Soko Graduate Association

MMF girls at Soko Grad Assoc launch

This year saw the launch of a new graduate association in Malawi. This is the Soko Graduate Association, and Lindsay Graham, of Soko, writes this about it:

“At the Soko Fund, we believe passionately in women’s education and while we are always looking to increase the number of women we can support at university, it is also important for us to find out how our graduates are doing. It is our graduates who are contributing to Malawi in so many ways, through schools, hospitals, agriculture, and business, to name a few. Therefore, for the last few years, we have been trying to keep uptodate with our graduates, finding out what job they are doing, how their life has changed after graduation, and what their future holds. Two years ago, in some interviews with the graduates, the women mentioned starting an association. We were so taken with the idea of Soko Graduates not only supporting each other but also encouraging other young women to go to university, that we decided to undertake a feasibility study to see how this might work. This was the work Winnie Mkandawire – one of our Soko graduates – was doing, which was mentioned in the last Soko Fund newsletter. Winnie completed this research by contacting more past graduates and interviewing not only graduates, but also key stakeholders in the universities and secondary school.

From this research, we heard about how the women were getting on in their professions, and how they were supporting their families, but it also emerged that within the last few years, it was proving harder for women to find employment. This is due to a number of factors, some to do with internal issues within Malawi and some external issues with donor countries. One example is midwifery. In previous years, if you trained as a midwife and completed your degree, the Malawian government guaranteed a position in a government hospital or clinic.  This is no longer the case. Several of our midwifery students were having difficulties finding employment. During the feasibility study, it became clear that midwifery was not the only area that faced these barriers. This got us thinking about what the Soko Fund – through the Soko Graduation Association – could do to help. Thanks to a grant from Johnson and Johnson Trust, we now have funding to employ a Soko Graduate Coordinator for one year to establish and support the SGA as it develops.

This year, the graduates were invited to come together at the University of Malawi in Lilongwe to elect a committee and decide upon the focus for the first year of the SGA. It was agreed that barriers to employment would be the focus, with the SGA looking at developing a network where information about jobs, and how to apply, is shared, as well as a programme for internships to give Soko Graduates much needed work experience. These graduates who attended the meeting were all very enthusiastic about the possibilities the SGA could offer, as well as the idea that the SGA could, in time, offer its own scholarship so that the women who have held a Soko Scholarship can support future Soko Scholars. With these graduates not only supporting each other, but also looking to the next generation, the importance of women’s education in Malawi is clear once again.”

The image is of four of the MMF-Soko beneficiaries who were able to attend. They are now in their second year of university study, thanks to support at school from MMF and support at university from Soko.