A Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) delegate and mentee, Rim Hajj (Morocco), describes how the WPSP Wellesley Institute impacted her life personally and professionally.
The first time I heard about the Women in Public Service Project was when I came across an article regarding Secretary Clinton’s speech during the launch of the project in December 2011. I remember telling myself how this initiative was exactly what women needed, especially in the MENA region, to finally play the public role in which they aspire. The events of the Arab Spring unfolding in the beginning of the year strengthened my belief that there were amazing, dynamic young women who would be the future of our region. The only component missing was for these women to get together and create strong networks that would allow them to support and learn from each other. This is exactly what the WPSP summer program at Wellesley College offered to the 49 delegates. I, personally, benefitted immensely from the intensive two-week training program. The topics we dealt with were diverse, challenging, and thought provoking. The speakers were top-notch leaders in their fields and more than willing to share their experiences, thoughts, and advice with all the delegates. They all have even pledged to be our mentors for the years to come! What I am most proud of is the bond and sisterhood that all the delegates (or shall I say “sisters”) shared with each other. The WPSP has changed the course of my career, it has opened new windows of opportunities and most importantly, it has changed my mind-set. I have felt empowered to take steps that I would not have taken otherwise. I am extremely grateful to everyone who has made this experience so enriching and so inspiring.
Since graduating from the program, I have been hired as a National Program Officer in charge of Democratic Process and Human Rights at the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency (SDC). I have also been appointed Gender Focal-Point for all SDC activities in Morocco. As part of my civil society engagement, I am currently a Country Officer for ALWANE (Active Leaders for Women’s Advancement in the Near East) which is a coalition in all MENA countries advocating for the most pressing obstacles to women's leadership in each country and working with policy makers to enact wide-scale change. As part of this Coalition, my teammates and I have held the only celebration in Morocco of the first international day of the girl child. We have organized a roundtable discussion with the UNICEF representative in Morocco, the U.S., and Dutch cultural attachés, along with the participation of imminent civil society leaders. We have also launched an online campaign to raise awareness about the rights of the girl with an emphasis on the right to education. To get our message across, we collected donations and we spent a whole day with 100 kids (50 girls and 50 boys) in one of the most disadvantaged school in Kenitra to teach them about this day through cultural and artistic activities. Thanks to the U.S. embassy donation of books, we were able to help open the first library in this school. Last November, I was invited to speak about this initiative and the importance of education in women’s advancement at a regional summit in Amman, Jordan which brought together more than 150 men, women, and youth leaders from 16 countries across the Middle East and North Africa region.