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By Laura Thompson 


Samia Al Sayed was diagnosed with polio at a young age growing up in Syria.  Despite this hardship, Samia developed into a strong leader dedicated to ensuring rights for persons with disabilities and providing opportunities for women to be engaged in enterprise.  

In 2015, Samia was introduced to Teina McKenzie, another VVLead fellow from the Cook Islands in the South Pacific.  Struck by Samia’s tenacity and courage and determined to help Samia improve upon the mobility issues spurring from her polio diagnosis, Teina connected Samia with Daria Mejnartowicz, a VVLead fellow from Poland that works in orthopedics and physiotherapy. 

After contacting specialists in Poland about making a new leg brace for Samia that would allow her more freedom of mobility, Daria was finally able to find a specialist who could make an affordable brace without Samia’s physical presence in Poland.  Utilizing online video chatting, Daria was able to collect the data and measurements from Samia that the specialist needed in order to build the brace.

Due to Teina’s ongoing support, during the 2015 VVLead South-South Exchange in South Africa, Samia gained the courage to talk about her mobility issues and how it affects her work and day-to-day life.  As a result, VVLead fellows began to come together to fundraise to secure Samia a new brace. 

Beginning at the South-South Exchange and continuing via social media avenues, the fellows were able to raise enough money for the brace, which is now being constructed and shipped to Samia in Syria.  This story is representative of the power of the VVLead network and sisterhood.

Through its three-year fellowship program, VVLead cultivated a powerful network of 330 women leaders from 75 countries.  92% of VVLead fellows increased the size of their professional network through participation in the fellowship and 70% of them started new efforts to create cultural or policy change since joining the program. 

In honor of the power of all-women networks, Vital Voices Global Partnership and the British Embassy will be hosting an event entitled, The Network Effect: the Power of Networks to Drive Women’s Leadership on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 from 8:30-10:30am.  Please join us by RSVPing here.

The event will include a panel moderated by Claire Shipman, featuring panelists Susan Markham, Susannah Wellford and VVLead fellow Xiomara Diaz from Nicaragua.  The objective of the panel discussion will be to explore “The Network Effect”: why networks are important catalysts of women’s leadership, through the findings of the Vital Voices VVLead Program, highlighted in the publications: Stories of Impact, The VVLead Fellowship and Peer-to-Peer Exchange.