark education gap between girls and boys in both countries. According to UNICEF, in Uganda, only 15% of girls complete secondary school. In Rwanda, that figure is just 4%. For girls, their potential for leadership hinges upon (a) their ability to stay in school, (b) their development of social-emotional capacities such as self-awareness, self-confidence, responsible decision-making, healthy relationships, and empathy, and (c) practical opportunities to apply their leadership skills and realize their potential. Unfortunately, the circumstances facing young girls are sobering:

  • One-third of girls in the developing world will be married before the age of 18. (UNICEF 2010)

  • Half of all first births in the developing world are to adolescent girls. (Population Council 2007)

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than one in five girls makes it to secondary school. (Center for Gender Equity 2006)

  • An extra year of primary school boosts girls' eventual wages by 10-20%; an extra year of secondary school adds 15-25%. (World Bank 2002)

  • When a girl in the developing world receives seven years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. (Center for Global Development 2009)

Even among those few girls who make it to secondary school, during school breaks they often are pressured by family to find jobs, courted by male predators, and at high risk of teen pregnancy and abuse. Consequently, many drop out, undermining their potential to end the cycle of poverty and become change leaders. Those who are able to overcome their circumstances have little opportunity to experiment with leadership skills outside the classroom.

Our Young Women's Academy adapts our proven curriculum, providing vulnerable high school girls with the opportunity to advance their own solutions to the social issues that matter most to them. Beginning each January our program enables young change agents to promote the physical, educational, social, emotional, and financial well-bring of other girls in their communities - and to claim the same for themselves. Through personal growth work, our curriculum deepens their sense of agency, courage, and power to act for social change, while our training provides concrete skills and the opportunity to design an individual venture to implement that change. As these new leaders go out into their communities to launch their own ideas for the first time, we offer a safe container for them to process, integrate, and learn from their experiences. We believe this represents a more transformative and comprehensive approach to community development and leadership. Graduates of our program tell us that they now know they have the capacity to change their world - with confidence and tools that will guide them throughout their lives.

Our Young Women's Academy is held in collaboration with Cornerstone Development. Cornerstone Leadership Academies are boarding schools for high-performing students from impoverished communities and diverse backgrounds (in terms of religion, socio-economic status, and ethnic group) for the last two years of high school before university. Our Young Women's Academy is positioned during the nine-month gap between high school graduation and university enrollment, when young women are at greatest risk of having their dreams for the future derailed. It is during this time frame that we provide them their first opportunity to apply their leadership skills, give back to their communities, and create change through a volunteer endeavor of their own design.

>Read more about the original social ventures launched by our first cohort of vulnerable high school graduates

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