Passports Take on the AWIU World

Microfinance, housing and job opportunities for refugees in Los Angeles, and the Peace Corps were among the topics explored by 13 AWIU Passports in the first cohort of the revamped Passport to the Future program.

Jackie Sabbag and Kylin Gao’s research project, “Financial Success through Savings Groups and Loans,” explored this topic working with Miranda Cohen of the AWIU grantee I Am A Girl of Uganda. Michaela Sabbag and Tamara Jaffe took on “Housing and Job Opportunities for Refugees in Los Angeles,” mentored by 2015 International Woman of Courage (IWOC) Fadia Thabet. Jess Sobieski, mentored by AWIU member and retired ambassador Eunice Reddick, explored the U.S. Peace Corps as a possible direction post-university. Other participants in the first cohort were Mary Apollo, Ashley and Briana Dawson, Emily Garland, Kristin Hommel, Jaanvi Kaur, Laura Perez, and Hannya Singh.

Driving these projects is a new vision for the Passports to the Future program. In January, 2023, in an inaugural “class,” the young women worked closely with AWIU mentors, IWOCs, and grantees on research, reports and multi-media projects designed to integrate them more fully into the people and projects of AWIU. “The goal,” said Passport Committee chair Barbara Rubio, “was for the Passports to learn practical skills, serve the needs of the women and organizations they focus on, and produce ‘portfolio’ pieces for careers in international relations.”

The new vision came to light in 2021 and 2022, when the Passport Committee, which Barbara co-chairs with Ann Diederich, held several forums with Passports to discuss their views of the program. Passports were not shy in expressing their opinions. “Personally, I wanted more structure, and I thought it would be beneficial for Passports to take on assignments,” said Jessica Sobieski, a student at the University of Georgia. Michaela Sabbag, who will enter Princeton this fall, said, “I think the consensus was that Passports wanted to be more integrated into the workings of AWIU – they wanted to meet and develop solid relationships with International Women of Courage, grantees, and AWIU members, and to feel they had contributed to the organization.”

“We started the Passport program in 2010,” explained Barbara, a long-time AWIU board member. “It began as a way to boost membership. Young women could join AWIU without a membership fee, and would be assigned an AWIU member as a mentor for the first year. We wanted to draw young women who were interested in international relations, figuring that they would respond to our mission.”

Today’s program is very different. Now the goals are to help Passports develop awareness of career paths in international relations, to find appropriate mentors in their field of interest, to expand their skills, and to provide opportunities for networking. Of course, Barbara explains, “We hope that when these young women have benefitted from the program, and are establishing themselves in their careers, that they’ll want to remain with AWIU and continue the mission.” To date, some 55 young women have participated.

On May 21st, June 4th, and June 18th, 2023, the Passport Committee hosted the online presentations in which Passports shared their projects from this first “semester.” “What distinguished these projects is that the Passports worked in teams, on a timeline, with a mentor, and with the stated goal of creating a project for their own university/work portfolios,” said Ann Diederich. “In addition, all of the projects relate back to ongoing work at AWIU, and further the all-important relationships between members, IWOCs, grantees, and Passports.”

AWIU mentors worked with Passports all along the way to put them in touch with IWOCs and grantees, to discuss and review project concepts and development, and to advise when needed. International Women of Courage and grantees were the focus of the projects; they also acted as mentors to the Passports.

Click here for more information on the Passports and their projects.

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