“There is no higher expectation than being who you are, recognizing your values, your strengths and weaknesses, and working as a group on how you can change your weaknesses,” explained Tina Andriamahefa, founder and fundraising and partnership manager at Youth First in Madagascar, about what sets the CEDPA Global Women in Management (GWIM) workshop apart from others.
Tina is one of 28 women leaders from 21 countries participating in the 60th CEDPA GWIM, a Plan International USA women’s leadership program held in Washington D.C. during the month of June.
The workshop brings together women from diverse cultures and countries to share, examine, and adapt best practices worldwide for expanding women’s economic opportunities and meeting the needs of their communities and countries. Since the workshops began in 1978, thousands of CEDPA alumni worldwide have formed a global network of trained women leaders to transform lives at local, regional, and international levels. The program has generously been sponsored by the ExxonMobil Foundation’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative since 2005.
Tina thought she had a fairly good understanding about leadership when the workshop started at the beginning of June. She began her training early. At 10, her father signed her up for the Girl Guides. Resentful at first because she preferred swimming, the organization eventually won her over.
“We had this promise, ‘I want to be a woman for myself, my family, and my country,’” said Tina. “I really wanted to be that woman for my country, so I stayed for 12 years. Over time, it really shaped my career. I really wanted to work in the development field.”
After the Girl Guides, Tina began working as a peer educator, speaking to young people about reproductive health and avoiding unwanted pregnancy.
“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,” she explained. “Most of the time you are seeking answers from your friends, who are struggling themselves to find the answers. A lot of girls end up being pregnant at a very early age. Statistics show that young girls in Madagascar are likely to be pregnant around 12. In some parts of the region, they are forced to be married once they have their period.”
Tina soon realized she wanted to work with young people. She took a position as a program implementer and then began to design programs. Later, she was asked by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to participate in two youth leader conferences. The first one was in Morocco and the second one was in New York, where she was appointed as a youth spokesperson for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Tina continued her work 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.
“I was looking back at all the organizations we created so far, and how they shifted their agenda once they had expertise or funding,” Tina explained. “I had this idea on how I could create an organization that would be strong enough that once my daughter was mature enough to run it, the organization would be ready for her.”
With little funding, Tina relies on her professional network to manage the program.
“We have 40 young women who are amazing who are going through the process,” Tina said, beaming. “I’m so happy when I read their applications because none of them want to be airline hostesses. They all want to be doctors, engineers, and economists, and I’m so happy because there is a shift among young girls.”
When Tina was accepted as a GWIM participant, she was excited. She hoped to gather as much information as she could so she could step down what she learned at the workshop to the girls in her program. The workshop turned out to be much more than a simple leadership training.
“One thing I really value in the workshop is the safe place they create. We are among a group of women where you are just asked to be yourself,” she explained. “You are in a room of very strong women, but then when you have time to listen to their stories, you feel so proud and humble to be in a room with such an amazing person. Especially when you know where they come from and the challenges they’ve been through.”
Tina and her fellow participants will work on action plans before they return home that will help them to apply what they have learned during the workshop. They will also have the opportunity to participate in the innovative coaching program that pairs participants with a trained and experienced alumna, who will coach them on their professional goals.
“The workshop is really awesome,” she said. “When you are an activist always on the ground, sometimes you don’t have time to reflect on your own journey. Of course, we have this capacity building part of it, but it’s really a journey for change. You come in, 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.”