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How women are using their careers in technology to give back

WAKE International, the Women's Alliance Knowledge Exchange, is a nonprofit dedicated to bringing technology tools and know-how to women’s rights leaders around the world. With 20 years' experience working at the intersection of women's rights and access to education and technology, WAKE co-founders Heather Ramsay and Trish Tierney knew they could create positive impact by leveraging not just their years of experience, but also an extensive network of connections with other women working in the technology and communications industries with a shared desire to give back.

Here, MissionBox co-founder and CEO Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk talks with Heather about using technology expertise to facilitate global change for women's rights.

WAKE's Mission is to "amplify the work of women leading change globally". How did the idea of combining your professional experience and personal networks come about?

Having worked so many years with developing technologies for nonprofits — with a focus on women's education and empowerment — we came to realize that women’s rights leaders all over the world were fighting and working “on the ground” in areas such as women's education, access to healthcare and preventing violence. We also understood that those same leaders also often lacked access to technology, and the know-how to use it most effectively. The opportunity to create meaningful change and impact was there.

We also knew from our experience in the tech industry that other professional women shared our desire for women's empowerment around the globe. We knew we could connect these tech professionals with women’s rights leaders around the world and allow them to call on their tech skills to help others.

Tell us about the training trips and workshops that WAKE has developed.

WAKE's workshops, called Tech2Empower, connect volunteers with women leaders to focus on education, access and utilization of free tech tools and software. WAKE volunteers also train these women to use social media tools to get the word out about their work and how to advocate effectively for policies that are favorable to women and girls.

Ultimately, access to the right technology and training allows organizations to be more efficient and effective in their work for the rights of women and girls in their communities. Women's rights leaders are able to increase their capacity for accelerating change in their communities and scale their work for greater impact. To date, WAKE has held Tech2Empower workshops in Ukraine, Cambodia, and most recently in Guatemala.

Those are all very different countries with unique cultures. How does WAKE develop these workshops and training for each community?

We see the Tech2Empower training trips as just the beginning of the journey with each woman leader and volunteer. During the trips, volunteers get a better sense of the needs of each local organization and from that, WAKE is able to design a very needs-specific virtual training program for each group. Programs include ongoing training, working with volunteer advisers who conduct the trainings, one-to-one mentoring and support on specific tech projects that are useful to each organization.

WAKE volunteers give up their personal time to participate on our trips and donate to support the work of selected organizations, both of which make the workshops possible. In addition to sharing the latest tech information and assistance at the workshops and other WAKE events, volunteers provide additional remote training, on request. From these experiences, our volunteers learn more about how they can use their own skills in an ongoing way and how to stay involved with supporting women around the world.

An unexpected bonus for our volunteers is that the trips are a very bonding and personally rewarding experience. For example, on our recent trip to Guatemala, five Googlers from the Bay area (16 volunteers in all) participated, yet none of them had met before. As is frequently the case, these women tech professionals are used to being one of the only women on a tech team at their jobs. The sense of camaraderie that they gain from volunteering with WAKE is new and very welcome.

Ultimately our goal is to have Tech2Empower learning hubs in each country where the local organizations continue to provide training to other leaders in their communities.

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