“Long-term sustainable change is about giving people agency in their lives and encouraging people to focus on their own self-development and the development of those around them. That’s how you make the world a kinder place, and what true development really is all about.”
The idea for WONDER began with a group of like-minded serial-volunteer students living in London in the 2000s. Establishing the Women’s Network for Development and Educational Resources (WONDER), these women sought to create sustainable development that was locally focused and locally led. They saw the women in WONDER projects as their counterparts and wanted to break the popular narrative of victimising women.
Through a system of partnerships, the WONDER team recognised that these women could provide a vital and often overlooked perspective for policymakers, donors and funders. In 2012, WONDER was formalised and established as a recognised charity using education and mentoring as tools for sustainably breaking the cycle of poverty, both at home and abroad. Women are the superheroes of their lives, their families and their communities: they are WONDER women.
Director of Policy and Campaigns, Olivia Darby was kind enough to answer some questions as a founding member of the original WONDER group.
What inspired you (and your friends) to start WONDER foundation?
Personally, I was always the toddler with my hands on my hips, stamping my feet when things were unfair. I have been focused on injustice and social action for as long as I can remember. Coming to London for university and studying international development shaped me. I spent a lot of time seeing injustice and local competence and spent time with lots of people from all over the world, who saw things that weren’t working in their countries that weren’t being recognised by policymakers.
During this period, there was a different view of international development, which was much more about giving local women the tools to change their own communities, not in a paternalistic way, but rather a respectful way that wasn’t really happening, and to a larger extent still isn’t really happening. This idea of a paternalistic approach to international development is still very widespread.
What was the team’s vision for the charity in 2012?
When we started, we knew we wanted to give well-run projects the tools to have a greater impact and to positively touch the lives of more women and girls and their families. We had a lot of anecdotal experiences of what worked and what didn’t work. However, we hadn’t yet condensed this into a theory of change. The way we work with the partners, which uses constant dialogue and learning (always looking to learn and define), we started to clarify the elements of our work and what was important. This communication and close contact have remained throughout WONDER’s history.
How would you like WONDER to grow in the next seven years?
There are so many things to do. I’d love to see all of our partners become more sustainable, increase their impact and really become resilient. I’d love us to work with more partners to increase our own impact. In addition, I would love us to be able to demonstrate to decision-makers that a person-centred approach to women’s empowerment and international development (one that really respects every person involved) is the answer to creating change. Long-term sustainable change is about giving people agency in their lives and encouraging people to focus on their own self-development and the development of those around them. That’s how you make the world a kinder place, and what true development really is all about.
Since 2012, we have alongside our partners transformed the lives of 50, 757 women and girls. Many of the projects and women we started with are still working with WONDER today! The WONDER story has been shaped by female friendship, kindness, leadership and empathy. As WONDER continues to grow, working across the world, we are committed to holding these founding qualities at the centre of our work.
Blog by Rosa Pouakouyou