Anything is possible
In her best-selling book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recounts the story of a meeting she once hosted: While all the male attendees automatically took seats at the boardroom table, the female attendees sat to the side.
A new Flemish initiative will help girls around the world live their dreams
She bemoans the fact that their seating choices made the women look like “spectators rather than participants,” and she’s not wrong. But with so much focus on helping women climb the corporate ladder, it’s easy to lose sight of the problem that the gender, cultural and socio-economic factors that affect whether women even make it into the boardroom to begin with actually take root a lot younger.
And therein lies the philosophy behind Dream, Girl, a new Flanders-based initiative launched to inspire young girls between the ages of 12 and 19 from disadvantaged backgrounds around the world to dream big and learn how to make those dreams a reality.
First stop: Cape Town
The brainchild of Flanders Today contributor Sabine Clappaert, Dream, Girl events will provide a platform for inspirational women to impart the secrets of their success to their young audiences. “I’ve been playing around with the idea for about two years,” says Clappaert, “but this January I finally threw out the idea to some friends.” Four of them – journalist Ineke Van Nieuwenhove, photographer Sarah Eechaut and communications consultants Janita Govinden and Sally-Anne Amakye – have been working diligently ever since to make it happen.
The website launched at the beginning of this month and the first Dream, Girl event is scheduled to take place in the Cape Town district of Khayelitsha this December. In attendance will be five speakers, each of whom will give a short presentation about their journey to success, followed by an informal lunch where the girls can ask the speakers questions.
“The elevator pitch for Dream, Girl is ‘TED Talks for girls’,” says Clappaert. “I absolutely love TED, but I’ve always wondered why we don’t have something similar for young girls living in a township in Africa or a disadvantaged community in Belgium. Who is reaching out to inspire them?”
As a journalist and a communications specialist, Clappaert’s passion for gender equality, diversity and inclusion has always been at the forefront of her work. For example, another of her projects is a book called Wisdom’s Daughters, in which she has teamed up with a photographer to tell the story of “100 women who will change the way you see the world”.
But it was her desire to “pay it forward” that propelled her to create Dream, Girl. “I was born in Flanders but moved to South Africa in 1980 when I was eight years old,” she says. “This was during the height of apartheid; so there I was, a middle-class white kid with a loving family, living this life of amazing privilege, right next to people who had literally nothing – no rights, no freedom. It made a huge impression on me.”
Although Clappaert clearly absorbed the national trauma of apartheid, she’s still a passionate cheerleader for her adopted homeland. “South Africa gave me a lot. It’s the place where I spent my formative years, so I’m just happy to be in a position where I can give something back.”
Clappaert says that, even with her comfortable upbringing, she wishes she’d had someone to encourage her to dream. “Nobody put these role models in front of me when I was younger and said you can be a rocket scientist or whatever, and I really wish I had had that.”
Still, as someone who is no stranger to dreaming big (in 2009, for example, she and a friend drove 7,000 kilometres from Belgium to Gambia to raise awareness for high childbirth mortality rates in Africa), Clappaert found she actually had to scale down her early plans for Dream, Girl. “Initially, I wanted 800 to 1,000 girls to attend the event, but my partner reminded me that TED Talks didn’t start out as big as they are today. So we decided to start with 250.”
There are some things, however, on which the team is not willing to compromise. “One of the founding principles of Dream, Girl is that the role models should be local. They might not always be famous, but it’s really important that their achievements seem obtainable.” For that reason, the speakers will also be as close in age to the students as possible.
The project is still in its early stages, and the Dream, Girl team is actively looking for funders and supporters. But Clappaert knows that the success of the Khayelitsha launch will be a manifestation of everything she and her team are trying to teach their young audiences: With hard work, faith and, of course, a dream, anything is possible.