The WomenLead Institute: Human Connection during the ‘New Normal’

March 30, 2020

Counterpart International’s WomenLead Institute (WLI) has had the good fortune to be a grantee of the ExxonMobil Foundation’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative since 2005.  Our program, Global Women in Management (GWIM), has reached close to 1,000 women in 77 countries with leadership workshops, skill-building training, woman-to-woman coaching, small grants, and country, regional, and global networks. The women are civil society leaders and business owners who are delivering women’s economic programs in their local communities.  Alumnae say the leadership workshops are transformational and the bonds they form with each other are lifelong.

In order to provide on-going learning opportunities for our alumnae, WLI offers workshops on various topics.  In 2020, we scheduled an alumnae skill-building workshop on designing and conducting organizational capacity assessments for early June, but COVID-19 had other plans.

Overnight, alumnae’s needs shifted dramatically to leading and managing in the crisis. We heard from many alumnae who were desperate to access resources as well has maintain and even increase contact with their GWIM sisters. 

The result was a quick shift to move online with a Virtual Peer Mentoring (VPM) program.  The VPM will launch in April using the TeleECHO© methodology of case-based peer learning and didactics. The “All teach. All learn.” approach brings a cohort together to examine organizational scenarios or “case presentations” that are submitted by the participants. The cases describe real-time leadership, management, and programmatic challenges brought about by the “new normal” of life with the pandemic. Participants share ideas and advice for addressing the case, drawing on their own experiences and expertise. Each session also features a technical expert who presents a didactic on a topic of interest to the group.  Our alumnae will receive the high-quality mentoring and capacity building they need, when they need it, close to home, while interacting with their GWIM sisters from around the globe. 

So, what are these women leaders asking for? No surprises here—the highest ranked topics are crisis management, leading in a changing environment, adapting programs to meet changing beneficiary needs, inspiring others through crisis, and gender and COVID-19.

While the learning we offer will be valued and have immediate application, we understand that the human connection made possible through the VPM is every bit as important to supporting our alumnae through these challenging times.  This was underscored yesterday in a Zoom video conferencing call organized by and for one of our GWIM groups. Habsita joined from Chad. She is currently 1,000 miles away from her family working in the public health sector. She is worried, lonely, and mentally and physically exhausted. That day, she performed three cesarean sections—delivering triplets in one case.  She said hearing the voices and messages of support from women who are so special to her was a huge boost to her mental health and gave her the will to continue.  Reactions were the same from Egypt, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, New Zealand, Nigeria, Mozambique, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia.  The human connection is powerful and positive.