International Women’s Day celebrates women across the globe who are impacting the world through their professional endeavors and the myriad contributions they make to their communities.
Today, at the World Food Bank, we want to take a moment to highlight the work of three remarkable women who are striving for global change in the sectors of agriculture, education, and commerce. These women are taking initiative in resolving world hunger, improving educational opportunities, and advancing the economic position of women everywhere. Through their leadership roles, they make a difference in immeasurable ways and exhibit determination and strength in pursuing their goals, despite the challenges they face.
Susan Hollern, Hope Haven Rwanda: The founder of Hope Haven Rwanda, Susan Hollern, is helping children, women, and men gain important agricultural skills that extend beyond their households. Hope Haven Rwanda engages and equips students (both youth and adults) to learn through curiosity and critical thinking, so that they can discover answers rather than memorize them. HHR also embraces an inclusionary spirit, where the entire family is involved in a child’s education. Parents can pay their children’s tuition through a work-trade program or obtain a full-time position to earn a living. While Susan says that women are the “engine behind the success of the program”, she also stresses the importance of engaging men, so that they can clearly see the value that both men and women bring to the table in a community. Susan credits her faith for giving her the courage to start HHR, and her overarching message to both women and men who desire more for themselves, their families, and their communities is, “One thing no one can take away from you is your faith and your education. And success is driven through faith and education. No one has more power on this earth than God. If He is working through you, then you are unstoppable.”
Sophia Beckwith, Impact Marketplace: In her role as program manager with Impact Marketplace in Brazil, Sophia Beckwith manages an online platform that connects both enterprises and donors to initiatives working to lift people out of poverty. Prior to her work in Brazil with Impact Marketplace, Sophia worked with marginalized populations in Eastern Africa, and it was while based in Malawi that she came to believe that solutions to challenges of poverty must come from a deep understanding of the people and cultures one is endeavoring to impact. “You have to understand the day-to-day, the energy and the space,” she said. Sophia works through a lens of compassion, particularly for young girls who are facing big challenges in their quest to attain an education. She emphasizes that it’s important to have female mentorship on all levels and across all subjects. She wants women to know they they are not alone and for them to feel safe enough to take risks. She says her advice to women is, “Say yes. If an opportunity comes knocking, say yes. Take a chance, and don’t be afraid of what people may think.”
Elsa Juko-McDowell, East Africa Chamber of Commerce: As the third-term Chairwoman of this Dallas-based organization, Elsa Juko-McDowell has made it her mission to bring more women into the Chamber. When she joined five years ago, she was one of two female members. But as her role evolved from member to treasurer to president, Elsa found that the organization thrived when there was diversity and she led the way toward getting more women involved from diverse East African backgrounds. Today, the EACC has six women and six men on the board, who hail from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, and the United States. Elsa knows that resources can be less accessible to women when it comes to making connections in commerce. To that end, she started a Women Connecting Women (alongside another female advisory board member), through which women help and mentor other women who are starting a business. “We need to invest globally and invest in processes that will accelerate women-owned businesses because it promotes equality,” Elsa said. “Together, men and women can be more powerful in boosting the global economy.” Like Susan and Sophia, Elsa refuses to be intimidated by challenges and says that no woman should be discouraged by what others say she can or cannot do. She said, “You have to tell yourself a different story.”