|First Virtual Summit on FacebookLive watched by over 3,000 people|
Year #11 for TWI’s “Sparks” leadership program for university women in Turkey culminated with its customary celebratory “Summit” gathering in May – but with a twist this time. Typical of 2020 graduations around the globe, this one was held virtually with everyone calling in from their homes via internet conference call. It was spectacular.
The women didn’t let the change in venue dampen their spirits. With delight, all 52 Sparks (along with their facilitators) relayed the stories of personal and leadership growth in bringing their seven social change projects to successful conclusion.
What’s more, by gathering online instead of together in a remote location, the audience for this year’s Summit grows ever wider. Now anyone can share in the joy of the Summit celebration by clicking a link to the video at the end of this story.
(Note: If Turkish is not your language or you don’t have 3 hours for the entire Summit, fast forward to the final 10 minutes to catch the joy of these young women as they engage in a virtual sing and dance party.)
This year’s 52 Sparks participants bring the grand total of young women served to 412 since the program’s launch in 2009.
Virtual projects support UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
One of the novel components of the 8-month Sparks program is a social change project for each group of eight women. Chosen by the participants, each project addresses a problem that is local to the community surrounding the university. As a team, the women plan, develop, and bring the project to solution.
This year, the theme for all the groups was the “United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.” Each Sparks project was planned and carried out to address several of these goals.
As one example, the Sparks group in Eskisehir chose to address sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, and life on land. To this end, they created a presentation to companies regarding recycling. They also coordinated with the local municipality to place recycle bins in front of a major shopping mall.
Because all social change projects were moved online in March, the resourceful Eskisehir team took to the internet to organize recycling workshops with children inside and outside of Turkey. They were even able to include children from Southern California. They created a promotion with local Turkish cafes to incentivize customers to bring their own cups in exchange for a discount on their coffee. Sparks’ Instagram posts were viewed by more than 5,000 people.
In total and thanks to the internet, the projects completed this year by all Sparks groups reached a total of more than 35,000 people worldwide.
Sparks meet women role models
Another feature of the Sparks program is the opportunity for participants to associate with and learn from strong role models who are accomplished women in their communities. Among the 20 volunteers this year was the First Lady of Izmir, who is an advocate of gender equality and many other social issues.
Webinars kept Sparks engaged during Coronavirus
Sparks programs also take steps to address mental health issues. When universities closed due to Coronavirus, Sparks organized webinars to help participants deal with the associated anxiety and to keep them focused on their program goals. Topics ranged from sessions with a psychologist to fun on-line yoga classes.
Annual award goes to local sponsor
Each year an award is given to an institution or a person in gratitude for support of our work in Turkey. This year’s award was given to Suntektil, a top Izmir-based apparel company that has been sponsoring our work for the last three years and counting.
Sparks program meets leadership development goals
At the end of each program year, all Sparks participants take a self-assessment survey based on the program’s key goals. According to the recent survey results, the vast majority of participants:
Feel greater self-awareness, self-confidence, and belief in their abilities
Have started creating a vision for their personal lives and careers
Have improved leadership skills
Have a better understanding of subjects such as what it means to be a woman in Turkey and the world, gender equality, social change, social and economic justice, human rights and universal values
Know how, as individuals, they can create change in their communities and world
Plans are already in development for the 2020-21 year, with the goal of continuing to serve more Turkish university women of low and modest means. Sparks participants join this acclaimed program at no charge. $600 sponsors one Spark for the 8-month program.
Donations in any amount are welcome. Click here to donate.
Good news: watch the Summit video!
In Coronavirus time, the Sparks Summit video is a welcome glimpse at happy faces and “missions accomplished” social change projects for the good. Click here, and enjoy!