How This eBay Software Engineer Used Her Skills and Vacation to Empower Women #ExperteerSpotlight

Alexandra

Program manager at MovingWorlds.org

When most people consider their vacation time, they think about beaches with cold drinks, relaxing in nature, or maybe a yoga retreat to decompress. But when Catherine, a full-time Software Engineer at eBay, considered her vacation, she decided to spend it doing something that aligned with her values.

Thanks to the sponsorship of her company, eBay, Catherine took on a stretch experience supporting a Kenyan social enterprise making public spaces safer for women and girls. Read her story to see how her Impact Team experience challenged what Catherine believed about herself and the world, and how her growth inspired others to challenge assumptions as well.

What inspired you to ‘take the leap’ and join MovingWorlds Impact Teams?

I wanted to learn more about different cultures, as well as extend my knowledge about creating a sustainable social impact within a community. I also wanted to be able to translate my Impact Team experience to improve my daily work.

What organization did you match with, and what was the focus of your project on-site?

I matched with Flone Initiative, a women-led nonprofit in Kenya. Flone Initiative works to end violence against women and girls in public spaces by influencing behavioral change at the community level. It promotes tolerance and acceptance by building capacity at the grassroots level through 3 pillars of focus:

  1. Safety Certificate Program: Training current public transport providers on customer service, gender equality, prevention of sexual harassment, and professional and personal development.
  2. Women in Transportation Program: Seeks to attract, retain and promote women in the transportation industry by providing them with skills and support necessary to realize a safe, sustainable and lucrative working environment that is free from violence.
  3. Report it! Stop it!: Crowdmapping platform where survivors & victims of sexual harassment & assault voice out and map out their ordeals in public spaces, to seek redress and support.
Photo of the bus station Catherine took to work every day
Local bus station along Catherine’s route to the Flone Initiative offices

Fione uses its website to increase awareness for these very important focus areas. They also use it as a place to share their resources with partners and beneficiaries. Lastly, the website is also an important place for them to share updates and media to help increase attention and donations for their work. The local team was looking for support to update the website, and also develop their own skills in maintaining and updating it over time. I worked to help optimize the site functionality, improve the design, and training the team how to keep updating it with current media and announcements.

Flone Initiative Office in Kenya
Flone Initiative Office in Kenya

What was the highlight of your experteering trip?

Learning. I learned so much from the co-founder of Flone Initiative. I loved learning about how she found the social problem she wanted to solve, how she approached solving it, and about the local women who are part of it. I was inspired by the passion and courage of the volunteers who are working for Flone Initiative, and their power in working together.

Catherine with local Flone Initiative Team
Catherine with the local Flone Initiative Team

How did experteering inspire you to continue making an impact after returning home, and how will you translate that into your future plans?

Experteering inspired me to challenge the assumptions I had about the world and about myself.

When I went to Kenya, I realized how different the complex reality was from what I had thought before or the impressions I had seen on TV. It was eye-opening to learn from the local women about the social problems related to infrastructure and safety. Now that I’m home, I am happy to be still working with Flone Initiative virtually. It is fulfilling because I feel they need me and I really can make an impact with my technical advantages to help them optimize their website so that more people and organizations can be aware of the problem and work together to solve it.

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During my project, I improved upon several new technologies that improved my skills in front-end development. Before this project, my full-time work focused on backend technologies like big data executions. After I helped build the Flone Initiative website, I think I have more confidence to use my front-end tech skills to make me better at work. I’m also planning to use these skills to keep supporting other nonprofits who need similar tech support.

Has your Impact Team experience inspired others to think differently as well? In what ways?

I’ve noticed that my experience in Kenya definitely inspired my colleagues, friends, and family to think differently about what it looks like to give back in their lives. My experience showed a different way to really make an impact and help others besides a pure financial donation.

Actually, in China, where I’m from, most people have never been to Africa. It is not a popular travel destination — there are a lot of misconceptions/stereotypes about what life is like there.

When I went back to China, I shared my experience and lots of pictures from my trip to Kenya, and I can see it changed a lot of impressions in their minds, too.

How has your Impact Teams experience further developed your leadership skills?

In Africa, like in most countries, most women are not treated as equals to men in terms of salary, position, and even mindset. Without having experienced this discrimination firsthand, most men didn’t realize how their behavior can have a negative impact on women in the community.

Working with Flone Initiative, and learning how the co-founder approached solving this problem, helped me understand how to communicate with people who stand on the opposite side of an issue and still get things accomplished. Combined with the Impact Teams training on cross-cultural communication and design-thinking before my trip, this experience inspired me to approach problem-solving and cross-cultural cultural collaboration in a new way.

Based on your experience, have you uncovered any opportunities to create and/or improve social impact initiatives at your company?

Yes! In my company, my colleagues and I are working together to figure out a better way to give back to our community that takes advantage of our technical skills in a way that makes a real impact. For example, we are trying to hold a coding camp for the children who want to learn/touch coding but don’t have any other opportunities to be exposed to it.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks a lot to the MovingWorlds team, who helped me grow a lot and build this great network of volunteers, nonprofits, and social enterprises. These opportunities around the world helped me better understand totally different cultures, and find the best way I can use my current skills, network, and advantages to help others. [Editor’s Note: THANK YOU, Catherine! We loved having you and wish you all the best as you work to keep creating a positive impact back home!]

We’re grateful to Catherine for sharing her story, and to eBay for their generous sponsorship. If you’re ready to stretch beyond your comfort zone and see what you’re truly capable of, join us! You can see when our next Impact Team is kicking off here.

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