Could the same grassroots organizing and powerful storytelling from Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign for the United States be scaled up to transform the women’s rights movement?
Resonate, a leadership-training program based in Rwanda, thinks so. The program teaches women public speaking and leadership skills they can put to use to help empower themselves and lead their communities.
“If we want women to be at the forefront of a movement to build prosperity, it is not enough just to ask them to speak out,” says Resonate founder Ayla Schlosser. “We must give them the tools to make their voices resonate.”
Pleas to amplify women’s voices are everywhere. But Schlosser wants to make sure those voices are trained and focused around narratives that will connect with broader communities.
Resonate’s Storytelling for Leadership program is based on the narrative-framework model of Marshall Ganz, the community organizer credited with building the grassroots platform for Obama’s 2008 campaign. He’s an advisor and friend to Schlosser who adopted the model for Resonate.
Leaders learn how to quickly tell their story to establish relationships with their audience, be it a voter, a council or a group of workers. What made Ganz so successful was that he taught people to connect the values and interests of themselves and the voters with the candidate Obama. What Martin Luther King Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now” focused the voter’s hopes on the imminent election. The importance of relationships, rather than campaign platforms, dominated the Camp Obama training program for campaign workers.
“I thought this skill set is applicable in many contexts beyond winning campaigns,” says Schlosser, who learned about Ganz’s methodology while working in Washington D.C. as a community organizer. “Our Storytelling for Leadership course is central to how we approach all of our leadership work. Having the confidence to voice opinions and goals is a necessary skill for leaders, and teaching Storytelling for Leadership can leverage existing skills into qualities of leadership.”
Resonate compliments existing programs geared towards educating women in leadership positions to define their values and articulate their missions. Building confidence and public speaking and team management skills can be the key to implementing community-based solutions. The training modules are the groundwork for the overarching mission to encourage female leaders and build communities where all people are respected and valued. The curriculum includes practical applications in their communities—anything from applying for a scholarship to running for government.
The coaches also offer a Train the Trainer workshop in Storytelling for Leadership, building long-term capacity of partner organizations and integrating the model into their programs.
Benigne, 23, has always wanted to become an engineer. She faced a financial obstacle and felt stuck. Through the Resonate training she was able to identify past obstacles, reflect on how she overcame them and reimagine herself as “strong and capable.” She went on to university and is now a coach for Resonate to inspire other young girls to persevere.
Getting women more involved in leading these communities is about more than equality; it’s also vital to building stronger economies. According to the World Bank, an educated girl will reinvest 90 percent of her future income on her family and within her community towards education, agriculture and small businesses. For boys, that figure is just 35 percent.
One of the biggest hurdles Resonate encounters is simply getting girls to imagine themselves in leadership roles. Women hold just 19 percent of elected offices globally and own less than 2 percent of land in developing countries. So there are few role models or clear paths to empowerment.
“It’s hard and scary to imagine yourself in the role of a leader,” Schlosser says. “But when you actually put it into action, you can look back and have it as a real data point.” To help with this, Resonate trainers encourage participants to reframe their pasts as a series of challenges that the have already overcome so they can start to build their own personal narratives of empowerment.
As Watson demonstrated in her speech at the UN, speaking compellingly about yourself or your work can be the difference between keeping an idea tucked away and rallying others to your cause. “There are unique ways you can support people who have an understanding of your perspective and the limitations you face,” Schlosser says. “Maybe when we’ve finally achieved equality the role of this space will change.”
A version of this post originally appeared on UNREASONABLE.is.
Author: Cayte Bosler
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: via Ayla Schlosser, used with permission from Resonate