I have always been a 'helper'. When I was little I used to have animal photos all over my room, with writings about how we should save them. When I was eleven, on Saturday mornings I had my parents drive me 45 minutes to the SPCA so I could volunteer. I most cleaned out the cat cages but I loved it.
In high school I thought I wanted to be a psychologist. I was the person who people came to to share their troubles with and loved giving advice. By the time I was in university I actually had a couch my friends coined 'the therapy couch'.
It was also in university that I took my first class related to development, 'The Culture of Poverty'. I became obsessed with trying to understand not only how as a world we could allow such shocking inequality to exist, but also how people living in poverty coped with their situations, both practically and mentally. I changed my major to international development and knew that this would be my future career.
After years of volunteering and traveling in many different developing countries, I finally got on a plane and made my way to West Africa after getting an internship with a Canadian NGO. I immediately fell in love with Ghana- the people, the colour, the energy. Tamale in Northern Ghana quickly became my second home, and has been for the past 12 years.
While I adored the people I was surrounded by in Ghana, the development industry left me feeling incredibly frustrated. With big development agencies, most decisions around programming were made abroad. Inclusion of local people in design and decision making virtually non-existent. Corruption, especially in upper management, was rampant. Everyone seemed to accept that little change for people in poverty was taking place while huge aid dollars were being poured in.
Some fresh faced foreigners would feel overwhelmed by the level of poverty, and were jaded by the way everyone in the development industry was more concerned with ensuring donor dollars continued to flow instead of seeing actual change for people who were struggling. While others saw hopelessness, I saw opportunity. So I decided to do something about it.
I interviewed hundreds of girls. I listened to their stories. I tried to understand the world from their perspective. I learned a lot. I could see the incredible potential that lay within them. They had ideas. They had dreams. Most importantly, most girls wanted the opportunity to change things, for themselves, for their families, and for other girls. They knew what needed to change, but they were completely powerless. After spending so much time getting to know so many young women, I was convinced that providing them with the opportunity to have a voice, to be included, to be provided with opportunities not just to be helped but to lead, we could actually create some real, tangible, sustainable change.
In 2008 Create Change Foundation began its journey. It was more difficult than I expected, especially trying to build a local team that was not going to approach development in the same way. It was only when we had educated and supported girls to the point where they could actually take part in leading the organization that the vision for Create Change Foundation started to truly become a reality.
In 2014 we decided to do the same thing with fundraising- turn it into an opportunity for girls and young women who wanted to create positive change. We designed programs that teach girls and young women about confidence, marketing, leadership, and social change, and offer them in exchange for an opportunity to lead the fundraising work we do for our work Ghana. Once again our work proved the powerful outcome of investing in girls who want to change the world, who are now our primary source of fundraising.
While we initially focused on education and skill building with all the girls we work with worldwide, we soon realized this wasn't all they needed. They also needed to help change their mindsets about what was possible. Girls would continuously aim low because they lacked confidence and didn't believe in how powerful they could be. So I studied to become a certified coach, specializing in working with mindset and with youth. We began to incorporate mindset and confidence in all of our programs, which resulted in new and amazing things even I didn't know were possible. Girls in Ghana began to aim for careers they never did previously, and developed concrete plans to lead change in the future. Girls in our fundraising programs began fundraising three times as much money.
Today, I am proud when I look back and see how far we've come, the work we have done to be truly inclusive, how we have continuously worked to improve our programs and their outcomes, and most importantly the fact that our work is not only about empowering girls to create change, but that the work is led by girls we have supported. The change that is created when you not only educate a girl, but show her that she can be powerful force in changing the world around her, is immeasurable, because she will in turn affect the lives of so many others. The reach Create Change has is so much bigger than the actual girls we work with. It is their families. It is their communities. It is all of us.