"As a woman leader, I lead with the strong belief that women bring stability and peace, at home, in their communities, and for the nation."

- Mu Sochua, Cambodia

"You have to trust your own courage, trust your own humanity and trust your own capacity to be more than you are."

- Inez McCormack, Northern Ireland

"Women in Africa are the greatest untapped resource of Africa. We are the future."

- Hafsat Abiola, Nigeria

"As we know from long and indisputable experience, investing in women has an amplifier effect on productivity and sustainable economic growth."

- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

"I believe gender inequity is a market failure. You have to take risks. If you don't let the unexpected to happen, you will never truly understand the miracles of life."

- Roshaneh Zafar, Pakistan

VVLead Fellowship Program


VVLead publications can be found here


Across the world and more dramatically in developing countries, women lack access to economic, social and educational opportunities, and have difficulties achieving their full potential because of a non-enabling environment that poses political, cultural, social, and institutional barriers to their growth. The VVLead Fellowship represents an effort to support women leaders who are committed to eliminating these barriers in their countries and around the world.

There is wide evidence that investing in women is good for countries’ economic growth and represents an excellent return on investment in social, educational and economic terms. Numerous studies are starting to explore the special benefit of investing specifically in women leaders, as they are more likely to inspire and mentor others, improve their own lives and the lives of others in their communities and serve as role models for younger women.

Supported by the UK government’s Department for International Development (DfID), the VVLead Fellowship Program was launched in 2012 to support a global network of emerging and established women leaders committed to ending gender inequality by fostering women’s economic empowerment, eliminating gender-based violence and/or changing those cultural practices that are harmful for women and girls.

The VVLead Fellowship Program recognizes that “women themselves must connect with, empower, equip and inspire one another at all levels of society” to find solutions to the pressing problems that inhibit women and girls’ full participation (VVLead, 2014).

The VVLead Fellowship Program today serves over 330 women leaders from 75 countries and five continents, offering them a unique opportunity to exchange information, obtain resources and tools, access small grants, mentor and be mentored and receive vital trainings tailored to meet their needs, goals and objectives.


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VVLead: Value Proposition

The VVLead Fellowship is uniquely effective in that itspecifically tailors the self-identified needs of women leaders from different fields of work (nonprofit, corporate, social enterprise, journalism, public office) who are committed to ending gender inequality in the developing and emerging countries where they live and all over the world.

In the beginning of every year, these women are asked to explain which technical skills, connections and trainings they need to be more effective in their mission and accomplish their goals. Based on those needs, VVLead offers them a wide range of services including webinars, peer-to-peer trainings, small grants, as well as knowledge sharing and in person meetings and workshops. After three years of the program, Vital Voices does not hesitate in defining the VVLead Fellowship as a unique, highly effective and innovative program with a proven record of success in supporting women leaders develop the skills they truly need to end gender inequality.


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1. Extreme Diversity to Foster Out of the Box Thinking

Every year, more than 1,000 women who are both emerging and established leaders from all over the world apply to become VVLead fellows. Vital Voices selects the best among them, based on their leadership potential, their proven commitment to ending gender inequality in their communities and their desire to increase their effectiveness by gaining new skills, connections and learnings.

This fellowship is unique in its diverse makeup, as it includes women from a wide range of professions, ages and world regions.

VVLead fellows are entrepreneurs, nonprofit practitioners, local government officials, journalists, social entrepreneurs, politicians and more. They come from 75 countries, five continents and are extremely diverse in socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, race, religion and age, including fellows in their early 20s as well as fellows in their mid 80s. What all of these fellows have in common is an unshakeable commitment to improving gender equality, the ability to guide and inspire others and the desire to enhance their leadership skills.

This heterogeneity is one of the distinctive, unique features of the VVLead Fellowship and is something that fellows have highly benefited from, as it enables out of the box thinking, meaningful collaboration and holistic leadership mentoring. For example, younger fellows mentor older fellows on social media use, while more senior leaders guide emerging ones on strategic planning, human resource management and much more.

When talking about her experience within the Program, Xiomara Diaz , a fellow from Nicaragua, reported: “The mosaic of participants complemented each other beautifully to draw deep, long-lasting connections and impact.” Another fellow, Muthoni Ndhiu from Kenya said: “I think the international perspective is really useful because you are able to understand a different approach to how it’s done in literally every conceivable country. You are probably bound to find somebody who has an opinion or can give you a tip on how it’s done in their country and that’s really refreshing because it really challenges you to think beyond your boundaries, country boundaries, continental boundaries and just have a global vision...Being part of such a network, it actually opens your mind, it unlocks your mind and I think that’s such a valuable mind shift.”


2. An Online Platform as Hub for Connection, Learning and Collaboration

VVLead fellows connect, learn and collaborate through an online platform that serves as the hub for the entire program offerings and is a safe space only accessible by VVLead fellows. On the platform, fellows can access program resources at all times, get information on new opportunities, exchange ideas, debate on virtual fora, read the weekly roundups and bi-monthly newsletters where Vital Voices compiles calls for applications, fellow highlights and most importantly, attend live webinars. To date, twenty-six webinar series have been delivered through the fellowship on specific areas that fellows want to improve, and have been presented by top-notch international field experts. The series of VVLead webinars have touched multiple subjects, including Strategic Planning, Human Resource Management, Strategic Planning, Financial Management, Branding, Monitoring and Evaluation, Social Media Communications and Fundraising. During these interactive webinars, fellows have the opportunity to learn, to discuss with one another, to ask questions and to interact with the experts. For fellows that face inconsistent or limited internet connectivity, every course is recorded and is easily downloadable on the online platform. Talking about this learning model, fellow Grace Ikirimat wrote: “The approach of the VVLead Fellowship Program is rich in content, easy to navigate with practical skills and handy for busy fellows. Once I’m unable to attend live webinars, I visit the site later at my convenience and complete work required.”


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3. In Person Meetings to Solidify Bonds and Share Knowledge

To facilitate peer-to-peer (P2P) knowledge and best practice sharing, fellows are invited to participate in P2P exchange trips designed to foster technical, communication and leadership skills. Each year, the VVLead Fellowship Program organizes three to four such trips during which a small cohort of fellows “host” five to seven colleagues from the program – all of whom engage together in activities including technical training related to area of focus and discussions around work model, best practices and lessons learned. The design is focused on pairing participants from diverse backgrounds to foster unique approaches to knowledge sharing and the cross-pollination of innovative ideas and best practices. For more on the Peer to Peer exchanges, see VVLead Practice Note: Peer to Peer (P2P) Exchange: Best Practices for Designing Learning Exchanges.

In addition to P2P exchange opportunities, 50 to 80 of VVLead most active fellows are selected each year to attend the annual South-South Exchange. These convenings bring together fellows to discuss technical issue areas, challenges, best practices and lessons learned, both from their individual work and their participation in the program.

VVLead fellow Nicole Joseph-Chin: “The P2P Exchange is an opportunity to stretch your brain and let knowledge in.”

VVLead fellow Veronica Kette wrote regarding the South South Exchange: “I am so overwhelmed by the education I had. I feel I should have had this some 30 years ago. Anyway, I want to make the best of this short time that I got in my hands. I want to thank you so much for making me part of it.” 

4. Challenge Grants

Fellows have the opportunity to apply for challenge grants to supplement their ongoing work or to kick-start new and innovative initiatives for which they may not have previously had the resources.

Challenge grants are available for work in the areas of advocacy and outreach, program development and intra-community trainings.

Each small grant application requires matching support and must demonstrate both innovation within the individual’s context and potential for high-impact.

For example, in 2015, VVLead launched Technology-Based Solutions Challenge Grants, which supported the kick-start of new initiatives from fellows for resolving a problem in collaboration with at least one other VVLead fellow working in the technology space. For example, VVLead fellow Jane Anyango Odongo was able to develop and launch an online platform to monitor and denounce sexual harassment in Kenya, thanks to the support of VVLead fellow ElsaMarie D’Silva, who had successfully implemented this activity in India through her website SafeCity.

Speaking about this opportunity, Jane wrote: “The grant has been an eye opener to Polycom Development Project on a new way to tackle sexual harassment and even violence. It has given us an opportunity to look and identify with the Sexual Offences Act which has since been passed into law in Kenya but is underutilized or even known to the people.”


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5. Monitoring and Evaluating Impact

In an effort to ensure clarity over the program impact, VVLead has implemented multiple monitoring and evaluation activities throughout the life span of the program and more intensively in 2015. The main activities have included a qualitative data collection, whose methodology and results are highlighted in the VVLead Documentarian Project Case Study Report and the VVLead Documentarian Project Case Study Practice Note; a Data Quality Assessment through field audits, implemented by a team of external evaluators, culminating in the publication of A Leader’s Handbook for Record Keeping and Data Quality, and an Outcome Harvesting Exercise.

These activities have assessed the validity and reliability of the data reported by VVLead fellows on the multiplier effect (see section below), while at the same time building fellows’ ability to gather and assess high quality data. As a result of these activities, VVLead was able to reconfirm program impact and gain a deeper understanding on the key elements that have made the program so successful and capture them in the upcoming Practice Note on Lessons Learned from the VVLead Fellowship, to be published in February 2016. The VVLead Program is currently also undergoing an external evaluation, which will provide further insight into the program’s overall impact.

6. Return on Investment and Pay it Forward: VVLead Multiplier Effect

Since the beginning of its implementation, the VVLead Program has highly exceeded initial expectations and received an A++ rating from its funder, DfID.

Each year, VVLead asks fellows to rate program effectiveness and report on a wide range of indicators and the return on investment has been very large.

According to responses collected from VVLead fellows at the beginning of 2015, over 90% of fellows increased the size of their professional network; over 98% of them improved in capacities relevant to their respective professional mission and/or work; and over 76% started new efforts to create cultural or policy change.

At the end of the 2014 program year, VVLead fellows reported a total of 106,308 beneficiaries4, 23,755 of which were added after taking part into the fellowship.

This is an example of what VVLead calls the “multiplier effect,” described as the ripple effect that women leaders have on their immediate beneficiaries and communities at large. Women leaders impact those whom they work with, advocate for, employ or engage through their day-to- day work, whether by providing a wage, volunteer opportunity, education, training, or other service. Program participants also impart the benefits they’ve gained to their networks (i.e. families, friends, employees, program participants, constituents) through mentoring, coaching, training and knowledge sharing.


The VVLead Fellowship Program is not accepting applications.

For additional information and in order to support or partner with VVLead please contact Zoe Dean-Smith, Senior Director, Global Programs, with any enquiries about the program.