Championing Women and Girls Around the World
This spring, two inspiring organizations will bring to life the vision of Catherine Bertini, the former executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP).
After winning the World Food Prize in 2003, she decided to use the prize money to bolster women’s empowerment across the globe. Supporting initiatives that boost access to training and educational opportunities for girls, the fund has awarded more than 22 grants over the last decade.
Meet the award winners!
Starfish empowers indigenous female leaders to help break intergenerational cycles of exclusion and poverty in rural Guatemala. Its mission—to unlock and maximize the potential of young women to lead transformational change.
Founded in 2007, Starfish’s goal was to address a variety of problems affecting young girls across rural communities: teen pregnancy, school dropouts, and poverty. Now, more than a decade later, the organization is transforming the lives of almost 250 young girls and their family members.
“When a woman has opportunity and access to education, health care and finances, she is much more likely to allocate her new resources and knowledge to her children,” said Hannah Bick, Starfish’s Director of Strategy and Operations. “Our whole model is centered around reaching young women and equipping them with knowledge and access to opportunity before those cycles take hold.”
Starfish primarily works with young girls at risk of dropping out of school after sixth grade. By providing academics, peer support and mentorship as core activities at the Starfish Impact School, these girls take part in a robust curriculum over a six-year period. Training topics include study skills, financial literacy, civic engagement, reproductive health, and vocal empowerment.
With the help of the Bertini Trust Fund, Starfish will deepen its mentorship work to support young girls enrolled in school in 2018 as well as their families. Mentors often come from the same communities as their mentees, selecting young girls with potential for enrollment while building a powerful connection as they visit student homes at least once a month to support families as their daughters grow and learn.
“The mentor is the person championing that transformation for a young woman who has been told her worth is one thing to grow into this understanding that her worth is actually being able to change the community,” Bick said. “She has this power and this agency to do whatever she wants.”
The International Institute of Rural Reconstruction
Across pastoralist parts of Ethiopia, the number of girls not attending school is high. Although high school-aged girls and boys in the region of southern Oromia are roughly equal in number, census figures show that girls old enough to attend the 9th and 10th grades are going to school at just half the rate of boys.
“People are on the move in pastoralist areas,” said Zerihun Lemma, the country director in Ethiopia for the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR). “High schools are far away from some of the community centers so it’s very hard for girls to travel long distances to continue and finish their education.”
IIRR, an organization with over 90 years of grassroots experience working in sustainable and people-centered development in Africa and Asia, specifically works in Ethiopia to increase access to secondary education for girls in southern Oromia, serving almost 1600 pastoralist girl students every year. Their work tackles significant challenges facing girls in the region: possible abduction when traveling long distances to school, early child marriage, and teen pregnancy.
With the help of the Bertini Trust Fund, IIRR will support the education of 80 girls at the Chembie Middle and High School. The monies will help rehabilitate and expand an on-site hostel allowing an additional 32 girls from remote pastoral locations to live closer to school; strengthen gardening activities at school to grow leafy vegetables and support good nutrition; and provide exercise books, pencils, pens, and school uniforms to help the girls continue and complete their education.
The girls will also have access to IIRR’s full programming, including sexual health and reproductive rights, youth empowerment, as well as a Goats for Girls program that incentivizes school attendance by giving families the financial resources to pay for school expenses.
“The investments we make in girls’ education are really investments in changing society,” Lemma said. “They are the ones taking of their kids, they are the ones taking care of their families, they are the ones taking care of their community.”