By Ann Hudock, Senior Vice President for Strategy and Growth
In a small village just outside Freetown, Sierra Leone, Isatu corralled villagers under the thatch-roofed communal space. She called to order the meeting of the Rogbum Women’s Cooperative. Discussion ranged from priorities for the revolving loan fund to advice on how to tend the village vegetable plot. In many ways, the discussion was unremarkable. Yet in others it was life changing.
While income generating activities and small-scale farming comprise so much of daily life in rural areas of Sierra Leone, women’s leadership is less common. According to the United Nations, women comprise 70 percent of the agricultural labor force, and they play a critical role in natural resource management and food production. Yet women face discrimination in land tenure that holds them back from economic empowerment.
Dynamic leaders like Isatu demonstrate the power of collective citizen action to reduce poverty. Strong and inclusive organizations that amplify citizens’ voices form the backbone of sustainable development approaches. Of equal importance are the government partners who respond to citizen demand; the transparent and accountable public institutions that facilitate dialogue for economic and social sector reform.
It’s the greatest privilege to learn how people facing some of the toughest challenges turn adversity into opportunity. I’m proud to join the Counterpart International team that has more than 50 years’ experience in all regions of the world helping people to solve their own problems. One of the most unique aspects of the organization’s work is providing platforms for citizens and governments to effectively partner and in that way become true “counterparts.”
I met Isatu more than 25 years ago and the lessons she taught me remain fresh in my mind as I take up a new role as Senior Vice President for Strategy and Growth at Counterpart. Since my days with the Rogbum Women’s Cooperative I have traveled the world and met more dynamic leaders and organizations, all striving for that same goal of making their voices heard. I saw in Albania the path-breaking efforts communities made to work across faiths to debate priorities for public expenditure. I saw citizens in Azerbaijan marvel at the sight of their elected representative to Parliament, finally seeing someone who was there to work on their behalf, but who had been largely invisible to them. I worked with media and local organizations in Mozambique to foster dialogue between citizens and government on post-war priorities, all while navigating continued tensions and flare-ups that demonstrated how deep differences ran. In Russia, I met with brave journalists who wanted to report on the workings of their government and advocated for a legal enabling environment that would support their work. In Vietnam after the Communist Party enacted the Grassroots Democracy Decree, I witnessed local efforts citizens made to influence public expenditure. And in Zambia I saw how HIV positive women and HIV-AIDS orphans transformed what was once a bordello into a thriving community project, with a school, income generating projects, and a garden.
I look forward to engaging the talented Counterpart network of partners around the world, those men and women who are passionate champions of change. I look forward to learning from them, and to giving them the support to succeed. It’s these counterparts who will change the world.
Dr. Ann Hudock recently joined Counterpart International as our Senior Vice President of Strategy and Growth.