By Ayla Schlosser, Founder & Executive Director, Resonate
Strength in Stories
Last November I had just moved to Rwanda to launch Resonate. As I prepared to teach my first ever Storytelling for Leadership workshop in country, I reflected on how fitting it was that my first group of students would be the graduating class of Rwanda’s only women’s college. As a Smith College graduate, I know firsthand how inspiring it can be to study alongside other dedicated, smart, passionate women.
Although I knew that my college experience was vastly different from that of the students I would be working with at The Akilah Institute, I saw over the course of our first workshop that many of us have the same hopes and dreams for the future. Given the obstacles that many Rwandan women face, it is all too easy to paint a picture of hardship and hopelessness, yet that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In our first year of implementation, Resonate has partnered with many different organizations– from women leaders through the Wangari Maathai Institute, to local women’s cooperatives, to eager secondary school students. Through this work I have heard the most amazing stories of Rwandan women who are contributing their experience, skill, and optimism to make this world a better place.
Dream out Loud
I moved to Rwanda to launch Resonate, an organization that aims to catalyze female leadership, using storytelling to engender confidence and agency. We partner with impact organizations focused on women’s skill building and education, and offer our training as a way to complement their existing programs. Our Storytelling for Leadership course encourages women to recognize themselves as agents of change, present themselves and their ideas confidently and eloquently, and take full advantage of available opportunities.
When a woman takes ownership of her story she has the opportunity to define herself in the way of her choosing, rather than reflecting back to people who they think she is, or what they think she is capable of achieving. She can represent herself intentionally in the way that she wants to be seen, and dream out loud about what she wants to achieve.
Stories Take Root
This past week I was back at The Akilah Institute. It was our third workshop on their Kigali campus and this time Resonate’s Lead Trainer, Solange Impanoyimana, was conducting a training-of-trainer’s course with Akilah’s new leadership teacher. Our training-of-trainer’s model ensures that we are building the capacity of our partner organizations by integrating our framework into their programs. I was so glad to see the way that our model had made a lasting impact on the curriculum – but I didn’t realize just how greatly the culture of storytelling had impacted students there.
During our lunch break, a student named Neda approached me. She’s a charismatic young woman with an amazing story.
Neda told me, excitedly, that she and a few other students had started a storytelling club on campus. They meet every Thursday afternoon and use storytelling to improve their communications skills, and to help them prepare for presentations or interviews. They also use it as an opportunity to get to know each other, and to find ways to support each other. They had found the course so useful that they had taken it upon themselves to find a way to continue it throughout the year.
As we wrapped up the course at the end of our Storytelling for Leadership workshop one student said,
“Before, I saw my classmates just as other students. Now that I have heard their stories I see that they are all strong women, and that together, we can overcome any obstacles that we face.”
Hearing those words, and seeing the ways that Neda and her colleagues are encouraging each other made me hope that one day, every woman will have that same chance; the chance to tell her own story, to be truly seen, heard, and supported.