Circle of Women chapter raises money, awareness

One hundred young women work tirelessly, minds set on creative posters and advertising techniques, but these students work for a cause greater than schoolwork. At the crossroads of student leadership and global impact lies the Circle of Women club, a nonprofit organization that looks to provide education for young women worldwide who lack those opportunities.

In the fall of 2005, three Harvard University students’ common passion of improving quality of education for women and global fellowship inspired them to create the Circle of Women organization. Since its creation, this philanthropic organization has established 20 chapters across various universities and high schools in the United States, executed four international projects in India, Pakistan, Malawi, and Afghanistan, and served over 1,500 women worldwide. For every dollar donated to Circle of Women, 94 cents are contributed directly to the cause.

Circle of Women accomplishes their mission through direct service projects such as the construction of schools in developing countries, by raising funds for various projects, or by simply raising awareness of the education gap between men and women.

Recently, Westminster became one of the 20 established Circle of Women chapters. In her first year at the school during the 2014-2015 school year, English teacher Liza Cowan suggested starting a Circle of Women chapter. Cowan had worked with the organization while attending Harvard University, and she sought to continue the philanthropy with Westminster students.

“Last fall [during the 2014-2015 school year], I talked about the idea of starting a Circle of Women chapter at Westminster, but it didn’t really get much traction. Later, one of my students asked me about how she can get involved with Circle of Women,” said Cowan. “We began holding informal workshops about the cause. From there, it’s just kind of grown.”

The growth has been evident. Over 150 Upper School students enrolled in the chapter at the club fair on Sept. 3, and eight student leaders have emerged from the 150 enrollees. Two meetings are held weekly for the club: a leadership meeting and a group meeting. Leadership meetings include student leaders and faculty advisors. In these meetings, the leadership committee outlines the itinerary for group meetings and generates new ideas for contribution towards the Circle of Women’s mission.

“For example, last week, we talked about the details of the social media [fundraising] campaign and how we would run it with the larger group” said junior student leader Florida Huff.

Group meetings include all 150 members and follow the designated agenda created in the previous leadership meeting. Sometimes, due to the large mass of club members in the group meetings, students separate into smaller groups that are run by various student leaders.

While the school’s chapter cannot travel directly to international locations and aid in providing education for girls, they can still contribute to the cause. The goal of the Westminster Circle of Women chapter is to spread awareness about the global education gap and to fundraise for different international projects.

Currently, the chapter is involved in a social media campaign. This campaign utilizes popular social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to both spread awareness about girls’ education worldwide and raise funds for new projects.

In the campaign, various Circle of Women members post on social media that to help increase educational opportunities to 62 million girls, they will donate a dollar to the nonprofit for every year they have been in school. At the end of each post, students nominate several peers to donate.

On average, members donate $12. So far, the social media campaign has already raised hundreds of dollars in donations and will likely raise more as nominees continue to donate.

“The social media campaign works so well because it’s twofold. We’re not only bringing awareness to the cause, but we are bringing donations in as well,” said faculty leader Mara Thomas.

Along with the caption about raising awareness for under-educated girls worldwide, social media users that are involved in the campaign post a picture of their first day at school. Thomas also credits the emotional pull of the childhood pictures for the campaign’s success in fundraising. After the social media campaign, Circle of Women intends to complete more projects for raising awareness and fundraising. One particular idea is the handwritten letter campaign, where members of the club write letters to women that they admire.

“Our social media campaign was primarily geared towards teenagers, but our letter-writing campaign is geared towards mostly adult women,” said Thomas.

Through the two campaigns, Circle of Women appeals to women of all ages around the country.