Claire Naylor (F'11) and Claire Charamnac (F'11) - Co-founders, Women LEAD

Claire Charamnac (F’11), from Singapore, and Claire Naylor (F’11), from Nepal, met their first year at Georgetown. The two immediately bonded over the long distance away from their families, and, more importantly, a shared passion for women’s empowerment.

Both women had seen discrimination in their home countries, but Naylor had grown up in a rural Nepali village where gender inequality was particularly widespread. Recognizing an opportunity to strengthen female roles in Naylor’s hometown, the two women followed their passion and created Women LEAD, the first and only leadership development organization for young women in Nepal—a country where approximately 60 percent of women are illiterate and a third of girls ages 15-19 are married. “We might fail in the end but we cannot look back and say we never gave it a shot,” says Charamnac.

Today, female high school students interested in making a difference in their schools and communities in Katmandu, Nepal, are selected to attend the Leadership Institute, a two-week intensive leadership development course that includes informational seminars and leadership workshops. Afterward, they are paired with a mentor and choose to participate in one of the four yearlong programs whose topics form the acronym LEAD: leadership, entrepreneurship, advocacy or development.

The Beginning: ‘A Big Decision’

During the summer leading into their senior year, the two women traveled to Nepal for a two-week pilot project to empower high school girls. “I don’t think we could have taken our first steps if it weren’t for the Georgetown community believing in Claire and me,” says Charamnac, grateful for a Georgetown research fellowship that financed her first trip to Nepal. Georgetown awarded Naylor an internship that helped pay her expenses that summer.

As graduation approached, the two recognized that it takes more than a two-week workshop to transform girls into confident leaders but that running an extended program would be a full-time job .

“We thought, ‘Do we look for jobs or do we continue running the organization?’ It was a big decision to make,” says Charamnac. After reflecting on their futures, the two women ran the two-week leadership program a second time. With positive feedback from the Nepali girls and community, they decided to take that risk.

In 2011, Women LEAD was officially born and since then about 200 girls have graduated from the program. Naylor currently works in her hometown to coordinate the leadership programs and Charamnac remains in the United States to develop their Virginia office, focusing on fundraising, marketing and outreach.  

A Brighter Future

“We support these girls’ vision for a bright future, not only for themselves, but for their country. We provide them with the skills, the training, the opportunities and the resources to become young leaders of social change,” Charamnac says. “When you ask a girl who is running, for example, a leadership program in her school and she responds, ‘I never thought I could lead anything. I never thought it was possible’ or ‘I have realized I’m not a follower, I’m a leader,’ that means so much.”

“The organization is not anti-men or women at the expense of men,” she adds.

In one of their programs, the Leadership Track, participants lead workshops at their schools for younger students, 60 percent of whom are girls and 40 percent boys. "We made the program co-ed knowing that young women need the support of the boys to succeed. The boys and girls can interact in a safe space and discuss issues, like bullying, depression and domestic violence." 

Support from the Georgetown Community

The co-founders have received positive feedback and generous support from Georgetown alumni, finding two of their board members through Georgetown’s LinkedIn group, collaborating with a pro bono design team made mostly of Hoyas and recruiting Hoya interns in the United States.

“It is really cool to see how Georgetown has played such an important role in Women LEAD. We want to deepen our ties to the Georgetown community because there is still so much more we want to do!” says Charamnac. The co-founders look to expand their organization into other countries.