Determined to make a difference to the lives of children, Farah Williamson Still (BA French and History, 2006) co-founded Project Shelter Wakadogo while studying at Warwick. The nursery and primary school, located in a remote village in northern Uganda, now serves 450 children.
Farah has more than 15 years’ experience working across the international development, philanthropy and fundraising sectors. She is currently Director of Gulf & Strategic Partnerships at Plan International Canada, one of the world’s oldest and largest development and humanitarian organisations that advances children’s rights and equality for girls.
Tell us about your current role.
For the past 10 years, I've led the work of Plan International in the Gulf region. In my role, I help to establish partnerships to design and fund innovative education projects to reach the most vulnerable and excluded children while supporting children’s rights and gender equality. Our main aim at Plan is to not only improve the daily lives of girls but to advance their position and value in society. We also actively work with boys and young men to champion gender equality.
So far, I’ve helped to start a number of education projects and enrolled more than 350,000 out of school children. These have forced us to become very specific in our approaches to find children who have fallen through the cracks and to convince them and their parents and caregivers to enrol them into school. These children are often hidden and to find them we work with communities including other children. In these projects, we work with thousands of children who have missed so much school and help them catch up.
I also lead our work on innovation. I’ve learnt that innovation isn’t just about technology-based solutions, it’s about learning to let go and allowing young people in the countries where we work to come up with the solutions.
What sparked your interest in international development work?
Warwick was an incredible experience. During my exchange year, I was able to go to McGill University in Montreal, a university that puts social justice at its heart. It was where I met my co-founder of Project Shelter Wakadogo, Andrea Charbonneau, through a political science class. We learnt that children were being abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and used as fighters, cooks, porters, spies or for sexual purposes. Children would walk into the centre of Gulu to sleep rough in small groups because they felt safer than in their temporary homes in the Internally Displaced People’s camps. We felt we had to do something and went to Uganda to understand the situation and meet the communities. Everyone said the best way to help was through education and together with my mum, we founded “Project Shelter Wakadogo”.
Projects always need funding and our fundraising started with cake sales, poker tournaments, fundraising parties together with a committee of students, many of whom are Trustees on the charity now. We raised $100,000 and when I got back to Warwick, I continued to raise awareness and money through a university society that I set up. A memorable moment was organising a “Gulu Walk”, to mirror the journey the children in northern Uganda were doing every night, where we slept out on the Piazza.
Tell me about your career after graduating.
I kept fundraising for Project Shelter Wakadogo and realised this was my calling. I gained some experience fundraising in the Alumni and Development team at Warwick. I then applied for the graduate scheme with Cancer Research UK. It was an amazing experience and led me into international development.
What advice would you give for a career in international development?
Get as much work experience as possible, as early as possible, and ideally in the developing world. It’s a sector which values young people’s input, so there are lots of opportunities for graduates to get involved.
What was your main takeaway from Warwick?
The friends I made! We are still so close today, despite being in different sectors, from finance to the UN, fashion and food.