The women leaders who attend Plan International USA’s Global Women in Management program often leave the workshop feeling metamorphic.
“GWIM is transformative. You cannot go through this course and remain the same, nor do things the same way,” said Lufuno Muvhango, director of Intervention with Microfinance for AIDS and Gender Equity (IMAGE) in South Africa and GWIM alumna.
“This GWIM is filled with people with a wealth of knowledge and experience. We have different strengths and weaknesses, but, being together, you learn from each other, so you find that we kind of fill each other’s knowledge gap. I found it so amazing.”
Lufuno was one of 26 participants from Angola, Argentina, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kurdistan, Liberia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Peru, Qatar, Romania, UAE, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, who were a part of GWIM 65 from July 18 through August 12 in Washington, D.C. 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.
While the GWIM workshop is designed for mid-career women from civil society organizations (local nongovernmental organizations, cooperatives, business women’s associations, social enterprises, etc.), their areas of expertise differ. These differences provide an enriched environment where the participants learn not only from the facilitators, but also from each other. The varied experiences also mean the impact of the workshop is different for each participant.
“What made [GWIM] appealing for me was that since I finished my degree, I just learned about my work and the issues around there, but nothing prepared me to manage an organization,” explained Lufuno. “Honestly, I’m just learning as I go through trial and error. So, when I looked at the application, I said, ‘I think this is what I need.’”
Lufuno, like many women at her point in life, lacked mentors, adequate training, and the tools to take her project and organization to the next level. Lufuno did have one role model. Her mother was a woman who struggled and sacrificed to ensure her four children had an education and the opportunities to leave poverty behind.
A determined woman, Lufuno’s mother single-handedly raised four children and put them through university by selling fruits and vegetables and working as a farm laborer.
“My brother was studying social work at the university,” Lufuno said. “He came home and said they were asking them to buy a book for the course. My mom would ask him to go find the prices. She had to save two whole months’ salary to be able to buy that book. We would survive on the food they would give from the farm, a five kilogram bag of millet meal. That’s when I realized how much my mother sacrificed to get my brother to finish his studies.”
To this day, Lufuno’s mother proudly preserves a library of all the books she bought for her children’s education.
“My mom used to say, ‘Education is the eternal inheritance.’ She said this because she always felt like she wouldn’t leave anything tangible for us to hold on to,” said Lufuno. “ Maybe she did not leave us with a house or a car, but she left us with an education, which no one will take from us. I thank her for that. My coming to GWIM and having undergone sessions on gender and women’s economic empowerment made me realize and appreciate my mom even more.”
Although Lufuno studied gender at university, GWIM provides a more practical approach.
“I found answers here and more than just answers, I found tools, guidelines, and I even practiced it,” explained Lufuno. “It’s very practical, which is very, very useful, because in most trainings, you go there, they just give you information. You go back home and you think, ‘How do I go about this?,’ And, usually, because you are frustrated, it gets put on the shelf and you forget about it. Honestly, because I’m also finishing my master’s, it almost felt like I needed [the workshop] before I finish the master’s. “
Lufuno explained that the most immediate lessons she would apply would be those of leadership. She was already applying them with a situation in the organization while at the workshop; but she also noted that tools in fundraising, business models, and gender could directly extend the impact IMAGE has on the women with whom they work.
“I want to see women financially independent, being able to provide food for themselves and for their household, taking their children to school, and living a better life,” she said. “If we help women to understand the importance of taking their children to school and enable them to do so, I see that cycle of inequality and financial dependence subsiding in the next few generations.
“I’m an example. Can you see that if we get more women to do that, then society is going to change for the better, not in many decades to come, but sooner than that.”