A Future to Build: Burma by Women

by We women foundation
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Brainstorming and Strategizing!
Brainstorming and Strategizing!

The we women team recently met to brainstorm and develop a strategy for our Agents of Change Program.  The rationale for the project and project details including costs are described below: 

Our Thinking:

We women believes Myanmar should be a nation in which women are considered to be equal and a driving force behind economic, social and political reform. At every level, women from different ethnic backgrounds should be leading in shaping institutions, policies and values. To this end, the Women: Agents of Change project seeks to plant the seeds of a social economy in the women of Myanmar, aiming to build a critical mass of women leaders to serve as role models to all girls and women in Myanmar.

The problem and our proposed solution:

For many years in Myanmar, the numbers have shown around 45% of the population to be unemployed. Women make up 51.8% of the population, but only 38% of them are active in the workforce; mostly as unskilled labourers. We women believes that the key to successful development lies in gender equality and therefore aims to empower the women of Myanmar to become economically active.

Since 2011-12, political reforms have been implemented by the central government to shift toward a more democratic system. Following these reforms, a lot of the economic sanctions imposed by Western countries have been lifted. Great numbers of investors and aid organizations have moved into the country to start rebuilding the collapsed structures and boost economic and social development. Unfortunately, up until now, these investments are mainly centered around the central region of Myanmar (Yangon region) and do not reach the disadvantaged ethnic groups in the outer provinces of Myanmar. We women wants donors to invest in these regions to prevent a widening of the economic and welfare gap between the different ethnic regions of Myanmar.

Considering the above and the fact that donors are increasingly unwilling to fund the NGO model where there is 100% reliance on their donations, We women strives to empower high potential women from disadvantaged communities to claim ownership of socioeconomic development by introducing a model of self-sufficiency. Through the founding of social enterprises (i.e. organizations that apply commercial strategies to maximize the improvement in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximizing profits for external stakeholders), the most promising business women are encouraged to claim positions of leadership in their communities and apply their influence and skills to accomplish improvements to their society. In this manner, women are empowered to make and influence policy decisions which are too often made by outsiders, and they are less reliant on the willingness of donors to fund their endeavours.

Project objective:

To catapult women from disadvantaged communities into positions of leadership by empowering them with key business knowledge and capital to found social enterprises, enabling them to bring about sustainable change for themselves and their community.

  • To expand the knowledge base of participants by providing training in basic business concepts and financing,
  • To assist participants in translating their entrepreneurial ideas into concrete and viable business plans,
  • To provide participants with the necessary capital to establish their social enterprises,
  • To support participants with advice and coaching during the process of founding and expanding their social enterprises.

Target Audience:

This project targets women who have proven business instinct, the drive to be at the head of a social enterprise and the ambition to become a leader in their community.

Total costs:

€37.350 ($40,712)

Indicators for success:

  • A minimum of 95% of the participants have successfully completed the financial literacy & enterprise training,
  • A minimum of 80% of the participants will have written viable business plans,
  • A minimum of 80% of the requests for loans are approved either by We women or other financial institutes,
  • A minimum of 90% of the loans are fully repaid within 12 months after being granted.

The we women foundation is actively fundraising to kickstart our Agents of Change Project in disadvantaged communities in and around Southern Shan State in Myanmar.

Potential Beneficiary
Potential Beneficiary
We women foundation office in Burma
We women foundation office in Burma
Volunteer teaam
Volunteer teaam

We women foundation has a lot to celebrate. Our most recent online campaign,Educate One, Empower Thousands, was the most successful campaign in our organization’s history. With your support, we raised a total of €14,650! This amount is 83.7% more than what we raised for our programs during last year’s campaign. We are still waiting to hear back from additional corporate donors, and expect that the coming weeks will put us over our initial target of €20,000. Lots of donations were made through GlobalGiving, so we would like to thank our followers on this platform for their support.

We wish to extend a special thanks to our corporate sponsors to date,Shannon Passero and Cleaner Climate, for their generous donations and enthusiasm for our cause. We also wish to express our gratitude to Carol Grodzins, who won our prize for being the highest donor during the crucial final week of our campaign. Finally, we are so grateful to all of our networks, friends, and family members who graciously offered their time, money, and support—without people like you, this campaign would not have been possible.

One of the aspects of this campaign that made it extra unique and meaningful was that volunteers all over the world helped us to actively spread awareness regarding women’s issues in Myanmar by hosting screenings of our original documentary:Emerging Women of Burma. Jane’s Kitchen held the first event of the campaign here in Chiang Mai on November 23. Additional screenings were hosted by one of Burma’s most popular art galleries—Pansodan Scene in Yangon, as well as by Leigh McMaster in Auckland, New Zealand, Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin (USA), and  Nick McGrath of Rear Windows in Bangkok.

 

We women foundation has also been increasing our presence on the web. We reached 2,000 “likes” on Facebook early on in the campaign, and currently stand at 2,230. On Twitter, we gained 35 new followers during the campaign, and presently stand at 770. We expect these numbers to steadily incline, and are pleased that so many other NGOs, news outlets, and individuals are interested in our organization’s activities and the news stories that we find relevant.

All of these accomplishments have further increased our optimism regarding the future of our organization and, more broadly, the future of women’s leadership in Burma.

Message Carol
Message Carol
Thank you!
Thank you!
Filming our newest campaign promo!
Filming our newest campaign promo!

We women foundation's 2013-2014 campaign, A Future to Build: Burma by Women, is focused on raising funds for higher education for the women of Burma. Many minority women in Burma are passionate about taking part in the struggle for human rights, but without higher education, they are often pushed back into traditional roles that do not permit them the freedom and mobility to contribute to Burma's economic, social, and political future. Higher education enables qualified scholarship recipients to eventually attain leadership positions where they can influence change, drive social reform, and most importantly--empower thousands more to do the same.

Many organizations have projects that focus on primary education and basic education, but We women believes that higher education is also important for cultivating personal, professional, and intellectual development so that effective community leaders can emerge. We believe that capacity should be developed within communities to create effective policy, address local needs from within, and manage community development responsibly. All too often, important decisions are left to influential outside entities. We women views higher education as a way to build community capacity, and by educating even a handful of committed members, entire communities can be impacted.

With your support, We women is already witnessing the benefits that higher education brings to our students. Read the inspiring stories of three of our amazing scholarship students below.*

Future Director of We women--Burma: Fighting for equal education in Burma

As the daughter of parents who were both educators by profession, our first student who graduated this year was instilled at a young age with the belief that education and critical thinking are crucial components for the success of a healthy society: 

"They showed me that knowledge and education are crucial to a strong and successful society, and therefore inspired my own passion for education. From my parents I also learnt that strength comes from playing an active role in life, and in bearing responsibility gracefully," she said. 

Following the completion of her degree in History at the acclaimed Mandalay University, she worked as an English teacher near the Chinese border. After six years working at a private school, she was sadly forced to leave Burma and emigrate to Thailand due to the tumultuous political situation which threatened her personal safety. Despite the emotional hardships she faced as a result of leaving her home, her family, and her job behind, she remained determined to contribute to educational efforts within the Shan migrant community in northern Thailand. She assisted  an NGO helping migrant workers by teaching English, Shan, and computer skills. She also worked with a radio station, helping to broadcast programs on education and Shan news to the Shan community. At the time, our student could not be a classroom teacher in Thailand because she did not have refugee status and was therefore residing in Thailand illegally. However, she was resolute in continuing to do the work she is passionate about as a volunteer with migrant laborers, a constituency made up mostly of poor families from Shan state:

"I came to realize that many of these migrants could neither read nor write, and that these deficiencies were a direct result of the poor education system in Burma. This lack of basic knowledge puts migrant workers at a distinct disadvantage, as the only jobs then open to them fall under the ‘Three Ds’ – dangerous, dirty or difficult – jobs in construction or cleaning, which carry very low salaries and often high health risks," she expressed.

"If the workers were better educated, more opportunities would be open to them and they would better be able to support themselves and their families, rising from the vulnerable positions they are currently confined to. Witnessing the inability of some laborers to even sign their own name motivated me to continue my fight for equal education for all."

This student began her MA degree in Educational Administration in 2012 at Assumption University in Bangkok with the support of a We women scholarship. Inspired by her previous work as a teacher as well as a manager at an organization that provides educational opportunities to marginalized communities in Burma, she remains passionate about education and teacher-training. We women foundation is proud to announce that she will be the future Director of We women--Burma once we open a branch inside Myanmar. 

A successful MA thesis defense

In October of this year, a scholarship student from Shan State passed her thesis defense and earned her Master’s degree at Assumption University in Bangkok. 

This student had to work very hard before being admitted to do her final defense. At one stage her adviser told her: “Go and change the structure and get more background information; you still have a lot of work to do.

When our student replied that she wanted to finish within a week, her adviser said “That is impossible.”

After a week, the student went back to her adviser and stated that she had completed her thesis.

“I don´t believe you,” her advisor told her in amazement.

“Believe me, look at my eyes, I hardly slept this week.”

The professor read her work and told her she was astonished and that she could continue on to defend her thesis. Just after she passed her defense, sheapplied for a job as a program developer at an NGO focused on education. Despite the large number of applicants, our student got the job! In a skype meeting, she told the Founder and current Director of We women Ursula Cats that she will build up her skills and gain experience in her current job so that in the future she can build a school for impoverished children back in Shan State. We women foundation is confident that she will excel in her new job and we are determined to help her reach her final goals.

Master's in English Language

Finally, We women foundation wishes to congratulate a third student on graduating with a Master's degree in English Language Teaching from Assumption University in Bangkok. Considering the fact that English will become the official language of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, it will be crucial for highly motivated and well-educated English instructors and curriculum developers like her to play an active role in the Burmese education system. Best of luck to her, and all of our warm congratulations.
 
THANK YOU

As a small NGO, We women foundation could not be successful in the work we are so passionate about without help from friends, donors, and volunteers. We are so grateful to our supporters around the world for publicizing our mission, supporting us with financial contributions, and working side-by-side with us as volunteers. 

Remember, you or your networks can donate to We women foundation via GlobalGiving today.

 *To protect the identity of our students, some of whom are from conflict areas in Burma, we have refrained from using any names.

We women at a conference in BKK
We women at a conference in BKK
Filming our newest campaign promo!
Filming our newest campaign promo!

Links:

Despite recent political developments in Burma, including the release of the iconic Aung San Suu Kyi, women everywhere in the country are still overwhelmingly excluded from decision-making processes at all levels of society. As part of our efforts to address this problem, We women foundation recently initiated a Gender Dialogue Program in the city of Taunggyi in Shan State, Burma.

Broadly speaking, the purpose of We women’s newest program is to raise awareness regarding gender equality issues in Burmese communities so that women will have more opportunities to assume leadership positions. Through guided conversations and seminars, participants will be empowered as advocates for gender equality and will have a deeper understanding of gender issues at a personal, community and national level so they can effectively communicate these issues in their own communities as they see fit. These participants will be chosen from local NGOs and CBOs who already have experience thinking about and working on gender issues.

The topics to be addressed are connected to the following two main questions: “What does it mean for men if more women become leaders?” and “What does it mean for women to become leaders?” In considering these questions, participants will hopefully become more mindful of their individual responsibilities in supporting gender equality.

These dialogues will be held in small, gender-balanced groups with a maximum of 10 participants each. The groups will be led by two knowledgeable facilitators; one male and one female. Over the course of six months, about 12 three-hour discussions will take place. Before the six months are over, participants will also design a project that will raise awareness about gender dynamics in their communities in tangible ways using creative, sustainable methods.

The gender program was initiated three months ago, and at this point the dialogue sessions for our first implementation of the program have finished and the participants have begun to think about how to implement their own gender equality programs. One of the ideas that came up for a campaign is to train teachers and students on gender equality issues in order to mold antiquated beliefs regarding women in positions of authority.

The participants were enthusiastic and eager to collaborate. The discussion focused particularly on common gender conflicts and leadership positions that can be seen in the classroom at school and in society. According to exit interviews with the participants, the first round of discussions was a success, as the participants not only have a deeper understanding of gender issues but they are also reconsidering and changing the perceptions of gender roles that they grew up with. Several of the women who participated noted that the discussions helped them to better analyze gender dynamics in their home communities. Interestingly, one of the male participants noted in his interview that he was quite disinterested in the topic of gender at the beginning of the program. However, by the end of the sessions, he said that he now understands why gender equality is an important issue that needs to be addressed, and that in the future he will actively support women in leadership positions and work to educate and empower young people regarding gender issues.

Motivated by the promise that the Gender Dialogue Program has already shown, We women foundation is excited to continue to develop this program with your support.

This year, Nang Hseng* will graduate from Rajabhat University with a Masters in Public Health, a crowning achievement on top of an already impressive career

During her studies, Nang Hseng was already at work applying her skills to areas most in need.  Even while completing her thesis, she was working in 20 rural villages in Shan state in Burma, collaborating with health workers on improving public health by collecting data, conducting needs assessments, and providing services needed in the communities. Over the past three years, Nang Hseng has conducted reproductive and child health care training for nearly 60 health care providers and social workers.

This work has proved immensely beneficial for both Nang Hseng and the providers she works with. One health worker Nang Hseng works closely with described her improved capacity saying, “For the past two years my friends and I have made family planning services more readily available in our communities. This has within a short time greatly reduced the high levels of maternal, infant, and early childhood mortality in our villages.”

Nang Hseng is also adamant about the personal benefits of her long-term thesis work. “I used to be very shy,” she says, “but now I am eager to ask questions at all times, and feel comfortable going before an audience of village leaders or community members to talk to them about their health problems and discuss ways we can work together to resolve some of the important health and other development issues in our community.”

Following graduation, Nang Hseng will continue working as Health Program Coordinator for a Shan women’s organization in addition to supporting the development of the rural communities she has long worked so closely with. Nang Hseng realizes the incredible position she is in as an advanced degree holder and plans to do immense good with her new qualifications. As she puts it, “I did not see women working in public health management in Burma. As I am a woman from a rural area, I want to take this opportunity to be able to work more effectively for community and all levels.”

Thank you for supporting Nang Hseng's dreams of higher education. Cheers to another women leader to shape the future of Burma!  

*Names have been changed

 

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Organization Information

We women foundation

Location: Chiang Mai - Thailand
Website: http:/​/​wewomenfoundation.org/​
Project Leader:
We women foundation
Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai Thailand
$10,123 raised of $90,000 goal
 
203 donations
$79,877 to go
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