By Edwina Duenas, Communications Associate
Terri Khonsari unknowingly set in motion a new direction for her nonprofit when she became involved with TechWomen three years ago. As founder of Families Without Borders (FWB), a Bay Area-based organization focused on education and economic sustainability in rural communities in Sierra Leone, Terri helped promote the 2013 TechWomen program, which would expand to Sub-Saharan Africa that year.
Terri shared information about the program with her contacts at universities and organizations in Sierra Leone, and eager to support TechWomen, she served as a Cultural Mentor. Inspired by her experience with TechWomen, Terri realized the potential FWB could have in supporting women in Sierra Leone.
A major part of FWB is funding education for primary and college-aged students. TechWomen has influenced Terri’s organization to have a greater emphasis on sponsoring women’s education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). “I’m now very keen to support women in their technology education,” Terri says. “I put emphasis on women in tech and think about who could be a future TechWomen Emerging Leader.”
“Women can have such a huge impact,” Terri notes. “This year, we have a ratio of more than 50% women in our college scholarship program.” While the number of women in technical fields remains low in Sierra Leone, Terri will continue to encourage girls to pursue higher education in STEM and push for greater gender parity in the field.
Beyond the mentorship, Terri is an active member of the TechWomen community. She has attended delegation trips to Rwanda, South Africa, Tunisia and Morocco and has hosted mentor reunions. Through these experiences, Terri has cultivated a network of women passionate about her work in Sierra Leone. Mentors have aided with programming, brainstorming and promoting FWB in the tech community.
“My TechWomen friends offer different levels of support from guidance, brainstorming and professional ideas – a combination that makes an impact.”
Looking forward, Terri plans to collaborate with Sierra Leonean fellows and Emerging Leaders to develop her programs. She also hopes to launch Technovation in Sierra Leone within the next year.
A Circle of Exchange
Terri’s path to becoming a mentor began long before TechWomen hosted its first Sub-Saharan cohort in 2013. Terri made her first trip to Sierra Leone to visit her daughter Niloufar, a Fulbright Fellow working at Timap for Justice. Terri made subsequent trips and traveled to rural areas of the country. Through these experiences interacting with the communities she visited, she planted the seeds for what would be her education sponsorship program. Terri founded FWB in 2011, in which TechWomen connected with to help reach out to networks in Sierra Leone. One might say Terri’s journey to being a part of TechWomen followed an unconventional route, though Terri knows this is the path meant her.
“I feel like I was an instrument put in that place by chance to serve and do the job,” Terri said. “Fulbright opened my eyes and helped Families Without Borders to be born, and then TechWomen connected me with women in exchange programs.”
Five and a half years since her first trip to Sierra Leone, Terri is excited to serve as a Cultural Mentor for the 2015 program. In the past two years, Terri mentored fellows Michelle Sesay (2013, Sierra Leone) and Maha Ashour (2014, Egypt). Terri credits exchange programs for helping to find her life’s fulfillment, and her story serves as a testament to the power of exchange.
“Exchange is about connecting people, resources, intelligence, hearts and helping build a much more beautiful world together. The world is much more connected if we can do something to make a difference.”