During Jolkona’s Project Catalyst Showcase on Thursday, June 19, our five Indonesian social entrepreneurs gave their five-minute business pitches to a public audience of supporters and investors. Funded by the U.S. State Department, Project Catalyst had selected them out of 200 applicants. And after two weeks of intense training in Seattle–which included workshops, field trips, mentoring, coaching, and coffee chats–the participants presented their social enterprise projects to sixty people at the University of Washington.

“I was so excited to do the pitch, especially doing it in a foreign language with an international sphere,” Mirah Mahaswari, one of the participants who was giving her pitch for the first time, said.

While Nadya Saib has pitched before, she said this time was different: “This past Thursday is slightly different though, because I didn’t know anyone from the audience in person. The last time I pitched, I was accompanied with my team.”

The social entrepreneurs spent much of the week leading up to the presentation preparing it. They received feedback from mentors and coaches, and they practiced on each other for hours. Nadine Zamira said, “I was most excited to see the other’s pitch decks. We have been practicing with each other and was really looking forward to seeing the final product. I think everyone did amazing! So proud!”

Nadya added, “I was nervous about being the first in giving the presentation. But that actually excites me too. And I was also excited to talk in front of some coaches whom had given me loads of insights. I wanted them to know that their feedback had been useful for me.”

Nadine also said of the audience, “I loved seeing all the wonderful people who have been generous with us through out the program in one room.”

At the end of the presentations, the members of the audience voted for the recipient of a $500 grant. As the audience could buy more votes–at $5 per vote–the pool was increased to $700 by the end of the night. Mirah, whose Pack Your Spirit program promotes literacy and instills passion for reading in Indonesia, won the grant.

She said, “I am soooooo glad that my project got the grant! I can’t believe it, since the others were amazing during their pitch!”

The award was presented to her during a catered Indonesian dinner.

The audience was also asked to write notes on the back of their votes, and for many of the participants, that was valuable. Nadine said, “I really liked hearing the audience’s feedback – praise, encouragement, constructive input and new networking opportunities. The input box was a really nice touch. It’s always great to know when people understand or can relate to your message.” 

While the first program of Project Catalyst came to a close and the participants have all gone home to Indonesia, it is only the beginning for their projects. Nadya said her biggest take away was, “What Adnan told us–that it’s actually just the beginning that may spark more connections with the audience. Our next job is to follow up.”

Project Catalyst is an accelerator for international social ventures. This 2-week intensive workshop brings social entrepreneurs from developing countries to Seattle, where they can hone their business plans, gain valuable insights, and meet prospective investors and funders.

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The voice of literature in culture

Like many other people I’m sure, one of my very favorite books of all time is J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. I consider it truly brilliant, and it has had a remarkable influence on me. When Salinger died in January of 2010, the tributes lauding his talent flooded the media. One phrase I recall reading by several different writers was that Salinger “defined a generation.” (You could argue he defined two). Such praise is deservedly lofty and not handed out on a whim. But what does this have to do with Machik’s Women’s Writing Program? A lot.

And here’s why: giving a voice through literature is – and has been for a very long time – an integral part of what we understand as “culture.” Deeper than that, the voice of literature within culture is inextricably conjoined with identity, whether it be on a wide or personal scale, which is precisely why we say of writers, ‘he/she defined a generation.’ We say it because we identify with that particular literary voice; it’s as if the voice is speaking for us. We perhaps take this truth for granted, but when you stop to consider it, you can truly appreciate how invaluable those voices are to us, how much they have shaped the narrative of not only our own lives but that of an entire country. This, then, is what Machik’s Women’s Writing Program in Tibet is going some way to achieve for the culture and identity of Tibetans.

Two historic Tibetan publications

In 2004, under the auspices of Professor Palmo Tso, Machik sponsored the development of two historic publications: the first ever anthology of Tibetan women’s writing, and the first print newsmagazine on Tibetan women’s affairs, The Land of Snow Tibetan Women’s Journal. Yes, these are the first ever of their kind for women’s literature in Tibet. Just think of the myriad anthologies of British and American women’s literature in comparison. Then think how rich Tibetan language and culture is, and how powerful a component women’s voices must be (or should be) within that. And yet this surface has only just begun to be scratched.

Breaking the shackles of marginalization

Ultimately, though, beyond culture and identity, giving Tibetan women a recognized voice through literature is about empowerment; empowerment against gender inequality. Women’s literacy rate in Tibet, for example, is that of approximately one third compared to men’s. And in a country where voices are largely marginalized, women’s especially, it becomes abundantly clear the scale of the struggle Tibetan women face. In the light of such facts, Machik’s Women’s Writing Program, and the projects it has brought to fruition, become all the more extraordinary. Not only that, they become all the more critical. This is why we as the Intern Team here at Jolkona have chosen to support this project for the 12 Days of Giving Campaign. Here’s our very bookish campaign video:

Give Tibetan Woman a voice

We’re asking for donations starting at $5 in order to support the publication of twelve stories or essays by Tibetan women in the tri-annual Snowland Tibetan Women’s Journal, which is produced both in print and digitally. $40 covers the publishing costs of one story or essay. By donating you contribute to the improvement of women’s literacy and education, whilst helping give Tibetan women a conduit to greater empowerment and gender equality. In this way, you assist in shaping the narrative of not only the personal lives of the Tibetan women, but also the very narrative of Tibet as a whole. That is no small privilege.

So if you care about gender equality, if you love to read, or if you’ve ever read a book by a woman and enjoyed it, then give here via our campaign page.

Give Tibetan woman a voice – through literature.