On July 29th, 2013, I leave for East Africa for five weeks. I will attend two African Women’s Leadership Summits, then visit the farms and projects of some of these women leaders. Also, I will finally meet, in person, hundreds of generous, caring farmers who prayed for my survival during my battle with terminal breast cancer!
Our Goal: To Establish a Women’s Leadership Cooperative Throughout East Africa.
Women’s Leadership Summits
In 2005, I was one of twenty women in the inaugural Women Leaders for the World (WLW) training program at Santa Clara University. This program, conceived by the Global Women’s Leadership Network, was designed to further empower women leaders in their work, locally, nationally and internationally.
The training helped me to expand my work as the voice for tropical vanilla growers worldwide, many of whom I met while doing research on vanilla in Mexico, and many of whom I have met through my business. Over the years, I have come to be known worldwide as “The Vanilla Queen” for my work representing and working with the farmers.
I have helped three women leaders attend the WLW training. However, Mariam Mukalazi of Uganda, whom I met through my business and who work with women farmers in East Africa, were unable to secure a visa. In January I decided I needed to go to Africa this summer to meet Mariam, other African farmers I know via the Internet and also the WLW graduates living in Africa, whom I have never met.
Initially, I thought that we might have a one-day gathering of women leaders in Kampala, Uganda. The project quickly grew into two two-day African Women’s Leadership Summits – one in Uganda, the other in Kenya.
Our ultimate goal is to establish a loosely-knit cooperative of women leaders throughout East Africa. To this end, our proposed summits will add value in the following ways:
* Women who have gone through the WLW training will have the opportunity to meet women from other classes, get to know one another and determine how they can potentially share their training with other women leaders.
* We will continue a conversation about how we in the industrialized world can support these leaders as the Millennial Goals become due in 2015. How can we train women leaders unable to come to the US? How can we create a network of support – a leadership cooperative for women in East Africa – and connect with other leadership groups globally? The conversation has started via e-mail and Skype. We will meet in the two countries in August to expand this vision.
* The owner of the largest certified organic vanilla farm in continental Africa has committed to teach interested women farmers the technology for the labor-intensive curing and drying of vanilla beans. As we are again facing a shortage of vanilla worldwide, this could be an extremely helpful revenue stream for the women and their families.
* Should our project be fully funded, we also plan to document the summits, farms and projects on video and in writing..
The Magic Has Started
The WLW leaders in Kenya and Uganda are excited! They have begun the arrangements for the summits. Some of these women will travel hundreds of miles to attend. We want this to be the beginning of a larger conversation for setting up future women’s programs in the developing world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Patricia Rain, the Vanilla Queen, who launched The Vanilla.COMpany in 2001 as a socially-conscious educational site and retail/wholesale business focused on pure vanilla and the promotion of those who grow it worldwide.
In 2005, she created the International Tropical Farmers Network (ITFN) and set up a Google Group so that farmers worldwide could communicate with one another and share assistance regarding issues concerning vanilla.
Visit her website http://vanillaqueen.com/ or join her at The Vanilla Company on Facebook.