Friday, February 2, around 9:15 am: still feeling a little sleepy, I was looking out a glass wall over Manhattan, being illuminated by the morning sun from a seventeenth floor in a building next to Times Square. An inspiring and formative day was ahead of me – Kota Day 2018.
The Kota Alliance in New York City is a hub and incubator for civil society organizations working for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls worldwide. In 2015, Dr. Monteiro, Director of the Institute for International Communication, together with St. John’s University, were amongst the sponsors of the very first Kota Day. This year, Dr. Minna Aslama Horowitz and Neil Feinstein, both in the Division of Mass Communication at St. John’s Univeristy, were involved in creating the program for Kota Day. Helene Diyabanza Peterson, interning at UNFPA and studying International Communication with me, arranged for representatives of the UNFPA social media team to present their widely spread #girlpower video (see at the end of this post) at Kota Day. I attended Kota Day 2018 on storytelling for women’s empowerment because I believe in the emotional impact of good storytelling, I care about equality for women and men and I wanted to learn more about using storytelling specifically for this cause. At the end of Kota Day, what I took home with me was not only newly gained knowledge about communication and storytelling to empower women, but also the feeling of newly sparked “girl power” within myself.
Keynote speaker Simin Farkhondeh, education director at Democracy Now and an award winning filmmaker, artist, educator and activist, opened the day with a talk on the central role of a free internet and diverse, independent voices on the media. She reminded the audience of mainly representatives of NGO’s that video and social media communication has to be created of high quality and framed strategically in order to have an impact within the flood of information online. It’s not easy to communicate effectively on the internet, but the opportunities the web offers for minorities are valuable: “The Internet is where we find stories of the marginalized, that we don’t have access to otherwise”.
Inspiring speakers and workshops
Other speakers at the event had an extremely motivating and encouraging effect on me, and I’d like to share some of my key take-aways:
- Jake Jeppson, a playwright, taught us how to find our authentic inner voice to write creatively without being “crippled by the shoulds” and instead creating space for the “coulds” to take over. He advocated for the idea of process-oriented writing opposed to product oriented writing as a means to generate. His final remark: “As a creative writing teacher my job is to help you clear the shoulds out and let your voice sing”.
- Eduardo Placer, a public speaking coach, showed us how to face and tear apart our fears to be “fearless communicators” and leave the audience with the positive experience of who we decide to be as public speakers; motivational, inspiring, qualified, knowledgeable, and strong – we decide who we get to be.
- Jessica Greer Morris, representing Girl be Heard, talked about the healing and empowering effect that expressing traumatic experiences in theater has for girls and young women. Her organization is committed to promoting economic justice and stopping the exploitation of artists. “Talent is distributed equally, but opportunities are not”.
- Alison Leipzig and Michelle Goldblum, experts on corporate and web design, made their point in emphasizing that “your website is your store front”, indicating that it should give visitors a first idea of what an organization stands for, and it should feel warm and inviting in order for people to click through the site and eventually buy or donate.
- Toni Dolce, creative director at Purple Critter Media, gave practical advice on how to create impactful video content for a non-profit organization. For instance, she illustrated that one needs to act amped up in order to “break through the glass” of the camera and get people on the other side excited and engaged in one’s cause.
- Finally, Asif Khan from Games for Change showcased the broad potential the gaming industry holds in driving real-world change. His organization empowers game creators and social innovators to help people learn, improve their communities, and contribute to making the world a better place, by using games and technology.
During the afternoon workshop sessions, I was passionately brainstorming with a small team on how to improve branding and communication outreach for Empower Nepali Girls, an NGO providing an education through scholarships and personal advising for girls in Nepal.
Looking out a glass wall over Manhattan’s warm colored evening skyline from a seventeenth floor in a building next to Times Square, I was reflecting on an eventful Kota Day 2018. Friday, February 2, around 5:15 pm: feeling confident, strong and eager to use my education in communication to enable other women to feel this same spark of being empowered.
What does #girlpower mean to you?