Seattle Foundation Blog

Local and International Collaboration Increases International Education Opportunities

Panel discusses Seattle nonprofits promoting educational opportunities abroad

May 24, 2017

By Emma Mahboub

Seattle Foundation, Seattle International Foundation and Global Washington recently co-presented a panel discussion, “Building Local Capacity through Educational Opportunity:  Seattle nonprofits promoting educational opportunities abroad.

The panel, moderated by Dr. Ed Taylor, Vice Provost & Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs at the University of Washington, included four Seattle-based philanthropists and nonprofit leaders working on international education development:  Emer Dooley, Trustee, Ashesi University Foundation (Ghana); Ginna Brelsford, Executive Director, Sahar (Afghanistan); Suzanne Sinegal McGill, Co-Founder and President, Rwanda Girls Initiative (Rwanda); and John Brown, Founder, Brown Family Foundation and Pangea Giving member (Latin America). Panelists shared their approach to supporting global education, the realities of working in another country and what motivated them to get involved in this work.

As panelists discussed their experiences and strategies, parallel themes emerged, including the value of partnership and listening to local leaders, how to support local talent to thrive, and the intricacies of working in post-war countries with histories of entrenched racism and conflict.

The panelists stressed the importance of investing in human capital and partnering with local talent. McGill, of Rwanda Girls Initiative (RGI), emphasized the need to empower young women by instilling curiosity through education to shape them into effective leaders within their own communities. Similarly, Dooley, of Ashesi University Foundation, described the university’s required capstone project as one that helps drive social impact within students’ local communities. She said the emphasis on local change encourages students to stay and work in Africa after graduation, or return to the continent after time abroad. In fact, over 90 percent of Ashesi alumni work in Africa post-graduation. Brown, of Pangea Giving and the Brown Family Foundation, reiterated the importance of mutual respect with local partners on the ground. He cited an example from Guatemala, where a history of civil conflict led to less community cohesion, leading the Brown Family Foundation to seek out visionary local leaders to support directly.

Listening to local leaders and engaging in a thoughtful partnership is necessary to successfully support education initiatives abroad, especially those coming from organizations based in the United States. Brelsford, of Sahar, shared that it was not the organization’s place to dictate curriculum or ‘know how’ because eventually the schools they support will be led by Afghanis themselves. In order to achieve the goal of local leadership, they must listen to and collaborate with local stakeholders, including the Afghani government and the parents of the female students they seek to support.

Panelists also emphasized the importance of both local and global partners, including U.S.-based academic institutions such as the University of Washington, Washington State University and Seattle University. Brelsford worked with the University of Washington’s School of Architecture to design and build a school for over 3,500 girls in Afghanistan. McGill emphasized RGI’s work with the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, as well as Seattle University’s nursing school, which sends nurses over every year to work with students. They stressed that without these local Seattle partnerships, their work abroad would not be possible.

Many thanks to our co-hosts, Seattle International Foundation and Global Washington, for supporting this discussion. A special thanks to our panelists who graciously shared success stories, challenges and motivations during this meaningful conversation about international education.

To learn more about the each of the featured organization’s work abroad, please visit their websites listed below:
Ashesi University (Ghana)
Sahar (Afghanistan)
Rwanda Girls Initiative (Rwanda)
Pangea Giving

To learn more about our Global Giving services, or how you can support international education initiatives through Seattle Foundation, contact Michele Frix at



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