Soroptimist International is an international volunteer organization for business and professional women who work to improve the lives of women and girls, in local communities and throughout the word. Almost 100,000 Soroptimists in roughly 120 countries and territories contribute time and financial support to community-based and international projects benefiting women and girls. Clubs in Soroptimist International of the Americas receive numerous awards, such as the Women’s Opportunity Awards, for implementing projects benefiting girls and women seeking education. Soroptimist also offers funds for club projects through the Soroptimist Club Grant. Finally, individual clubs can choose to conduct community projects to help girls and women seeking education in the surrounding area.
Women’s Opportunity Awards
The Women’s Opportunity Awards program is Soroptimist’s major project. This award improves the lives of women by giving them the resources they need to improve their education, skills, and employment prospects. Each year, Soroptimist clubs in 19 countries and territories assist women in overcoming personal difficulties and improving their lives through education and skills training. The women may use the cash award to offset any costs associated with their efforts to attain higher education, including books, childcare and transportation.
Past award recipients include Maria P., who worked as an unschooled field laborer until her husband deserted her and her two children. After her second husband deserted her, leaving her with no income, Maria applied for and received a Women’s Opportunity Award from her local Soroptimist club. She went on to win an additional cash award from Soroptimist’s Desert Coast Region before receiving the $10,000 finalist Women’s Opportunity Award. Recently, Maria was accepted into a nursing program, and began her course of study. Once Maria graduates and earns her registered nurse designation, she plans to work as a nurse while continuing her studies. Her work as a lab technician has inspired her to further pursue her interests in medicine and science. Maria is one of hundreds of women who credit the Women’s Opportunity Awards with providing the financial means to achieve their dreams through education.
Many Women’s Opportunity Award recipients have overcome enormous obstacles in their quest for a better life, including poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, and in some cases, trafficking. Each year, more than $1 million is disbursed through the awards at various levels of the organization to help women achieve their dreams of a better life for themselves and their families. Since the Women’s Opportunity Awards program began in 1972, it is estimated that $20 million has been disbursed and more than 22,500 women have been assisted. In 2007, the Women’s Opportunity Awards received the Summit Award from the ASAE & The Center of Association Leadership, its highest honor, bestowed on associations that implement innovative community-based programs.
Soroptimist Club Grants for Women and Girls
Soroptimist Club Grants for Women and Girls are given annually to Soroptimist Clubs initiating or continuing innovative projects benefiting women and girls. Grants range from $1,000 to $10,000. Since 1997, more than $1.4 million has been disbursed to 228 Soroptimist Club projects, from which more than 130,000 women have benefited. Recent projects include providing resources for immigrant women fleeing domestic violence; funding a micro-enterprise artisan project for low-income women; providing reproductive health services for women in poverty; and teaching marketable job skills to girls with disabilities. This grant program also benefits women and girls seeking education. For example, a club in Taipei, Taiwan, recently won a Soroptimist Club Grant to provide tutoring and training to low-income teenage girls.
The tutoring program emphasized math and English-language skills, and was offered to adolescent girls from aboriginal and low-income families. The classes provided skills training and development, and helped spark interest and excitement about education among the girls. Club members volunteered as tutors and mentors to the girls, and also collected school supplies, including books and stationery for program participants. The program benefited more than 200 young women. Another recent grant, awarded to a Philippines club, went towards a project providing free computer education to women and girls living in the local barangay. The funds were used to pay for instructors, books, instruction materials, meals and transportation to and from the class.
Soroptimist Disaster Relief Fund for Women and Girls
Soroptimist has a long-standing Disaster Relief Fund, which is supported by voluntary donations from members. Funds may be distributed to a number of projects directly benefiting women in areas of conflict who are seeking access to education. For example, in 2006, Soroptimist awarded the Center for Women’s Development and Research in India a $40,000 grant for a project designed to provide health education and health services to nearly 2,500 women, and to provide supplementary education, life skills and vocation skills-training to 250 adolescent girls. Also in 2006, Soroptimist awarded $29,000 to a project named “Project Sri Lanka”. The funds went towards moving a girls’ school-one of Sri Lanka’s leading national schools damaged by the tsunami-and helping fund the reconstruction of four classrooms. In addition, Soroptimist worked with the organization to form a scholarship program, and funded an additional $18,000 that would enable low-income girls to attend school.