A network of peers using their lived experience as a driver of social change.
Angeline Murimirwa, Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED), Executive Director – Africa, Founding Member of the CAMFED Alumnae Association, CAMA
Across sub-Saharan Africa (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi)
Angeline Murimirwa, know to most as “Angie” was one of the first young women to receive support from CAMFED to go to secondary school.
She is now CAMFED Executive Director – Africa, working closely with all CAMFED offices in a collective effort with rural communities to break down the barriers to girls’ education. The NGO has already supported 2.6 million children to go to school across five countries. Angie became a key founding member of the CAMFED Association, CAMA, a powerful pan-African network of more than 120,000 young, educated women.
The big change
CAMA, the alumnae association for CAMFED graduates, is the largest network of its kind in Africa. Young women from rural communities use their education to benefit others, and work to break the cycle of poverty for good. They call this the CAMA Effect.
In partnership with donors and rural communities, CAMFED and CAMA offer training, technology, business loans, and mentoring support to young women at the critical time when they leave secondary school and may be under pressure to marry young, or to leave their rural communities for jobs in towns or cities, where they are extremely vulnerable.
CAMA members are teachers, business entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors, social workers and local political leaders, all with a strong and intimate understanding of the barriers to girls’ education, putting themselves at the forefront of dismantling those barriers, and rallying everyone in their communities to do the same.
“CAMA’s power lies in its institutional, as well as its emotional, infrastructure. Members are deeply committed to ‘plowing back’ the benefits of their education into their communities.”
The ambition for change
The big vision for CAMA is: to support millions more vulnerable children to stay in school, learn and succeed.
They do this by connecting and supporting each other – with elected leadership from local to regional level – and using their experience and expertise to support more girls and young women to do well in school, and acquire the skills, tools and access to resources to lead independent and fulfilling lives after school.
The shift in direction
Having received funding from CAMFED in 1998 to help her continue in education beyond primary school, Angie and 400 other recipients graduated high school into a ‘post-graduate abyss’.
There were no prospects, no job opportunities, no clear path in terms of continuing education for Angie and her fellow CAMFED alumni. Micro-finance institutions saw them as too risky to invest because they were all women.
When asked by CAMFED, ‘what next?’ the group founded CAMA – the CAMFED alumni network. Initially it was just for them as a group of educated women to empower and support each other to navigate their post-school lives. Since then, CAMA has evolved into a bigger, better, more sophisticated movement for supporting young women as they leave school but also for supporting other generations that are still getting into school.
Making change happen
1: The start point
Harnessing lived experiences
Angie and her fellow CAMA founding members recognised the value of their own experiences as young women who had overcome some of the barriers other young women were facing. Not only did they feel they couldn’t walk away from that, but also that they had a unique contribution to make.
“Whenever we went back to our communities we realised that the same challenges that threatened to keep us out of school were still bedevilling those that remained behind. We knew where the power lay, but we also knew where the traps lay. So it was about drawing on our own lived experience to be able to shape our responses.”
2: Taking off
Challenging false narratives
Angie emphasised the importance of challenging some of the engrained perspectives that felt at odds with the alumni network’s experiences. Importantly, they wanted to recognise the commitment of parents and guardians in their community to education – something that had been lost in the narrative about girls’ education.
“Most of the literature at that time tended to say that our communities did not care about their children’s education. That narrative did not resonate with our own personal experiences, so it was also a burden for us to be able to say this is not the life that we live, it doesn’t talk about the communities that we are coming from, it’s not making sense.”
Engagement at all levels
Angie is adamant that all stakeholders – parents and guardians, community and civic leaders, government officials – should be engaged in the mission, regardless of whether they are champions of or blockers to girls’ education, particularly if they are people in positions of power.
“We involve everybody who has anything to do with the children that we work with. One of the things that we have learnt, both from our own lived experience as young people, but also from working with CAMFED, is we need to be willing to engage with everybody.”
CAMA members go beyond engagement and emphasise shared ownership of the mission. They work in a way that ensures the problems and solutions are owned by the community they are working with and the people on the frontline. They make sure they cost the investment that everybody is making, whether financial or non-financial, so that contribution is recognised and shared.
“You must be willing to collaborate, to negotiate, to manage your power to make change happen. It’s not a 1% thing or a one organisation thing, it is a collective, it is about doing it together.”
3. Keeping going
Peer networks that foster exchange
CAMA members are purposeful in how they connect people they work with locally, regionally and nationally. They see value in supporting colleagues to share learning and bounce new ideas off one another, as well as in the sense of comradery that comes from connections with peers.
“For every group that we work with we ensure that there is a peer support group. So it might be for a district schools inspector that is working for the remotest districts in the country, they know that they are not alone. They are connected, they are exchanging ideas, and if there is somebody who is doing it better. We make sure that there is, you know, an opportunity for them to make exchanges.”
A power sharing model
Angie and fellow founding members of CAMA were strategic in how they leveraged CAMFED’s tried and tested infrastructure and systems of accountability and accounting for resources for girls’ education, while recognising the need to have a flexible governance arrangement that is agile and can be renewed as new generations of young women join the network.
“The way CAMFED and CAMA works is that CAMA is the movement, and CAMFED is the vehicle through which it continues to grow.”
Bring achievements to the attention of policy makers
CAMFED has memorandums of understanding with government ministries in the countries they work with. Together with those leading the local CAMA networks, CAMFED will proactively engage ministries in understanding the achievements of communities and what investments have been made by parent support groups, for example, who set up meal programmes at schools, build infrastructure, and ensure girls’ safety. Together, they make the case for governments to further support the great work, and feed best practice into the school system as a whole.
“We say how much communities are bringing into the education of their own children: this is how much we brought in, this is the gap that you should be bringing as a government, and this is how we can do this together next time.”
Taking change wider
A pipeline of new people and fresh ideas
CAMA is a sustainable movement by design. More than that, it benefits from a continuous supply of young women with different lived experiences and new ideas, as CAMFED clients graduate. That helps the network to be ever growing and ever evolving.
“The national Chairperson for [CAMA] Zimbabwe is Tendai. She’s 20. CAMA is 20 years old. She was born 6 months after CAMA was formed, but she’s the national Chairperson for that alumnae network of 53,000 in Zimbabwe.”
Belonging and celebration
Angie highlights that the biggest incentives for involvement in the network hasn’t only been financial support, but also the feeling for young women that they are making a change beyond what they could have achieved on their own. Celebrating as a community of practice, a broader movement, within and between countries, is a powerful enabler for sustainable change.
“We make sure that all groundbreaking or promising practices are celebrated publicly, and also that young women will not be judged if they make a mistake. This means a lot for some people whose work might never have been recognised.”
The impact of change
- By the start of 2018, CAMA already had 120,000 members from across 5 countries, and in 2017 alone CAMA supported over 526,000 children in primary and secondary school.
- Child Protection guidelines developed by CAMFED with CAMA for use in schools have been rolled out nationally in Zambia.
- 45% of CAMA members occupy community, district and national leadership positions.
- “Our investment in CAMA is paying huge dividends, as young women are extending partnerships, developing innovative programmes, galvanizing change in their communities, and leading the movement in support of girls’ education.”
- The young women who went on to run business enterprises have seen a return on investment of over 390%.
- Young people who received loans through CAMA/CAMFED’s loans facility with partner Kiva, having been considered unbankable by traditional microfinance programmes, have a loan repayment rate over 98%.