Nearly 20 years ago, Amy Maglio started out small by founding a global non-profit, an organization with a goal of helping young girls across the world, at the dining room table of her Oak Park home.
In early March, Maglio found out her team’s work was to be rewarded with a $750,000 grant from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey through his #StartSmall initiative.
“It’s amazing,” Maglio said. “My team sat down and came up with a strategy on how to approach this. We were contacting everybody we knew because we felt we were aligned so perfectly [with the grant opportunity].”
At her home in 2004, Maglio founded the nonprofit Women’s Global Education Project, which promotes girls’ education in rural Africa. The organization partners with groups in Senegal and Kenya to provide education to every girl, no matter their background.
During WGEP’s first year, Maglio said they were able to help 12 girls. Since then, the organization estimates it’s helped more than 18,000 girls in more than 170 rural villages in Africa.
“This all really came from my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal,” Maglio said. “I helped my host sister go to school for the first time. I saw firsthand the impact school can have on a girl’s confidence and her future.”
Last year, Dorsey announced he was transferring $1 billion, or about 28% of his wealth, to the #StartSmall initiative to fund global COVID-19 relief, girls’ health and education.
Upon hearing the news, Maglio said she and her team members began networking in an effort to secure a grant from Dorsey. The WGEP team then submitted a formal two-page proposal last September, and waited.
“We thought wow, this is a partner that can make a huge difference in the work we’re doing,” Maglio said. “We had to pivot our programming and reallocate resources to respond directly to the needs on the ground because schools were shutting down there [due to COVID-19]. Girls were in remote areas and not being able to feed themselves, let alone go to school.”
As they waited, Maglio said WGEP kept providing basic materials to those girls it serves, including soap, cleaning supplies and toiletry kits.
Five months later, the WGEP team received an invitation to attend a virtual meeting with #StartSmall. Shortly after, the organization learned it would be receiving $750,000 to help further its efforts.
“At the end of the call, they said they wanted to award us the full $750,000 to help more girls,” Maglio said. “Within a week, the money was transferred. It was the most unbelievable funding grant we’ve had. Nonprofits never work that way. This was more of a trust-based philanthropy. They understood the work we were doing, saw all our financials and said ‘Go off and do this work.’”
WGEP officials say the grant will help expand its community-led education and literacy programs, serve a larger number of adolescent girls and strengthen services to address heightened food insecurity, gender-based violence and illiteracy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now we’re in the position of doing strategic planning with my teams in Senegal and Kenya to talk about what are our needs now and how we can maximize the amount of girls we serve,” Maglio said. “The second thing we’re looking at is to expand into new communities. We’ll be able to expand our work in Senegal and Kenya, and we’re even looking to expand into other countries in Africa.”
While the grant is a welcome gift to help in the short term, Maglio said she is still keeping a long-term vision in mind with WGEP.
Prior to receiving the #StartSmall grant, WGEP had launched a fundraising campaign called “Our Movement Maker” in an effort to raise $1 million. Currently, the organization has raised about $550,000, Maglio said.
“Really, we want to be able to sustain this growth,” Maglio said. “We are about helping every last girl and giving her, no matter where she’s from or her background, the chance at an education. We start with those who are least advantaged. Without education, they’re kind of stuck in that cycle of poverty. We’re trying to give every girl a chance to get out of that.”