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A decade of supporting girls’ education

Words by Smiley Team

10 years ago this year, the WONDER Foundation was launched. Its aim? To empower women all over the world through access to good quality education and work. 

Olivia Darby has been with WONDER from the very beginning. As a co-founder and now, director of programmes and policy, she's been deeply involved in setting up and leading projects for women and young people all over the world. 

So where did it all begin?

Olivia, alongside around six other women – who mostly met at university – got together and pondered: there are so many amazing women doing things in different countries, how can we support them?

Among the group with Olivia were women from Kenya, Nigeria, Caribbean and the Philippines. “Many women around the world are really invested in their communities, and they are so often unsung,” says Olivia. The group decided on setting up a female-led charity dedicated to empowering women and girls through quality education and access to good work.

They wanted to be able to support women with training resources, finances, and give them the opportunity to scale up their ideas, to be shared with other people who could learn from them. “That is very much the model of how we work,” says Olivia. 

The charity partners with women and communities across the world to support them in the best way possible. “We don’t tell our partners what to do,” she says. “We’re not more important, we believe in them. And they are our equals.”

In the beginning

WONDER Foundation was officially registered in 2012. “At the beginning, we were keen to work with countries where our founders were represented,” explains Olivia. “The first charities we connected to, and we still use, were people recommended to us.”

Olivia visited the Philippines at the beginning of WONDER, and visited lots of different education projects for women and girls – she came away with a sense of what they could do with their charity to support. 

“There were projects too big for us to support, or even ones that were too small,” she says. “We had to learn what we had to offer and how we could work really effectively and strategically to have the most impact.”

It’s been 10 years since the foundation was officially launched, and Olivia says there have been moments over the past few years with Covid that have really made her realise how much they’ve achieved. “We never dreamed this would actually be possible,” she says.

A standout moment of success for Olivia was being able to get funding to deliver the first CPD programme for nurses in the Democratic Republic of Congo – their first ever remote learning programme. “It was a need we really identified,” she says, “We wanted to improve nurse training, but we couldn’t get our heads around how it could happen.

“The internet connection is so poor in Congo, and it’s expensive for people to access. So, the fact it’s happened through learning stations in hospitals is amazing.

“We are empowering nurses, who are nearly all women, to teach people about general health and hygiene.”

A decade on

The foundation operates in 22 countries at the moment all over the world, and they are working with 31 partners. It’s amazing how much has been achieved in a decade.

“It felt like quite a step 10 years ago,” says Olivia. “A lot of us were volunteers with 3 years before 2012, refining the process, and when you make it a job you aren’t sure how long you will be able to keep it running.

“But it has been an adventure and a massive privilege, as well as a big responsibility. 10 years later, I have a humbling feeling, knowing that we’ve only achieved what we have because we’ve had so much help and interest from so many people.

“It’s thanks to the women we work with in these projects that we have anything to tell anybody – and we also have the most amazing volunteers who work with us and bring skills, energy, and generosity. That has fuelled our work.”

So what's next for WONDER? “We have an overwhelming aim, to continue to serve our partners to meet their needs,” says Olivia. “We want to identify the needs of their communities and scale their work wherever possible.”

Inspired to act?

DONATE: You can donate to the WONDER Foundation to help them continue providing education to women and girls worldwide. 

FUNDRAISE: The charity has a dedicated page on their website to help you set up a fundraising event for them.


This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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