When Our Voices Resonate

I was never a passive child.

When I was eleven my social studies class re-enacted ancient Greece and the girls had to enter the classroom accompanied by a boy. I refused to come to class and organized a few others to use the class time to rehearse and perform Lysistrata, a Greek play about women standing up to their husbands. When I was 17, rather than choosing to write a report or do a small local project, I informed my parents and teachers that I would be completing my senior project by spending my last semester of high school volunteering in Ecuador.

But not all young girls grow up with the same freedom or ability to speak their minds.

After college, I worked as a community organizer and saw that it was possible to support individuals to speak up for themselves, their needs, and their beliefs. One of the most effective and powerful tools used in community organizing is a storytelling training in which people learn to give voice to who they are, what they value, and their vision for the future. I realized that this tool could be applied to women’s empowerment – a passion my mother fostered in me from a young age, and that grew during my years at Smith College, an all-women’s college.

Yet despite its effectiveness, storytelling – one of the oldest human traditions – is not often used as a social change tool outside of electoral politics and issue organizing. I saw how it could catalyze work being done in women’s rights and development, and began looking for a way to put it into practice.


Rwanda, a small country in East Africa, has a parliament that is 64 percent female. Despite the government’s endorsement of women in leadership roles, only 8 percent of local seats are filled by women. In many developing nations, there is a gap between the role that women and girls could play in shaping their communities, and their ability to do so.

I reached out to a few women’s empowerment organizations in Rwanda, and their enthusiasm about partnering was overwhelming - and so in October 2013, with three workshops scheduled and no return date, I moved to Rwanda to pilot Resonate.

Resonate works with women and girls to unleash the power of individual storytelling to build self-confidence and unlock leadership potential. The key to development and growth lies in our ability to equally engage women and girls in society, in economies, and in decision-making processes. In order to see accelerated progress toward gender equality, women must not only have access to opportunity, they must also be empowered to take advantage of opportunities available to them.

Resonate partners with impact groups focused on skill building and education and uses the Storytelling for Leadership training to complement their work. For a woman, speaking compellingly about herself and her work can be the difference between learning a craft and becoming a social entrepreneur, the difference between having an unspoken idea about how to fix a problem and rallying others to implement community-based solutions. A story can mean the difference between knowing something is wrong, and mustering the courage to say so.


Jackie grew up in a small town in Rwanda. She was thirteen when her friend was chased out of school for being pregnant. She longed to stand up for her friend, but was afraid she, too, would be shunned and forced to leave, so Jackie stayed silent. It wasn’t until secondary school when she was encouraged by a teacher to run and was elected for student government that she began to see that she has the ability to impact her community. To this day Jackie is soft spoken, but she’s no longer silent. Jackie participated in one of our programs that trains trainers to deliver Storytelling for Leadership training in their own communities. Now she uses her own story to teach young girls the importance and power of standing up for yourself – and for others.

If women are not comfortable speaking out great ideas can go unheard, and opportunities will be lost. But in order for women like Jackie to have the chance to achieve their full potential, we cannot simply expect them to speak out – we have to give them the tools they need to make their voices resonate. Will you support our campaign to train 20 new trainers in 2015?

About the blogger:

Ayla Schlosser is the Founder & Executive Director of Resonate, an organization that works with women and girls to harness the power of their individual stories to build confidence and unlock leadership potential. Ayla has a background in community organizing and spent three years working on leadership development with staff, volunteers, and community members.

Schlosser - headshot

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