This International Women’s Day, a bold move to financially empower women

08 Mar 2017

To mark International Women’s Day, Hand in Hand is proud to guest host a blog entry by Lea Asmar, the latest Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust secondee to join our team. Click here to visit the Trust blog.

Be bold for change. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day rings particularly true for me as I prepare for a new chapter in my career, one that will move me closer to my wish of influencing positive change for women. As one of 12 participants in the 2017 class of the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust, I will temporarily say goodbye to my job and family in Beirut to join new colleagues in London at Hand in Hand International, an NGO focusing on women’s economic empowerment as a means to ending the cycle of poverty. My experience is possible because a series of people, both at Hand in Hand and the Trust, each decided that the change we seek in the world requires investing in new ideas.

The first of these bold decisions took place in 2003 when Hand in Hand Co-Founder Percy Barnevik teamed up with Dr. Kalpana Sankar to pilot a new job creation model. This model dared to believe that people living in poverty, particularly women, are grassroots entrepreneurs in the making, full of energy and ideas, but lacking the resources to see those ideas come to fruition. By bringing together group savings, skills training, microfinance, and market access, Hand in Hand has generated 2.82 million jobs, the vast majority of which are among women.

In 2014, the Trust made a bold decision of its own to establish the Secondment Program, one of the few of its kind. The Secondment Program grew out of the Trust’s commitment to invest in innovative approaches that add value to society and significantly improve people’s lives. The programme matches J&J employees, based on their expertise, with long-term assignments that enhance NGO partners’ organisational capacity and impact. Secondments offer a different way for Johnson & Johnson to provide extensive technical assistance that goes beyond financial assistance and supports our partners in reaching their goals. In exchange, J&J employees receive a special opportunity to give back to society alongside their personal and professional growth.

The partnership between the Trust and Hand in Hand first began in 2011 with grants to support enterprise development, sanitation and hygiene education, as well as micro-credit loans for rural families in Afghanistan. In 2015, the partnership continued with a grant to support the delivery of the Millennium Development Goals in Afghanistan, followed by an additional grant to strengthen the monitoring and evaluation of Hand in Hand programmes. In 2016, the partnership expanded to include technical assistance from Trust Secondees, a testament to the years of successful collaboration.

My colleague Klara Mayer from Janssen Austria was the first to join the Hand in Hand team to support business development efforts. You can read all about her experience through her blog.

Now I will be picking up where Klara left off, supporting Hand in Hand to develop a fundraising strategy for institutional donors. While I have always considered myself an active volunteer and supported women’s programs in my community, I have not had the opportunity to fold my passion for women’s rights into my job until now. When I found out about the Trust Secondment Program, I knew this was my chance to have an impact on a larger scale. It’s my chance to make a bold move and commit to empowering women as part of my job, and not just as a hobby. Over the next four months, I will need to be quick and agile as I build tools that unlock even more funding to enable Hand in Hand to scale up operations and help even more women in the years to come.

One of the beauties of the Secondment Program is that assistance for a project doesn’t need to end once a secondment is over. Just as I followed Klara to build upon her work, my colleague Alena Perunova, a Distribution Specialist from J&J Consumer in Ukraine, will commence her secondment with Hand in Hand in June to pick up where I leave off.

To see big change – the kind that is needed to empower women to take charge of their own financial security – individuals, organisations, and companies must be willing to make big, bold investments that challenge the status quo. I am proud to work for a company that goes beyond the norm to invest in its employees to not only better themselves and expand their horizons, but also to better the lives of the world’s most vulnerable populations. I am equally proud to support an organisation like Hand in Hand that sees potential in all women to realise a financially secure future for themselves and their families. And lastly, I am proud of my fellow J&J Secondees who rise to the opportunity to put their day-to-day routines aside and commit themselves to moving to a new country, joining a new team, and taking on new professional challenges in order to help others in need. This is the kind of boldness I will be celebrating on International Women’s Day.


Lea Asmar is Cluster Value Team Leader & Regional Product Manager – Hematology NEMA, Janssen Lebanon and a Trust Secondee 2017. You can learn more about the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust by visiting their website, signing up for their monthly newsletter or following them on Twitter.