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Progress, Power, and Possibilities: The 2nd Annual Girls Education Conference

The 2nd Annual Girls Education Conference: Progress, Power & Possibilities was held on June 24, 2020, via zoom.

The conference was presented by YWCA Metropolitan Chicago and African Community Fund for Education (ACFE Group). It is a virtual, half-day summit designed for attendees to learn from and contribute to a discussion on early learning innovations, expanding youth educational experiences, the importance of mentorship, and the economic impact of investing in girls’ education.

Over 200 educators and professionals in the youth education field have joined the conference. Speakers across diverse professional tracks addressed some of the most pressing challenges young girls confront in their daily lives, including fear, doubt, bullying, cliques, and social media.

“There are about 132 million girls that are out of school globally, 30 million of which are at the primary level,” Esther Benjamin, the CEO of World Education Services, advocated for the recognition of international education qualifications. Public education is the primary determining factor in nations where women gain more power and rights. Jill Eid, the Executive Director of Girls on the Run-Chicago, a non-profit after-school program that served more than 10,000 girls this year with their experience-based curriculum, added: “Girls are most confident at the age of 8.” We cannot keep that the peak of confidence for our youth.

“Make sure you’re surrounding yourself with people that can support your potential.” Cameka Smith, Founder and award-winning entrepreneur of the BOSS Network, shared her experience of establishing a community of professional women who support each other through conversation, online engagement, and event-based networking. Under Cameka’s leadership, The BOSS Network has become one of the fastest-growing women business communities and has supported countless opportunity-seeking women in their journey to become independent and successful over ten years. Just as she said, “it’s about influencing people to be great.”

“Education of our students isn’t just important for those you see in the classroom… you’re impacting generations, and it disrupts poverty, racism, hate…” Jaime Casap, the Education Evangelist at Google, spoke on the importance and impact of digitization and made a case for the ability to learn as the most critical skill students need to master. “We need to teach our students how to learn so that they can continue to do so throughout their lives.” The idea of “lifelong learning” has been around for a generation; still, we have not ever really put in practice to make this idea a reality. Casap said, “I think we ask them the wrong questions… We should be asking, ‘What problem do you want to solve? Not ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ”

During the one-hour-long panel discussion, women who are active in all kinds of different struggles brought forward their concerns, uncovering the misfortunes and discrimination still prevalent in today’s society. They gathered together to amplify the voices of the under-deserved. They endeavored to empower disadvantaged women through education and leadership, resulting in lasting change in their lives for the better.

Victoria Watkins, Chief of Staff to the Chairman & Co-CEO at Ariel Investments, said, “so often our world will give us two messages: ‘be yourself’ and ‘conform to everyone else’…we all strike an ‘other’ box in so many ways. Remember and SEE that people are different.” Indeed, there is beauty in confidence, kindness, leadership, and self-respect. “Think big, follow-through, deliver results,” Carla Walker, President of think BIG strategies, llc, espouses the pursuit of goals outside our comfort zone and invites her audience to contemplate what it means to live a purpose-driven life.

Benjamin said, “The quality that I look for in a person of inspiration is an ability to hone in on their unique gift to the world and its intersection to what is needed in the world.” Likewise, this conference discussed not just women’s rights but rights of all. Just as Stanley Ndambakuwa, President & CEO of African Community Fund for Education, stated, “we are the change, so let’s change the world.” There is strength in our community, where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Female empowerment may not have been a priority at the top levels of leadership, but it has always struck the world at the grassroots. For some, the movement transcends generations.

By Chloe Yin (The University of Chicago Student Intern at African Community Fund for Education Group

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