In a Google classroom, a group of Scholastica School students are attending a workshop on 'Gender Equality'. You would think all the participants are girls, but interestingly, this is a class for young boys.
The workshop is being conducted by a HerWill cohort - a non-profit organisation working to advance women's economic empowerment and leadership. The 'WILL' part of its brand name is an acronym for 'women inspired in life and leadership.'
We have created a new generation of empowered women. But were we able to create a new generation of men who will be able to coexist with these women? HerWILL is addressing this by including boys in its workshops and activities.
"HerWILL aims to foster a generation - both boys and girls - that is free of gender biases, proud of individuality, and challenges the structural norms to create an equal world," said Farhana Hasan, founder and CEO at HerWILL.
Founded in 2019, HerWill is a one-stop portal of resources for girls and women, that include mentorships and training in financial literacy, STEM, personal branding and entrepreneurship.
It is run by a group of close-knit women who are working in different sectors like global aviation, bioinformatics, human resources and medicine. The team members are spread across the globe and are working from six countries — the US, Germany, Australia, Malaysia, Canada, and of course, Bangladesh.
They are actively working to train women with soft skills needed to shine in professional fields and develop mindsets to excel in leadership roles through organising all-women datathons, gender equality workshops, entrepreneurial training among many other programmes. Some of these resources are made available through partnerships with Microsoft, Google, Care International, Brac, City Bank and other erupted organisations.
"HerWILL is a place of empowerment; we let experts come in with their ideas and provide them with the platform and all the technical and marketing support they need. This way, thousands of women benefit from the resources and the experts benefit by building on their brand," said Farhana.
STEM and women
Recognising the disparity and a disproportionate number of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers, one of the prime goals of HerWILL is to meet the growing demand for talent in STEM fields.
Farhana explained, "Data Science is one of the fastest-growing STEM fields with high paying jobs and high demand for workers. However, the majority of data science workers are men and of the workers who are women, fewer are women of colour."
To encourage more women into STEM careers, HerWILL organised one of the first all-women datathon in Bangladesh, as a part of The Ada Lovelace Celebration 2021 hosted by BdoSN.
The datathon was prefaced with data science workshops as well. "The jury included esteemed professionals in the field of data science and software engineers across the globe including Dr Burkhard Rost, Professor at Columbia University," said Tanzeem Haque, STEM outreach lead at HerWILL.
177 students from 21 districts and 27 technical universities all across Bangladesh participated in the workshops and datathon.
Not just in STEM fields, to create opportunities for financial freedom in numerous fields, through their partnerships with Microsoft and Google, HerWILL provides courses for its members to develop soft skills - one is directly conducted by a team of Microsoft and another is a course from Grow with Google.
A myriad of resources
HerWILL aims to make an impact on skills development for women that is compatible with the high tech fourth industrial revolution. The courses are made available at HerWILL's website herwill.org. along with entrepreneurial training.
"Women are innately financially savvy. Daily household maintenance makes them adept in microfinancing but what they often lack is formal education," added Farhana.
And to help women master the skills needed to build and grow a business, HerWILL offers a business literacy course partnered with City Alo, the woman banking segment of The City Bank, conducted by North South University faculty.
Besides aiming to achieve financial freedom for women, HerWILL works on making women aware of their social opportunities and rights. Their 'Life and Leadership' webinars focus on socially relevant issues to find out the root causes of problems women face in society.
Speakers for these webinars include personalities like the first Bangladeshi transgender news anchor Tashnuva Anan Shishir among others. The late Indian author and activist Kamla Bhasin also participated in the past.
Through 'MindShift,' which is a psychoeducational platform with evidence-based knowledge transfer from HerWILL, mental health issues and taboo topics like spousal abuse and marital rape are discussed that are often overlooked in our society, conducted by professors and professionals in the field.
Bold topics like what happens to a woman's body after giving birth and how to take care of it are discussed in gynaecological webinars, including general topics such as Covid-19 vaccination during pregnancy and PCOS to create awareness among women.
'Femina Invicta' is a bite-sized video series from HerWILL to promote the success of women, especially those who are not public figures and achieved extraordinary feats. So far more than 50 videos have been broadcast from HerWILL featuring 50 empowering Bangladeshi women who have contributed in the sectors of science, business and arts.
Farhana, the CEO and founder said that she initially wanted to create a platform for women to uplift each other. Upon receiving a massive response from Bangladeshi women all around the world, she felt it was time to transform her platform into a bigger organisation.
HerWILL' s Facebook group is a large community consisting of more than 30,000 successful professional women who embody HerWILL's motto of women uplifting each other.
Having worked in global aviation for more than 20 years and consulted for various for-profit and non-profit organisations in the US and Europe, Farhana has seen quite a bit of how detrimental the lack of a gender-equal atmosphere in any culture is.
To address this, she aims to promote a cross-culture understanding and reduce the knowledge gap between the world and Bangladesh. She believes that the more integrated people are, the more tolerant they are as a whole.
And to bridge the greatest knowledge gaps in the world, especially in the United States and Bangladesh, the team works actively to foster knowledge and expertise to pursue a common agenda.
All the activities of HerWILL are completely self-funded; HerWILL's leadership pays for these programs out of their own life savings.
"We do not believe in free work. Most of our people are paid an honorarium. But the support we received from global partners such as Microsoft, Google, Care International, Brac, and other reputable organisations has aided HerWILL's journey throughout" said Farhana.