Who runs the world? Girls!

Charity stories

The globalisation of media has led so many of us to watch this generation of girls around the world in wonder. They fight for change, their education, their families and even their lives in a world that still tends to belittle their triumphs, control their bodies and take their freedom. Donors at The Gift Trust have had the chance to support some remarkable groups of young women across the country and around the world as they lead their peers, realise their dreams and change the world.

Image: Supplied – Smart Girls Uganda

Here are four stories from among our donors and Collectives that have inspired us. We hope they do the same for you.

Girls who Grow

Girls who Grow is a small organisation out to make a big difference. This female-led collective bucks the global trend of urbanisation, engaging teenage girls in climate positive farming and agriculture to ensure prosperous food systems for Aotearoa New Zealand’s future. We were excited to have them join our Gift Collective fundholding initiative. 

Despite primary industries bringing in 82 percent of the nation’s food and fibre export earnings, barely six percent of school leavers enter agriculture, forestry and allied sectors. MPI has estimated we need 25,000 new skilled workers across our primary industries by 2025. Currently, women make up 32% of the agricultural workforce and face significant barriers in the industry. No clear career narratives exist for women in this field. 

Alongside this, the Girls who Grow team have noted the issue of eco-anxiety among young women, which is dramatically on the rise. In fact, nearly 60% of young people have reported to feel very worried or extremely worried about climate change, yet many don’t understand how agriculture can be part of the climate solution. Girls who Grow co-founders Aimee Blake and Catherine van der Meulen are determined to do something about it.

The group have hosted workshops for 15 – 17 year old girls in schools across the South Island since their launch in 2021, along with on-farm experiences. They’ve sought feedback from their students and 97% of them said they would consider further studies in subjects relevant to food and fibre production, and environmental stewardship.

Addressing gender inequalities in agrifood systems reduces hunger, boosts the economy, and reinforces resilience to shocks like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. Aimee says a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) shows that women’s equality in agrifood systems could boost the global economy by $1 trillion and reduce food insecurity. Project Drawdown also ranked educating women and girls as the sixth most effective solution to climate action in order of impact across a list of 100.

Smart Girls Uganda

We were so excited when Jill Ford, lead donor of our Feminista Fund brought to our attention the remarkable work being done at Smart Girls Uganda. This organisation’s mission is to empower and mentor girls by developing their confidence and life skills. They aim to improve their ability to realise their dreams, and to contribute to positive social transformation.

Smart Girls was founded in 2012 and is Uganda’s leading youth women-led not for profit organisation. Each year they train and support 150 – 200 young girls and women in their programmes and train 20 – 30 peer educators to lead community development initiatives. Their vision is to see a nation where girls have self-esteem, are engaged, have the ability to make decisions, and create visionary change.

Their approach is thorough and holistic. Focusing on the behavioural and systematic change amongst young girls and women to improve their livelihood creates a more supportive environment for young girl’s and women’s development. The team are also proudly delivering grassroot programmes in underserved areas and slums.

Their innovative Girls with Tools project hosts a series of 3 month to 2 years hands–on courses for up to 200 young women, training them in vocational areas like machinery welding, automotive mechanics, electric installation, carpentry, construction and house painting. This programme also includes arts and crafts like tailoring, basket weaving and much more. The girls also receive additional workshop training that includes entrepreneurship, life skills, gender issues and financial literacy. They partner the girls with local workshops and garages to provide them with job opportunities and encourage them to start their own businesses in these sectors upon course completion.

Association of Teen Parent Educators of NZ Inc (ATPENZ)

We came across this small organisation made up of great minds when conducting research for one of our donors. Our remit was to find organisations working to support teenage mothers to ensure they had access to education and career pathways. Two of our donors have now provided the group with funding to help girls stay in school.

ATPENZ was created to support the 24 Teen Parent Units nationally who promote and further the education of students who are teenage parents. The organisation’s volunteer board consists of teachers from Teen Parent Units around the country, so their knowledge of needs in this field is second to none. 

The rate of teen parents per head of population in Aotearoa is on a downward trend, but those experiencing parenthood at a young age often experience disadvantage to a truly alarming level. In New Zealand benefits are not offered to those under the age of 16 as these young people are expected to be in parental care. Due to a range of circumstances this is often not the case, and when it is, at times home is not the safest place to be.

The plan for the new funding for ATPENZ includes addressing the situation sometimes experienced by these ‘very young parents’ in the 14 and 15 year old range. These young mothers often drop out of school due to an inability to afford school supplies and basic care. 

All units are funded by the Ministry of Education, however, this funding does not always cover the support that is required. Our donors chose to give funding to ATPENZ to spend on their greatest need, and the greatest needs of the little families they care for. It’s early days for this fund, but the group is already considering their first purchases from this newly established fund. Drop us a line if you’d like to add to the fund!

MAIA Impact School

In Guatemala, only 1 in 10 girls will graduate from high school, 66% of women live in poverty, and nearly 60% of girls become a mother before the age of 20. Indigenous girls in rural communities may face even further challenges and discrimination. Our colleagues at Move92 brought this remarkable organisation to our attention and to the attention of our Feminista Fund, who happily sent some funding their way. 

In 2017, a group of local leaders in Guatemala began asking, what would happen if indigenous girls could continue their education beyond secondary school? Just how far could they go if given the right opportunities? These are the inquiries that led to the launch of MAIA Impact School, Central America’s first ever secondary school for Indigenous girls.

MAIA Impact School provides secondary education (grade 7-11) to 250-300 girls a year.  Each girl receives a full academic scholarship that also includes two meals a day, books, school supplies, uniforms and hygiene kits. Being female, indigenous, poor and from rural areas has held generations of Indigenous girls and women back from pursuing their full potential. MAIA Impact School is on a mission to change that.

Nearly all girls at MAIA Impact School are the first in their family to receive this level of education and training. They are changing the landscape of Guatemala by obtaining an education, entering the workforce, becoming leaders, and helping shift intergenerational poverty that has plagued their communities for decades. The leadership team at MAIA is a testament to the difference they are making; 79% of staff are Indigenous Mayan, 87% of staff are female and 27 % of staff are MAIA graduates.  

What makes MAIA Impact School unique is their holistic approach to education. Families are involved in every aspect of the 6 year academic journey, offering parents an opportunity to learn alongside their daughters. In parallel to academic offerings, MAIA prioritises leadership and career development, confidence in public speaking, and mentoring from other Indigenous women leaders based on the concept, “If I can see it I can be it”. In 2023 the leadership of MAIA Impact School shifted into the hands of two Indigenous women who now serve as Co-Executive Directors. This is the first of what they hope to be many Indigenous women striving for and achieving leadership roles throughout Guatemala with the help of quality education and people believing in them. 

The Gift Trust was delighted to work with the Feminista Fund and our colleagues at Move92 to support MAIA’s work this year. 

TŌNUI Collab – Kōhine Robotics

Women are underrepresented in tech, according to TechWomen, occupying only 23 percent of tech roles. Fewer than one in 20 girls consider a high-paid career in STEM compared to one in five boys. TŌNUI Collab Charitable Trust wanted to specifically address this disparity of kōhine (girls) Māori in tech, by facilitating wānanga for kōhine throughout the year and culminating with a Kōhine Robotics Expo in Turanganui-a-Kiwa. The Gift Trust team found this incredible organisation through our philanthropic research.

In 2023, TŌNUI Collab initiated a Kōhine Robotics Kaupapa, supporting ten teams of Year 6 – 9 girls from kura across Te Tairāwhiti to experiment with VEX IQ Robotics, develop confidence with a range of technologies, learn about study and career pathways in tech, and hear from wāhine thriving in tech. In 2024 the kaupapa is growing with more kura from across Te Tairāwhiti getting involved. In addition to the robotics exploration, Tōnui Collab also invites wāhine Māori thriving in different tech roles to come and speak to the kōhine, helping them hear from wāhine they can relate to, what a future in tech might look like.

These young minds have dedicated countless hours to designing, building and programming robots. They have embraced teamwork, problem-solving, and STEMM learning to develop their projects. Now they are eager to demonstrate their accomplishments and share their passion with our hapori whānui.

Being able to watch them grow as a whole rōpū has been amazing. We have some really amazing engineers and testers in these groups. They are problem-solvers and we want them to be able to learn the skills in tech and be able to transfer that into their hapū and iwi.

Less than 2 percent of the tech workforce is wahine Māori and that is something that must change. […] While this is better than the global average, it does still highlight a need for focused initiatives to engage kōhine in STEMM.

Shanon O’Connor – Director, TŌNUI Collab

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