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"Claiming Our Voice"

Claiming Our Voice will connect & train ethnically-diverse, college-educated, young S.Sudanese women to promote girls' educ on public media.

Photo of Sister Marilyn LACEY, rsm

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

South Sudan remains divided and underdeveloped, riven by inter-ethnic violence. It also has one of the world’s lowest literacy rates for females. Few girls finish primary school; fewer still finish secondary school. Only a handful graduate from higher education. Thru its high school and university scholarships, Mercy Beyond Borders has been working with girls in rural S.Sudan, all of them internally displaced or refugees. We have supported these girls over the past 10 yrs & have already seen over 50 of our Scholars graduate successfully from universities and colleges, with more in the pipeline. But then what? There is almost no “brain drain”. Nearly all grads return to S.Sudan even if they were educated in Kenya or Uganda. However, after obtaining professional jobs they find themselves in male-dominated workplaces, lacking support. CLAIMING OUR VOICE will link these grads into an Advocacy Network, connect them with one another across geography and ethnic divisions, and bring them together for training to become advocates for girls’ education. We will partner with organizations skilled in nonviolent advocacy (to lead the training), and with radio content producers and radio stations to broadcast interviews in which the grads share their stories and explain the value of girls’ education to families and the nation. We will stress the reality that inter-ethnic friendships are possible, even essential, to peace, & that educating girls is the surest path to that future.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

South Sudan and the refugee camps of northern Uganda.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

This project bridges the divide between ethnic grps (which the men, due to decades of fighting, cannot overcome) by training and utilizing the talents of educated women who have studied many years in ethnically-diverse schools, to become voices for girls' education and a future of peace that includes all S.Sudanese.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

The young women who will participate in CLAIMING OUR VOICE have all been displaced, either as IDPs or refugees -- some, multiple times. Their education has now given them a window into wider worlds where diverse peoples can coexist. Their voices (via radio to reach non-literate populations) and their advocacy to push for girls' right to education, bear promise for positive change in S.Sudan, a deeply troubled region of the world. Over the past 10 yrs, we have seen how girls blossom when educated, becoming articulate, confident, compassionate women capable of leadership. Now they are no longer "worth less than cows." Tapping that inner strength to bring the same hope and dignity to other females is the reason for this project. It also lays the foundation for future peace and & econ development. Girls' education is the strongest predictor of health. Gender equity (which SSudan totally lacks) is a more reliable predictor of peace than GDP or level of democracy!

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

We see at least 2 communities of focus: 1) Highly educated young women in S.Sudan; and 2) rural non-literate S.Sudanese village populations who currently do not send their girls to school. This networking and public advocacy supports the former, giving them opportunities to use their voice via radio; and it educates and motivates the latter to enroll girls in school instead of arranging early marriages. Delaying early marriage, of course, also improves health, increases economic status, and allows the nation's human capital to develop. This project will plant seeds whose effects are not likely to be immediately visible. We will, however, measure the radio program exposure, gather feedback from the audiences, and watch for upticks in female enrollment in primary school and reductions in female dropout rates in primary schools. We will use a pre-and -post participant survey with the women being trained in advocacy, & track the advocacy goal outcomes the trainees develop.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

During my first visit to what is now S.Sudan in 1992, during the long civil war, I was struck by the incredible hardships faced by S.Sudanese women. Not just endless war and displacement and disease and death and lack of infrastructure or opportunity, but the utter lack of value placed on women by the local cultures. Women and girls were property to be bought and sold. Never educated. Never honored. Never aware of their own human dignity. Doing all the hard labor, simply sidelined, for use by men. In 2008 I founded Mercy Beyond Borders to address their extreme poverty via education & micro-ent, always in mixed-ethnicity groups. Their thirst for education and desire to contribute to the development of their country continue to inspire me. They want to be part of the solution to S.Sudan's problems. Now that some are highly educated, it's time to connect them and train them for the next step: advocacy to change norms (like dowry practices) that keep them marginated and impoverished..

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

S.Sudan was cut off from the world by 37 years of war; then after 2 yrs of independence it slipped back into violent tribe-on-tribe war in 2013. The men fight; the women have to hold families together. 1/3 of the population are internally displaced; another 1.2 million are refugees (again). There is no gender equality in S.Sudan, but women have seen that among the female UN professionals in the camps; their eyes were opened. They asked Mercy Beyond Borders to "please educate our daughters." Of the several hundred girls MBB has worked with, nearly all are the very first in their family to attend primary school, much less aspire to college. These young women are now on the cutting edge of change; they are the first cohorts of highly educated females in the nation. But they are in isolated, often the only female in their workplaces. They need support, convening, training, to become effective agents for change in a culture which continues to denigrate them yet needs their talent.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

I have worked with refugees from around the globe since 1980. Never have I met a population with such thirst for education as the South Sudanese, with such determination to move forward against all odds. CLAIMING OUR VOICE amplifies those qualities to open opportunities for more girls and ultimately to argue for the positive changes which will allow women and girls a place the table, a chance to shape policy and stability in a very ravaged land.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

To date, we have not implemented this particular project, so we have not set the partnerships for it. However, we have contacts with radio stations and with a radio content producer. We are aware of some orgs that train for advocacy but have not approached any of them. We did produce a series of radio interviews with high school girls speaking of their experiences in school and the value education bring to the family; they were aired on several Catholic radio stations each weekend in Lake State and E.Equatoria State in S.Sudan for 2 yrs, until the radio stations were shut down by the gov't (for fear of rebels using the radio to communicate).

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Returning home

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Systems design: Solutions that target changing larger system

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Mercy Beyond Borders. In 2016 we brought 16 of our university grads from S.Sudan to a conference ctr in Adjumani, Uganda for a 3-day convening. We listened. This idea was born of that dialogue.

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

MBB's mission is "forging ways for women & girls in extreme poverty to learn, connect & lead." We were founded for S.Sudan, then expanded to rural Haiti and most recently the refugee camps in Uganda. We primarily offer education support (K thru university), annual leadership training, computer training classes, and women's micro-enterprise loans. Our Exec Dir, Sister Lacey, has worked with refugees & migrants since 1980. MBB has experienced African staff in S.Sudan, Uganda, and soon (2020) in Malawi. We have a newly-hired Catholic Sister as our Alumnae Liaison for S.Sudan. This proposed advocacy network is the next logical step in MBB's engaging with educated women to bring their strength and talent to public forums.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Santa Clara, CA, but our programs are in countries of extreme poverty: S.Sudan, Haiti, Uganda, Malawi. This Open Idea project focuses on advocacy for women's rights (esp girls' education) in S.Sudan.

In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

1. What's the best way to measure OUTCOMES when the project is long-term advocacy and cultural change? 2. Can you recommend external grps in E.Africa who might conduct a project evaluation? 3. What other groups do you know who are "on the ground" in S.Sudan doing advocacy for the rights of women and girls? We have worked with the Catholic Radio Network and with many schools in S.Sudan, but because we are small (yet mighty!), it can be hard to partner with huge orgs like UNICEF.

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

On 9.20.19 we talked with mentor Ramatu Issaka, who affirmed the "rightness" and need for a project like ours. She shared her own experience of the challenges that exist for girls in Africa. Our team felt very encouraged after that sharing! Later we rec'd helpful advice from our assigned expert, and have refined our project design accordingly.  We have selected the Catholic Radio Network because it has the widest geographic spread inS.Sudan. We are in process of delineating our metrics for success and are researching external evaluators in Africa..

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

Many funders are wary of supporting projects within S.Sudan because it is such a difficult place to work.  I love the fact that BridgeBuilder doesn't shy away from innovative ideas even when there is risk involved. That's how change happens!  Also, BridgeBuilder aligns well with MBB's core value of moving "beyond borders" of all sorts, linking up with new partners, etc.

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

MBB is already funding the Alumnae Liaison fulltime position to track, connect and counsel our univ graduates. We would use BridgeBuilder funds to convene the grads for a training conference and to contract with a professional radio person to interview the grads on tape, then edit and produce segments for broadcasting.

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

See description in attached table

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

IMPACT: By 2021, 250,000 South Sudanese will hear & be influenced by radio broadcasts of S.Sudanese young women d advocating for girls' education. We will also have formed a cohesive peer network of alumnae doing advocacy in their respective spheres of influence in S.Sudan.

MEASURE: Increasing the % who can graduate from primary school instead of being pulled out for early marriage. Shifting the culture may take years. Focus groups will listen for positive changes on the part of relatives who control girls' access to educ. We track the % of enrolled girls who graduate from 8th grade, looking for differences in areas of S.Sudan where the broadcasts aired compared to areas not reached.

QUESTIONS: Will S.Sudan achieve peace? That would make it easier to implement girls' education advocacy -- but perhaps girls' educ is the precondition to peace!

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

Our team for implementing will be led by Dan Emmanuel Apeu-O, the MBB Director E.Africa, along with Sr Sue Claire Buziru, the MBB Alumnae Liaison.  Emmanuel has 23 yrs of experience working in S.Sudan for girls' education and empowerment, and 3 yrs of doing so in the S.Sudanese refugee camps of northern Uganda. He holds a master's degree in finance.  Sr Sue Claire worked for 15 yrs at St Bakhita Primary in S.Sudan (the only all-girl primary in the whole nation of S.Sudan). She visits the alumnae throughout S.Sudan.  Sr Marilyn Lacey, Exec Dir of MBB, has worked full-time with displaced persons since 1980.  She holds a Master's Degree in Social Welfare from UC Berkeley, was honored by the Dalai Lama for her compassionate work, and has rec'd several national and one global award. She encourages the MBB Africa team and secures resources to support their good work.

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

Our mentor affirmed the concept enthusiastically, noting that she knew from her life in West Africa how challenging it is for rural girls to obtain an education. 

Our expert provided some helpful suggestions for measuring outcomes in long-term projects, and also pertinent recommendations for E.African resources such as external evaluators. We will pursue those when we've secured funding for this project.

Most of our interaction w other OpenIdeo participants has been around their concept ideas, not ours; specifically, micro-enterprise which MBB already operates in 5 S.Sudanese refugee camps in northern Uganda.  I think that's because our project is unique.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Sister Marilyn LACEY, rsm

Thank you for these very expert comments, Sarika.
We plan to follow our univ graduates for 4 yrs (or longer, if they remain active in the Alumnae Advocacy Network). There is truly no need to incentivize them to participate in our proposed project: they are eager to convene, be trained and use their voice and skills to promote positive change for the generations of girls coming up behind them! These young women are isolated in their workplaces and very desirous of coming together for mutual support, learning about advocacy and finding ways to stay connected in working for change.
I was in communication last week with the Editor-in-Chief of ACI-Africa, who holds advanced degrees in radio communications and handles radio news and social media. He promised to be available to MBB in 2020 and 202 as needed for interviewing our Alumnae and producing radio content for distribution to radio networks inside S.Sudan.
Yes, we are leaning toward utilizing the Catholic Radio Network because it is active throughout the country. Some years ago we ran weekly programs in the Rumbek area (Lakes State) and the Torit area (E.Equatoria State) with positive community response. In each region there was an estimated audience approaching 1 million, acc to a survey conducted by BBC. I like the idea of hosting focus groups in a few villages to obtain feedback from the nonliterate local populations. Generalized stats on audiences will be hard to obtain due to the violence still rampant in most parts of the country. We would work with a university to design the focus grp questions in advance.
We appreciate your recommendation of several potential grps to conduct the external evaluation. We will look into that for sure, if funded to proceed.
Thanks, too, for sending the article you wrote about girls' educ in Guatemala. All these efforts around the world are indeed hopeful.

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