Why Mentorship Is Key To Women’s Leadership

Mentorship is a potent but underfunded solution in the journey to women’s equality. GlobalGiving Community Voices Fellow Bidhya Maharjan explains.


Women’s rights organizations are consistently underfunded, and available funds are often restricted grants that prevent these organizations from designating funds to areas where they see the greatest need.

Sometimes, the greatest need is a scooter or an after-school club.

Let me explain.

In 2020, a 9.2% increase in philanthropic giving to girls’ and women’s organizations over the previous year resulted in $8.8 billion of support. Yet, this figure is still low in terms of total charitable giving. According to the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, less than 2% of philanthropic contributions in the United States are directed toward girls’ and women’s organizations.

The recent pushback on women’s rights and the COVID-19 pandemic have driven philanthropic support to girls’ and women’s causes. Organizations that focus on these causes have a direct impact on women’s right to bodily integrity and rightly deserve funding.

However, among gender-focused organizations, some with more specific missions do not look as enticing to donors and lag behind in receiving funding.

That includes efforts to support girls and young women through their leadership development—and it means their potential to move the needle for women’s rights and gender equality goes unnoticed.

A sympathetic funder once told me how funding girls is often viewed as a “cute” cause among funders. It highlights the disparity in giving and perceptions about these organizations’ work as less serious, less urgent causes to fund. But my engagement with women changemakers across Asia through Wedu has me convinced that their work is worthy of support—in both dollars and allyship. Their work has demonstrated their ability to advance women’s rights, from helping individuals lead a life with dignity to the impact they have on societies across the region. At Wedu, we have been working to support changemakers in Asia by offering them guidance in their leadership journeys. Here are two examples of that support and the impact:

    Takia Sultana Nova is a Bangladeshi tech student turned teacher.

    Takia has trained more than 12,000 women to ride two-wheeler scooters in her city of Chittagong, Bangladesh. When she first started riding her scooter to her university five years ago, she did not think other women—from doctors, lawyers, and teachers to homemakers—would seek her help to learn scooter riding. Passersby used to ask her how she got started with scooter riding. She first taught a friend to ride, who had another friend who wanted to learn, and another.

    Now, women who learned from Takia move around the streets of Chittagong. Professionals commute to work and homemakers drop off their children at school. And the inbox of Roadbook BD, the Facebook page of Takia’s scooter learning center, is filled with women inquiring about new course dates and availability in other cities of Bangladesh.

    Aside from learning together, Takia and the women she’s taught have found a community for road trips. They have found a community that centers their joy and autonomy.

    For 23-year-old Takia, who is a junior studying computer science at Islamia University, running Roadbook BD consistently has not been easy. But her mentor Lulu has been a constant throughout her life in the past three years. Takia was first matched with Lulu, a digital engineer based in San Francisco, for one-on-one mentorship in 2021 as part of Wedu’s Global Mentorship Program. Over the course of eight months, Takia helped gain focus on her leadership goals, including her passion for helping Bangladeshi women become able to move around freely and with confidence. Throughout the ups and downs of her journey, Lulu became her sounding board.

    “She is a blessing to me,” Takia said about Lulu. “For all problems I have, with Roadbook BD or career and college, she gives me suggestions in a clear and specific manner.”

    Anne Carbon Vale isa peace-builder and an inspiration.

    Anne Carbon Vale is the Founder of We Lift Club and a full-time Peacebuilder at Teach Peace Build Peace Movement in the Philippines. While she helps combat violent extremism in the country, she is also dedicated to securing the right to quality education through the We Lift Club. She founded the club in 2007. Through its flagship campaign, it mobilizes resources like educational supplies, scholarships, and learning activities for the students and fosters their leadership development. It partners with schools in remote parts of the country, which is home to Indigenous students from the Dumagat, Katubanglin, Agta, and Igorot Indigenous groups, among others.

    But Anne’s ultimate goal goes beyond that.

    “Our aim is to motivate them [the students] not to give up,” she said. “Poverty is one of the problems in the communities, and families often have to prioritize getting food on the table over sending their children to school. Even in these challenging circumstances, we want to inspire hope in them.”

    Seeing fellow women leaders in Wedu’s community create positive change sustains Anne’s passion for education. After doing a series of reflective exercises as part of the Introduction to Leadership course, Anne realized that she needed sustained support to foster her leadership skills. Thus, she applied to become a Rising Star at Wedu and hopes to seek mentorship soon.

Takia and Anne are among over 1,400 Rising Stars—women change leaders across Asia who’ve come from Wedu’s leadership programs. They have taken it upon themselves to make a difference in the lives of people around them, and they are aware that what they are doing goes deeper than women learning to ride a scooter or children having access to stationeries. These are the change leaders that make a tangible impact on the lives of women in a world where oppression and exclusion run deep. As Takia said to me, “I don’t just focus on the scooter, I want to see them [her trainees] happy.”

It is important that we let Takia and Anne know that we see the impact they are creating. And that they are not alone in this work. That’s exactly what we are doing at Wedu. Our community of allies, including mentors, creates opportunities for women leaders to grow further. Sometimes, all it may take is a mentor who will counsel them or a community that celebrates their impact. The larger lesson is: When we let women lead, they’ll share the answers we all need.

Support Bidhya’s work to help women leaders realize their change-making ambitions with mentorship, leadership courses, and education funding through Wedu.


About Community Voices

GlobalGiving’s Community Voices Fellowship aims to elevate and amplify the ideas of nonprofit partners in the GlobalGiving community. Six change leaders from Afghanistan, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, and Tanzania share their perspectives on challenges affecting our world and the solutions that exist in their communities. Each leader has embarked upon the eight-month fellowship with support from GlobalGiving and The OpEd Project to elevate their underheard, yet vitally important, viewpoints. Read more from Community Voices Fellows.

Featured Photo: Takia, 23, started a women's scooter-riding community in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Photo by Wedu Limited

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