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Visionaria Network: Enhancing girls' aspirations, teacher success, and local sustainable development initiatives

Visionaria Programs for schools address psychological and social barriers for young women to join and lead community development efforts.

Photo of Paul Spurzem
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We live in a world where...

  • EDUCATION QUALITY (in addition to education access) is critical to long-term community PROSPERITY.
  • ENGAGING YOUTH in problem solving potential is critical to finding sustainable solutions to the biggest challenges facing our PLANET.

While the world is increasingly recognizing the potential for girls as change makers... Girls themselves are held back by lack of aspiration and opportunities to express their leadership potential. 

We think it would be a great (even 'radical') idea, to engage them directly, TODAY, as powerful agents of change....

Explain your idea

Visionaria ("female visionary") Programs enable young women to become social innovators in their own lives and communities. The 2-part learning experience includes (1) classroom curriculum that develops socio-emotional and design thinking skills, followed by (2) youth-led activism projects enhancing or innovating upon efforts of local leaders. The Visionaria curricula enables students to build self-efficacy, reflect on attitudes towards gender and equity, and practice leadership skills. Subsequent community projects facilitate new relationships between students and local leaders in the context of their visions and motivations to improve their communities. Our approach is to train motivated teachers to use more dynamic Visionaria lessons in their social & civics class areas. We then support trained teachers with monthly coaching meetings and remote social group messages (Whatsapp Groups, Facebook Groups, [next: Google Classroom]) to adapt lessons to student needs. In 2016 we found strong alignment between the Visionaria Curriculum and the recently updated national curriculum standards in Peru. Several teachers and administrators confirmed this alignment and pointed us towards gaps in professional training and guidance for adapting classroom activities to the new requirements (similar to the U.S. and recent Common Core changes). While the original program was designed to meet the needs of girls, boys can be just as receptive to the lessons. During our 2016 school pilot one male student commented at the end that "there wasn't a single visionaria lesson I didn't enjoy." In fact, the visionarias (past participants) expressed the importance of involving boys and men in a similar process, and they were critical of not making more of an effort to engage them from the beginning. OUR IDEA WORKS because it solves the needs and supports shared goals of young-people, educators, and local community leaders: - Young people NEED more relevant learning experiences and opportunities to practice skills outside of the classroom. They (especially girls) also WANT to improve their communities and solve problems. - Teachers NEED to meet a changing set of educational standards. They WANT to continue developing professionally without overworking themselves in isolation. - Development leaders NEED to solve a myriad of sticky problems, [which likely fall under one or more of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals]. They WANT more manpower and data to design and implement better initiatives.

Who Benefits?

While young women and men are the primary beneficiaries & focus of our measurement to date, we are learning the value of Visionaria Programs for educators (personally and professionally) and for community members impacted by student projects and ideas. Our select design thinking activities are facilitated in the context of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and related challenges. Because of our approach, the Visionaria programs generate unique (youth-inspired) insights and perspectives into local development challenges. These data points, if captured and presented effectively, can serve as an unprecedented resource for local and global development leaders that lack time/resources to collect community insights on their own. Finally, the growing & open-source database of youth-sourced perspectives, teacher experiences, and project examples will encourage young people and educators everywhere to identify and aspire to the future they want for themselves and their communities.

How is your idea unique?

We are lucky to learn from leadership, education, an empowerment programs from around the world (ex. Educate! [Africa], PAGE Program [India], Reap Benefit [India], and many more). However, these opportunities do not reach enough young women (only 12% of U.S. girls k-12), and even fewer reach young, indigenous or economically disadvantaged girls - who bear the disproportionate burden of poverty and the negative effects of climate change. Our idea is unique because it combines gender-sensitive agency-based empowerment principles with critical project learning experiences...It integrates leading teacher training and support practices for the newest generation of Internet 2.0/smart-phone wielding educators...It leverages a positive 'visionaria' brand and identity for girls that bridges socio-economic and geographic divides...It follows the diffusion of innovation theory by starting with ground-level educators, community stakeholders, and young women in its design & iteration.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

ORIGINS: In 2012, a volunteer team of gender researchers, engineers, community development experts, and myself (a CPA business consultant turned social entrepreneur), designed the first Visionaria program to enhance young women’s aspirations and support them to create and improve upon community development projects (which often fail from lack of community input). RESULTS: We have seen dramatic increases in self-esteem, emotional management, and self-confidence (among other indicators) in the 70 indigenous young women (14 - 20 yrs old) who participated in our intensive Summer programs from 2013 – 2017. Participants designed and implemented their own community projects - solidifying new skills outside of the classroom, reframing what their families and community members assumed they were capable of, and impacting over 2,100 people in 22 different communities. Local partners and educators that heard of our program urged us reach more you to integrate the Visionaria Program through secondary schools COMMITMENT: In late 2016, we formed “Visionaria Network” as a new 501c3 non-profit organization. In 2017, we have shortened our program and recently trained 29 new educators from 5 schools in the Cusco region. After refining our model in Cusco, we have plans to replicate in select regions throughout North & South America. Visionaria Network is led by a small remote global team (Colorado, California, Washington D.C.) that supports regional Visionaria hubs (full-time manager + part-time coaches). Our programs work in partnership with secondary school educators, girl-serving social organizations, and diverse community development leaders (government authorities, NGO's, socially conscious businesses, etc). Our vision is to scale Visionaria programs throughout Peru and in other regions of the Americas, in order to build an international network of empowered “Visionarias” (female visionaries) who aspire and share their achievements towards a better personal and communal future. ------------------- I (Paul) am devoted full-time to making this idea a reality. So is Paola, our Andean regional manager & master facilitator. We have a shoestring budget. We get things done. We live and breathe this idea -- there is not a single greater opportunity cost than the lack of educational opportunities and experiences for girls (in our opinion). Every day we meet more young people, teachers, psychologists, business managers, and municipal officials who share our vision for a future where girls become social innovators in their own lives and communities. ------------------- How can you help? Spread the word! We are eager to learn from anyone with experience at this intersection of education, sustainable development, and youth-inspired innovation. Not limited to: educators, young visionaries, ed-tech developers & users, brand-marketers, researchers, media gurus, international development pro's. Hope to hear from YOU soon! ~Visionaria

Expertise in sector

  • 1-2 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Savannah

Sounds like you have a wonderfully dedicated team pushing ahead on this idea. Educating and empowering girls would certainly go a long ways towards improving this world! Particularly, as the prompt mentions, at the intersection of peace, prosperity, and planet. Girls and women who are engaged, confident in their leadership abilities, educated, and respected among their communities can change the world!

Photo of Paul Spurzem

Thank you for the encouraging words, Savannah!

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