Friday, June 09, 2006


We need your help to get Mariam Mukalazi from the countryside of Uganda and Norma Vallejo from a a rural agricultural city in Veracruz, Mexico, to the Women Leaders of the World cohort July 22 - 30, 2006 sponsored by the Global Women's Leadership Network (GWLN) and the Leavey School of Business in Santa Clara, California. These two women are natural leaders dedicated to assisting indigenous, poor, and abused women in their countries to become independent business women.

The Global Women's Leadership Network ( a remarkable group, providing training and a network of resources for women who are already leaders to be able to fulfill their goals in affecting change. The Mission of the GWLN and the Leavy School of Business at Santa Clara University includes: Unleashing the world's greatest untapped source of leadership

"Today's economic, social, political, technological, spiritual, and environmental challenges demand new levels of creativity, talent, and innovation. The Global Women's Leadership Network at Santa Clara University is working to meet this demand by building an international network of women leaders who dare to transform the future of their organizations, communities, and the world.

"The Global Women's Leadership Network provides programs that cultivate powerful international leaders and establish worldwide connections that will support their success. Through these women, we touch the lives of many more."

As an alumni of the inaugural program, I speak from firsthand experience about how the network of resources provided through the GWLN has assisted me in organizing and uniting tens of thousands of tropical farmers, most of whom are vanilla producers, and working with them to create greater opportunities for their lives and to bring change to the ways that tropical commodities are traded.

Part of my vision has been to establish women's collectives in countries where vanilla is grown as a way to employ women who otherwise have few, if any, personal resources, independence, or means of support. The most effective way to do this was to identify women leaders who could implement this vision and to create model programs that can then be replicated in other regions of their country or even otehr countries. By empowering women by creating meaningful work and an income to sustain themselves and their children, their self-esteem will increase. This, in turn, will be passed along to their children who will hopefully have an opportunity for an education. The health of the tropics brings health to us all.

Mariam Mukalazi is a Muganda woman from the Lake Victoria region of Uganda. She has two boys, Faisal, who is six and Sula, who is four. She fled an abusive marriage but the tribal elders forced her to return home. Her husband then harmed the boys and nearly killed her. She now lives in a small home in the countryside and represents the Yeboah Farmers, a group of farmers throughout a large region of Uganda. She earns $60 a month to support herself and two boys.

A couple of years ago Mariam organized over 200 women at her church in Kampala. Some of the women fled the war and violence in Northwestern Uganda. This region is affected by the Darfur war in Sudan, the remnants of the terrible genocide in Rwanda, and the war in the Congo. Others are widows or fled abusive marriages. Many have AIDS and most have children. These women live in a treeless compound of small houses with no electricity or running water. Open sewers surround the property. Mariam started a program where the women could be of emotional support to one another, make crafts, and get counseling.

Mariam and I met over the Internet. I knew immediately that she has strong leadership qualities. I saw her through the forced return to the home of her husband and helped to convince her to flee. Despite poverty and bouts of malaria, Mariam has maintained her goal for a better life, not only for herself and her sons, but for the women of Uganda.

When Mariam was nominated to be part of the WLW, she was asked what she could do to raise money toward her scholarship. She spoke with the women's group and her pastor and they agreed to put on a program of music and dance, and to sell crafts and food. She so much wanted the training that she was also willing to sell her four cows that she had recently inherited from her grandmother.

The GWLN women told her, "Don't Sell the Cows!" Instead, we have created a way that people may buy shares of Mariam's cows to bring her to the conference.

Norma Vallejo grew up in Papantla, Veracruz. Her father was originally from Michoacan and came with his family to California during World War II to work in the fields as all the American field workers were drafted into the war. He chose to stay here to complete high school, learned fluent English, returned to Mexico and went to college, and began life in Mexico City working for RCA. He realized that his true passion was farming, so he and his family moved to Veracruz where they have had a farm with dairy cattle, a cheese business and they also grow vanilla and chili. Norma is a sociologist who has lived in Mexico City for decades. She has a grown daughter in Germany and she speaks fluent German as well. She has worked in the corporate world as a sociologist and has organized many women's groups. Now that her father is in his 70s Norma is moving back to the countryside to run her father's farm.

It has been her dream to work with the Indigenous women, so she readily agreed when I approached her about heading up a women's collective where the women would make vanilla ornaments and other value-added products that could be sold through Fair Trade channels in the US and Europe and also to the tourist market in Mexico.

Our goal is to have both Mariam and Norma at the WLW cohort because the training is so exceptional. It also makes it possible for the three of us to work as a team to design the women's programs in Mexico and Uganda and to get funding in place. The WLW training is very intensive and includes world-class executive training. The cost of the program, which includes food and lodging, is $6500. We depend on donations to make this possible.

This Spring I mentored a high school senior in Walnut Creek who did her senior paper on vanilla. For her community service project she threw a bake sale. Unfortunately, it was supposed to be on the big sports day of the year at her school, and everything was rained out! Nevertheless, she raised over $200 for Norma and Mariam.

We are holding a fundraiser June 19th in Palo Alto, California. If you live in the area and would like to attend the fund raiser, please go to You will see the invitation posted there. There will be a raffle (with some of our gift baskets), a silent auction to bid on some great events and services, ( go here to see the auction items; new items posted daily: refreshments and presentations by some of the 2005 attendees of the WLW. I will be presenting a slide show of our ITFN group and projects.

If you don't live in the area but would like to contribute to bringing Mariam and Norma to the WLW cohort, follow this link:

Any assistance you can provide will be greatly valued, not only by Mariam and Norma, but by hundreds of women in Mexico and Uganda who will benefit from their training and assistance. Together we can make a difference!!

To buy shares in Mariam's cows, cut and paste this link in your browser:


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