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Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) is an intergenerational grassroots organization committed to the physical, psychological, social, and economic development of girls and women. Through education, organizing and physical fitness, GGE encourages communities to remove barriers and create opportunities for girls and women to live self-determined lives.
The French American Foundation’s Young Leaders Program selects up-and-coming leaders in government, business, media, military, culture and the non-profit sector and provides them with the opportunity to spend five days together discussing policy and social issues. These open discussions have been very successful in facilitating the development of a new network of transatlantic leaders.
Some past Young Leaders include former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Evan Bayh and Bill Bradley, General Wesley Clark and former White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten.
GGE’s Founder and Executive Director, Joanne Smith was selected to be a part of the 2012 Young Leaders Program XXV. She spent the first week of October in France with Young Leaders from France and the United States. Over the five days, the Young Leaders traveled throughout France visiting Paris, Le Havre, and Omaha beaches of Normandy discussing French and American politics, policies and inequalities.
Here is a brief interview with Joanne about the Young Leaders program at the French American Foundation:
Q: What does being chosen for FAF mean to you?
A: Being accepted into FAF meant a lot to me because I started GGE at age 25 and 11 years later I’m re-imagining leadership. The Young Leaders process served as strategic disruption that allowed me to reflect on my leadership impact to date while building community with national and global leaders. I didn’t realize how much I was craving the opportunity to be made uncomfortable by being taken into the for profit world thinking about the global impact that our work has. FAF is an opportunity to challenge myself in a space that historically wasn’t created with someone like me in mind.
Q: Why is it important for you to be a Young Leader?
A: The Young Leaders Program is a historic “secret society” in a sense. The class of 2012 included politicians, scientists, doctors, economists, writers and documentarians at the top of their fields. As a woman of color, with multiple identities and experiences shaping the lens through which I see and am seen in the world, I believe that my membership to the Young Leaders program is important. It’s valuable for me to be at the table representing people like me and the youth I work with. It’s necessary that Young Leaders from other sectors and countries hear my perspective as we engage in discourse about the national and global policies and social justice issues effecting marginalized people throughout the world. The 2012 class of young leaders is not a monolithic group, but as a whole it’s equally necessary for me to hear their perspective, learn from their experience and identify how we can best work together.
The process we went through in France provided me with the opportunity to visit the Embassy and meet with the U.S. Ambassador to France, Charles H. Rivkin. I asked him to discuss the anti-trafficking policies in France since the week prior to our visit President Obama addressed the child sex and domestic trafficking problems we have in the U.S. We met with the Mayors of Domont, Jerome Chartier and Le Havre, Edouard Philippe as well as with a number of politicians, economists and elite members of society in France. As a proud social worker and not for profit executive, the time in trading rooms, at dinners and touring the cities made me think ‘outside the box’ about development and growing the movement to end violence against girls and women. I also reflected a lot on the type of leader I want to be. The experience was a gift to my personal and professional growth; I highly recommend that other social justice advocates apply. We’re very necessary in the space.
Q: What was your most profound moment?
A: During this trip, the tour of Normandy, Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery in Colleville reminded me that great sacrifices have been made in history and that I must always be guided by my purpose at every present moment.
Q: How will you incorporate what you learned?
A: That’s a great question and I’m still figuring it out. As a person and activist, I’m in a reflective space in my life so I’m working out how I may be the most impactful in my next stage of personal growth, leadership/activism in my life. I’ve shared with staff, interns and friends the experiences I had in France and have continued to connect with many of the dynamic individuals I met. I keep the youth and women I work with at the core of my experiences I had because I feel like it’s my responsibility to keep our most marginalized girls and women at the center of the decision making process and actions. I’ll continue do my best to represent the most effected by the issues we discussed when they are not at the table; I’m simply more committed to doing this with a wider global lens.
Grand Stade Du Havre
View from the Mayor’s Office, Edouard Philippe in Le Havre
Soldier and Historian of Normandy
American Cemetery in Colleville
Photo by Estelle Youssouffa
Founded in 1976, the French-American Foundation (FAF) is the only non-governmental organization in the U.S. dedicated specifically to strengthening the relationship between France and the U.S. It does so by bringing together leaders, policy makers, and a full range of professionals to exchange views and consider how each country might benefit from each other’s expertise and experience.