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 as 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. 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 (YWA) 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 regional program enables young change agents from Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, and Kenya to promote the physical, educational, social, emotional, and financial well-being of other young women and girls in their communities - and to claim the same for themselves. Our curriculum provides participants with the opportunity to do personal growth work which 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 YWA 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 welcomes young women from deeply impoverished communities and diverse backgrounds (in terms of religion, socio-economic status, and ethnic group) who have just graduated from secondary school; many are the first in their villages to do so. Our program takes place during the nine months following graduation 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. Participants may have plans to go on to university or their goal might be to carve out their future within their home community. In either case, graduates of our YWA have the skills, knowledge, and confidence to pursue their dreams of improving the lives of women and girls.

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

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