Leadership in Action at the Women's Rights Initiative

A brief reflection on my experiences working for the Women's Rights Initiative in Uganda on their ongoing East Africa Women's History Museum project.

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After researching the white savior complex and the work being undertaken by such groups as 'No White Saviors' last summer, I was left feeling unsure of how to pursue the Leadership in Action component of the Laidlaw Scholarship. I did not want to insert myself into a role that I was not qualified for, lest I distract from the important work being done by locally-run NGOs on the ground. I was even more reluctant to reach out to larger international NGOs  which I felt often wielded a savior mentality while disregarding more grassroots efforts. In short, I felt entirely unqualified for what I saw as "leadership" at this stage of my life given my age and background. In a perfect scenario I felt I would continue to conduct research and support others' voices as best I could. 

I came across the Women's Rights Initiative through a contact from within Laidlaw, and based on her positive experiences working for this Ugandan NGO, I decided to apply for their East Africa Museum volunteer position. This role was advertized as research-driven, which interested me, and allowed me to learn more about the work of locally-run NGOs in Uganda and throughout East Africa. As I a consider a future career in nonprofits, and maintain an interest in creative endeavors like museum projects, I felt that this role would allow me to contribute in a valuable way, build upon my work from last summer, and gain new experiences.

In my introductory meetings with my supervisors Rose and Jackie, I was given an outline of what my time working on the museum project would look like. I noticed that much of it involved research and outreach, and was surprised to learn that I was the first person involved in this role, and that the museum project remained in its early brainstorming phases. 

I began by conducting research into existing women's history museums around the world to determine what strategies worked for them, and what difficulties they faced so as to try to anticipate how the WORI project would unfold. I also networked with other women's history NGOs and organizations and applied for early-stage grant funding opportunities to fund the museum project. 

In the first few weeks, I felt as though I was spending too much time researching, with not as much to show. Since Rose had relayed the difficulties the WORI team was facing due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic in Uganda, I assumed that the museum project would remain a secondary focus and that I could continue to lend support through logistical efforts. In a later meeting, however, Rose was adamant that the museum begin to take shape as soon as possible. 

With this (and bearing in mind travel restrictions within Uganda), we decided to focus on an online museum for the time being. I reached out to content-producers which specialize in online arts and culture exhibitions, and we are currently working on establishing an online framework which would allow the WORI team to have a general platform and the opportunity to expand as their collection of artifacts and stories grows. Currently, we are planning to highlight the stories of the WORI team, and the anecdotes and experiences of some of the women who have benefited from WORI programs in an engaging and accessible format.

This experience has been challenging so far, but immensely rewarding. I want to thank the team at the Women's Rights Initiative, especially Rose Kigere (Executive Director) and my supervisor Jackie. I also wish to thank the Laidlaw team at the University of St Andrews, as well as Lord Laidlaw for their support. 

Image source: www.woriuganda.org

Andrew Adams

Student

I'm originally from Boston, Massachusetts and currently studying International Relations and Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews. My current project is entitled: "Evangelicalism and the White Savior Complex: How religious worldviews promote rituals of 'voluntourism' in Uganda", and is being conducted under the supervision of Dr. Stan Frankland in the School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies at St Andrews.