WE Communications Blog: CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin
At Waggener Edstrom we encourage our employees to make a difference in their communities by offering 16 hours of paid volunteering time annually. One way I choose to use my hours is by working directly with a family in Ethiopia, helping the mother to start her own business and funding one of the daughters to go to school. I met Mastewal several years ago when she was at the Yeweket Berihan Academy. She was chosen by the head of school to show me her work on the new computers we had installed for the students — and she was very smart, articulate and decisive. When I learned she could not continue her schooling, I connected with her to see what it would take: What personal obstacles did she have, and how could I remove those? It was not just money, it was making sure her family would be supportive, and also making sure she herself could mentally prepare for the rigor of a strong academy. After diving in to find out more about her, her skills and her family, I made a proposal to help which was wholeheartedly accepted.
Last week I was in Ethiopia meeting with a number of women entrepreneurs with whom I work, to help start their own businesses (part of WISE, another organization I like to use my volunteer hours with), and I took time out to spend with Mastewal and her family. Her mother has shown great initiative in her new job, and although she doesn’t yet speak much English, she told me she is “so very, very happy now” doing good work. Mastewal is happy in school with big dreams to study in America one day; her two older sisters are doing well in school, too. And of course we can’t not mention Mastewal’s youngest sister, who we will ensure has a chance to do the same.
From the time I met Mastewal to our conversation earlier this week, I have noticed not only a lightheartedness but a drive and confidence about what she wants to do, which is to run her own business and find her place in the world.
According to the UN, 72 million children, 54 percent of them girls, are out of school. I am a firm believer that education and a love of learning will help change the world. One of my heroes,Nelson Mandela, said it best when he said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Someday maybe I’ll be in a position to build an entire school, but in the meantime I hope to use some of my make a difference hours creating a few lifelong learners, one by one.