Girls come together to make !mpact
Group connects teens in Canada and Kenya
Dana Lacey, Financial Post, October 24, 2009
In 2003, Kenya abolished primary school fees. Suddenly, parents didn’t have to select which child they could afford to send to school, if any of them. More than a million girls enrolled immediately. But secondary school fees remain high, which means most of them won’t continue to high school.
In February, Leanne Nicolle and Jane Shaw, both veterans of the corporate world, launched Girl !mpact, a Toronto-based non-profit organization whose goal is to engage Canadian girls from marginalized neighbourhoods, along with a number of corporate donors and sponsors, to raise money to send Kenyan girls to secondary school. “Uneducated girls are forced to marry at a young age,” Ms. Nicolle says. “They feel a greater impact of HIV/AIDS and harmful cultural practices. But a girl with a secondary education is welcomed as a leader, and has a huge impact on the community.”
Girl !mpact is in the process of applying for charitable status (CRA rules dictate that any charity seeking registered status must first be operational for a year), but donors can still get tax receipts thanks to their partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
That’s not all Girl !mpact gets from the relationship: UNICEF has clout around the world and fights for systemic change in children’s rights. The organization has spent several years supporting mobile elementary schooling in Kenya — many children are from nomadic communities and need boarding schools or teachers who travel with them. The money raised by Girl !mpact goes to UNICEF’s Kenya Girls’ Scholarship Program, which offers four-year scholarships to nomadic girls.
The first Girl !mpact initiative is underway. A dozen girls from Scarborough, Ont., have spent the past year attempting to raise $50,000 to send 10 Kenyan girls to school. During that time, the Canadian girls received lessons in everything from financial planning and career coaching to personal health and communication skills. They are also connected with women mentors established in a wide range of careers. “When we started Girl !mpact, we asked ourselves, ‘what skills would you have at 17 that would make a huge difference in your life?'” Ms. Nicolle says.
Kraft Canada donated seed money and created the program’s diet and nutrition curriculum. It’s an opportunity to give back to the community, which also gives them direct access to the much-coveted teenage girl demographic. Kraft brought the girls to their North Toronto headquarters, where a mini grocery store and a large kitchen were used to teach them how to shop and cook in healthy and inexpensive ways. One young vegetarian didn’t know she needed protein.
Kraft isn’t the only company benefiting from the teen girl synergy. Myescapades, the Safari and Tour operating division of Huntington Travel Inc., had never run a teen-oriented program until it developed a trip to Kenya specifically for the Girl !mpact girls. Olympian Marnie McBean helped train the girls in preparation for their trip, where they spent time at a boarding school before trekking up Mt. Kilimanjaro as part of their fundraising effort. Nike outfitted the girls and Mountain Equipment Co-Op donated hiking boots.
The girls returned last week to continue their efforts to achieve their $50,000 fundraising goal. “We wanted to expose them to what it’s like for girls in other parts of the world,” Ms. Nicolle says. “They left as teenagers and came home as women.”