For everyone who received an email from us recently and voted – a huge thank you. The Uplift Imitative placed second in the Project Inspire finals and was awarded a $10,000 grant for financial literacy projects this year.
The competition was launched in March by UN Women and Mastercard as a way of celebrating the 100th year of International Women’s Day and MasterCard’s 25th year in the region. The competition drew a total of 450 entries from teams which represented 50 different countries from Africa to Asia to Middle East, the Americas & Pacific Islands. The Uplift Initiative was chosen as part of ten finalists. As a finalist, the public had a chance to vote for the best video, and we reached out to absolutely everyone we know in order to get votes. The response we received was amazing. It was wonderful to hear so many messages of support from so many people and to know that even those who didn’t take the time to post about their voting on facebook or write emails, did go to the website and vote for our project.
The Uplift Initiative is a joint effort between Nobel and Jennifer at Room to Grow and Mark Cox at Khom Loy. Mark represented our group at the finals in Singapore. On the morning he arrived off the bus in Bangkok, he checked into hospital and was diagnosed with influenza. Undeterred, he boarded the plane for Singapore, participated in a busy few days of workshops, and delivered a five minute pitch in front of judges that landed us in second place.
We were then faced with a new challenge: having prepared a project on a $25,000 budget, what could we deliver on a reduced budget? We racked our brains, we threw around ideas, we stewed in creative juices. Our initial plan had been to buy land and build a Women’s Resource Center – a space space where we could be based in order to provide trainings four days a week to women. The first thing to go was the land and the building. But without a presence in the community and a place to work, we were presented with additional challenges.
Our new plan is really exciting for all of us. We are re-designing our financial literacy modules as well as our approach. In November, we will start working with a group of young leaders from Burma currently studying at World Education‘s Wide Horizons Program. These 23 young leaders will become our master trainers. They are currently engaged in community development work in a small community just outside Mae Sot, which will offer us the testing grounds for the modules and a chance to develop the training skills of the trainers. Then the trainers will take to the landfill. Organized into groups, they will compete against each other to see which group can deliver the most effective training in terms of realizing concrete results in the landfill such as increased savings and income.
The trainings will allow us to work with the community and identify exceptional women with great ideas for projects capable of generating income and changing their lives. We will continue to work with those women on targeted follow up trainings and with small grant assistance, making their dreams a reality. Whether it be a small scale loan to buy a sewing machine, or start up capital for seeds and watering cans, we will be looking for women and projects which will improve lives.
Our goal is not just to improve the lives of women, but by doing so, to also improve the lives of girls. Increased family income is likely to lead to more opportunities for girls to go to school, and we are also working closely with the school that serves the landfill community to monitor enrollment rates. With less need for children to generate income, we hope to encourage more children to attend school. However, we recognize that children who have been out of school for some time are sometimes unenthusiastic about returning to a disciplined and restrictive environment. We also know that enrollment and food programs are linked: that children stop going to school when the school stops providing food. So as part of the Uplift Initiative, all children at the landfill school will get fortified soy milk and fruit every morning. The snack will help improve nutrition and give children energy to start their day and learn well. Together with improved income in their families, it will also be tied to higher enrollment rates at the school which means more girls going to school, getting educated and getting a step up in life.
In addition, in April, after the Wide Horizons students finish their program, they will return to the community development organizations they represent, taking with them experience and training plans and the ability to teach others important financial literacy concepts.
We might not have a solid building to work from, but we are going to accomplish a lot. We are going to help change the way people manage and understand their own money in order to increase savings and income: among our trainers, among two communities of women, and among a variety of community development groups along the border. That’s a lot of people saving a money a few baht at a time, increasing their earnings a few baht at a time. And that is how we are going to change this part of the world, person by person, little by little, a few baht at a time.