A direct report from GoPhil partner Free To Shine. (5-minute reading time)

Free To Shine envisions a Cambodia where educated girls, free from sex trafficking, are shaping and leading their communities and country. A core component of this vision is increasing the number of women in leadership positions within Cambodia. To achieve this, we must begin by investing in the next generation of women leaders; we must begin by investing in the leadership potential within the girls in our program.

“Empowering adolescent girls is investing in a brighter future. Giving them the opportunities they deserve leads to healthier families, strengthened economies, and more equitable societies.”
• UNICEF 2017 •

Every day around the world, girls are prevented from making decisions, raising their voices, and becoming leaders within their communities because of discriminatory social norms and limited access to resources. In Cambodia, despite making up 51% of the population, women face discrimination both socially and economically, and women remain underrepresented in politics. Only 7% of the village leaders and 5% of school directors that Free To Shine work with are women, which also means that the girls on our program don’t often see female leadership role models in their daily lives. At Free To Shine we model gender equity and believe in the incredible potential of girls as leaders and change-maker, prioritizing increasing the rates of women in leadership positions as one of our three core organizational objectives.

The Emerging Leaders Program was first proposed by one of our Education Officers. During their monthly safety visits with the girls on our program, our team found that many of the girls expressed a desire to give back to their community. One girl, in particular, was passionate about teaching and education. With the support and encouragement of the Free To Shine team, she soon began to organize free weekly tutoring sessions for the children in her community. These tutoring sessions provided an opportunity for her to grow and develop her leadership skills while creating a positive impact in her community. We were inspired by this girl, and the many others on our program who share her drive to make the world a better place, to create our Emerging Leaders Program.

Free To Shine’s Emerging Leaders Program consisted of a series of six skill-building workshops, quarterly project supervision, ongoing mentorship, and resources to support 24 fledgling leaders in developing their leadership skills and implementing community projects. Despite the challenges they face in their academic and personal lives, so many of the girls on our program are eager to share their knowledge with younger siblings, friends, or neighbors, or take action to improve their communities. The Emerging Leaders Program provided these girls with the skills and resources they need to create lasting change in their communities and country.

“The knowledge that I got from the Emerging Leaders Program are how to make good schedules, knowing more about my strengths and how to change my mindset to develop myself. I also learned about group discussion and future planning. I am also braver to express my opinions with the people that I do not know. Now, I also know how to make good relationships with friends and teachers. This program helped me to gain more confidence and skills in public speaking and gain more experience from Free To Shine staff. It also helped me to find better solutions to deal with problems and it helped me to achieve my goals. In the future, I want to be a teacher.” – Dina, Free To Shine Student

The program fits seamlessly into Free To Shine’s current model and the workshops are both designed and facilitated by the Free To Shine team. Each team member has also been matched with an emerging leader for quarterly supervision and ongoing mentorship to ensure each girl is getting the support and resources they need to grow into powerful agents of change.

“I learned a lot from the Emerging Leaders Program such as goal setting, how to run a project, leadership, positive thinking and self-motivation. The program helped me to gain more bravery. It taught me to think about the future. Especially, it made me want to be a leader. Before joining the program, I was not brave enough to have big dreams. This program has changed me. Now I have more ideas in developing project from small to bigger. I am more enthusiastic, more hard-working, and I can think about and identify the positivity and negativity. My goal in the future, before joining the Emerging Leaders Program, I wanted to be a teacher. Now I want to be an author.” – Theavy, Free To Shine Student

We observed that all students showed increased confidence & self-assuredness since the beginning of the program, in the areas of public-speaking and fielding questions during their presentations; the management of their projects; and how they can now define their career goals.

At the end of the program, our overall retention rate is 66.67%. Sadly, of the original 24, 8 have left the program, due to several factors: early marriage and forced obligations to help support their families being the significant ones. We have just applied for a UN Women’s grant to strengthen our social work program in the broader Covid context and address more instances where these issues arise, which will build on our capacity to be able to intervene and keep potential leaders on our program in the future.

“Free To Shine works with hundreds of girls, and there are always a few ‘stand outs’ who demonstrate special qualities that are recognised in leaders but that cannot necessarily be taught. The Emerging Leadership program has given this select group of girls the opportunity to harness those innate characteristics through learning about leadership, increasing self-efficacy, building confidence, developing skills and creating meaningful projects within their local communities. The impact of the Emerging Leadership program has not only beneficial to the individuals involved, but also to their families, communities and will be far reaching in building future female leaders for Cambodia. Thank you so much to GoPhil for their insight and innovation in funding this invaluable program.”
• Fee, Free To Shine Program Manager

Our team will continue to follow up with the girls’ projects on a monthly basis as part of regular visits, and will assist with rotation of books around the different libraries. Many students who are running libraries have said they would like to adapt to teaching classes once Covid restrictions are fully lifted, which we will assist with through provision of necessary additional materials.

To learn more our partnership with Free To Shine or to make a donation, please visit one of the links below.