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This September, Vital Voices once again partnered with the Open World Leadership Center and American Councils to host two delegations of women from Kazakhstan and Ukraine as part of the Open World program, sponsored by the United States Library of Congress. The delegates were accomplished businesswomen, political officials and NGO leaders, selected for demonstrating leadership in their field. During the program, participants engaged in intensive professional development training designed to enhance their knowledge, skills and networks in their spheres of influence.

The focus of the Kazakhstan program was Women in Public Leadership. The goal is to further the effectiveness of the government, private sector and civil society in Kazakhstan as an important step to achieving democracy, government accountability and respect for human rights. The delegates from Kazakhstan were Kuralay Bekenova, Sara Gumirova, Kadisha Ospanova, Bakhyt Syzdykova and Gaukhar Ospanova. One of the delegates, Bakhyt Syzdykova, is the youngest female deputy in parliament and has helped develop laws to combat domestic violence and achieve gender equality as a member of the Committee for Social and Culture Development.

The Ukrainian program was concentrated on NGO Development and Management, with a view to enhance the leadership capacity and training of the participating delegates. Included in the Ukrainian delegation were Tetyana Abramova, Iryna Breza, Tetyana Dolbnya, Oksana Fedorovych, Maryna Pasyechnyk, Halyna Savkovska, Larysa Shevchuk, Larysa Shvets, Svitlana Sishchuk, Yevheniya Zeman, Mariya Moskovko and Kateryna Tyminska. Among them is Tetyana Abramova, who participated in the Vital Voices of Eurasia Leadership Summit in Kyiv in 2007 and designs clothing and directs her own business, RITO Fashion House.

The delegates from Kazakhstan and Ukraine met with various organizations and congressional leaders, including Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas, honorary Co-Chair of the Vital Voices Board of Directors. Women from both delegations were very engaged in the program and able to meet with one another and share experiences during an overlap in their stays. The program has served as an impetus for further development and ongoing involvement with Vital Voices.

During their visit, the women in the Ukrainian delegation had the opportunity to meet with Kakenya Ntaiya of Kenya, who has founded a school for girls and was honored by Vital Voices in 2008 with the Rising Voices Global Leadership Award. Inspired by Kakenya and her work, the Ukrainian women donated over $400 in a show of support for Kakenya’s school. This remarkable act of gratitude was a fitting end to the program, embodying the message of mutual support among women that is critical for women’s development across cultures and continents.