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November 19, 2015

Leadership Lessons: Powering the Futures of Rwanda's Girls

 

Komera is on a mission- to put the power for change into the hands of Rwanda’s impoverished women through education and leadership. And the Boston-based organization recently got a nod from the White Hour for their innovative approach.

Tackling the current statistic of over 62 million young women without the opportunity for education is no easy feat, but by harnessing technology, Komera is poised to roll down this number once and for all. And in the process, founder Margaret Butler has built leadership development strategies that apply the world over.

Just how Komera plans to do this has grabbed the attention of some of the biggest names in the United States political scene- specifically First Lady Michelle Obama. As a part of her “Let Girls Learn” initiative, Mrs. Obama highlighted the cause for its innovative impact on women’s education in Rwanda.

In Rwanda, it is not uncommon for girls to leave school at a young age; many of these young women leave in order to help support their families, to marry, or because their educational ambitions are simply considered unacceptable. Inspiring leadership under circumstances where simply staying in school is a challenge is no easy task. Butler’s number one learning from working with girls who face economic hurdles: “[There’s] no “one size fits all” in terms of leadership. Let them develop their own leadership style.” It’s the only way to help people lead in a way that’s authentic, grounded, and therefore, stands the test of tough circumstances.

The grassroots plan to change the status of education-based opportunity creatively integrates technology in its tactics. Komera is pairing consultants from worldwide executive firm Heidrick & Struggles with 30 scholarship earners to mentor them on topics including English language skills, understanding of global issues and goal setting and achievement. The tutoring sessions will take place over Skype over the course of six weeks, after which point the pairs will follow-up in following months.

According to Butler, “In a global community, technology enables us to break down barriers and connect women globally. I truly believe that the mentors and scholars will both be on the receiving end of this partnership.”

Butler was initially inspired to begin her crusade for better women’s education in Rwanda when she when working for Partners in Health in 2007, spending time in local schools, seeing where the need--and opportunity--were. She saw first-hand the toll that societal pressures had on the achievement potential of these young women. Too often she came across girls t at the primary school that never made it to secondary school- instead, they were expected to stay home and attend to household duties while their peers continued their educational pursuits unabated. However, a few brave girls persevered despite the tension it caused amongst their families and peers.

The strength of these girls to continue despite the forces working against them inspired Butler to do something to help others take the same step they had to improve their futures.

Through the use of technology, Margaret Butler’s ambitions are becoming a reality. Komera’s program has already helped over 100 girls in Rwanda gain access to increased educational opportunities and ultimately the capacity to become leaders within their communities. The cause’s programs are working to fortify the rural communities of Rwanda on a number of fronts, including education. community-based development, and sports.

The organization has a number of ongoing initiatives that are working to improve the lives of these young women, including the “Pack Her Bag” campaign. Donors can choose to donate warm clothes, comfortable and clean bedding or other necessities to girls in need in Rwanda. Additionally, the program enables donors to grant girls the opportunity of a fully-paid scholarship, giving them a fresh start and the chance to advance themselves and their communities.

Most recently, the organization held a Boston bike-a-thon to benefit this initiative, bringing together 70 riders to help purchase solar-powered lamps which will enable girls to study at night even in areas without electricity. It’s quite the achievement for a nonprofit that, like so many of Boston’s for-profit startups, is a growing organization with significant goals and a scrappy budget. And it’s one that has honed a leadership development strategy that had proven highly effective.

 

Margaret Butler’s Tips for Building Leadership Skils:

  • Allow ample space for failure

  • Encourage learning from failures

  • Provide young leaders a safe space to take their first leaps, knowing someone will be there to catch them

  • Leadership styles vary around the world, and we need to respect the cultural differences

 

Get a detailed look at how Komera is using technology for good or learn more about their mission on their website.

Christina Inge is Founder of Sleek Marketing University and thoughtlight. You can follow Christina on Twitter @ChristinaInge.