In May 2014, the idea of PowerWomen232 was just that, an idea. Several PowerWomen members had been invited to a meeting with Evelyn Oputu, the former Managing Director of Bank of Industry in Nigeria by the then Gender Adviser to the President, Madam Naasu Fofanah in February 2014. The meeting with Ms. Oputu was extremely powerful. She challenged us, called us out and told us about her 'Circle of Women' who meet regularly to socialize, do good and do business. She challenged us to set up a network for professional women, to make our first million and to work better together as women. This is something that was truly missing in Sierra Leone. We all felt there was a need. We were thrilled! Fired up! We agreed upon and then cancelled numerous meetings in the months that followed. We were going down the path of most dreams and ideas...nowhere.
Following a symposium organized by the 50/50 Group and FIFA president Isha Johansen on empowering women, Manja Kargbo and Yeniva Sisay-Sogbeh decided to take the lead and start. In July 2014, the first PW232 meeting was held. During the meeting, we agreed on a name, we agreed on how to chart our way forward and we agreed that every year, we must have a community service component. PowerWomen, 232 for the area code of Sierra Leone, on a mission to inspire, engage, lead.
We agreed to meet at the end of September 2014 when most members would have returned from holidays however we never imagined that Ebola would destroy families, communities and the nation. When the Ebola virus became out of control, our current President Yeniva created a whatsapp group, at first it was to share information, a week into starting the group, suggestions were made that something must be done, PW232 members, did not want to sit on the sidelines, we decided to take action. A proposal was written to support Health Care Workers with Care Packages. The intent was to submit the proposal to donors for funding. But PowerWomen members decided that wasn't the route we wanted to take. We felt that we should collaborate with Sierra Leoneans across the country to show appreciation to the health care workers who were putting their lives on the line to save our country.
We partnered with Radio Democracy 98.1 through Asmaa James, the Radio Station Manager and the Vice-President of PowerWomen232. The partnership called for Sierra Leoneans to donate non-perishable items that we could include in care packages. The initial call for donations of food items wasn't successful. Members then decided that we needed to show commitment, each member made a donation, some went further and asked family and friends to contribute. This morphed into the supermarket drive where we saw hundreds of ordinary citizens come out and make contributions and show their support. All hands on Deck meant that although we all can’t be on the frontlines we care. It was powerful to see the outpouring of support. Our first donation of care packages to Health Care Workers was a labor of love from PW232 members, our friends and our families. The rest they say is herstory.
Following the first donation, the response from the public both locally and globally was enormous. We received in-kind and monetary donations from individuals, groups and organizations. Half of the funds raised was done through our CrowdRise account which was shut down at the end of December 2014.
With the success of the care package drive we had a stronger will and drive to focus on our core mandate to: