“It’s really tough to be a girl in my country, because you have to handle a lot of questions in your head. And there is nobody to give answers to those questions,” explained Tina Andriamahefa, founder of Youth First in Madagascar and Plan International USA Global Women in Management (GWIM) alumna.
Young people in Madagascar face numerous obstacles and challenges with which Tina is all too familiar, having begun working with youth as a young woman herself. Problems such as insufficient educational opportunities, limited access to reproductive health information and care, and lack of decent jobs to name a few. As in much of the world, the obstacles for girls and young women are even greater. Child marriage continues in the country, and about 12 out every 100 girls aged 15 to 19 gives birth.
Tina worked with young people at a few local organizations and eventually at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), but when she had her daughter, she decided to form her own organization, Youth First. The organization equips young people with skills and opportunities to participate, take leadership and contribute to the sustainable social and political development of their community.
With the professional experience she had, Tina was able to achieve some success with her organization, but she wanted to take it to the next level. She attended the 60th GWIM workshop in 2014 in Washington, D.C. The GWIM Program strengthens women’s management, leadership, and technical skills to enhance and bring to scale programs that advance women’s economic opportunities and build the next generation of women business leaders and entrepreneurs.
GWIM leverages close to 40 years of experience with women’s leadership programs and responds to the call for interventions that advance women in the economy and give women greater control over economic resources to impact the health and development of their families, communities, and nations.
Investing in women’s leadership and programmatic competencies strengthens the capacity of their institutions to launch or expand high quality, replicable programs and ultimately empower and equip larger numbers of women and girls to participate in their local economies. The program has generously been sponsored by the ExxonMobil Foundation’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative since 2005.
“When you are an activist always on the ground, sometimes you don’t have time to reflect on your own journey,” explained Tina. “You come in [to the workshop], and the person who comes out is not the same person. You are missing something if you go back to your home and [are] the same person.”
After returning from GWIM, Tina developed a step-down training that incorporated the knowledge, skills, and tools she learned about management for young women entrepreneurs from 16 to 24 years old. In addition, Youth First and ExxonMobil are implementing ten projects developed by the young women that participated in the workshops, and there are plans to award five new grants from the next group of workshop graduates.
This past December, Tina received funding from the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives to organize the first-ever National Girl Leadership Summit, which gathered 88 young girls (15- 19 years old) from 22 regions of Madagascar. As a result of the summit, they are now advocating for the establishment of a National Girl Parliament to sustain and secure girl participation in public debate.
During the summit they managed to organize a meeting with all delegate girls and members of parliament. Youth First is also expanding their Young Women Leadership program into two different groups and five new projects with funding from UNFPA and the E.U. In addition, the organization is also working with the International Organization for Migration (OIM) to insure economic empowerment of women victims of human trafficking. In addition to devoting time to Youth First, Tina recently began working with Ideas 42.
“GWIM was indeed a turning point in my life, and 2015 was like the harvest time,” she said.