Even though Rachel Monaco-Wilcox had been awake until 3 a.m. grading papers, the end of the semester still felt bittersweet. That’s because, after years of teaching at Mount Mary University (MMU), she would be leaving her role at the small women’s college in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to focus full-time on a legal clinic she founded.

LOTUS, which stands for Legal Options for Trafficked & Underserved Survivors, is the first freestanding legal clinic in Wisconsin that’s entirely dedicated to addressing gender-based violence and victim’s rights. LOTUS Legal Clinic offers direct and indirect services to survivors, pushes for legislative and systemic changes, and works to raise awareness and empower communities.

Rachel has spent the last 3 years prototyping the legal clinic, and it’s grown tremendously, enough so that she can dedicate herself primarily to it. But while running a legal clinic may seem like a departure from the role of a university professor, Rachel sees an obvious through-line.

That’s because the process she followed to design LOTUS is aligned with the one she engaged in as part of MMU’s collaboration with CCL. The university partnered with CCL to redesign its keystone Leadership for Social Justice course, taken by all first-year students, generally in their first semester. The aim of the class is to equip students as purposeful and creative leaders so they can transform self and their community through their own actions.

The curriculum focuses on 3 leadership goals:

  1. Student growth and enrichment: To prepare students to lead in their pursuit of social justice using creative approaches inspired by the school’s 4 core values (Competence, Community, Compassion, and Commitment).
  2. Institutional enhancement: To enhance the university’s creative campus brand and increase retention.
  3. Community transformation: To reduce the negative impact of social injustices on MMU’s surrounding communities and wherever MMU graduates live and work.

As part of the project team at Mount Mary, Rachel traveled to our Greensboro, North Carolina headquarters and was trained on human-centered design thinking methodologies and tools, which she would need to re-imagine the class.

Mount Mary piloted the redesigned course in Spring 2015 with two sections, one of them taught by Rachel. More than 200 young women have completed the leadership course, with an average of 15-18 students per class. The curriculum teaches students how to work in groups and explores different systems of privilege and oppression. It now includes a community involvement component where students grapple with real-world obstacles faced by local civic organizations and help solve problems through an action-learning approach.

The lessons Rachel learned at CCL and while teaching the course stuck with her. After success with the introductory Leadership for Social Justice program, she began reconceptualizing her other MMU courses, too. And then she applied the concepts to LOTUS.

“CCL’s partnership with Mount Mary changed me, and gave me tools for my teaching and legal clinic,” Rachel said. “It actually changed a great deal of things about how I teach… You can really scale it. You can use it again in many different situations.”

And she has. Rachel says she also used the tools she learned from the experience in a variety of settings.

“I guess you could say I’m a convert,” she said.


Empowering women and young girls is a core tenet of our Societal Advancement efforts, an initiative we launched 10 years ago to democratize access to leadership development and to deliver it to communities and individuals who wouldn’t receive it otherwise.

Our partnership with Mount Mary University is just one of the many relationships that stems from our focus on women’s leadership. We’ve built others in central North Carolina, the backyard of CCL’s world headquarters. And we’ve also fostered similar projects around the world, from a women’s debate club in Ethiopia to building local capacity among women in Myanmar.

Here’s a deeper look at what we do, and why empowering women and young girls is so important to us.

Our Approach

We started this work more than 10 years ago because we believe that making leadership development available to everyone is fundamental to creating a more peaceful, prosperous world.

We aim to develop leaders at every level, not just at the top, to help transform societies.

We believe that leadership matters, and that it’s for everyone. We also believe that it can be developed. Our Societal Advancement team especially works with youth, women, and underserved populations, undertaking scalable projects for maximum impact. We tackle a wide array of issues, from minimizing electoral violence to entrepreneurship, but it all ties back to the same mission and set of principles.

Our efforts are diverse. Over the last decade, we’ve reached more than 50,000 community, nonprofit, and government leaders in 30 different countries. We’ve initiated projects centered on women in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Chile, El Salvador, Ethiopia, India, Jamaica, Myanmar, Nigeria, Peru, Singapore, Sudan, Trinidad, and the U.S.

There are overarching principles. We start with relationships, partnering with local organizations to carry out leadership trainings and programs. Then we look to scale the effort for larger and sustained impact, often holding train-the-trainer programs so that there’s a multiplying factor as new trainers instill the lessons and skills with others. We regularly develop leadership-training toolkits that are based on research and can be modified to fit specific groups and communities.

Our curriculum is based on CCL’s leadership development process: leading (and understanding) self, leading with others, and changing your world and community. Leadership is an inside-out process. That means we must first understand and lead ourselves before we can work and lead effectively with others.

We draw on experience. CCL has been training corporate, nonprofit, and government leaders — and honing our own practices — for decades. Our Societal Advancement work builds on that base of knowledge and experience to deliver leadership training to underserved communities worldwide.

We believe in women. We believe that empowering women creates more inclusive, caring, and thriving organizations, communities, and economies. Our approach varies greatly, just as women do. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, we tailor our leadership trainings to different communities and contexts. We prepare women to lead local and national governments in emerging democracies, teach confidence and self worth to young girls, and help female entrepreneurs start and scale their business ideas. Despite the range of efforts, they all push toward the same ends.


One of the most interesting and rewarding projects that we’ve been a part of is establishing debate clubs for college-age women at a handful of universities in Ethiopia. Through our office in the capital of Addis Ababa, we’ve worked to empower young women and girls in a variety of ways, including the debate clubs where students can hone their public speaking and analytical skills.

But our efforts to inspire and equip women and girls extend far beyond these specific programs, or even other efforts in Ethiopia or other countries on the African continent. Indeed, our emphasis on lifting up women is truly global.

May Sabe Phyu poses with President Barack Obama after receiving the award. Above:

Above, May Sabe Phyu poses with then-U.S. President Barack Obama after receiving the International Women of Courage Award. Top photo, above left: MMU justice major and Ojibwe tribe member Sandrea Smith and MATC Nursing student and Ho-Chunk tribal member Jessica Greengrass speak with Leadership for Social Justice student Daniela Torres and Highland Community School student Infinity Hopkins in a listening circle about how stereotypes harm everyone.

Women’s Leadership in Myanmar

Every year, 10 women receive the International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. State Department. In March 2015, May Sabe Phyu was one of those women. An outspoken and pioneering leader from Myanmar, May Sabe is the head of the Gender Equality Network and the Kachin Women’s Peace Network. She’s also an alumna of our Train-the-Trainer workshop for the Women’s Empowerment & Leadership Program.

Partnering with May Sabe’s Gender Equality Network (GEN), we conducted an 8-day train-the-trainer session of the Women’s Empowerment & Leadership Program for women representing 16 different development agencies based in Myanmar. From that one program, more than 670 community leaders across the country — most of them women — received the training.

Using a toolkit made up of 5 components — focused on self-clarity, authenticity, agency, connection, and mentoring — the training pulled in women between 25 and 60 to increase women’s leadership in society, including political life, civil society, and in rural families and communities.

Over the next year, the women put their new skills to use in a variety of realms, including peace-building in the war-torn northern region of the country, developing large-scale business initiatives, negotiating national legislation, and leading research and initiatives in various industries including healthcare, education, and agriculture. In other words, the results were diverse and far-reaching, helping women achieve higher potential across the spectrum of possibilities in that nation.

The Gender Equality Network explained why this type of training is important: “Increasing the numbers of women in leadership positions is critical not only to give women a voice and ensure their concerns are represented but also because women’s involvement has been shown to improve the way in which leadership and decision-making is practiced. Promoting women’s leadership not only benefits women but also the community and country as a whole.”

Part of the reason the effort proved so successful is that we provided follow-up support and coaching through an on-the-ground trainer. But more than anything, it’s the fact that so many individuals from a broad cross-section of society in Myanmar came together that created a powerful collective impact.

In the United States

Our efforts to make leadership development available to everyone — at all levels of society — happens in the United States, too. There are numerous of examples like the course redesign and its rippling effect at Mount Mary University in Wisconsin, and sometimes they’re close to home, near our headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Women’s Professional Forum Foundation’s Girl’s Leadership Edge

For more than 20 years, the Women’s Professional Forum Foundation (WPFF) has been making grants in Guilford County, NC to help every girl in the county develop leadership skills. Together with our Societal Advancement team and the Guilford Nonprofit Consortium, WPFF contracted and co-created an evidence-based leadership skills development curriculum for girls age 13-15.

We designed the Girls Leadership EDGE toolkit that can be used to train facilitators — 18 at first — for the five, 2-hour modules. Young girls taught in turn by these facilitators will receive materials that encourage self-reflection, goal definition, and greater clarity of vision through journaling.

The first cohort of facilitators received training at the end of 2016 and WPFF rolled out the program with teenage girls throughout 2017.

By collaborating with other local organizations, we avoid duplication of efforts while teaching leadership and self-awareness, instilling compassion and confidence, and helping girls during the critical middle-school years to begin seeing themselves as strong leaders full of courage.

The driving principles are simple.

“What if every young woman in our community knew her true potential?” LBB Project Director Janet Carlson asks. “What if she began to envision possibilities, find her voice, commit to action and… influence the world with courage, compassion, and confidence?”



We created the Advancing Women’s Leadership series to test and prototype content designed to help adult women making any sort of significant transition in life.

That’s not all we’re working on specifically with girls and women in our backyard. We have more than 10 years of work with the Girl Scouts, and we’re working on leadership solution tools for pilot programs, too.

In working with diverse stakeholders, the Societal Advancement team always first asks what the world would look like if everyone had access to leadership development. We then work to co-create solutions to deliver on that aim.

And then, we always seek to scale the results. Sometimes that’s specific, beginning with 16 women in Myanmar with the express aim that they take the tools back to their organizations and communities, spreading the impact. Other times the results exceed even our expectations though, like when Rachel Monaco-Wilcox spread what she learned not just to her other classes, but to a legal clinic she founded that provides vital services to survivors of trafficking and gender-based violence.

We’re impressed by women like Rachel and May Sabe Phyu because of their resilience, determination, and drive. It’s what keeps pushing this work forward. We’re confident that if all women and girls had access to leadership development trainings as Rachel and May Sabe did, the world would be a markedly more peaceful and prosperous place. The progress we’ve made together — in partnership with thousands of individuals and countless organizations in dozens of countries — is more than enough inspiration to keep us going for another decade.

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