Sarah Baker recently completed a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship with SOS Children’s Villages – USA. Sarah holds an MA in International Media from American University and graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Communication from Auburn University at Montgomery. In this blog post, Sarah reflects on her experience supporting media relations and communication initiatives as a member of the communications and marketing team at SOS headquarters in Washington DC.
Becoming a Global Communicator through My HPC Fellowship
by Sarah Baker
Growing up at the foot of an extinct volcano in Germany’s Swabian Alps didn’t make me strive to become a great global communicator—being uprooted from there and plopped onto the dry, red clay roads of Alabama did.
It took me a long time to realize the value of living a life between two very different cultures, but when the realization came, it profoundly influenced my professional ambitions. I came to understand that in order to be effective in most anything—both professionally and personally—one must be able to communicate.
Equipped with this revelation and an endless supply of idealism, it only made sense to try to put my experiences and education to use effecting meaningful change in the world. Being named a Fellow by the Hilton Prize Coalition has given me a foothold in the non-profit world as well as an unmatched opportunity to learn about what it takes to succeed in a fast-paced, globally-minded and dynamic communications team.
I believe that one of the key components to solving global issues of all sorts is effective communication. For non-profits, one of the most impactful ways to spread their message is through the creation and implementation of communications campaigns built on strong, cause-driven narratives. At SOS Children’s Villages, I have been afforded the opportunity to advance and contribute to such campaigns.
SOS Children’s Villages builds families for orphaned, abandoned and other vulnerable children in 134 countries around the world. The organization’s most recent campaign implores donors to “Invest in a Girl” and complements its mission of child protection and empowerment by focusing on a group that often finds itself facing many more barriers than other segments of the global population.
Studies have shown that investing in girls creates long-term social and economic benefits for the whole world. If a girl has a stable family, an education and a healthy and safe environment, she can lift herself and her community out of poverty.
This belief in the idea that meaningful investment is integral to success permeates every part of SOS—from its work in the field to its management of its offices. Decisions there are made to promote long-term success rather than short-term gain. And so it has been for me throughout my fellowship.
As a marketing and communications fellow, I’ve been regarded as a full-fledged member of the team and have been tasked with eye-opening responsibilities that are nothing short of crucial in furthering my professional development. My time at SOS has been spent doing media outreach, crafting media pitches, copy writing, brand management, exploring potential editorial opportunities for our various campaigns and so much more. At SOS, my ideas are welcomed, my input is valued and my contributions are recognized.
One of my earliest assignments was an exercise in brand awareness and campaign promotion that led to me receiving a byline on Global Moms Challenge, which supports the United Nations’ Every Woman Every Child Initiative to help women and children around the world lead healthy lives. The story I wrote revolves around Olympic soccer star and SOS alum Mavis Chirandu. Mavis cites her experience growing up in an SOS Village in Zimbabwe as the reason she felt empowered to pursue her dreams of soccer stardom. It was inspiring to read about her success and to see just how right SOS is about the importance of providing a home and family for every child.
This type of experience was not unusual. Another media outreach effort for which I was given sole responsibility led to positive engagements with a number of renowned media outlets, including TIME magazine. Yet another work day found me attending an event on Capitol Hill with my teammates, where we were able to share the impact and importance of SOS’s work to provide families to abandoned, orphaned and otherwise vulnerable children.
The SOS team’s focus on ensuring that my time with them was meaningful, coupled with my own desire to contribute to the organization’s mission, made it easy and enjoyable for me to invest myself in my work. The Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows Program has given me an incredibly valuable experience that I know will influence me both personally and professional throughout my life.
Meaningful investment can take many forms—for me it manifested itself as genuine support and guidance from a team that is truly committed to its mission. What has set this experience apart from any other that I’ve had is the willingness that the SOS team has shown to invest its time and energy in me. It’s clear to me that the organization’s nearly 70-year track record has been made possible by its focus on making meaningful investments in all areas, and that in order for me to succeed that I, too, must make meaningful investments.
HPC Fellow, Sarah Baker, was put to the test in an Escape Room Live experience with her SOS – USA team.
@WithoutTorture: A Hilton @PrizeCoalition #Fellowship enabled Barbara to capture the stories of torture victims: http://bit.ly/2l3gvKe @IRCT
February 6 is International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM. Read about #HiltonPrize @Tostan and ‘s work #EndFGM: http://bit.ly/2k3rXVH
International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation
In 2003, the United Nations declared February 6th the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The day is designated to bring awareness to the dangers of FGM and “promote the sanctity of a woman’s autonomy over her body and health.” Also referred to as female genital cutting (FGC), the World Health Organization estimates that more than 200 million women and girls alive today were subjected to FGM.
Internationally, FGM is recognized as a violation of human rights and constitutes as an extreme form of discrimination and inequality against women. The United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution in 2012 to ban the practice, while urging countries to take a firm stance in condemning procedures. The resolution calls on countries to take all necessary measures to raise awareness and allocate sufficient resources to protect women and girls from reproductive violence. Currently, UNFPA, jointly with UNICEF, leads the largest global program to accelerate the abandonment of FGM, focusing on 17 African countries as well as supporting regional and global initiatives under the theme of: “Building a solid and interactive bridge between Africa and the world to accelerate ending FGM by 2030.”
Hilton Prize Laureates Amref Health Africa and Tostan are two best-in-class organizations contributing to the abandonment of FGM and the empowerment of women at the local level. Their holistic partnership approaches have resonated with governments, civil society, community leaders, and the world’s most vulnerable populations.
Below are some outcomes of their approach:
Amref Health Africa
Amref Health Africa (Amref) was awarded the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 1999 for their work on the most critical health issues in Africa. Through advocacy, research, and capacity building, the organization is committed to improving the health of Africans. As the largest health development organization in the continent, Amref constantly advocates for the rights of women, believing that sustainable development is only possible when women have equal opportunities.
Since 2007, Amref has implemented programs to eliminate the practice of FGM. These innovative programs work alongside communities in advancing health systems and education initiatives to accelerate the abandonment of the culturally accepted practice. Understanding that communities value cultural practices that commemorate the transition of girls into adulthood, Amref has worked with groups to create alternatives that prioritize health and well-being. One of their most notable programs, the Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP), is widely accepted by leaders as a substitute for FGM. “The Alternative Rites of Passage program allows girls to stay in school and contribute positively to the socio-economic growth of their communities and country,” said Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO, Amref Health Africa. In Kenya, more than 10,000 girls alone have graduated from the program thus avoiding the possibility of death, infection, and early childhood marriages.
Awarded the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2007, Tostan was established in 1991 with a mission to empower rural communities through sustainable development. The organization’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) applies a holistic approach to dialogue and inclusivity that has provided a foundation for conversations in communities previously absent from those discussions.
Tostan’s CEP program encourages its practitioners to understand human rights and develop programs leading groups away from the practice. Through CEP, participants learn about their shared responsibility to protecting a woman’s right to health and freedom from violence. Therefore, when creating programs addressing the health needs of the community, they also examine preventative measures and the long-term consequences of FGC.
Although contributing to the eradication of FGC was not an immediate goal of Tostan, according to the organization, more than 7,200 communities in Africa have publicly declared to abandon both FGC and the related practice of child/forced marriage, with 91 declarations formalized in ceremonies across eight countries. Public declarations “are critical in the process for total abandonment and necessary for building critical mass, eventually leading FGC to becoming a thing of the past,” states the organization. The governments of Senegal and The Gambia have respectively recognized CEP as their preferred method of engaging communities on harmful practices and have commended Tostan for their work in the region.
Both Amref and Tostan continue to enhance partnerships and programming that have had a tremendous impact on the abandonment of FGM. These organizations are prime examples of sustainable development conscious of human rights. We applaud them for their work and look forward to seeing much more from these laureates.
*image from the United Nations; #EndFGM social media campaign
(Sheetal Tuladhar at bottom row left, with BRAC ELA club members)
Ms. Sheetal Tuladhar is currently a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with BRAC, the largest development organization in the world, which is devoted to empowering people living in poverty. Originally from Kathmandu, Nepal, she received her Master’s Degree in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University in 2014. In this blog post, Sheetal writes about her experience working in Nepal after the 2015 Nepal earthquakes, establishing BRAC as an INGO in the country, and the programs that have provided her with first-hand experience in the world of international development. Sheetal is also featured in the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program documentary “On Shifting Ground.”
In April and May 2015, two massive earthquakes and numerous aftershocks shook Nepal. Fast asleep in my Brooklyn apartment, I began to receive frantic calls from my Nepali friends living in the U.S. around 3:00 a.m. What followed was a series of attempts to call my parents and family back home in Kathmandu, without any success. Photos and videos started pouring in on social media of buildings and ancient cultural heritage sites collapsing and reducing to rubble. At the time I thought, everything is gone.
I had just finished a three-month internship with BRAC USA. As an eager and fresh Master’s graduate in Sustainable International Development, I was looking for opportunities to work in the development sector for an organization that had meaningful and true impact in the lives of poor people. Within a week of the earthquake, I received a call from BRAC USA to go to Nepal to help set up BRAC International’s newest office in Kathmandu as a Fellow. As unfortunate as the earthquakes had been, they gave me an opportunity to go back home, and as cliché as it may sound, to make a difference.
When the earthquakes struck Nepal, BRAC was one of the first global organizations to respond. With a six-member team from Bangladesh, the organization set up medical camps in coordination with the Government of Nepal-Ministry of Health and other international organizations, including CARE. Apart from the medical camps providing immediate relief, each BRAC staff member had the opportunity to contribute one day’s salary, and BRAC matched that amount to make a fund of USD 1.5 million to set up operations and work in long-term rehabilitation of earthquake-affected communities in Nepal. Over the next few months, BRAC registered as an INGO in Nepal and began implementing a reconstruction project in Kavre, one of the most affected districts.
During this project, BRAC Nepal built two permanent houses for two widow-headed households in the Sunthan and Charikot villages of Kavre district. At the same time, we launched pilot programs in health, sanitation and youth development to facilitate longer-term rehabilitation in the earthquake-affected community of Shyampati Village Development Committee (VDC) in Kavre. Due to the damages sustained to their toilets during the earthquake, residents of Shyampati were forced to use the forest to relieve themselves. BRAC Nepal is restoring and constructing new toilets to rehabilitate the 265 damaged in the earthquake to make Shyampati an open-defecation-free zone again.
During times of disaster and peace, women and girls are pillars of strength and resilience in the community. They have indeed become an instrumental part of BRAC’s programs in Nepal. Female community health volunteers (FCHVs) are a key component of the health system. Started in 1988 by the Government of Nepal, the FCHVs provide health services to communities in coordination with the VDC. BRAC Nepal is providing trainings to strengthen the capacity of existing FCHVs so that they can better provide health education, preventive and curative health services to their community members.
Another BRAC program in Nepal is known as Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA), which focuses on empowering adolescent girls. This is one of BRAC’s most successful initiatives worldwide and has proved especially valuable in Nepal. Despite a declining trend, child marriage is pervasive across Nepal. Ten percent of women are married before the age of 15, while 37 percent are married by the age of 18. Poverty is both a cause and a result of child marriage. Empowered adolescent girls are able to break the cycle of poverty, unlocking their economic potential through education, life skills and livelihood opportunities. The first of its kind in Nepal, ten ELA clubs have been set up as safe spaces for adolescent girls aged 11-21 to read, play and socialize. Some girls are trained as mentors, and through them, the other girls receive training in health and nutrition, life skills, livelihoods and financial literacy. Over the course of the program, they will also have the opportunity to be linked to microfinance institutions, to take out small loans for any income-generating livelihood activity they like.
To say that this has been a life-changing experience is an understatement. I always wanted to work in Nepal, but my younger self was only slightly aware of the challenges. After returning from eight years of (comfortable) living in the United States, I found myself overwhelmed by the dynamic, haphazard urbanization and population growth of Kathmandu as well as the intricate bureaucracy that must be navigated at every step of our work in Nepal. One day I would be addressing government officials at the national level, another I would be working with local community members to discuss their pressing needs, and then the next I would be meeting donors and INGOs to discuss potential collaborations to add value to the development of Nepal. While learning about my country, I get to learn and grow as an individual, personally and professionally.
As a part of the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program, I had the opportunity be a part of “On Shifting Ground,” a documentary that highlights the role of non-governmental organizations at the time of humanitarian crisis. Now as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, I have the opportunity to enhance my skills as a development practitioner in disaster resilience, learning first-hand how organizations working closely with communities can strengthen their own capacities to build the resilience of their beneficiaries.
(HPC Storytelling Program Director Steve Connors interviews Sheetal Tuladhar with beneficiaries in Nepal, February 2016)