By Andrea Newell (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
The Exxon Mobil Foundation’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative has partnered with The Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA) to support and advance women’s leadership around the world. The Global Women in Management program, a month-long workshop developed and facilitated by the CEDPA and sponsored by ExxonMobil, was most recently held in Cairo, Egypt and Douala, Cameroon in October and November.
Why would ExxonMobil make a long-term investment in educating women in developing countries? Lorie Jackson, Director of the Educating Women and Girls Initiative, says, “First, to meet a social need in our key communities and to demonstrate thoughtful and responsible corporate citizenship. Also, there is the fact that with the desired outcome – a more educated population where economic growth and prosperity are supported through good training and good institutions of individuals, including women – it makes for a better operational environment to do business in. It makes sense from both a social, as well as a business, perspective. Over time, by integrating women and girls into all areas of society and providing them with the opportunity to fulfill their potential, it gives companies like ExxonMobil, or any other company, access to best talent, regardless of gender.”
CEDPA has been educating women and girls worldwide for more than 35 years, but joined forces with the ExxonMobil Foundation in 2005. For Jackson, the choice was an easy one. “CEDPA is a very well-respected player in the field of women’s leadership training. The Global Women in Management program has been in existence and experiencing refinements for over 30 years.”
Developing Women’s Leadership
The Global Women in Management program is geared toward women who have influential positions in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide important services to their communities. The women come from various backgrounds and have varying degrees of business skills, yet all face similar underlying challenges and barriers impeding women in business in their region. “Our goal,” Jackson says, “is to build the capacity of those organizations to fulfill their mission, by developing their leadership body.” For each session, there are around 25 spots available, for which they routinely receive more than 300 applications.
Ketayoun Darvich-Kodjouri, Director of Communications and Advocacy at CEDPA, describes the program as a “mini-MBA.” The core curriculum is designed to strengthen each participant’s personal professional management capabilities so they can become more effective leaders within their own organizations, to better develop them into stronger institutions and broaden the reach of their services. They learn better methods for project and financial management, managing people, fundraising, communication, and advocacy. Technical information is layered on top, along with strategies for advancing other women’s economic participation in these regions.
Sharing Experiences, Learning from Other Women
Women are disproportionately burdened by poverty, and in many cultures, they bear the responsibility of caring for both the young and the elderly. More than men, women designate a larger portion of their earnings toward caring for their family. Studies show that increasing women’s participation in the work force could increase household income by up to 25 percent.
This shared experience helps the women bond and learn from one another. “I believe the richest learning experience that happens is between the women themselves,” Darvich-Kodjouri says.
Solange Beatrice Bindang, a Cameroon program attendee, is a Program Coordinator for the Save the Women and Humanity Association. During her participation in the program, Solange realized her efforts would strengthen exponentially if she came together with other women’s groups in her region.
‘“We have the same context, Central Africa. We have the same problems: political problems, environmental problems, cultural problems, they are the same,’” said Solange. She believed that by coming together, the women leaders could share approaches, strategies and lessons learned that could improve their impact.”
During the four-week program, she and the other participants came together in the evenings and formed a new women’s network, the Central African Network for Leaders of Women’s Organizations. Applying their new-found planning and advocacy skills, they identified their global objective and began to develop a course of action to prioritize and address issues in their respective communities.
Armed with knowledge, enthusiasm, and a new set of skills, graduates return home to apply what they’ve learned, but facing the same set of circumstances they left four weeks prior and attempting to effect change can prove daunting. For the period of a year, each graduate is assigned a mentor who is an alumnae of the program and has received special mentoring training. Mentors are there to listen, encourage, guide, and support each graduate so they continue to apply their new skills and don’t lose sight of their goals.
After the program is over, CEDPA and ExxonMobil follow up with participants to keep up with their progress, corresponding via email and even sharing updates on Facebook. CEDPA reports, “Strengthened by their training, many program alumni have risen to top leadership positions in their nations, becoming cabinet and parliamentary leaders, founders and heads of non-governmental organizations, political activists and leading journalists.”
CEDPA has facilitated 51 Global Women in Management workshops worldwide. Since 2005, support from ExxonMobil has helped more than 276 women leaders from 36 different countries participate in the management workshops. To date, the ExxonMobil Foundation has awarded grants totaling more than $30 million (of which The Global Women in Management program is just one part).
You can learn more about the importance of educating women and girls around the world by visiting these organizations’ websites:
- Nike Foundation’s The Girl Effect
- WorldBank Report: Girls’ Education in the 21st Century – Gender, Equality, Empowerment, and Economic Growth
ExxonMobil Foundation Partners include: