University of Maryland – University College
October 20, 2018
The Responsify team is excited to announce Riana Allen as the winner of The 2018 Empowering Others Scholarship for $1,000. Riana attends University of Maryland- University College as an undergraduate student majoring in Computer Science. Applicants had to explore empowerment, reflecting on what the word meant to them, and, how their major could be used to empower others.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, empowerment is “The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.” If we can help those around us, and around the world to feel more empowered, we can help people step out of abusive situations both personally and socially. So often, people stay in unpleasant situations either because they don’t know any better, or for fear that they don’t deserve better. For example, one article looking at why women stay in abusive relationships stated, “Not surprisingly, lack of material resources, such as not having a job or having limited income, is a strong factor. Lack of support – and even blame – from family, friends, and professionals can add to the sense of helplessness caused by the abuse.” These women are often led to believe that they can do no better and would not deserve it if they could. This continues on a societal level. I have often heard friends state, “It doesn’t matter how I vote, politicians are all the same.” The feeling of inescapability, of the fatedness of the governing process, makes individuals feel like there is nothing they can do to change the outcome.
This helplessness is the exact opposite of the empowerment we would hope and wish for those around us. When we feel powerless, we rarely strive to better our situations, feeling the struggle is futile. There is little hope for leaving a bad relationship when you don’t have the means to support your family or support from those around you. There is little desire to put forth suggestions at work when those suggestions are routinely disregarded. There is a faint ambition to set up a neighborhood watch program in a struggling neighborhood if there is a fear that the small changes we can enact will never make a real difference.
However, when we feel empowered in our relationships, we know our own worth. We can look forward with hope to either working to improve a current relationship or the realization that sometimes we are better off opening ourselves up to other possibilities. When we feel empowered in our jobs, we understand that we have a responsibility to use that power for the betterment of our employers, other employees and customers and are able to do so without constant oversight from their supervisors. We can take initiative and are much more self-motivated as we know we have control over how we tackle our responsibilities. When we feel empowered in our communities we understand our rights and the responsibilities that come with good citizenship. We feel that we can make a difference for the families in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our countries, and in our world. We understand that it is through those simple, meaningful changes that we can enact change on a larger scale and we work towards those goals.
I am currently studying computer science with a plan to work in programming in the future. I have become interested in this as I have worked for a company building an open-source core banking software program. Through this company, I have learned more about the struggles facing the unbanked and under-banked around the world. There are communities in Africa who use tontines as their only banking methods. While there are different types of tontines, the kind we found most relevant were those which gathered a collection of people in the community with a common goal who would commit to saving for a specific purpose. All the money would go in a community box and only be used for the previously decided function. Tontines are described as “an important part of the informal financial sector that provides individuals who are unable to access money from formal financial sectors with cash.”
However, if these communities, and others like them, had better access to more traditional banking methods, or more financial inclusion, I believe they would be better able to take advantages of opportunities for things such as savings accounts, insurance and, microfinance loans. According to Wikipedia, “For many, microfinance is a way to promote economic development, employment and growth through the support of micro-entrepreneurs and small businesses; for others, it is a way for poor to manage their finances more effectively and take advantage of economic opportunities while managing the risks.” An article in The Conversation says that microfinance has proven itself “capable of providing a vast number of the poor, particularly women, with sustainable tailored financial services that enhance their welfare.”
I believe that programming for companies like the one I currently work for, and others that are seeking to expand financial inclusion, would be an amazing way to empower others. I would specifically like to work with companies seeking inclusion for women in these impoverished countries and communities. While I don’t think that women are intrinsically more valuable than men, it has been proven that when we build up women in countries where gender inequality is endemic, we improve more lives than just those particular women. A great article by The Guardian states, “… educating girls and women is especially effective because when we educate them, the benefits are felt throughout the whole community. It’s a magic multiplier in the development equation… It is an attractive proposition: invest in women and girls, and the benefits flow not only to them but everyone around them, too. Sadly, the reverse is also true. Deny girls and women education and the whole community suffers, not just them as individuals.” I can think of little better than using the skills I learn to empower women around the world and enable them to improve their lives, the lives of their families, and their communities as a whole.
I have struggled myself with feeling helpless and “less-than”. I left college after a couple years, without a degree, when I was in my early twenties. I was soon married to a husband in the military and had children. Each time I attempted to go back and complete my education, I would either end up pregnant (I have 5 children) or my husband would receive orders to move. I struggled with feeling trapped and worried that should something unforeseen happen, I would be unable to support myself and my family in a way I would be comfortable with. This fall, however, after looking into education opportunities and financial aid programs, I have taken the plunge and returned to school. When UMUC was able to look at my previous transcripts and they let me know that I was only a few credits from an associates degree and that a bachelor’s degree was truly achievable, I was a bit stunned. That was the first time I saw that there were opportunities there for me. I know that I can study hard and finish this degree. I know that when I have done so, I will have the opportunity to position myself to support myself and my family through whatever struggles life may throw at us. And I know that I can do those things while simultaneously helping others to find the peace that comes from this type of empowerment.