Our Story So Far

6 Degrees Academy for Women: ‘The Story So Far’

Debbie Middendorp and Gita Pelinck are the founders of 6 Degrees Academy for Women - a non-profit foundation fostering the self-reliance of women in developing countries through vocational training and employment. This allows women to become financially independent and will give other women this same opportunity through the ‘Pay it forward’ principle. The foundation was established one year ago. Debbie and Gita look back at their first year and the results and lessons learnt so far.

Empowerment of women in Nepal

Gita: “Debbie and I met in Singapore in 2011. Debbie knew my husband because both of them worked in the water sector. My husband helped Debbie and her family with a soft landing when they came to live and work in Singapore - we also lived in the same residential complex for a while. From the start Debbie and I had a strong connection: we are both career women with a family and both of us were given chances to learn and reach our potential. But at the same time we recognised that there was not enough empowerment of women in the world, and we both wanted to do something about it. When we returned to the Netherlands, we discovered that we were neighbours again. From that moment on we started brainstorming about this idea to start a foundation for women.

Via Marijke, a connection from Debbie's non-profit network, our idea gained momentum. Through her organisation we went to Nepal last year, the country where I was born (being adopted), and the reason I wanted to do something in return. During this fact-finding trip, together with our eldest sons, we tested our concept to offer women in Nepal professional training, to make them self-reliant and financially independent by talking to as many women as possible. We wanted to investigate whether there would be support for our concept and which professions and courses we could offer. Our starting point was that the women should have a free hand in choosing a profession without being restricted by social and cultural expectations.”

Heart-warming stimulus

Debbie: “It was very good that we made this trip last October, to investigate firsthand the needs and wishes in Nepal. We spoke with many women and local non-profit organisations. It led to, amongst other things, that we were able to identify the need for our first project: training women to become independent drivers.

It was a heart-warming stimulus that the school of my son Ties was willing to support us by making our first project the recipient of their annual Christmas fundraising campaign, while the foundation still had to be set up - which happened soon after. All the school children spontaneously competed to raise as much money as possible, which was so impressive and special.

The total amount raised was announced during the Christmas dinner. We were both so happy and could immediately jump start our foundation and first project. I sincerely believe that if you are positive and compassionate to others in life, that such heartwarming initiatives come your way. We noticed that many people in our immediate environment believed in our mission and project and wanted to support our foundation. This led to even more optimism and belief in our concept and that we were on the right path.

Through my connection with Marijke we met Chitra from New Sadle (a local Nepalese NGO) and he assigned a fantastic project leader to our first project. We started with a group of ten selected candidates. Our hope was that most of the candidates would pass their driving exam. Currently one candidate, Mira Thapa, has passed her practical exam. That was such a great moment for us! One candidate turned out to be too young for our program and one candidate quit the programme suddenly. According to our local partner, this was due to family issues. Regrettably we faced some cultural roadblocks too, which you obviously cannot avoid. We have learned some wise lessons from this, which we will incorporate in our future projects. For example, we will have to pay even more attention to the selection of candidates and find ways to gauge their commitment and drive to complete the training. The women must truly believe that completing the program will benefit their future. We will continue with seven ladies in the driving project. This group will take their practical driving exam for the second or third time in the coming months. Our project manager is doing a good job in guiding and supporting the candidates, but we will also have to work hard together to find suitable work for the successful candidates. This appears to be a quite a challenge. There are possibilities, but it does not happen by itself.”

Successful family day for our second project

Gita: “We have financed the female drivers project so far with the money from Ties’ school and from private donations. The drivers training is actually our pilot project. We aim to do two projects a year. To finance our second project, which is to train 15 women to become wildlife guides, we came up with the idea to organise a fundraising event for the whole family on the beach. This took place in September in The Hague. All family members could take part in various activities throughout the day to raise money to help our foundation. With a team of volunteers we held several brainstorming sessions on what we could offer as activities and where to host the event. It was Sabrina, the mother of my son’s football teammate and owner of a beach club, who kindly offered the venue for our event once she heard about our idea and foundation. Family, friends and acquaintances from our network offered to help us with the planning and offered their services or material free of charge for that whole day. All these people believe in our foundation. It was a great day - over 200 participants joined and the weather was fantastic. We raised almost 8,000 Euro, including online donations, which is a fantastic result!”

Debbie: “We still need 1,100 Euro to finance the wildlife project, but we have already started the program with our local partner Sapana Village Social Impact by providing English and hospitality courses to the women who will soon start their training as a wildlife guide. The special thing about this project is that it is fully supported by the local community. This has its advantages; we will see the first results during our upcoming trip to Nepal!”

Debbie MiddendorpComment