Empowering Women Through WhatsApp in Zimbabwe
By Munyaradzi Dzimunwe, Global Fellow from Zimbabwe
Recently, I have been receiving a wave of requests from women and girls from various places in my country, Zimbabwe. Most of the women have heard of or seen me leading different initiatives designed to empower women here. They are requesting mentorship and coaching support from me. Upon deliberating this demand for some time, I decided to create a small pilot program aiming to work with around 20 women. Leveraging my newly acquired community leadership skills from the GATHER program, of which I participated in 2021, and the power of technology through WhatsApp multimedia capabilities, I created a 3-month online mentorship curriculum, entitled ‘YPreneur 23’.
Within two weeks of starting, the WhatsApp group attracted 150 members! Women, ranging between 19 years and 63 years, joined through the open invitation link! I was surprised to see this happening. The engagement was remarkable; it indicated to me that empowerment through mentorship and coaching was what most women needed. Equally, it was a proof of concept since I have always had the wish to start an academy for women and girls. Excitedly, I invited my colleagues to join me in coaching the 150 women who joined the online program.
The 3-month curriculum covers topics such as personal development, career guidance, grooming deportment and etiquette, project management, personal branding, and entrepreneurship skills. The sessions happen twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, for about 90 minutes. We use photos, video recordings from their smartphones, voice messages, texts, and file attachments to facilitate learning, exchange, assignments, and reporting. The program uses a mix of both English and the local languages familiar to participants.
We hope to complete the curriculum for this first pilot project on the 4th of May 2023. If everything goes well, we will celebrate this achievement by awarding participants with certificates of completion. It will be a great moment for us to evaluate, reflect, and plan the road ahead. Based on the assessment of this first cohort, my colleagues and I will figure out the best ways to improve and even formalize the process to align with the vision of creating an academy for women.
It strikes me as a miracle that we managed to get this to work done just with WhatsApp. The challenges faced by participants (i.e., a lack of budget for internet bundles, inaccessibility of platforms such as Zoom and Google hangouts, intermittent internet, and electricity etc), the WhatsApp platform somehow works because participants can tune in when they get internet to read through materials, follow up on voice recordings and complete assignment at their own pace.
I am very pleased to see that the program is changing the lives of girls and women in my country. Below are some feedback and testimonies from some participants which were shared as voice messages on our WhatsApp platform:
“I have learned to leave my comfort zone, to be out there and connect with people. I have learned to push myself to see my needs. I have no time to be on my phone the whole day like be on social media or Facebook. Now I am always on my books or reading something, and that is new I have learned it from this program. I’m not the reading type; I didn’t know I had it within me to be the reading type. So now I’m learning, I’m getting there.“ – workshop participant
“With this personal development program I have managed to improve one crucial area, and I think that is the stepping stone for the rest of my development goals. I managed to step out of my comfort zone, I was one person who was so afraid of failure, that I was in my comfort zone all the time and I wasn’t able to expand myself. Through this program and the motivations and teachings I got from this group I managed to volunteer for a charity organization called the Foundation of Hope. I did this because I’ve always been a person who wants to uplift her community.” – workshop participant
In other updates, I engaged my students to write essays reflecting on the International Women’s Month celebrations. This exercise took place on the 29th of March and involved a series of mentorship where 12 girls were matched and paired with mentors for career guidance and counseling. I was also invited to speak at the gathering of Women Enterprise International (WEI). In my speech, I encouraged the beneficiaries to learn, work together, and combine resources to achieve sustainable projects. The WEI supports women entrepreneurs with business coaching and mentorship.
I am also proud to report that three women from the project ‘YPreneur 23’ got an opportunity for free digital marketing training. The economic empowerment program provides free coaching and mentorship to uplift women out of poverty.