Photography by Florian Koenigsberger
10×10 is built on a foundation of partnerships with NGOs, corporations, policy makers, and grassroots organizations – all working to change minds, lives, and policy. Circle of Women is a network of student activists at colleges across the United States that works to provide access to education for girls worldwide.
Yale University juniors Evie Freeman and Lauren Hoffman are nothing if not civically minded. Interested in empowering women since high school, the two of them set out searching for a cause to join as soon as they arrived on campus, a cause that would both capture their imaginations as well as satisfy their need to make the world a better place through policy-making.
“We really felt something was missing from our college experience,” Hoffman says. “So we set out to find an organization in which we could both harness our creative energies and leverage sound policy to meaningfully improve the lives of others.”
The organization they discovered was Circle of Women (CoW), a student-run non-profit
dedicated to improving access to education for girls. The only thing was … the organization didn’t yet exist at Yale. And – worse – in 2006 it was founded at arch-rival Harvard. Setting school rivalries aside, Freeman and Hoffman decided to create a CoW chapter of their own. Instead of starting an entirely new organization, they wanted to become part of the inspiring network of students across the world that is CoW.
Along with classmate Camille Chambers, who is taking a year off from Yale to model while
directing Yale CoW’s marketing and branding, they are working to launch a financial literacy campaign for secondary school girls in Latin America. This will be the Yale chapter’s first major project. With a 20-strong membership, the Yale chapter is hard at work researching how to – as Freeman and Hoffman call it – “connect the dots between a secondary school education and the microloans given to young female entrepreneurs” in their financial literacy campaign. The girls are planning on introducing the campaign during their 2013 spring break.
Spearheaded by the Yale chapter, CoW has joined 10×10 in spreading its message –that
educating girls in nations will change the world. Together, they will host a conference on
October 13 at Yale to celebrate International Day of the Girl. The daylong program will feature professors and practitioners in the women’s development community. Freeman, Hoffman, and Chambers spoke with us about Circle of Women, the Yale chapter, and their goals for changing the world as busy Ivy League students.
Photography by Florian Koenigsberger
Q: Tell us about Circle of Women.
Lauren Hoffman: The mission of Circle of Women is to research and subsequently create
educational solutions for girls in the developing world. We fundraise not only to implement
these projects but also to make sure that they are sustainable ones. We engage with experts and local leaders to ensure this sustainability. We believe that we can effect change on a grassroots level. The official CoW statement is – One educated girl affects one community; one community effects a world of change.
Evie Freeman: A good example of a CoW project is the Keiri Reki Project that was developed by the Harvard chapter. In Keiri Reki, Pakistan, an earthquake damaged the girls’ school. To get the school going again and in acceptable form for girls to attend, bathrooms needed to be repaired, water needed to be flowing again, and computers needed to be purchased. The Harvard chapter researched how these changes could be made. CoW fundraised nationally for these changes. Construction was completed in 2010, and girls have since been able to enroll at the school.
Hoffman and Freeman, both Political Science majors, agreed that working on CoW projects allows students to put their university educations to a meaningful, civic
Camille Chambers: It’s important to point out that Circle of Women is about girls’ education- but not just that. We are trying to solve the world’s greatest problems that are attached to educating girls—maternal and child health and other big things. Our main focus is girls’ education, but through that we’re achieving so much more.
Q: Each chapter of Circle of Women has autonomy to work on its own projects. Which have you chosen?
Lauren Hoffman: 10×10 is helping us with our initiative, which involves implementing a
financial literacy campaign. The idea is to close the gap between women and the microfinance organizations that are loaning them money. We’re still looking for a pilot location in Latin America but have made contacts in the region and are in the process of deciding where would be the best inaugural location.
Evie Freeman: Microfinance is a burgeoning idea. Microfinance directed at women is an even more up and coming idea. The important thing, however, is that you can give out loans and not be sure what the recipients will do with them. Research has shown that women are better recipients than men – women will invest their money in their families and communities, creating as Nicholas Kristof and one of our professors, Sheryl WuDunn, define, “a virtuous cycle.”
We want to implement this financial literacy campaign in secondary schools for girls because most of the girls will be the recipients of microloans and microcredit. The campaign will teach them things like how to use a bank account and how to save money. It will teach them personal finance lessons that every girl should learn and follow.
Q: Your group came up with the “Girls + Education = ?” marketing idea that 10×10 is now using as part of its #BasicMath campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. How did you come up with it?
Camille Chambers: We were eating dinner and brainstorming. We really liked the idea of a photo campaign and were trying to think of a good slogan to embrace social media. It was during finals, and we knew that people on campus would be procrastinating on social media.
It’s the idea of people giving their own take on the importance of girls’ education. My gut
reaction to filling in the question mark was “gender equality.” For others, it might be “lower
maternal deaths” or “fewer HIV infections.” We found a friend, Florian Koenigsberger, who is a photographer, went across campus and had people hold up their answer to the equation.
Evie Freeman: When some people think of girls’ education, they might say, “That’s not my cause.” But when you make it an open equation for people to fill in, you make it important to them. We had football players hold up their answer; it gave them a connection to it.
Lauren Hoffman: That was the whole intention. It was our way of introducing Circle of Women to Yale, and we wanted people to respond to it. People really do believe in the same goal — it’s just the variable at the end that changes.
Q: Why did you join up with 10×10?
Lauren Hoffman: What’s great about 10×10 is that they have a big impact in raising awareness on an issue that we are both passionate about on a global scale. The key thing is that 10×10 is not just some huge umbrella organization – 10×10 is really committed to working on collaborating with its partners.
It’s also a really exciting branding and marketing opportunity. We have this message of
furthering women’s education, but we don’t have the beautiful original images to compliment it.
Camille Chambers: 10×10 already has so much clout and it’s doing what it’s doing with the best people.
Q: The three of you surely have your plates full with classes and Camille’s pursuit of a modeling career. How do you find time for Circle of Women?
Lauren Hoffman: Bottom line: we work really well together. In fact, this is the most cohesive team I’ve ever been a part of because we are all so interested and passionate about using our education to make a difference for others.
Camille Chambers: It has been working out really nicely. I’m in charge of social media content, so the bulk of my work is online, which is good because I’m away in New York City. We’re so passionate about doing this that it’s not a burden on our schedules. We look forward to working on it.
Evie Freeman: I couldn’t imagine school without it. It really connects with what I’m learning in class.
For more information on Circle of Women, check out circleofwomen.org. If you are interested in reaching Evie Freeman, Lauren Hoffman, and Camille Chambers directly, please email them at email@example.com.