It all started while Linda Lockhart watched “Larry King Live” from a hotel room in Istanbul, Turkey, back in 2005.Former President Bill Clinton was the guest, talking about the Clinton Global Initiative, a segment of the Clinton Foundation that convenes people from all over the globe to start initiatives that address some of the world’s most pressing issues.
And as she watched, Ms. Lockhart said she knew she wanted to take part, somehow.
A year later, Ms. Lockhart, a consultant who divides her time between Water Mill, Paris and Nairobi, used her expertise in international affairs to establish the Global Give Back Circle, with the idea of wanting to make a difference in Kenya. It would be another year of researching and visiting schools, children’s homes and
various foundations in that country before she narrowed in on what she wanted the organization to actually be—a mentoring program that gave disadvantaged girls the tools they needed to expand their education beyond high school, eventually resulting in fulfilling, successful careers.
The Global Give Back Circle pairs high school girls in Kenya with mentors to guide them through their schooling. The girls take part in extensive eight-month-long information technology courses and, once in college studying medicine, law, engineering and more, secure internships with the help of private sector companies that have partnered with the organization. The girls also participate in life skills workshops that educate them in everything from grooming to reproductive health.
“What you have is an overabundance of young people with skills,” Ms. Lockhart said in an interview this week. “It’s not just education—it’s employment. You coach a girl from poverty to prosperity.”
With help from local grassroots organizations in Kenya to recruit members into the program, the Circle ended up starting off with 10 promising girls who were optimistic about finishing high school and going off to college. But as the organization grew to 35 girls, Ms. Lockhart needed $350,000—$10,000 per girl—to pay for tuition. She began to find financial leverage in the form of partnerships with leading international companies.
With a bit of networking and a flurry of persuasive presentations, she has been able to lock down support from big names such as Microsoft, KPMG, Citibank, Nestle and the MasterCard Foundation. USAID, a U.S. government agency that works to end global poverty, eventually became the major partner for the organization.
To date, the Circle’s partners have secured $10 million in scholarships available for 600 girls.
Media coverage of the Circle flourished in 2009. And in September of that same year, Ms. Lockhart stood on stage with three young women from Kenya, along with Mr. Clinton, in the opening ceremony of that year’s Clinton Global Initiative Meeting in New York City. Ms. Lockhart, by now a member of the CGI, made a formal commitment to the Circle’s cause, and she officially pledged to continue her mentoring program in Kenya. This weekend, the Clinton family will be on the East End fundraising for the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative in Water Mill.
The Circle took off. Now, there are more than 600 women throughout the United States and Kenya who mentor the girls through emails, Skype calls and even in-person visits. Ms. Lockhart said mentors, who pay a yearly fee of $100 for administrative costs, develop strong bonds with their proteges as they guide them through not just school but life as a whole.
Ms. Lockhart has recruited local friends of hers into the mentoring program. Victoria Herbert of Southampton began mentoring Vera, who is now 21, about five years ago, and has even gone to Kenya to meet her. Ms. Herbert also flew the young woman to Portugal so she could spend time with her at Christmas. “She is very special to me,” Ms. Herbert said. “Mentoring is kind of like a two-way street. It’s like a mother-daughter relationship. She helps me grow.”
Su Hilty has been mentoring with the program since its beginning. In addition to getting Ms. Herbert involved, Ms. Hilty has guided one young woman through college already and is currently guiding a second girl. She has not been to Kenya just yet, but she has hosted a girl at her Bridgehampton home.
“I love what the program is doing,” Ms. Hilty said. “It’s been really rewarding to see how [it] has grown and where it is now. I think it’s really important to have a mentor that can guide you. For anyone who has just a little bit of time … you can really make a difference.”
Today, Ms. Lockhart is seeking to make a difference elsewhere throughout the world, too. The Circle recently extended to China and, in a few months, it will launch in India and South Africa. The founder and chief executive officer, who will be heading back to Nairobi on August 11, said she never could have imagined how the Circle would go from a small organization to one of the largest gender-based programs in Kenya.
“It started off as a tiny mentoring program. It’s a brilliant idea and it’s grown so big,” Ms. Lockhart said. ”It’s overwhelming. It’s humbling. It’s very scary. I can’t walk away from this now. But I love it.”