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In Conversation With Zoe Timms, Women's Education Project

Nirmala Garimella

Women’s Education Project (WEP) provides a Consortium of girl-focused NGOs in South Asia a program to prepare young, vulnerable south Asian women for formal sector employment.

Zoë Timms, Founding Executive Director, first went to Hyderabad, India in 1996 as a student of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Year-in-India Program. There she was introduced to educational, grassroots NGOs, helping former girl child laborers study for the first time.  

How did you get started with WEP? What was your motivation?

I lived in Madurai TN working for the University of Wisconsin. I was friends with a young woman who wanted to attain an MBA. Upon visiting her home, I saw that she was supporting her whole family on part-time jobs. I raised a few thousand in the NYC to help her study, and found in doing so, that there are many young women from poor families, with ambition - but need social, academic and financial support to succeed. We started our first Center in Madurai soon after. Our first student completed her MBA and is a Director at an international bank in Bangalore. 

What is the goal for this project?

Our goal is to partner with colleges, intermediate programs, and NGOS, providing our I Am a Leader program, to groups of young women who want to succeed in careers. 


As a person leading a non profit what are some qualities needed to instill leadership in girls?

A sense of curiously and wonder about the world. Many girls, who start at our Centers, say they want to pursue a job, not because they have a genuine interest in the field, but because they don't know anything else. We want our students to discover their opportunities - there are so many more available to them - and their genuine interests. That is when they will fight to keep their career - and therefore their financial independence. 


What have been the challenges working with women and girls? 

Sometimes the challenges is issues of poverty in the home - alcoholism, illnesses, debt. Sometimes, the family doesn't see the potential of the girl, and just wants to get her married. Sometimes it is the girl herself - lacking confidence and interest.  We have found that building these supportive communities of women, help so many of these problems - she develops strength courage, opinions courage, among her friends. 


Can you tell us more about the upcoming Forum in New York? 

Women's Education Project (WEP) will host its second annual Beyond Borders Forum, November 28th at Baruch Performing Arts Center, New York City. The Forum will focus on two issues of compelling importance: preparing young women for fulfilling careers in the global economy and creating a corporate climate that is welcoming, equitable and fair.   


For young women about to launch themselves into professional life, issues of equality, fairness and opportunity - gender issues - are paramount.  And, increasingly, these concerns are engaging the attention of investors and leading companies.  The Forum will explore these issues and their ramifications.


First, the women.  What are their needs and expectations?  Next, the investors.  What motivates their interest in social change? What are their priorities?   Who sets the bar?  How do they measure success?  What timelines do they envision?  Then, the companies and corporations.  Like the society they mirror, businesses are in flux.  Yet change - genuine and substantive transformation - takes time.  How is this accomplished?  What steps are they taking?  What more will they need to do?       

Finally share with us a story on a WEP graduate and her success?

I just received a photo over WhatsApp of one of our alumna. I was at dinner with friends and knew who the photo was of, instantly. She started at our Center in 2005. From a poor family, and studying to be a lawyer. She was doing very badly in her classes, because she didn't know English. She was also seriously anemic. We started our English program and nutrition program because of her. Most of our programs developed because of a student's need. I texted with Sumitha - she is now a Junior Lawyer and is studying a Master's program. Her goal is to be a judge. 

To know more about the Forum please go to https://womenseducationproject.org/forum/

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