At the beginning of March, I had the privilege to go to Dallas for an International Women’s Day celebration at the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Part of the celebration included the Women’s Initiative Fellowship class graduation, which wrapped up the unforgettable year I’ve had as a mentor in the program.
The Women’s Initiative Fellowship gives select women from the Middle East and North Africa the opportunity to hone their leadership and communication skills during a month long visit to the United States, where they learn from top executives and visit the New York Stock Exchange, Google Headquarters, and other hubs of industry. Once they return home, each Fellow is charged with taking action to build civil society in her country and is paired with an American woman in their field who serves as their mentor. This year I mentored a young woman named Insaf, who was starting recycling and anti-litter campaigns in schools. She is the best!
As the founder of Zero Waste Tunisia, Insaf has given radio interviews, hosted a conference on Zero Waste, built a team of ambassadors, and partnered with international organizations doing similar work. Her focus is educating children, the next generation, and she has already taught in over ten schools to date. One of the women who runs this program described Insaf and the other fellows as “‘Founding Mothers’ of Tunisia,” and I could not agree more! Insaf is bursting with ideas and energy, and I’ve loved witnessing the huge impact she’s made in just one year.
The celebration for International Women’s Day and the Women’s Initiative Fellowship graduation was a two day affair, beautiful from beginning to end. On the first night, we had a reception with the other mentors and Tunisian fellows. The last time we had seen each other was in Prague, and so it was good to catch up!
Mrs. Bush dropped by for a bit. She and President Bush are very invested in the program, and even host the Fellows at their home for dinner during their time in the United States.
Greta van Susteren, an anchor of Fox News, moderated the discussion that evening with Mrs. Bush and Razia Jan, an Afghan woman who has founded free schools for girls in her country.
Razia spoke of young girls being killed outside schools, and widows being stoned for leaving the house alone. Laura Bush said it was important for the United States to remain engaged in Afghanistan. The ladies were seated over an Arzu rug, handwoven by Afghan women. The book they discussed, We are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope, can be found online at Amazon here.
The following day was rainy. After speaking at UT Dallas, Insaf and I slipped away to the Dallas Art Museum just as the worst of the storm came. (I could have just as soon napped, but Insaf and I live by the “must do it all!” philosophy.)
The graduation ceremony was held that evening at the Dallas Arboretum, and though the weather prevented a tour of the gardens, the night was perfect. Each of the Fellows donned a cap and gown and after dinner they were presented with diplomas.
One great quote I heard that night was, “Girls compete with one another. Women empower one another.”
Empowering other women is in itself empowering! Each one of these women is doing something to make her mark on the future of Tunisia, from creating a YouTube Channel to showcase Tunisian women, (a must see–so cute) to hosting counter-terrorism conferences. Like a chain reaction, as I watched them take on the world, I couldn’t help but feel energized and motivated towards my own goals.
I can’t wait to see where they are in ten years. Though they may be so far down the path to success that they are mentoring me.
Thank you so much to the Bush Center and Insaf for an unforgettable year. I learned so much and had an incredible time.