Peacebuilding through education innovation for women leaders worldwide
By Amanda Luz
When I came to the U.S. to study how education and technology could better support people to collaborate and transform their communities, I certainly couldn’t imagine how urgent this goal would feel just one year later. As the COVID-19 pandemic quickly shifted our interactions to fully online on a global scale, we all have been learning how to socially interact while physically separated and how to work towards a new shared future despite the many differences we have within our communities.
I have been gathering as much information and experience as possible about the challenges and opportunities we are facing on a collective level, with a driving question in mind: as we move forward with new policies and new social contracts, how do we make sure we don’t leave any voices behind?
My driving force: Supporting diverse women leaders towards a sustainable peace
“Society will start demanding leaders that act with care, solidarity and that come back to the community” – Susana Muhamad, activist in Colombia
I grew up hearing that there is a specific time and a specific tone in which a woman should speak if she wanted to be listened to. There were also topics and spaces that a woman shouldn’t get herself involved in “unless she wanted to make her life more difficult”. A lot of people still think this way today.
But as more women raise their voices in the public space, take leadership roles, and re-shape gender expectations, we see that their diverse perspectives are fundamental in creating innovation towards lasting positive change. As an example, for the past few months, researchers have been looking at women-led countries and asking “why they are doing significantly better with Covid-19”?
I always believed in the power of diverse women’s voices creating a more inclusive social narrative. As a journalist and editor of digital publications for women in Brazil, I was responsible for building innovative strategies to bring diversity to online content for almost a decade. In 2015, I went to South by Southwest (Austin, Texas) to talk about the dangers of being a woman and expressing your voice on social media on the panel “Why does the internet hate women?”.
In the past years, after many social and political changes in Brazil and worldwide boosted by social media interactions, I started to wonder about the next step: shaping women’s voices into action and positive change.
The Rotary Peace Fellowship offered me the extraordinary opportunity to investigate that while pursuing an MA in Educational Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at UNC-Chapel Hill. For the past year, I took life-changing courses in topics such as collaborative learning, technology’s role in social movements, innovative education, and peacebuilding. Then, the Applied Field Experience (AFE) would be the next step to conclude the academic year practicing my newly acquired knowledge.
My AFE experience: Advancing women’s public leadership towards equality
“When a woman enters into politics, the woman changes. But when many women enter into politics, it is the politics that changed” – Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Chile
Last May, I started my internship at Vital Voices, an organization based in Washington D.C., U.S., focused on investing in women leaders who are solving the world’s greatest challenges. From my home in Chapel Hill because of COVID-19 restrictions, I have been supporting their Political and Civic Engagement (PCE) team that runs the VVEngage fellowship aimed at women political leaders making and influencing policy across the globe.
By conducting online and in-person training and creating a global network of peers and mentors, the VVEngage program supports elected women in-office and grassroots leaders on their leadership skills development and the advancement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for their communities. My main responsibility has been to support the planning and execution of webinars and training sessions that became fully online for the summer, in topics such as Leadership, Strategic Communications, Political Strategy, and Governance.
Even though we are in Zoom webinars, it has been inspiring to hear how the fellows are dealing with the aspects covered by the curriculum within their communities. They are mayors, congresswomen, councilwomen, activists. Some of them are in countries such as New Zealand, where the COVID-19 is under control, others are in communities much affected in Latin American.
From my working desk at home (and sometimes outside, when the summer weather was less intense), I could see how the fellows take ownership of evolving their network relationships and supporting each other throughout political changes in their different countries. I genuinely got teared up a couple of times, such as when they planned to write a group letter to one’s political party in “global support” of her candidacy. Or when a congresswoman told us that she decided to nominate herself for a leading role in Congress after asking herself “why not me?” — she eventually won the position and has, in just one month, passed eleven laws with cross-party support regarding children’s rights and women’s rights.
As the current cohort finishes their fellowship this summer, I have been planning with the PCE team on how to redesign aspects of the curriculum and experience for the full-online scenario. The main challenge of creating a safe space for learning and building a community online is on our team’s minds.
I had the chance to play with some of the learning data from the previous cohort to interpret insights for the new cohort curriculum. And I also have been working on a report of educational innovation best practices and recommendations to present at the end of my internship. These are just some of the experiences that I plan to take with me as my new academic year begins.
Next academic year: Combining research and practice into a final project
“Any attempt to give new life to a substantive democratic politics must address both how people learn to be political agents and what kind of educational work is necessary within many kinds of public spaces” – Henry Giroux, American-Canadian scholar
I plan to use this AFE experience as a starting point and a “real-life” inspiration for my final project when I graduate next summer. I hope to develop until then the basis of a curricular program aimed at women leaders in Latin America to support peacebuilding for more equitable and sustainable communities.
As the end of Summer 2020 and the prospects of a new semester with both online and tentative in-person classes at UNC are around the corner, I feel we will keep learning how to deal with this new reality.
I also feel that the initial motivations that brought me to the RPF and Chapel Hill are recharged. It has not been an easy summer for anybody, of course. But reflecting on the past academic year experience, I feel a little hopeful. Because in the face of such challenging times, it is when our peacebuilding work as a collective group, locally and as a global community, becomes more clearly needed and the possibilities of our dreams more palpable.