By Linda Lockhart, Founder of the Global Give Back Circle and Nicole Goldin, Senior Advisor in USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning
Vivian O. was born in the outskirts of Kisumu, Kenya, and is said to have entered the world smiling. Life for Vivian and others in her rural fishing village was challenging, requiring families to rely on ingenuity and perseverance in the face of little resources. With the support of her family and her local community, the opportunities created by U.S. assistance programs, and the force of her determination, Vivian would achieve more than she’d ever imagined.
By the time Vivian finished fourth grade, her mother had a stable job selling used clothes in the open-air market in Kisumu. Girls in rural communities like Vivian’s typically receive a low level of schooling. However, having completed high school herself, Vivian’s mother prized education and overcame obstacles to enroll Vivian in a proper primary school. Vivian was one of the top students in her province and eventually secured a place at Starehe Girls’ Centre, a highly competitive secondary school for gifted girls.
While in high school, Vivian became a member of the Global Give Back Circle, a circle of empowerment designed to transition a girl from poverty to prosperity. The program mentors and supports girls so they can successfully transition from high school to college to a career and to global citizenship. As the girls graduate, they commit to mentoring the next generation of girls in the circle.
In 2011, USAID announced a $3.5 million award for the education and empowerment of girls through the Global Give Back Circle. The award is matched by an additional $3.5 million in private sector funds through a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment, so that the program can help over 500 Kenyan girls progress to higher levels of education and employment. The process is implemented by the Kenya Community Development Foundation—a program by Kenyans for Kenyans.
Vivian has had many opportunities through the Global Give Back Circle. She completed a nine-month Microsoft IT course, which allowed her to access educational resources online, research colleges, and obtain a full scholarship to a U.S. college. She is studying pre-med and IT, aspiring to give back by helping millions through the connection of technology and medicine. Vivian met the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, and pledged to actively participate in improving investments in people in Kenya. As a result, she made presentations to private sector CEOs in Kenya and invited them to invest in girls. Vivian says, “I feel privileged and honored to be able to be a voice for the empowerment of girls in my country.”
On March 8, 2011, Vivian joined two other young women of excellence—Maryam from Afghanistan and Terhas from Ethiopia—as special guests to the State Department’s International Women of Courage Awards, followed by a private meeting with Secretary Clinton. Vivian then visited the White House as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama for a celebration of International Women’s Day. Two sixth-grade girls, who have benefited from a girls education program in Burkina Faso administered by the Millennium Challenge Corporation in partnership with USAID, also attended.
At the event, Mrs. Obama said, “We as a nation benefit from every girl whose potential is fulfilled, from every woman whose talent is tapped,” adding that countries worldwide are more prosperous and peaceful “when women are equal and have the rights and opportunities they deserve.”