Project Inspire 2013: Empowering Women Worldwide

By Jonathan DeHart
From opening micro-businesses to training to work as journalists, Project Inspire is giving hope to women across the world.
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Over the weekend on Singapore’s INSEAD campus, the Singapore Committee for UN Women and MasterCard co-organized the Project Inspire 2013 Grand Finals, an event that showcased a wide range of exciting ideas from around the globe with the shared aim of empowering women. From training women to work as beekeepers in Uganda to preparing them to cover compelling stories as professional journalists and launching personal creative businesses, Project Inspire gives a platform for ideas meant to make the world a brighter place for women to live and work.

Now in its third year, the event received some 577 entries from more than 60 countries this year, of which three were chosen to receive a total of $45,000 in awards meant to help make these visions a reality. This year’s winners include grand prize ($25,000) winner Creative Street Micro-entrepreneurs project, pitched by the Protsahan India Foundation, which benefits at-risk girls in India; the winner of the Global Reach Award ($10,000), Global Press Institute, which helps disadvantaged women in Bangladesh, Morocco, Tunisia and Papua New Guinea; and the winner of the Inspiration Award ($10,000), Empowering Disabled Young Women through Beekeeping, pitched by Ka Tutandike Uganda, an NGO that focuses on empowering Ugandans. The People’s Choice Award went to the ILaw ngTahanan project from the Philippines, which received the highest number of online votes.

The Diplomat spoke with some of the event’s organizers and winners about the exciting work they are doing, specifically as it relates to the Asia-Pacific region, and the potential impact it could have on women’s lives.

The Diplomat: What are the biggest issues facing women across Asia today?

Georgette Tan, group head, Communications, Asia/Pacific, Middle East & Africa, MasterCard and co-creator of Project Inspire:

Despite the fact that women across many parts of Asia now enjoy a higher standard of living, increased education opportunities and greater participation in the labor force, women still face a number of issues in the region. Some of these issues include gender discrimination/ inequality in the work place, violence, lack of access to capital and land rights, and struggle for employment and financial independence.

Trina Liang-Lin, president, Singapore Committee for UN Women and co-creator of Project Inspire:

Violence against women in its many forms continues to be pervasive – this is true even in developed countries. Though we have seen strides made in the education and employment fields in the past decade, more needs to be done particularly in developing countries to equalize pay structures and respect a woman’s myriad role in society.

Specifically in South Asia, the recent gang-rape in Mumbai – and India’s rape problem in general – and the issue of acid attacks do not suggest that treatment of women in the region is improving. Do you see it differently? Is there a positive trend, even as these horrific problems are still ongoing?

Georgette Tan, group head, Communications, Asia-Pacific, Middle East & Africa, MasterCard and co-creator of Project Inspire:

According to the latest MasterCard Index of Women’s Advancement, India ranks last among 14 Asia-Pacific markets, indicating that much more can be done to achieve gender parity. Women’s representation in leadership roles in business and government is lagging in India with only 15 women business/government leaders for every 100 male business/government leaders. However, in terms of education, India ranks well with nearly 80 women for every 100 men in secondary and tertiary education.

While the numbers demonstrate that opportunities exist for women in education, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of legislation and protecting women, and to ensure women receive more access to job opportunities and leadership positions in business and government after they graduate. It is also important for women to understand and know that they can and should help each other out and protect one and other.

Trina Liang-Lin, president, Singapore Committee for UN Women and co-creator of Project Inspire:

Social media has proven pivotal in bringing local and global attention to horrific crimes against women around the world. For too long, these many abusive acts against women went unrecorded, unreported and perpetrators went free. Heightened awareness amongst the public, as well as the involvement of more men through education and publicity about these issues contribute significantly in the fight to end violence against women. Her fight is hardly over and continues still.

Alongside empowering women to be more self-sufficient through entrepreneurial means, or to have a greater voice by training and working as journalists, what are some of the other ways that women’s treatment across Asia can be improved?

Georgette Tan, group head, Communications, Asia/Pacific, Middle East & Africa, MasterCard and co-creator of Project Inspire:

Besides empowering women through entrepreneurial means, education is also an important key to change. An education gives these girls the potential to earn better wages, raise healthier and better educated children, and equip themselves with essential livelihood skills to lead a better life. In addition, it is crucial for these women to gain access to capital so they can start their own businesses, which eventually provides them with financial independence, and gives them a voice at home and in their communities.

Another figure who is fighting for change is young Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan last year. Do you see evidence that the efforts of Malala and others like her are gaining women access to more opportunities for professional advancement and education across Asia?

Georgette Tan, group head, Communications, Asia/Pacific, Middle East & Africa, MasterCard and co-creator of Project Inspire:

The results of the latest MasterCard Index of Women’s Advancement has shown that across Asia, more women are having access to education, even at a tertiary level. In seven markets across Asia – Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Malaysia – women are on par or better represented in tertiary institutions than their male counterparts. However, opportunities are needed for them to either enter into business, start their own businesses, or to join the work force or take a lead in the government.

That said, the government also has a part to play by encouraging women to enter or re-enter the work force, or be retrained. Local governments can provide assistance in terms of grants and subsidies for women to undertake training; they can also have women/family-friendly policies applicable for businesses and the government offices – these include child-care assistance, day care, subsidies to hire domestic help, etc.

Trina Liang-Lin, president, Singapore Committee for UN Women and co-creator of Project Inspire:

Yes, the exposure from the efforts of Malala and others like her, bring important issues in to the international spotlight. In the case of Malala, the issue concerning the lack of access to education for girls across Asia has been brought to the attention of an international audience. The importance of Malala’s work can now be seen in the increase of funding in this area to provide more opportunities for girls. She has also inspired policy makers to take a stand to find concrete solutions to address this issue.

In the Creative Street Micro-entrepreneur Project and the Masala Project, India, after the women learn to design handicrafts and art works, what kind of support will the women be given as they go about trying to set up businesses following the training?

Sonal Kapoor, Protsahan:

Protsahan is not only handicraft training but “creative livelihoods training” (i.e. being imparted to the young at risk girls from the age group of 14-20 at Protsahan_. If there is no livelihood to look upto, they either get married off at 14 or before or get forced into the trafficking/begging market.

At Protsahan, a young girl is trained in Design & Art, Photography & Cinema, Digital Technology tools and Theatre & Storytelling, she gets equipped holistically to not only decide and pick up a creative skill of her choice but also gets has the understanding of the creative tools to put her knowledge and learning and training into action by churning out into a micro entrepreneur (she could be a teacher running a design school, a photographer (there is a young girl at Protsahan, who wishes to be one, who cannot speak or hear) etc.

Business skills inclusive of digital and financial literacy and setting up of their shops by providing them basic micro loans, form an essential part of the project. For micro loans, we will be tying up with our partner organizations to provide individual assistance to the girls.

The women in The Masala Project will be given assistance in quality control – my father, Sudhir Pohankar who holds a Masters in food technology and has worked with big corporates like Cadbury and Amul India for over 25 years. He will be heading the quality control of the products and give training to the women. There will be close supervision for two to five years by myself, my father, and Rupa Amolik who is the founder of CMSS in terms of marketing, sales, distribution and advertising.

We are greatly inspired by the Lijjat Papad Model and want to incorporate similar sales and distribution channels. In addition to this, in my field of drama and theatre I have encouraged a lot of young people to come and volunteer with our organization. A small community is slowly starting to develop.

The ILaw ng Tahanan project, undertaken in the Philippines, trains female inmates a set of skills that will allow them to support themselves after they are released. What kinds of crimes are most women convicted of in the Philippines? Normally, is it particularly difficult for them to stand on their own two feet after they are released?

Margarita Gutierrez, ILaw ng Tahanan:

Women confined at the Correctional Institution for Women are considered national prisoners and they are those sentenced to suffer imprisonment of three years to life imprisonment. Most of the crimes the women are convicted of are drug related, mostly non-violent and are poverty-related crimes. It is difficult for them to start a new life after release as most of them suffer long incarceration.

With the current set-up, women sentenced with life imprisonment, Reclusion Perpetua or those adjusted to definite 40 years have to be confined for more than 15 years as minimum requirement before they are considered for recommendation for any form of executive clemency.

By that time, most of inmates have been disowned and forgotten by their families. They are then faced with this fear upon release… ‘What am I going to do now?’ This project would make the inmates realize that they can still have a bright future ahead of them. They would have their dignity and confidence back, trying to be productive, God-fearing citizens.

The Global Press Institute (GPI), USA is offering a unique journalism training program. What are the prerequisites for this program?

Cristi Hegranes, GPI:

GPI trains women from all walks of life. The only requirements are basic literacy skills and a passion for using the craft of journalism as a tool to change the world by increasing access to information, promoting transparency, and elevating global awareness of some of the world’s most under-covered regions and topics.

What kinds of training will be included?

Cristi Hegranes, GPI: GPI reporters take a six-month training course called the Principles and the Practice. Here, they learn to be ethical, investigative, professional journalists. GPI is not a citizen journalism program – but rather a program that takes ordinary women and turns them into professional reporters.

After taking the core course, the women of GPI learn photojournalism, video journalism, and can take specialty-reporting courses so that they can deepen their coverage on key issues.

Once the training is complete, GPI offers every woman long-term employment working for GPI’s online news publication, Global Press Journal. Here, they work within our sophisticated network of editors, story coaches, fact checkers and translated to ensure we are producing world-class journalism.

These stories are produced in local language and English and then syndicated to more than 80 news outlets via the Global Press News Service.

At GPI, we use journalism as a development tool to educate, employ and empower women – who go on to use their training to tell the most important, untold stories in their communities. GPI is a unique opportunity for women because we take women’s economic empowerment to a new level that does not limit women to traditional economic opportunities. Our journalists earn a strong living wage and have become powerful members of their communities.

What kinds of stories will the women be encouraged to tell?

Cristi Hegranes, GPI:

At GPI, we never assign stories from afar. Our reporters and local editors are 100 percent responsible for determining which stories reach our local and global audiences. Our reporters specialize in human rights coverage, gender justice reporting, arts and culture, business and enterprise, education and environmental journalism.

In light of recent violence against journalists, what would you say to women who will join the profession?

Cristi Hegranes, Global Press Institute: Becoming a journalist is a tremendous responsibility. At GPI, we take the responsibility of keep our journalists safe very seriously. As a part of the training, our reporters learn their constitutional rights, have local legal representation, take self-defense classes and abide by a strict safety/security protocol.

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