Amanda Lindhout on the Transformational Power of Forgiveness

Amanda Lindhout thought she would be in and out of Somalia in a week with a ground-breaking article. When she left 460 days later, she had a personal story that no one could have predicted. Now, Amanda is an award winning humanitarian, social activist, public speaker and writer, as well as the Founder and former Executive Director of the Global Enrichment Foundation. Read on to learn how this inspiring woman found forgiveness through captivity.

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20 Years of Inspiration

To celebrate our 20 years in business influencing women and making a difference to them and the corporations that hire them, Carolyn Lawrence, CEO of Women of Influence, shares highlights from those two decades—the 20 best moments, lessons, insights, answers, and behind-the-scenes access with some of her favourite role models.

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It’s the 21st Century: We Have Work to Do

What were you doing at 18 to make a difference? How about 19? 20? Well, these remarkable young women are raising their voices for women’s advancement on a global scale.

BY COURTNEY SHEA

2013 G(irls)20 Summit delegates, Moscow, Russia.

Hillary Clinton recently said helping women and girls bypass barriers is “the unfinished business of the 20th century.” It’s the premise at the core of G(irls)20—an organization devoted to addressing global gender inequality by educating and empowering young women. The mainstay on the G(irls)20 calendar is a Summit held months before the annual G20 economic conference, in the same country. From August 21-28th, young female delegates between 18 and 20 years old, representing each of the G20 countries (as well as the African Union, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Middle East and North Africa) will gather in Sydney, Australia to discuss and design solutions for the economic advancement of girls and women. Last year, the delegates got the chance to go over their recommendations with Ksenia Yudaeva, the Sherpa to President Vladimir Putin of Russia. “This year our goal is to get an audience with the Australian prime minister—so far it looks promising,” says Farah Mohamed, the organization’s Founder and CEO, which stands for Chief Empowering Officer.

farah mohamed
Farah Mohamed, Founder
and CEO, G(irls)20.

Mohamed grew up in Toronto after coming to Canada with her parents as a two-year-old refugee from Uganda. “I was raised with a strong sense of giving back to the country that let us in,” she says. She founded G(irls)20 in 2010 while she was working as the President of the Belinda Stronach Foundation. One of the goals of the BSF is to incubate pro-female initiatives like G(irls)20, but when the time came to set this particular baby free, Mohamed wasn’t ready to let go. “I went to Belinda and said, ‘I think this is my next move,’” she says.

Mohamed jokes that she doesn’t have the typical feminist pedigree: “I didn’t take gender studies, I’ve never attended a protest. A lot of organizations do a great job of addressing gender inequality as a human rights issue. For us, it’s about economics—a country cannot achieve growth or even stability without engaging its female population.”

If the gender divide is more extreme in some countries than others, Mohamed says that it’s the common ground that sticks out over the week-long gatherings where girls attend skill-building workshops. “In 2012 we had the daughter of an ambassador and the daughter of a coal miner. Completely different perspectives, from different countries, and yet when you put them at the same table, they have many of the same challenges: access to education, access to opportunity, making sure that their voices are heard,” says Mohamed. Bonding among delegates is natural.

The hope is that after leaving the Summit, they will remain part of an international network of likeminded women who support each other’s ambitions. “The point isn’t just to make a bunch of new best friends, sing Kumbaya and go home,” says Mohamed. “We want these girls to go home and put their initiatives into action.” Meet three former G(irls)20 delegates who have done just that.

riana shah
Riana Shah, 22
Home country: India.
2011 Delegate,
Paris Summit

What was it like to grow up in India?
I didn’t have access to the best education. Public education in India is not strong. The school I went to was very focused on memorization. There was an idea of problems being black-and-white and we were constantly asked for the “right” answer. We didn’t have any freedom to be innovative.

How significant is the gender divide in your home country?
It’s pretty significant. Educating a boy is still considered a better investment, since males stay with their families, where as females generally join their husband’s family.

How did you become a delegate?
I was nominated by an organization called Summer Search, where I was working as a volunteer. It’s an organization that helps low income youth realize their potential. I had worked on gender-related initiatives throughout high school—It’s a subject that has always been a passion for me.

How has being part of the Summit affected you?
I learned so much from all of the accomplished and interesting young people around me, but I think most of all being at the Summit encouraged me to think bigger. [Before the Summit] I didn’t visualize the work I was doing as having the potential to be something larger, which is what I have created with ITSA (Independent Thought and Social Action). We are now running workshops in 11 cities in eight countries and have helped over a thousand students to foster social activism and independent thinking in youth.

fisher wu
Fisher Wu, 18
Home country: China.
2012 Delegate,
Mexico City Summit

What was it like to grow up in China?
I am lucky that I was born and grew up in Shanghai, which is one of the largest and most progressive cities in China. From a young age I was exposed to a lot of different cultures and ways of life. China’s economic growth has meant more opportunities for young people, but it has also given me an awareness of the challenges associated with that growth.

As a student, I don’t think I was particularly well suited to the Chinese school system, which gives you a great foundation in math and sciences, but is restrictive in terms of creativity and is too focused on the classroom. There is no recognition of volunteer work, which I did a lot of.

How significant is the gender divide in your home country?
Things are a lot better for girls in large cities than they are in more rural areas. Still there is a lot of pressure and emphasis on marriage in China. The expectation is that every girl should be married before she is 30. We are forced to compete with friends, colleagues and classmates [to get a husband].

How did you become a delegate?
I was nominated by Roots and Shoots, an environmental protection NGO founded by Dr. Jane Goodall. I was working on a project called, “Go Vegan, Go Green” in my community to reduce consumption of meat.

How did the G(irls)20 experience shape what you’re doing now?
Being exposed to different people and viewpoints really broadened my understanding of female empowerment issues. Last year, I was admitted to New York University Abu Dhabi, and now I am planning to work with my classmates, from 170 different countries, to give girls who live in rural areas increased access to education.

Morgane-Richer-LaFleche
Morgane Richer La Fleche, 21
Home country: Canada.
2013 Delegate,
Moscow Summit

What was it like growing up in Canada?
I have been studying in the United States for the last several years, but Canada remains very much my home.

How significant is the gender divide in your home city?
Montréal has a lot going for it—vibrancy, diversity, sophistication. On the other hand, many young women that I know don’t feel that the city holds room for their professional growth long term. This is particularly true in the computer science and tech areas where women are still underrepresented.

How did you become a delegate?
I’ve always been passionate about the advancement of women—my concentration and senior thesis at the University of Chicago is in women’s history. I was the Fundraising Chair for a non-profit called Kids Connect, which supports Peace Corps volunteers worldwide to promote children’s development. We organized a trip to the Dominican Republic after the earthquake in Haiti, to visit schools-turned-refugee-camps and help with local projects.

How did the G(irls)20 experience shape what you’re doing now?
Part of what is so special about being part of the Summit is that it allows young women to see themselves as powerful agents in their own lives and the lives of others. Contributing to a global communiqué that actually had an impact with G20 Leaders was such a powerful experience. Having that kind of success behind me allows me to trust my instincts, so I am more ambitious because I am more confident.