Change the Narrative Fellowship Program
In 2020, WOMEN’S WAY received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Voices for Economic Opportunity Challenge to design, implement, and test the Change the Narrative Fellowship Program. The Program seeks to change the predominant narratives of women and poverty by using a women-led, bottom-up, intersectional approach that focuses on the voices and stories of diverse women with lived experiences of economic insecurity.
The fellowship trains and empowers women with the lived experience of economic insecurity to share their personal stories through professional-level audio, visual, and print. The purpose of the program is to generate awareness of racial and gender inequities in economic opportunity and spur actions among the public and private sectors that improve economic security in the Philadelphia region. Ultimately, fellows’ stories will be widely promoted and easily accessible through partner organizations, and fellows will convene with journalists, policymakers, and philanthropists to identify actions to improve the economic security of women and their families.
By the end of the Fellowship Program, the fellows will:
- Demonstrate increased confidence and knowledge about engaging, speaking up, and sharing their stories with media, funders, and policymakers.
- Demonstrate increased understanding of how to use a narrative change framework to effect social change in their communities and/or organizations.
- Establish new relationships with, and opportunities to influence, representatives from media, philanthropy, and government.
- Have more opportunities to accelerate their leadership capabilities by being part of a peer support network.
Key Fellowship Components:
The 6-month Fellowship program includes:
- A series of storytelling workshops
- Additional workshops on narrative change, drivers of the gender wealth gap, advocacy and community organizing, communication skills/public speaking, and interacting with media, funders and policymakers
- One-year membership to Philly Cam. Learn more here.
- Opportunities to network with media, funders, and policymakers;
- Optional process groups
Third Cohort – Completed July 2023
The third fellowship cohort will be held January – August 2023 during which 9 new fellows will complete the Change the Narrative Fellowship Program. This year’s fellows were all selected from Community College of Philadelphia, in partnership with CCP’S Women’s Outreach and Advocacy Center. Love Now Media, an empathy-centered media company, is partnering with WOMEN’S WAY to provide program design and curriculum to reimagine and redesign both future systems and policies through a lens of love.
Stories of Lived Experience Experts: Listen and Learn
Christina (she/her) is passionate about digital art, graphic design, fashion, and skincare. Her interest in the arts led her to study Arts and Design. Even before the Fellowship, Christina was interested in addressing the negative narratives associated with low wages, education access, food insecurity, the importance of reproductive rights, and how economically vulnerable pregnant women are. Christina applied for the Fellowship because she wanted to be a part of something that would allow her to discover her voice.
She is looking forward to contributing to meaningful discussions about how economic hardships specifically affect women during the Fellowship, as these opportunities do not come by often.
Ciara (she/her) identifies as an African American, full-time student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. In addition to her interest in music and the arts, she is also deeply committed to addressing low wages and job security issues. She hopes to gain confidence and strength from the Fellowship by learning from other young women and understanding their struggles outside her own.
Ellie (she/her) is a computer science undergraduate student. She is concerned about housing insecurity, low wages, sexual harassment and assault, medical care and debt, financial dependence, medication access, and transportation. Ellie hopes to gain the skills needed to discuss issues of economic inequality by the end of the Fellowship.
She enjoys video games, reading, and exercising.
Jimeera (she/her) is currently studying for a Behavioral Health & Human Services degree. As a young woman navigating the hurdles of life, the Fellowship will allow her to be part of the conversation to address housing insecurity, bad credit, financial insecurity, etc. Jimeera believes knowledge is power and wants to be in a position where she can holistically gain control of her narrative/life story to pave a smoother path for her children because she believes that they are the future. During and at the end of the Fellowship, she hopes to have access to resources and opportunities that could open up doors for her to succeed.
Jimeera’s goal is to use all of the opportunities presented during the Fellowship to grow and become a good example for her children, showing them that it is always possible to be better, have better, and do better; no matter what obstacles stand in the way.
Kachina (she/her) is pursuing a degree in behavioral health. Her goal for the Fellowship is to change the narratives surrounding trauma, mental health, housing insecurity, food insecurity, and student loan debt. She hopes to gain an understanding of social and personal issues, as well as experience sisterhood by the end of the Fellowship.
Her interests include writing, bowling, archery, and photography.
Najat (she/her) enjoys film, yoga, herbalism, dance, poetry, gardening, and cooking. In addition to her studies in Art Therapy, she is passionate about speaking up against low (unfair) wages, lack of educational and medical access, housing insecurity, and immigration. Najat joined the Fellowship because she believes her story can help other women in similar situations and feels fortunate to be on the other side of her obstacles.
She hopes to gain new insights, great memories, and tools to use daily by the end of the Fellowship.
Nate (they/she) is an Art and Design student. They enjoy painting, printmaking, papermaking, tattooing, graphic design, art history, and environmental science. Nate grew up seeing her mother depend on the government’s assistance for food and medical care. With the embarrassment they felt using their mother’s EBT card for food, shopping at thrift stores for clothing, and going to health centers instead of a primary care doctor, Nate became aware that they did not have the same financial opportunities as other children their age. She felt like a burden needing and wanting things with a price tag, which led to withdrawal and masking hunger and aliments. Nate has developed a strong interest in discussing mental illness, addiction, sex work, and the stigmas surrounding these topics. Throughout the fellowship, they hope to understand better the wealth gap in Philadelphia and how it keeps Black women in poverty at any point in their lives.
Nate joined the fellowship because she believes her past and present experiences are valuable to discuss to raise awareness and prioritize harm reduction.
Paula (she/her) is a criminal justice student. She enjoys reading, traveling, and trying new foods. During her time in the Fellowship, she hopes to improve her public speaking skills and build stronger connections and networks. Paula is interested in addressing negative narratives about financial abuse, housing, and food security.
She is also passionate about reforming the criminal justice system.
Tiaza (she/her) is currently studying computer science and information technology. However, because of her interest in gardening and visiting different farms, she is considering changing her major to something related to agriculture. As a young woman with financial insecurities who has never been able to afford to live on her own, the inability to have a safe space has impacted her holistic wellness. She hopes to gain skills through the fellowship that will allow her to change the surrounding narratives of homelessness, financial insecurity, and mental health.
Tiaza believes that being a part of the fellowship will provide her with a safe space to engage in relevant conversations with like-minded peers, including other young women who have lived experiences with economic insecurity and are willing to work to change the system for the better.
Second Cohort- Completed in August 2022
The second fellowship cohort was held in January – August 2022 during which ten women completed the program. The fellows from this cohort were selected through PHA’s Family Self Sufficiency Program run in partnership with Compass Working Capital. Learn more about each Fellow here.
Stories of Lived Experience Experts: Listen and Learn
“I want to show other women that despite their current situations, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“No one wanted to hear my voice then. I feel like no one cared. My actions were just a cry out for help.”
“I felt like my voice wasn’t being heard because it was just me. I didn’t have that support or income people thought I should have so I was being ignored. As a mother, it’s hard. It’s hard.”
“I’m back in my childhood home and I’m working towards owning it. I still have a ways to go. And I’m working towards it every day.”
“If I didn’t make a change for my son and I, we were going to be homeless and I would have a bad record as a tenant. I started taking matters into my own hand.”
“My children know the struggles we inherit and have been through. It was important to me to give my children a life I never had.”
“I am a survivor who is holding on, and I still have hopes and dreams of becoming a homeowner and entrepreneur of a second-chance shop…I believe in second chances.”
“As a girl, I was not a priority. Staying unnoticed was a challenge for me. Once in a while, I was able to and that was a good day for me…”
“I searched for assistance and this led to even bigger obstacles…The individuals who could offer change or help created blockages of inequality, injustice, housing, and economic instability. I felt every step I took forward, I was knocked back ten.”
Watch Jennifer’s story here:
Learn more about Jennifer’s experience as a Change the Narrative Fellow in this Behind the Scenes Interview:
“I’ve been able to work towards stability by utilizing programs that invest in women through financial literacy, training, education, and empowerment. My ultimate goal is to create financial security and generational wealth for my family and generations to follow.”
Watch Tamara’s story here:
Learn more about Tamara’s experience as a Change the Narrative Fellow in this Behind the Scenes Interview:
First Cohort- Completed in June 2021
The first fellowship cohort was in January – June 2021 during which eight women completed the program. Learn more about the fellows. Read and watch the stories of the fellows in our first cohort below! DOWNLOAD BIOS HERE.
Stories of Lived Experience Experts: Listen and Learn
”Years later looking up from the carnage of what my life had become I would try to undo what years of devastation did with no clue as to “How”. How to take care of my family or get out of debt. How to make more money or even how to manage the little money I had. This lack of knowing “How” would leave me working hard with little or no momentum stuck in the cycle of poverty tethered to a life I so desperately wanted to escape.”Read Tracey’s full story here.
“None of the jobs I had were enough to cover my financial responsibilities. Every paycheck was like a raffle, which bill gets paid today. And every paycheck I cried until I had no money left. There were times when I said screw this and treated myself to some retail therapy to help with my depression, the depression that was triggered by my financial insecurity.’
“It was on October 23, 2008, that a single life-changing event uprooted my security in ways I could never imagine. It was at this time that my daughter prosecuted her father for sexually molesting her. Not only was this event emotionally pivotal in my life but also financially. I was living below the poverty line without even knowing it. Unfortunately, even though I had two jobs and child support from now my ex-husband these were trying times. I would find out fast how low this line was when my children’s father was prosecuted and I lost all child support.”
The Experience that I’m just about to share with you is about the cruel reality that my family and I have been subjected to in the USA, for more than 6 years now. About one year after coming to this country with my little children, to be a family with their dad, and when I was still being used to live here, we separated…
…my marital separation meant that I had to start seeing my children supervision and arm guards around…”
“I am doing this to save what is left of my family, a home for my children and a way to turn this pile of debt back to normalcy. This is all because you want out, you no longer want to be with me and you no longer wish to be responsible for our home, our children and me. I mistook your abusive ways for love. I thought I could keep you happy by buying you things. I thought that I could buy your love and your respect and that would stop you from treating me like dirt. I still feel like dirt, and I am paying for in the worst way possible.”
“My son was born into a world of trauma, but he has no idea. Like any good Mother I try to shield and protect him as best I can. I protected us both during my pregnancy when my partner is abusive to us, jeopardizing both our lives. I left that relationship with my son and some serious PTSD. I was barely existing, I relied on my own Mother, a non-profit and the State to help me bridge this difficult time.”
“There once was a girl named Persistence. Persistence had many dreams like having a big stable home with enough bedrooms, a white picket fence to keep the danger out, a college education, a career she was proud of, and enough money to explore the world beyond the barriers that kept her confined. However, she faced many obstacles on the road to pursuing her dreams. But that didn’t stop her, Persistence knew that she was special, she just needed enough people to see it.”
“Every obstacle is an opportunity. When life gives you, lemons make lemonade, look on the Brightside.” Sure, optimism is better than pessimism but how do you expect me to be optimistic after losing four years of my life to a system that failed me?”
Looking to the Future
GWI will conduct a fellowship program every year for women who live in Philadelphia and the 4 surrounding counties, and in Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties of Southern New Jersey. GWI will also build the capacity of organizations located outside the Greater Philadelphia region to implement the Fellowship Program for women in their communities. By 2026, 210 women will successfully complete the Fellowship and an online repository of 210 stories will be established and easily accessible for distribution.
Third Cohort: January 2023 – August 2023
The application process is closed, and the Fellowship Program will start in January 2023.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE PROGRAM AND APPLICATION PROCESS, PLEASE CONTACT KELLY SHEARD, the Director of the Gender Wealth Insititute AT KSHEARD@WOMENSWAY.ORG