When Emilie Kimball came to Mount Holyoke in September 2005 for Take the Lead, the issue on her mind was poverty among women in West Africa. Now, thanks to her efforts, the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington, DC, is hosting an April 8 fundraiser that aims to raise $15,000 for women entrepreneurs in Cape Coast, Ghana.
Take the Lead is a four-day conference that brings ambitious, idealistic high school juniors from throughout the United States to the Mount Holyoke campus for workshops and activities that build leadership skills. Kimball, a high school junior from Potomac, Maryland, who attends the National Cathedral School for Girls, was one of the 40 young women chosen to participate in the 2005 Take the Lead program. Just a few months before coming to Take the Lead, Kimball had traveled to Cape Coast as an intern for Women in Progress (WIP), an international volunteer organization that works at a grassroots level to support women-owned businesses. She credits her freshman-year crew coach with introducing her to WIP and a sophomore-year geography class with piquing her interest in Africa.
"I'd also interned at Save the Children, where I learned about microfinance programs for women. A relatively modest loan from a nongovernmental organization--even $100--can enable a woman to start a business that pulls her family out of poverty. In Cape Coast, I actually met women who were becoming entrepreneurs thanks to WIP," Kimball said.
Before Kimball left for Ghana, she collected 20 used laptop computers from friends and people in her community for WIP, which teaches computer skills to women and trains them to communicate with overseas buyers through the Internet. Witnessing both the women's poverty and their potential during her stay there made a lasting impression on Kimball.
"They were so nice to me, too," she recalled. "The women taught me the batiking process. They helped me come up with designs and showed me which colors would be best. I worked closely with a woman named Gifty Saah, who told me how she couldn't provide for her family before WIP came along." Kimball returned home wanting to do something more. During her four days at Take the Lead, she became convinced of just how much more, in fact, was possible.
After her weekend at Mount Holyoke, Kimball began building a support group and contacts to help implement her action project of assisting those African women entrepreneurs--known collectively as the Global Mamas--develop and market their colorful batik clothing. The following month, she helped WIP sell Global Mamas' products at the Green Festival in the Washington Convention Center. In December, Emilie sold $1,600 worth of Global Mamas clothing at a holiday bazaar at her school. Then, in February, she was one of only two girls selected by teachers at her school to participate in a citywide symposium to help students and their schools understand how they can respond to global issues like poverty. Her sights, however, were always set on organizing a large-scale fundraiser.
"I want to establish a revolving fund so the women can be advanced the money they need to purchase materials for their products. So I wrote a letter to the Ghanaian Ambassador, Fritz Kwabena Poku, describing my idea for a fundraiser. When I got the call to come to a meeting at the embassy, I wasn't sure what would happen. Then the Ambassador's staff told me that my idea had his complete support. That was really exciting."
The three-hour event at the embassy will feature entertainment by Anansegromma, a Ghanaian drumming group, and food prepared by a local restaurant called the Ghana Café. Global Mamas clothing will be for sale in the entryway. Another highlight of the evening will be Emilie herself. She'll be introduced by Ambassador Poku and will speak about the women entrepreneurs of Cape Coast. After that, she plans to enjoy the evening and keep spreading the word.
Kimball, whose mother, Kathleen A. Sheehan, is a 1974 graduate of Mount Holyoke, said that part of what made Take The Lead so much fun was connecting with other girls who were formulating ambitious plans. "It helped me realize that I could help change the world on a bigger scale," she said.
That realization is exactly what Take the Lead is designed to spark, noted Patricia VandenBerg, Take the Lead director and founder and Mount Holyoke's executive director of communications and strategic initiatives. "Take the Lead aims to help young women transform ideals into action. It's designed to show them that they are capable of achieving goals well beyond what they have imagined. What Emilie has accomplished is a shining example of how passionate, committed young women can become leaders who change the world in profound and lasting ways. What she is doing is thrilling. Mount Holyoke College is proud--and inspired."
If you would like to attend the April 8 fundraiser, please contact Kimball at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to send a tax-deductible contribution, please make your check payable to Women in Progress and mail it to Emilie Kimball, 7900 Horseshoe Lane, Potomac, MD 20854.
Take the Lead Invites Student Mentors to Apply