Good Cause: Resonate
Resonate is an organisation run by American Ayla Schlosser that focuses on leadership training through story telling.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in a small town in Northern California, and graduated from Smith College in 2009. After college, I worked as a communications consultant, and later I threw myself into work as a community organizer.
I became fascinated and intimately acquainted with a form of leadership training rooted in US social movements and formalized by Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz. In particular, I was astonished by the transformational power of storytelling as it related to building leadership capacity.
I began to dream about using storytelling to break down confidence and leadership barriers for women internationally. I looked for an organization that fit this vision in hopes that I could join their efforts, and yet my search yielded no results. I was startled by the gap I had uncovered, and unwilling to give up on the possibility for impact. During a solo cross-country road trip I reflected often on one of my favorite quotes:
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” – Rabbi Hillel
By the time I arrived in California dreams had become plans, and Resonate was born.
Tell us a bit about Resonate.
Resonate believes that all women have the potential to lead change in their lives and communities, and uses storytelling and action leadership workshops to empower women and girls to generate change. Working with women in Rwanda and partnering with a variety of impact organizations in East Africa, Resonate is changing the lives of women and girls and the communities they are connected to by providing leadership coaching and tools. Resonate’s program supports participants to be agents of positive change in their lives, families and communities.
Why did you choose storytelling as a means of accomplishing these goals?
For a woman, learning to talk compellingly about herself and her work can mean the difference between learning a craft and being a social entrepreneur. It can mean the difference between having an idea about how to fix a problem and successfully rallying others to implement community-based solutions. Personal presentation is a necessary skill for all leaders, and storytelling is one of the most powerful and effective ways to get someone interested and invested in a person and her ideas. Teaching storytelling as a communication tool can bridge the gap between the important work of increasing women’s education and economic independence, and building a platform for women to leverage those skills into leadership for change.
Why did you choose Rwanda?
Rwanda is a really interesting place to do women’s empowerment work. Although there is a really high number of women in parliament (64% in the lower parliament), only about 8% of local leadership seats are filled by women. This is a disconnect that Resonate is directly addressing by working with women to lead change in their lives and communities. This fact, along with a strong network of partners here, made this a really great place to kick off our work – though we’ve also done work in Kenya and Uganda, and hope to be expanding regionally before long!
Who are some of the people you’re working with? What are their stories?
Francine is a 37-year-old woman with four children who lives in the coffee growing region of Nyaruguru. She’s soft spoken, but she has always wanted to be a community leader. However, even though she had the skills she needed, when we met her this past February she was so shy that she could hardly muster the courage to ask someone their name. After going through our workshop, she finally gained the courage talk with her husband and to go join a community savings group. Today, she leads monthly meetings in her community to help identify challenges and work to find solutions, and she’s planning to run to be the first woman on her village council.
Benigne is 24 and lives in Kigali, Rwanda where she has just graduated from engineering school. Through sharing her story of her struggle to pursue her education in Resonate’s Storytelling for Leadership training, Benign was able to reflect on and share how she overcame the obstacles she faced. Since participating in the initial training, Benign has shared her story with colleagues and has joined the Resonate network as a coach. She keeps a video of herself telling her story on her phone and listens to it every day to remind herself that she is “strong and capable.”
What happens in a Resonate workshop?
Resonate’s storytelling workshops train women and girls to leverage their personal narrative and unleash their self-confidence, strength, and power to lead. The act of developing and sharing one’s story – a process of self-recognition and identifying moments of resilience – builds self-confidence. Participants learn to talk about who they are, what they value, and what their goals are—whether to demonstrate their abilities, forge partnerships, inspire others, or organize communities. During our extended action leadership workshops, participants also go through a process of designing and implementing their own solutions to community problems. In both cases, participants come together to build communities of strong, supportive women.
What sort of feedback are you getting so far after your workshops?
We have heard from our participants that our training helps them see themselves differently, and allows them to set and reach higher goals for themselves. The women we work with are inspired by the stories of their colleagues, and motivated to inspire others. The biggest feedback we have gotten following our Storytelling for Leadership workshops is that people are eager for more – which is why we are ramping up our training of trainers program, and rolling out our action leadership training to continue to support participants as they complete their own change projects.
What do you hope for the graduates of your workshops?
We hope that the women we work with are able to accomplish their goals, and achieve the changes that they envision – personally, academically, professionally, and in their communities. For Diana, that meant having the confidence to land a new job; for Isimbi, it meant returning to graduate school after years of putting it off; for Aurore, that meant taking on a leadership role within her current work; and for Serapie it meant having the courage and skills to start her own business.
How do you measure Resonate’s success?
Resonate is increasing the number of women in Rwanda who are taking on leadership roles – in their schools, jobs, or communities. We use surveys and interviews to track progress of our participants over time, and have seen increases in self-confidence, comfort speaking publicly, and comfort taking charge of a team, group, or project.
You recently participated in the Unreasonable Institute as a 2015 Fellow. How do you think this experience will push Resonate forward?
The Unreasonable Institute Global was a 5-week intensive training, and a lifelong network. Resonate participated along with 12 ventures from around the world and received coaching and guidance from more than 75 world class mentors, and are connected with experts, funders, and investors. The institute was an incredible opportunity to reflect on our impact so far, clarify our vision for the future, and build out a strategic plan for how we will reach millions of women and girls in the years to come.
What can we expect for the future of Resonate?
We are really excited about expanding our program offerings to provide continued leadership support to the true heroines of the Resonate story – women leading change in their communities. While at the Unreasonable Institute, I gave a six minute talk on what the future of Resonate looks like – watch it here!