Esther Njomo Omam is the Executive Director of Reach Out Cameroon, a women- and youth-centered nonprofit focused on gender and capacity building, combating HIV/AIDS, and economic empowerment for hard-to-reach populations and minorities.
She is an alumna of Plan International USA’s WomenLead Institute’s (WLI) program, Global Women in Management (GWIM), which strengthens women’s management, leadership, and technical skills to enhance and bring to scale programs that advance women’s economic opportunities. GWIM, funded by the ExxonMobil Foundation for over 12 years, is just one example of WLI’s in-house training expertise and opportunities.
Post-training, many GWIM alumnae, like Esther, return to their NGOs, ministries, and social enterprises to replicate elements of the GWIM workshop with staff and beneficiaries and magnify the benefits that come from instilling confidence, expanding management skills, and creating stronger networks for and with other women.
In order to ensure that the step-down workshops led by GWIM alumnae are of the highest quality, Plan’s WomenLead Institute conducted a unique training-of-trainers workshop, “Designing and Facilitating GWIM Step-Down Trainings,” in Washington D.C. last month. During the workshop, a small reception was held in honor of the alumnae, and Esther was invited to speak. Below is the text of Esther’s speech:
It is my singular pleasure to stand before you today to say a few words, mid-way [through] our Designing & Facilitating GWIM Step-Down Skill-Building Workshop!
I am a child from the slums of Douala, Cameroon, born from poor parents, married with three kids, two girls and a boy. My childhood was not an easy one as I had to trek several kilometers to go to fetch water, many kilometers to go to school, kilometers to go help big traders process their goods at odd hours of the night, then get in return some of the bad vegetables and spices to sell in the market, and take the money home to my mother so that we can have something to put on the table. It was not easy at all. I was forced to drop out from school, and I got married as the only solution to move my parents out of poverty. Because I loved education, my hidden passion could not remain buried in me; I decided that even while married and against all odds, I will continue schooling.
My desire has been to make sure other girls [and] other women won’t go through what I went through. Hence, Reach Out Cameroon was created 17 years ago and has impacted many women and young girls through our health, governance, human rights, and wealth creation programs. It is usually said “ignorance before the law is a crime.” Yes, I came to discover even my organization—and I have been reaching out to many—there was something not right with most of what we were doing. The programs were not well-structured to lead to greater economic empowerment, and that is where GWIM comes in.
The program helped to shape and strengthen my managerial, technical, and leadership skills. I was able to pass on the gift to my collaborators through training sessions. I also understood the necessity for having quality time for myself, which was never the case before. My participation in GWIM 62, especially the economic empowerment component, made me discover another hidden talent. I came to discover that while I was empowering other women and communities to become entrepreneurs, I was in hibernation.
I decided to restructure an enterprise I created many years back but was not putting to use. Immediately I made it operational. Many opportunities came my way: one being the Cameroon Women Business Leaders Association (CWBLA), of which I became a member in May 2017. One month after, using the knowledge and skills acquired through GWIM, I positively impacted the founding members and government, thus my nomination to the position of Regional President of this prestigious network of businesswomen in my country. I have been able to train female leaders from government decentralised services , civil society organisations, and private sector on varying topics from leadership to public speaking, fundraising and project management, proposal writing, basic financial management, business planning, and emotional intelligence.
GWIM, through the support of the ExxonMobil Foundation’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative, and Plan are changing the lives of many women in developing countries such as me here today in fulfilling their economic potential and serving as drivers of economic and social change in their communities.
There is a famous quote from Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom: “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.” This saying is true because ever since the existence of GWIM, women who are alumni like me have been doing a lot to relieve their peers from pain and suffering and trying to uplift their image in society by empowering them economically. Even though much has been done by us, a lot more still needs to be done. More women need to encounter GWIM, and more women need support and empowerment in our communities.
GWIM’s motto is that “when women move forward, the world moves with them.” We are moving forward with GWIM, we are leaving no stones unturned. But one thing is certain: we cannot achieve major strides without your support. We are happy you are here with us, to show that support we are looking for. Thank you.