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  • Александър Николов

The WomenBridges experience - Training of Trainers

"The WomenBridges project is part of the bigger Impact Drive's initiative momgotajob. It aims to launch our comprehensive approach to achieving economic independence and at the same time a healthy balance between women's careers and personal lives.

WomenBridges provides a comprehensive approach and concrete methodology to support the career paths of young women, especially those in vulnerable situations to achieving economic independence and employment. At the same time, it develops the competencies of youth workers and NGO teams in implementing this approach. We are validating the process with the pilot implementation of WomenBridges in the three EU partner countries - Bulgaria (Impact Drive), Austria (Jamba) and Greece (Women Do Business)."

The Project Partners:

Impact Drive (Bulgaria) - Hosts of the TOT:

We believe women and mothers are essential for prosperity of society and we work for solutions from mothers to mothers for balance and inclusion in the workplace. We believe in active civil society sector with well-functioning organizations that share and cooperate, have sufficient internal capacity to carry out their missions and achieve significant change together with the citizens.

Jamba (Austria):

Believes in the real social and economic inclusion with a 360° approach involving all stakeholders: people with disabilities and chronic diseases, the business sector, non-profit organizations, academia, and the public sector.

Our vision is a world with women who are not afraid to step forward, talk and do business, despite restrictive thoughts and beliefs, who know that they have all the support for making their dreams come true.

The Trainers:

Theodora Ivanova (Bulgaria) - head of the training team. A multitasker with a passion in the NGO sector, Theodora is a project manager, designer, manager and trainer of various training modules and programs for youths and adults and as a career supporter for Roma youths. She is a mentor, facilitator and consultant to non-profits and social and/or youth entrepreneurs on organizational development and others.

During the traning, Theodora prepared the coaching scenario, organized the work of the trainers and led the preparation of the content and methodology. She presented some of the course topics related to group dynamics, learning and teaching skills, youth worker training, work-family/paid-unpaid work balance activity, WomenBridges programme, reflection activities and feedback. She participated as a co-lecturer in most of the sessions in the program.

Vesselina Panayotova (Bulgaria). After over 15 years in the corporate sector with fast-moving goods in senior management positions and experience in business development and sales, she founded a consulting business for a women's team. Vesselina led a team of 200+ people and worked with an annual turnover of over 250+ million leva. Today she develops social businesses and supports causes. For Vesi every mother has the right to a healthy balance between work and family.

In the TOT, Vesi led some of the topics related to career development and management styles and took part in the entrepreneurship topics. She presented the work approaches in organizing support groups and participated as a co-speaker in a number of the sessions in the program.

Anita Jones (Bulgaria). Anita participated in a presentation of the toolkit for mentors' work on the topic of "coaching" and led a session on Wellbeing/ Resilience (Agility and Change). She also participated as a co-trainer in the presentation of support groups and in providing training approaches and methods.

Iva Tsolova (Austria). Iva is a human rights activist, social entrepreneur and the Co-Founder of JAMBA - Career For All, whose mission is to support people with disabilities and chronic illnesses to attain key soft and professional skills and connect them with employers so that way they begin their professional development. During her 13 years of work in the NGO sector, Iva supported many local and international organizations. She was awarded for The Outstanding Young Persons in Bulgaria for 2016 in Humanitarian and Volunteerism Leadership, and also was one of the “30 under 30” of Forbes Europe in 2018 in the category “Social Entrepreneurship”.

Iva lead the modules on creativity, idea generation, design thinking and prototyping during the TOT, as well as the special activities dedicated to building empathy and the experience of "stepping into" the shoes of others.

Magdalini Katopi (Greece). She is a mentor to young and aspiring start-uppers, social entrepreneurs, female business owners, agricultural entrepreneurs & heritage creativity people by supporting artists that revive heritage & crafts, creating products of cultural value. During her 23+ career path and cross-cultural/international experience Magda worked alongside CEOs, Chairpersons, Senior Staff and Business Owners, Regional Governors, multinational entities and local agencies, governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Magda participated in the opening modules of the TOT on building group dynamics and covered the topics related to developing mentoring skills and working with tools and approaches in this activity.

The Participants:

The Training of Trainers hosted 23 participants (including 5 trainers) from the countries of the three partner organisations. Women (and men) from Greece, Bulgaria and Austria participated in the WomenBridges TOT and after 5 days of training became Buddies - mentors for women who need support and advice in their personal and work lives. A combination of youth workers, students and people from both the corporate and NGO sectors, the participants managed to fit in very quickly and showed ease when working with eachother. The entire group was very proactive and energetic and everyone added positivity to the training. Even the participants from Greece who unfortunately had delays and missed flights, arriving late to the training, turned their situation around and managed to make the best of an unlucky situation and turned their story into a funny sketch, which they presented to the other participants.

"The group was mixed in terms of age and professional experience, yet all were working with youths. There was a good collaboration based on group dynamics. All of the participants were willing to participate in the group dymanics. 5 days training with 9 hours a day seems overwheliming for the majority of the participants. It was good to have only 1 activity in the evening, and yet it seemed the majority of the group was tired to join. It was a great idea to have a room in the training facility for relaxation. This gave the opportunity for not only participants with disabilities, but also for other to learn to take a moment for themselves, which is complimenting the work-life balance objective of the training. The participants showed quite a lot of interest in the 1:1 work during different activities. The group was feeling comfortable to ask questions and to give feedback during the session." - Vesselina

"Although it took more time for some, at the end of the day all the participants were involved in the discussions. I didn’t feel that anybody was excluded. The participants were actively present at the sessions and everyone had their contribution to the joint learning process. Most of them seem very motivated to keep up with the program and have developed their own ideas during the training. Some of the participants are very young and hence not that experienced. They might need additional support to become a buddie in the WB programme but as they are very motivated, that wouldn’t be a problem. They could be a valuable support for younger women (eg. single, without kids, at the start of their careers)." - Anita

The Goal and Purpose of the Project:

The project was an opportunity to experience first-hand the WomenBridges process and to equip oneself with the competences to guide and support other women. The participants would join a fast growing community of women and would become part of the core team of the WomenBridges programme. In the scope of the current project the Buddies would take part in the co-creation of the pilot activities for young women and will be able to put in practice the competences built through the “Training of trainers” course. In the long term they would be able to continue working with the WomenBridges programme. The long-term goal of WomenBridges was the effective inclusion of young women in public life by providing quality and balanced employment as entrepreneurs, self-employed or employees. WomenBridges provided a comprehensive approach and concrete methodology to support the career paths of young women, especially those in vulnerable situations to achieving economic independence and employment.

The Training:

"WomenBridges - Training of Trainers Course for Youth Workers" was a 5-day training course focusing on the competences of youth work practitioners needed to work as Buddies with young women individually to support their career path and healthy work-life balance, as well as to support peers into becoming WomenBridges Buddies! The training took place from 22 to 26.07.2022 at Jamba Ability Hub in Sofia, Bulgaria, while 21 and 27 July were travel days for the participants.

The training was based on experimental learning, which followed the methodology developed by WomenBridges program and set out to first walk participants through the full process of the user of the program, and then to provide tools, techniques and approaches to work on future mentors. The program was divided into three conditional stages: forming a group and establishing motivation and learning objectives, WomenBridges program experience and willingness to work with the program on its methodology. The first part of the program aimed to guide the participants on the path of transformation from individual into a group.

The first day was planned entirely in the direction of creating a sense of group, self-knowledge and self-study. This part was presented by Theodora and Magda Katopi. Problems with the transport of a large part of the group of participants from Greece forced changes to the program in the last moment. Due to the delay of one of the flights, 5 of the participants traveling from Heraklion, via Athens, missed the flight to Sofia and actually failed to participate in the first day of training. This required us to move the program to provide an opportunity for them to participate in the familiarization activities and fit into the general group, as well as make up for lost time. Despite this, we managed to overcome the problem and the training resumed with full power and proved succesful.

The sessions on the first day were 1) Start together (interactive introductory activities to introduce the team), 2) Embracing togetherness (an interactive session to introduce and get to know the participants through the "Onion" method), 3) Exploring myself (an experience aimed at self-evaluation and self-exploration through methods such as "River of Life" and Ikigai) and 4) Self-assessment tools (the participants got acquainted with some basic methods of giving constructive feedback and learned how to ask themselves self-reflection questions).

The second day was affected by the changes made during the first. We started with group activities dynamics and getting to know the group, then we continued with the activities planned in the program from the first day for self-assessment of the learning process - Exploring my learning process. Among the methods used were - "Social Bingo", Learning out of the box cards of Salto and setting learning objectives.

In the second session, we caught up and started the experiential process in the WomenBridges program. We went through the topics of career support step by step: 1) Career Path-Career Drivers - a motivational session on how to communicate meaningfully with others by knowing and following the DISC tool for determining the leading behaviors of people; 2) Employee - a session aimed to review the differences between different types of employers; 3) Entrepreneur - presentation about the specifics of entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship as a possible career choice; and 4) Self-assessment - self-reflection after the day.

In the evening activity "Empathy walk", led by Iva Tsolova, we used the short time distance between the hall and the hotel in order to experience the daily life of people with various disabilities in the urban environment. With the help of various devices - treated glasses to reduce vision, noise canceling headphones, etc.) we simulated various physical impairments. We provided a team to keep the participants safe and guide them on their way to the hotel.

The third day was devoted to the study of the personal balance between personal and professional life, our life roles and the effect we have on the lives of others. A very important moment of the day was another method we introduced "the Village" - a sensory session for experience and self-reflection of the individual as part of society. Held at the beginning of each day, for three consecutive days, this method examined the experience of the participants in development as part of the growing community of WomenBridges Buddies. Without having the right to talk, the participants for 20 minutes interact only through each other senses that opened and tuned more and more over the course of the three days. The sessions were: 1) Freelance & Part-time job (discussion about working as a self-employed person); 2) Management vs. Leading (continued analysis of DISC through the prism of the management of people and leading teams); 3) Jumping in roles (mapping the duties in the paid and unpaid work); 4) Wellbeing & Resilience (discussions, interactive activities and sharing what resilience is, how to build our own sustainability and tools that we can help each other in the process); 5) Self-assessment.

At the end of the day, we organized "Nurturing night" in the park, during which we discussed relaxation techniques in pairs and individually. Spontaneously, the evening turned into a cultural exchange through the music and songs of the participants representatives of the participating countries.

On the fourth day of training, we started again with the Village, after which we presented the overall concept and working methodology of WomenBridges. We clarified the objectives, roles and work processes of the program and we took feedback from the mentors. The session concluded with a ritual acceptance of the participants as WomenBridges Buddies - each of us went through a "tunnel" made of the hands of the other participants. The first two sessions of the day were about our Resource bank: 1) Mentorship (providing a manual with clear steps for mentoring); 2) Coaching (discussion of the coaching approach).

In the last session, we provided an opportunity for participants to share their techniques, stories and ideas as we opened the Open Mic session. The opportunity was well received, because the participants they were professionals with different backgrounds and had a lot to share. The representatives of Greece told in a funny and lively way their obstacles during the trip to Sofia. Women Do Business presented the activities of the organization. Stanislava Kasikova (Bulgaria) presented approaches and mediation tools, while Zlatomira Petrova (Bulgaria) immersed everyone in a deep meditation exercise. Finally, with Manolis Stratakis (Greece) we tried out coaching techniques and tools practices, after which we finished with self-reflection.

The last day we also started with the Village and the sessions continued with: 1) Introduction in the world of D&I (discussion covering the key aspects that would be useful for mentors in the future); 2) The role of the support groups (participants had the opportunity to experience a "support group" and were given guidelines on how to lead such groups themselves); 3) Being a trainer (the participants continued to get acquainted with the basic competencies for preparation of trainings and the principles of working with different groups of learners);

The last session of the day aimed to make a general reflection on all days. The team of trainers brought the participants back to the days of learning by looking at it through their eyes and experiences. The training was entirely planned around experiential learning methods with use of role-playing games, group and individual work, reflection and debriefing.

"During the training, I had the opportunity to closely observe the development of the participants' knowledge as well as their deepening commitment to the importance of the project's topic, which makes me really happy. For many of them, supporting and empowering women is not only important in terms of their professional experience, but also on a personal level. Therefore, I believe that the participants will continue to be deeply involved in the next stages of the project implementation and each of them will also take on the role of ambassador for the project and continue to inspire more people to be involved in

the implementation at the local level." - Iva

"I feel that the training has achieved its goals and will be a group starting point for cooperation within the WB programme. Very good adaptation of the programme to the delay of the group, excellent group dynamics was achieved. I would say there was a good balance between theory (presentations, data, stats, etc) and practice (exercises, activities, etc.). I think a positive thing was that many participants shared they managed to do a personal development job within the sessions and know some next steps on dealing with their own issues. Some participants shared that the flow of the session topics was very logical and gave a good introduction to the WB methodology. I think the group now has a clear idea what follows. As there was a big age gap between the ‘youngsters’ and most of the participants (that naturally leads to a difference in lifestyle, career level, etc.), I think it might be useful to invite a younger trainer/role model for a future discussion in the WB programme, who would address issues like being a young woman in business/work (as opposite to all the ‘mom/family woman issues’).Young women have often different challenges like glass ceiling (relevant to all women), non-work tasks in the office like getting the coffee for the staff meeting and organizing company events as they have ‘more spare time’, finding a woman mentor, discrimination for the possibility to be a mom soon and go on maternity, etc." - Anita

The Results of the TOT:

The participants experienced and got to know the working methodology of the WomenBridges program, including developing networks and a package of measures to ensure employment and support in career development with a focus on an inclusive work environment, work-family balance, the transition from one job position to another or from education to work and vice versa.

Participants gained knowledge on the subject of inclusion of vulnerable groups, human-centered approaches. They experienced some of the material taught and prepared to approach with empathy and understanding the needs of people from vulnerable communities.

They also gained knowledge on the design of programs to increase competences for starting female and social entrepreneurship and access to resources and a network of experts.

The participants in the TOT showed understanding of the topics, guidelines and measures for women's empowerment, including economic and gender balance. The participants developed their soft skills - teamwork, networking, monitoring, effective communications, presenting the idea, persuading and attracting like-minded people and partners, preparing individual action plans, evaluation and development.

Finally, they understood the approach and benefits of the Youthpass system and received their personal certificates.

The Location - Jamba - Ability Hub:

The training was held at JAMBA - Ability Hub, which is a career training center and social space, whose main purpose is to train people with disabilities in soft and vocational skills. The space is fully accessible to people with all types of disabilities and is staffed by people with disabilities who also provided coffee breaks and food during the training. In this way the participants were able to communicate directly with people with disabilities. The atmosphere in the hub was accessible, pleasant, welcoming and very creative, which predisposed the participants to feel comfortable and able to participate fully in the training

sessions. The training room is multifunctional, which enabled the organizers to adapt it to the diverse nature of the activities and sessions. The venue gave great flexibility for inside/outdoors work, very spacious, with various hall, which gave the possibility for work in separate groups if needed. Very close to accommodation venue, park and transport connections.

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