Tag Archives: global

This week, I’ve been reading: I Am Malala – How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World

25 Oct I Am Malala_book cover

I Am Malala_book coverAhead of the UK release (in November) of the film He Named Me Malala, a revised and updated version of her original memoir has just been published, written by Malala Yousafzai (with renowned teen author Patricia McCormick) for her peers and containing some very thoughtful discussion materials at the end of the book.

But who is Malala? I first heard of the Pakistani school girl shot by the Taliban shortly after the attack (in October 2012) and of course she’s now world-famous as the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and as a global advocate for both peace and education, especially for girls (on meeting President Obama: “I told him that if America spent less money on weapons and war and more on education, the world would be a better place”).

Perhaps what I had not really appreciated, prior to reading this wonderful book, was the extent to which Malala, then a school girl with dreams and ambitions (“That summer I turned fifteen. …. I knew for certain now that I wanted to be a political leader. … I would do the things politicians only spoke of. And I would start with education – especially girls’ education.”) was specifically targeted by the Taliban, who knew of her through her BBC blog on life in the Swat Valley (near the Pakistani border with Afghanistan), her appearances in local media – “Throughout 2008, as Swat was being attacked, I didn’t stay silent. I spoke to local national TV channels, radio and newspapers. I spoke out to anyone who would listen.” and even her appearance in a New York Times feature. At the beginning of the book,  she describes the day of the October 2012 attack:

Two young men in white robes stepped in front of our truck.

“Is this the Khushal School bus?” one of them asked

The driver laughed. The name of the school was painted in black letters on the side of the van.

The other young man jumped onto the tailboard and leaned into the back, where we were all sitting.

“Who is Malala?” he asked

No one said a word, but a few girls looked in my direction.

He raised his arm and pointed at me. Some of the girls screamed and I squeezed Moniba’s hand.

Who is Malala?

I am Malala and this is my story.

A week later, Malala awoke in fear and confusion in a Birmingham hospital, recovering from her terrible injuries. She fought back to full health and now lives, with her parents and two brothers, in Birmingham – as well as travelling the world (“I met one of my favourite people in the USA, a man named Jon Stewart, who invited me to his TV show to talk about my first book and the Malala fund”.), studying, speaking and fund raising.

I love this quote from her speech to the United Nations:

One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world

At the end of the book,  she tells us that “I am Malala. My world has changed, but I have not … we have all adapted, little by little, to this new place. My father wears a handsome tweed blazer and brogues now when he goes to work. My mother uses the dishwasher. Khushal is having a love affair with his Xbox. And Atal has discovered Nutella.”

But yet she is still the same teenage girl who played in the streets, argued with her friends and learned English from DVDs of Ugly Betty and Mind Your Language.

It’s a wonderful book, thought provoking, uplifting and inspirational. Make a note of 12th July in your diary as Malala Day (it’s her birthday) and check out The Malala Fund at www.malalafund.org/voice

See in the New Year by becoming a Godmother

31 Dec


(c) VSO

I’ve just signed up to become a Godmother (I was number 36!) in support of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)’s new campaign for women,  the Godmothers.


VSO tells us that:

“Worldwide more than 60 million girls have been forced into early marriage. Of the 780 million people who can’t read, 510 million are female. Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours but earn just 10% of the income.

The new UN women’s agency could put a stop to all this. But to fulfil its promise it needs your help.

The Godmothers is a group of men and women who think women everywhere deserve a chance. Together we’ll watch over UN Women, help keep it on track and protect it from people who’d like to see it fail – everything a good godmother would do. By making sure UN Women gets the powers and funding it needs, we can make life better for millions of women worldwide.”

Click here to sign up and be a supporter – and help to make the New Year a Happier one for women everywhere.

On the Big diverse Lunch, 2010

25 Jul

This time last week I was sitting outside on a chair, eating cake,  in the middle of my street – just a normal, west London residential road,  a street of early 20th century houses, a street which is normally lined with parked cars and which serves as a useful cut through to the nearby tube station.

A street where, on regular days, people would doubtless think you’d lost your mind if you so much as sat in your front garden instead of around the back.

But last Sunday was different,  because me and my neighbours were taking part in the second annual Big Lunch – a day in which around one million people all over Britain sat down with their neighbours for a communal meal.  And so,  for just one day,  the road was closed,  the cars were relocated,  bunting and balloons were strung across the road and woven into the trees – and around one hundred adults and children came together in my street for a communal barbecue, followed by homemade cakes and puddings.

My street in London is very ordinary and is like thousands of others all over the UK – a row of terraced houses,  built in the Edwardian years at the turn of the twentieth century in order to house the growing middle class population of white collar workers such as bank clerks and office staff.  Some of the houses are owned,  some are rented;  some are single family units,  others are let out as individual rooms to a transient population of twenty-somethings from a variety of countries.  Most of the houses have now been updated from their original build and have had new kitchens, bathrooms or loft conversions bolted on,  although some do have the ancient 7’ x 11’ galley kitchen and prehistoric bathroom fittings still in situ (we inherited the original loo,  complete with overhead cistern and hanging chain, when we moved in in 2001).

Above all though,  we have a huge diversity and richness of talent in the street that I never really appreciated until one of my neighbours heard of the Big Lunch,  then in its early stages, last year and leafleted the street to see if anyone was interested in helping him organise our very own street party.  Before the 2009 Big Lunch,  our street was fairly typical,  in that some of us knew our immediate neighbours (and we are only a road of 27 houses,  so not a huge population) but nobody knew everybody.

I remember when there was a discussion a year ago over what entertainment to put on for the children and someone exclaimed: “What children?  Do we even have any kids living here?”

But we actually have nearly 30,  if we’d only known it at the time.

And diversity?  At this year’s lunch,  we had participants from the following countries: all four corners of the UK,  the USA, Canada, Poland, Bangladesh, Jamaica, India, Germany, Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Russia and the Netherlands.

And this diversity of backgrounds also brings with it an amazing array of jobs;  a quick poll told me that amongst us we have a:

psychotherapist, a BBC producer, a professional sitar player,  an opera singer, an actuary, a CBT therapist, a vicar, an actress (who once had her own story arc in “Sex and the City”!), a motorbike salesman, some freelance musicians who teach drums and play in a band, an HR manager for a museum, a midwife, a man who makes models for film sets such as “Gulliver’s Travels”, assorted sales assistants, a primary school teacher, a management consultant and various people who “do things in IT”.

(And me).

What was great about the Big Lunch was not only the way in which this kind of event truly brings people together in a social sense,  but also the way in which people contributed their skills to the organisation of it all.

We had three barbecue stations on the go; Paul made us a playlist and plugged his iPod into someone else’s speakers so that we could have music.  I ordered all the food and took delivery of a huge Ocado order,  but that food was then stored overnight in multiple fridges up and down the street.  Wei-Hei used her discount card to buy the disposable plates, cups and cutlery at a great price from the cash and carry; Glynis spoke to a friend at a local church and arranged for us to borrow their tables in return for a small donation to the church roof fund (there’s always a church roof fund, isn’t there?).  Liz went up and down the street,  saying hello and getting people to sign up for the lunch; Russell used his great graphic design skills to knock out newsletters for everyone,  but particularly for those of our neighbours who don’t have email (which,  given that some of them are in their 70s and 80s,  is very much the case).

Astrid bought and stored all the drinks; Bevan collected the “Road Closed” signs from the local council depot; other neighbours contributed bunting (made out of what looked like old pyjamas), a gazebo, tables and chairs.  I did all the email communications with the Mayor’s office,  the local community policing team and our local ward councillors;  TLS was in charge of the budget,  on the basis that he’s great at getting money out of people and he also used his truck to fetch and carry various signs and bits of furniture.

Most crucially,  in terms of the atmosphere on the day,  our local musicians,  who form a truly fabulous band called Storey (check them out on iTunes and Spotify)  gave us a completely brilliant two hour concert.  They played their own stuff (with which quite a few of us are now familiar,  as we try to go to their local gigs when we can),  then went into some great covers and finally got members of the audience to join them on drums, tambourine and backing vocals.  Who knew that Mark was such a great drummer,  or that Ingrid could sing so well?

And I guess that’s the whole point of diversity – how do you know what skills people have,  unless you open up the doors (or the street) and include them?  I’ve had several job interviews (yes … still …) recently in which I’ve been asked: “What does diversity mean to you?” – and my answer is – it’s always all about the talent.  Just like the childless person who assumed that, like him, our road was childfree, I think that many unenlightened leaders think that having more people like them in the leadership team is the only way to lead the company,  or organise the street party.

But for me,  the Big Lunch events are a great reminder of a couple of things:

–       That I’m so lucky to live in this lovely street in this fabulously multi-cultural city;

–       That not sweating the small stuff is generally a great idea – and we will usually get there,  wherever “there” may be,  in the end;

–       And that the greatest outcome can always be achieved by having a mixture of talents and inputs from a wide variety of people.

Oh, and?  Street parties are way more fun when you get blue skies and sunshine (2010) rather than dark skies and rain (2009).

Want to be a mentor to women in Bangladesh, India, Israel or Palestine?

16 Jun

Last week,  I had a very interesting meeting with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women (CBFfW), a relatively new charity set up by barrister Cherie Blair, which aims to strengthen the capacity of women entrepreneurs in countries where they lack equal opportunities,  thus enabling them to grow their businesses and become greater contributors to their economies.

The Foundation aims to offer women better access to business development support networks and finance in areas of the world which include India, Israel, Kenya, Malawi and Palestine.

The CBFfW is now launching  their Mentoring Women in Business Pilot and if you’d like to be a Mentor … read on.

The 10-month pilot programme will support women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, India, Israel and Palestine through mentoring. Approximately 30 entrepreneurial women will be mentored by 40 successful entrepreneurs or professionals. The pilot aims to demonstrate that there are measurable and tangible benefits from partnering women with entrepreneurial potential in developing and transition countries with successful Mentors in the UK using Google’s online applications such as Sites, Docs, Chat and Gmail. The pilot will involve testing exciting new formats and applications, so the Foundation is  looking for Mentors who are willing to be at the forefront of the development of this extraordinary international programme.

Being a Mentor is a great opportunity to share your knowledge and experience while helping others to succeed and learn about other cultures, places, businesses and market opportunities. Your participation in the Mentoring Women in Business Pilot will require a minimum of one hour of your time every two weeks, and the more you engage,  the more you will help shape the future of the Mentoring Programme.  Some of the Mentors applying for the pilot will be matched with a Mentee by July and will be able to start the mentoring relationship right away, while others will be matched in October, when a second group of Mentees will be ready to participate in the programme. Some Mentors will not be matched with a Mentee, but their involvement in the programme will be crucial for the successful management of the mentoring Platform, as they will be able to contribute to the public forums and share their expertise with Mentors and Mentees alike. The pilot phase will finish in May 2011.

Mentors are asked to provide a minimum donation of £100 per year to help support the programme and will be given training from Google on how to use Google’s applications and from renowned experts, Clutterbuck Associates and the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, Cambridge Judge Business School, on how to develop a strong and effective mentoring relationship. The one-day training course for the Mentors will be on July 14th (it’s free) and will be a great opportunity to learn new skills and to network with like-minded people.

The Platform built with Google to run the Mentoring Women in Business Programme is now ready; if you would like additional information or have any questions, you can contact the programme’s project manager via gc@cherieblairfoundation.org

If, having browsed the site, you’d like to apply to become a Mentor, please apply now, as the the application deadline is 23rdJune.

And please feel free to share this link with anyone who you think would be a great mentor for these women around the world.

On laptops for children

1 Apr

You know that something’s really made an impact on you when it lodges in the brain and sticks with you for years, don’t you?  My “brainworm” is about the One Laptop Per Child project and I was delighted to see an update on their progress in the Sunday paper.

In October 2006,  I attended the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society in Deauville,  northern France – a three day conference attended by women from all over the world who come together annually to discuss how to further women’s participation in business and in life.  

One of the (many, many) lunchtime events featured a speaker from OLPC,  then a project in its relative infancy.  Her name was Mary Jo and she talked about the goals of the project – at its core, to create and then provide a basic laptop for under privileged children to use as an educational tool.

(Now further refined as  “… to create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children via a “rugged low-cost, low-power laptop” – “)

As if it were yesterday,  I remember sitting in that conference room, eating rubber chicken (yes, even in France) and listening to Mary Jo tell us  how computer access could transform the lives and the educational prospects of children in developing countries, how the laptop model on which they were working would be super robust, have an extra long battery life, come pre-loaded with all types of educational and games based software;  how it would have a special anti-glare screen (on which this lady had herself been working, with Intel) so that it could be used outside and yet still be visible in bright sunshine, and how it would eventually be part of a giant hub of wireless enabled laptops so that the children could access the internet.

And the price of this bit of kit?

$100, in 2006.

I’ve kept an eye on the One Laptop website since then and watched their evolution,  but Sunday’s Observer article really brought home their three-plus years of progress. Follow the link and see for yourself what a difference it’s making to the children of Rwanda and how 1.4 million laptops (not quite yet at that magical $100 each price point, but they’re getting there) have already been rolled out to children in 35 countries which include Haiti, Afghanistan, Brazil and Uruguay.

One of the best days on my recent trip to Goa was when I took my own laptop out to Rainbow House with me.  One of the other volunteers had shared her photos of the school’s sports day, and I thought the children might like to see some of the pictures.  I set myself and the laptop up on the verandah,  booted up the photos – and within seconds I was completely covered in children,  swarming over me and the computer,  completely fascinated by the screen and the images.  They played with it until the battery died and absolutely loved looking at the photos and playing games – so I can completely see how it, as a piece of technology,  does serve so many purposes for children everywhere: it makes learning fun,  it’s a new gadget and it’s a unifying tool.  As the article suggests:

“…computers can enable children to learn how to learn for themselves through playful problem-solving and that this will lead to their becoming better-rounded human beings.”

A tale of two sisters: Chandra and Geetha

15 Feb

Candolim beach_Chandra, masseuse

This is Chandra.  Aged 24, she works on the beach, providing sun lounger based body massages to tourists.  I first got to know her last November,  when she was shadowing her older sister and learning how to give a massage. It’s a popular career option here in Goa;  you learn from another woman and the only investment you need to make is in a large bottle of coconut oil (about 10p) and a flannel with which to remove the sand from your clients’ feet.

At that point, her sister Geetha (aged 37) was the Queen of the Sun Lounger and ruled her section of the beach with a rod of iron.  Geetha had been providing massages for 12 years and charged 500 rupees (c. £6.50) for an hour;  while she slapped the westerners around with coconut oil,  Chandra would crouch at the end of the sun lounger,  watching,  learning and occasionally making herself useful by fetching drinks from the nearby beach shack or adjusting an umbrella.  The beach shack owner paid her around £3.50 per day for helping out. 

On a good day,  Geetha would do 10-12 massages and refused absolutely to allow herself to be bargained down on price or to comply with requests,  usually,  so I was told, from male Russian tourists,  for a massage “around the side” – a euphemism for a “private” massage undertaken without swimwear.  I learned all this at the time and was impressed by her strength of personality and awareness of her own value.

When I came back this year,  there was no sign of Geetha and Chandra appeared to have graduated to Masseuse. When I asked after her sister,  she told me that Geetha has returned to Karnataka in order to have her 7th child; I was very surprised,  as I’d had no idea that she was pregnant,  but Chandra just shrugged and said “she hide it in sari”. Chandra told me that Geetha would be returning to Goa next November when the 2010/2011 season starts and was keen to retain her pitch on that bit of beach,  so they had agreed between them that Chandra would take over between Christmas and March – providing maternity cover,  I suppose.  

Of course,  Chandra lacks Geetha’s expertise,  so she charges a little less (£5) and is also much less busy – yesterday she did three massages; today, only one.  She manages to keep up with her shack based duties so she does earn that money as her basic wage,  but she’s clearly worried about cash.  Unlike Geetha,  she has more time to chat and is grateful to sit next to a friendly face and talk,  especially if you buy her a Coke or a bottle of water, or both.

Chandra can’t read or write and never went to school;  she has learned (quite good) English and some Russian from working on the beach for the last 8 years. She told me that she and Geetha are the top and tail end of a family of 8 children – Geetha’s the oldest, Chandra is the baby. She also told me that her father drank; he  died when she was 13, leaving Chandra,  the only child still living with her parents, and her mother, virtually destitute.  To help the family finances,  Chandra married aged 14 and went to live,  as is the custom,  with her husband’s family. Shortly afterwards,  her mother moved to Mumbai to live with a cousin and find work and Chandra hasn’t since seen her.  She had her first baby aged 15 and now has three children – two girls and a boy.

She is extremely proud that her children go to school and can read and write;  she wants them all to stay at school until they are at least 16 and to then get good jobs – “never ever work on beach,  not be like me!” she said, with great passion and fervour.

Each October, Chandra and her husband leave their children with his parents and take an 18 hour bus journey from Karnataka to Goa. They rent a room in a village about 5 miles inland and live there until early April. Chandra’s husband works in a clothes shop in the nearby resort of Calangute and seems to keep her on a tight rein; he calls her several times a day to see how much money she’s made and she has told me that he’s “not a good man”. One day, she had a black eye; he’d hit her the night before when she returned home with one thousand rupees (about £13.00) less than she’d previously told him she’d earned;  she thinks that she lost the money from her waist purse when she opened it and the wind blew the notes away.  Like her father (in fact,  like many men, according to other stories I’ve heard here), he drinks and,  in that regard, Chandra is happy that her children are away from him for half the year,  as she tells me that her in-laws are “very good people”.

Back in Karnataka, Chandra doesn’t work and told me that she enjoys being at home with her mother-in-law, cooking and cleaning. Her husband takes work on a day to day basis as a labourer and she says that they rely on their savings from Goa to tide them through between April and October, as sometimes her husband will only work for a few days each week,  or not at all.

Goa is full of Chandras, Geethas and women like them; just another aspect of the prism of womanhood in this vast, mysterious country.

Girls around the world need you to buy this book

30 Jan

“Because I am a girl  – I am less likely to go to school.

Because I am a girl – I am more likely to suffer from malnutrition.

Because I am a girl – I am more likely to suffer violence in the home.

Because I am a girl – I am more likely to marry and start a family before I reach my twenties.

Seven authors have visited seven different countries and spoken to young women and girls about their lives, struggles and hopes. The result is an extraordinary collection of writings about prejudice, abuse, and neglect, but also about courage, resilience and changing attitudes. Proceeds from sales of this book will go to PLAN, one of the world’s largest child-centered community development organisations.”

And last week I attended the very moving launch of the “Because I Am A Girl” book at Waterstones in Piccadilly. I bought four copies and have since read my own copy twice.  From my time in corporate life,  I know how powerful story telling can be as a way to get a message across; this collection of stories (which are both fiction and non-fiction) is part of Plan’s campaign to raise awareness and break the cycle of poverty which so impacts women,  by educating girls and investing in women.  As Marie StauntonPlan’s Chief Executive, said at the launch event:

“Girls are often invisible in the developing world – and because they’re not valued, they don’t feel valued.  They’re less likely to go to school than boys, more likely to experience violence, poverty and sexual abuse …”

The stories are set in Togo, Sierra Leone, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Ghana, Uganda and Cambodia and the book features contributions from renowned authors such as Kathy Lette, Deborah Moggach (who were both at the launch, and who signed my copies of the book), Irvine Welsh and Joanne Harris.  As well as Marie’s very moving descriptions of Plan’s work,  we were also able to hear Kathy and Deborah reading extracts from their stories. Actors and Plan supporters Larry Lamb (who had just returned to the UK from a week in Senegal for Plan; the next evening I saw him on TV at the National Television Awards … talk about a diverse life …) and Joanne Froggatt read from the stories set in Togo and Santa Domingo in the DR.

Here’s an extract from Kathy Lette’s story about her trip to Brazil:

“I wanted to tell the story of one girl. But all the girls I met – Maria, Jeanine, Rosana, Lorena, Amanda, Marina, Cintia, Melissa, Nataly, Teresa, Ana and Johanna – had the same sad tale. It’s a story of child prostitution, teenage pregnancy, HIV, no contraception, illegal back-street abortion, sex tourism, single mothers, macho men, irresponsible, absentee fathers and domestic violence.”  

The book also features, as the other non-fiction contribution, a very damning piece from Marie Phillips (author of “Gods Behaving Badly”,  a really wonderful novel) based on her visit to Uganda and her shock at how the responsibility for sexual abuse is placed on girls and not their attackers. I think this was a brave stance for Plan to take,  in terms of including it in the anthology; I’m sure it would have been easier to leave it out,  or ask Marie to re-visit her article and change the focus.  Instead,  it is included,  as is a piece from Plan’s Uganda Country Manager, explaining why Plan takes the stance that they do and what impact this having for girls in the country to date.

At the end of the readings,  we had an opportunity to ask questions and an audience member asked Marie Staunton how she would spend £10,000 and make a difference. Looking a little taken aback,  she immediately passed the question over to two of her team,  the Plan Country Managers for India and Uganda,  who both replied that they would like to spend such money on extra, separate toilet facilities for schools,  as the lack of toilets is often an issue for girls,  especially when menstruating; the Uganda manager also told us that many schools in her country are boarding schools in remote rural areas and so she would like more money to spend on bicycles to make it easier for girls to actually get to the schools or home to visit their families.

Publishers Random House are donating all of the book’s profits to Plan – so please,  buy a copy today (Amazon have it at a substantial discount,  and it’s also currently included in Waterstones “3 for 2” promotion).  Together, we can make a difference to girls around the world.


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