After coming to Northwestern from Mumbai, Weinberg junior Shloka Shetty perceived an absence of organizations on campus that were working to further the cause of girls’ education in developing countries. To address this, she founded a chapter of a global nonprofit called Circle of Women, which held its first meeting last Saturday.
“Our entire model is that we want to implement local solutions to a global problem,” Shetty said. “We partner with NGOs in those developing countries, and they're usually small to medium size, just so that we don't have to go through a big bureaucracy and we want to make on the ground impact.”
Shetty discovered Circle of Women through a family friend who was part of another one of the worldwide chapters. After a process with Student Organizations and Activities that Shetty said took only a few weeks, she received approval to found a chapter of the Circle of Women at Northwestern. She recruited people she knew to the cause to create an executive board, and together they split into different committees and began spreading the word.
Circle of Women began at Harvard in 2006, “when three young Harvard women when they realized the world under-invests in girls,” according to the organization's website. Currently, Circle has approximately a dozen chapters worldwide, at both the high school and college level.
According to Shetty, 22 people attended the first meeting, held in Kresge on Feb. 22. They had previously sent out an interest form gauging potential new members’ reasons for wanting to join and what committee they would want to be on.
“I've always been a feminist, of course, wanting to further these causes, but being from India and being constantly surrounded by that gap is definitely what drove [my desire to create a chapter at Northwestern],” Shetty said. “And I think that's what's driving most of the people who are interested in it, because most of our respondents were from developing countries or international countries, and obviously many from the States as well. But in their answers, many people expressed that it was something personal to them, something they’ve grown up seeing.”
Shetty began the meeting by showing a video of a Tanzanian girl named Bertha, who described her journey to pursuing secondary education at Orkeeswa School, which is one of the Circle of Women’s partner schools. After showing the video, each person in the room introduced themselves and described why they had come today.
Attendees who were from Los Angeles to Ethiopia described inequities they had seen and cited those as an impetus to join Circle of Women. Weinberg junior Humna Saad, who is from Karachi, Pakistan, said this was part of what motivated her to join Circle at Northwestern as the head of marketing.
“I'm here at Northwestern, I'm in such a privileged position, and there's so many girls back home that do not have the same position as me or the same opportunities as me or the same kind of support,” Saad said. “Someone else in the meeting was talking about how you take your education for granted, and I think at Northwestern I did that. You just get consumed by so many things, and Northwestern is such a pre-professional school. I was in this bubble, but this is a great way to give back.”
Circle of Women is student-run and project-driven, meaning that the international chapters work to fundraise and implement specific projects at schools in developing countries, from building a bathroom to sending e-readers pre-stocked with books to a school with a limited library.
Shetty video-called one of the Circle of Women’s directors, Megan Xu, who is the nonprofit’s project manager. Xu, a Yale student, explained her own experience with the organization and explained how more about how it operates.
“The cool thing about Circle is that it’s entirely student-run,” Xu said. “Our management team, instead of being adults who are in their 30s and 40s and super capable of filing all their taxes or anything, it’s normal college students like you and me, who are balancing classes but also care so much about Circle.”
After the meeting, club members circulated around the room to talk to the various heads of committees to learn more about each and decide which one to join. Prior to the first meeting, the executive team was working just among themselves to fundraise and create a presence on campus. Saad expressed that she felt particularly responsible for generating interest in the fundraisers and in recruiting members because of her role as head of marketing.
“It's a lot of pressure, honestly,” said Saad, who runs all the social media as part of her position. “We were starting from scratch. It was easy to get our friends on board, but it's very hard to find people. Someone in the interest form that we sent out … was like, 'the only reason I found out about Circle of Women was because they sent me a [follow] request on Instagram.”
The club raised $362 delivering chocolate roses for their Valentine’s Day fundraiser. Going forward, Shetty said the Northwestern chapter is looking to hold speaker’s panels, work with other organizations on campus and potentially even start a podcast series.