Help For 20,000 Women By 2020

By ED CARPENTER, USF NEWS Posted Mon, 02/26/2018 - 14:58

Diana Ruiz ’04 doesn’t like to talk about it. But she knows firsthand about domestic abuse and human trafficking. When she finally found a way out, she enrolled at USF in her 30s determined to forge a new path. After graduating, she traveled the world, and, ultimately, established a nonprofit that today reaches thousands of women annually, empowering them to improve their lives. 

The Women's Global Leadership Initiative (WGLI) partners with organizations that serve women, and recruits female leaders in cities, towns, and villages around the world. Volunteers host leadership workshops, build networks of local mentors, and provide scholarships and skills training on subjects such as how to negotiate a higher salary, how to push back against gender discrimination, how to work through interpersonal conflicts, and how to develop a strategic career plan.

Celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year, WGLI has served about 5,000 women in the U.S., Latin America, the Balkans, and Turkey. Over the past year, it’s grown rapidly by shifting to providing nonprofits and other partner organizations that serve women with the tools and curriculum to educate their clients, Ruiz says. Prior to the shift, she put on many of the trainings but found she couldn’t keep up with demand.

With the new model in place, WGLI’s goal is to educate 20,000 women by 2020. 

Aha moment

After graduation, Ruiz travelled through Europe, where she met women much like herself. In the Balkans, for example, she met women living in the wake of the Bosnian-Herzegovina war who’d experienced domestic abuse and sexual harassment. Some had been trafficked. Most felt paralyzed by social norms that told them they were worthless and couldn’t contribute. 

"I realized that if I got a group of them together they would come to understand that they shared common values and concerns and that the needed support and resources were within reach — present in the community,” Ruiz says. “They had the experience, wisdom, and skills to help one another improve their lives." 

After returning to the states, the School of Management organizational development alumna reached out to former USF classmates with the idea of bringing together individuals with different expertise to help — a collaborative approach she says she learned at USF. Before she knew it about 30 were helping her create what turned into WGIL.

“USF helped me discover that one of my greatest gifts is developing others — helping them find purpose­­­­, careers, and developing their talents,” Ruiz said. “That’s what organizational development is about.” 

75 percent transform their lives

Ruiz says 75 percent of women who complete WGLI programs report taking steps to improve their lives after the first year: "They leave destructive relationships, change jobs, pursue a degree, and/or take on a leadership role at work or in their community." 

Tasneem Mohamed, a mental health and social services counselor and former Bay Area teacher, says the training gave her confidence to move past an abusive relationship, get her kids to a safer environment, and return to graduate school.

“I ended up leaving the Bay Area and went to Alabama State University (ASU) to earn a master’s degree in clinical health counseling,” says Mohamed, who’ll graduate this spring.

As a single mom of three she had to figure out how to pay for school and support her family. She approached the head of student retention at ASU about a job, but there were no openings. Undeterred, she wrote a proposal suggesting the university hire its first retention counselor for graduate students like herself and explained how it would help the university and why she’d be perfect for the job.

She was hired and ended up working with 40 graduate students who were on the verge of leaving or being booted out of school. Today, 32 are back in good standing.

“Without the WGLI training I wouldn’t have had the confidence to develop the proposal, lay out my experience and skill set as a teacher, mental health counselor, and social worker, and explain why he needed to hire me,” Mohamed said. 

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