What Were the Odds?? A win-win-win story!

Barbara Garlock saw an ad for this year’s annual Arts & Crafts Fair in November and decided on a whim to take the subway downtown to shop for gifts for her three daughters and the hostess of her book club.  Little did she know, she’d come home a big winner! And so would MMEG.

Barbara is semi-retired and has had what she calls a ‘peripatetic’ career, working as a buyer for Macy’s, a management consultant, a grant writer and Executive Director for community-based non-profits, and as a Board member for organizations working on behalf of children and victims of domestic violence.  She notes that she is a “connector” in this world, looking to connect people of similar interests and objectives to achieve common goals, primarily those serving the interests of  women, children and those in need. 

On the final day of the Fair, Barbara bought five door prize tickets before leaving; she took the time to chat with volunteers and Board members and learned about the aims of MMEG: to change the world for good one woman at a time.  Just as she boarded the train to return home, she got a call saying that not only had she won the prize of a wine gift basket, she had also won the grand prize of an IPhone X!

Barbara has since met with members of the Board to collect her winnings and to learn more about the great women whose education we support in MMEG; she has offered to continue to work with us to support our work and help us ‘connect’ with the wider philanthropic and non-profit world.  We welcome her participation to the MMEG family of volunteers.

And who got the grand prize?   Her eldest daughter, an architect in New York City who was ecstatic with her special lucky birthday gift.

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by Brigid Holleran

“Education over the long-term reduces poverty – poverty of mind, spirit, and means….How can I help….?”

Meet  Reiko Niimi, President of Margaret McNamara Education Grants

RN: MMEG awards education grants to women from developing countries for their university studies. We believe that education is a powerful tool. We invest in the empowerment of these women, confident in our grantees’ capacity to create transformational change by serving as role models, mentors and leaders. MMEG contributes to the World Bank Group’s goal of ending poverty and addresses sustainable development goals # 1 (no poverty), # 4 (quality education) and # 5 (gender equality). Our commitment to women’s education is in line with the 2018 World Development Report “Learning to Realize Education’s Promise”. There is a clear connection between the mission of our organization and the mission of the World Bank Group.

Reiko Niimi

Reiko Niimi

MMEG was founded in 1981 by members of the Women's Information and Volunteer Services, present-day World Bank Group Family Network, to honor the memory of Margaret McNamara, an ardent advocate for gender equality and education. Margaret was married to Robert McNamara, the World Bank Group’s 5th President, and used her influence to integrate these two critical development components into the WBG’s programs.

MMEG has 501(c)(3) tax-exemption, not-for-profit public charity status. We are the only non-profit to be housed within the World Bank Group. We are constantly striving for wider name recognition within the World Bank Group. We are working to generate visibility for our mission objectives in a way that helps us to build a sustainable donor base. I would like to see us connect further with World Bank Group country offices, especially in countries where we have MMEG programs and grantees.

Let’s talk a bit about the educational grants. How many do you provide annually? What types of candidates do you look for?

RN: We have four university-level funding programs: US-Canada, South Africa, Latin America and Trinity Washington University here in Washington DC.

To date, MMEG has awarded 351 grants amounting to over USD 3 million. In fiscal year 2017, we awarded 33 grants, almost equally divided among our three regions. The number of grants we award annually depends on the funds we have available, as well as the quality of applications we receive.

Our grants go to exceptional women whose education we are proud to support. Most grantees are pursuing masters or PhD level studies but we support all levels of university training and certification. The key criteria for selection are a well-articulated and demonstrated commitment to improving the situation of women and children in developing countries.  Some of our applicants are already well-respected leaders in grass-root organizations, but are studying to formalize their knowledge with university degrees. Other criteria are good academic standing, financial need, and nationality that corresponds to the WBG client group. Grant recipients are selected by volunteer Selection Committees.

MMEG grants are awarded not just for need – which, as you know, cannot always be effectively measured - but because we see potential that is worth investing in.

Interested staff can learn more about our application requirements and the application process on our website mmeg.org.

Can you tell us a bit about MMEG grant recipients?

RN: What interests MMEG are women who leverage their work at the community level to work towards policy and governance change, not just at the individual, but at the institutional level. I can give you two wonderful examples.

Mariela Escobedo is a 2017 grantee who advocates access to higher education for indigenous women in Mexico. Her research focuses on the barriers that marginalize indigenous girls and restrict their access to education. Mariela’s ultimate aim is to shape policies based on the reality on-the-ground. This very young woman has the potential to make an impact that will extend way beyond her local community.

Esther Kisaakye, or should I say Justice Dr. Esther Kisaakye, of the Supreme Court of Uganda, received a grant from MMEG in 2005 to support her law studies. Esther’s position alone makes her an extraordinary role model. Furthermore, she has used her position to initiate change from within and outside the Judiciary that has and will continue to improve women’s lives. In 2013, Esther wrote the lead judgment in a Supreme Court case that ruled that upon divorce, a spouse could share in the property that was acquired either during the marriage or before the marriage if she or he could prove contribution either to its acquisition or to its development.  This was a victory for women in Uganda and is now the law. Speaking about this decision at the annual MMEG event held in the WB Atrium last year, Esther expressed her satisfaction that even as a “baby judge”, and “against the background of anti-women’s rights sentiments”, her senior male colleagues unanimously endorsed her position. Let me quote Esther: “empowering women through graduate training strategically positions them to…participate in high-level judicial decision making, with the hope of making a difference for marginalized women and children…[This is] why the work of MMEG is so critically important – providing women such as myself with a financial push to the finishing line.”

Esther and Mariela were great investments for MMEG. Of course, not every MMEG grant recipient will become a Supreme Court justice, but for every application we screen we have the same question - does this story have that kind of potential? 

Tells us a bit about the MMEG Arts & Crafts Fair that will be taking place in the Preston auditorium at the World Bank Group next week.

The annual Arts & Crafts Fair has been our main fundraising tool for the past 32 years. It started out very informally with individual volunteers hosting small-scale events to raise funds. We expanded in 2009 with the Fair’s move from the H Building to the Preston auditorium. 

This year’s Fair took place from November 14 to 16. The proceeds of the Fair go directly towards funding grants. They come from a percentage of sales from vendors, flat fees for vendor participation and sales from MMEG-sponsored treasure and gourmet tables. The Fair is a great time for World Bank Group staff and visitors to stop by the Preston auditorium and take advantage of the beautiful items on sale. With the added benefit of knowing that you are shopping for a cause!

What are the other ways staff can support MMEG?

RN: World Bank Group staff can directly support MMEG’s mission of investing in the education of women through financial donations or by volunteering.

Donations may be made through our website, the WBG’s Community Connections Campaign on e-give, internal transfers through BFSFCU, or directly by check to MMEG at MSN J2-202. (For more details, contact us at mmeg@worldbank.org.)

Let me also mention a new giving initiative recently launched by the Bank Fund Staff Federal Credit Union, whose long-time support we gratefully acknowledge. The BFSFCU is collecting foreign coins on behalf of MMEG, so dig out those old unused coins sitting at the bottom of your purse. Use change to make change!

We are also always seeking dedicated volunteers to help organize events, support our fundraising and outreach activities and of course to screen grant applications. Please contact us at mmeg.org to volunteer.

Last but not least, a personal question. What drives you personally to volunteer your time in this way?

RN: I have had the privilege of working in public health and disaster recovery in the UN system and the World Bank Group in Cape Verde, Benin, Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia. After six years with UNICEF in West Africa, a sabbatical year gave me a chance to reflect on professional advocacy versus personal beliefs. Sometimes we take on causes because it’s our job and not because we really care. After all this time, I know that I do care. I am volunteering for MMEG today because I care. With committed individuals we can make a difference to systems. I believe in the power of institutional education to change systems. Education over the long term reduces poverty – poverty of mind, spirit, and means. To get an education, women have to face social and cultural barriers. To help level the playing field, we have to support more women to vanquish the challenges of getting an education and then working to remove these barriers. We can do this collectively.

Personally, I was motivated to donate to MMEG after I picked up a flyer when working in the Bank in the early 1990s. For me, it is a long term commitment to help achieve structural change. MMEG has lasted as long as it has because of committed volunteers.

People who come together and say “how can I help and contribute?”

“I realize architecture is not just about building houses......”

….So says Riddhi Shah (27), a 2017 recipient of a Margaret McNamara Education Grant and candidate for a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning at MIT in Boston, Massachusetts.


Riddhi is specializing in City Design Development at MIT where her objective is to look to the gap between architecture and planning in the public space, specifically at the relationship of an entire physical space and its effect on children.  In particular, Riddhi wants to study how “physical infrastructure restricts children from pursuing easy childhood activities like playing and studying.” 

This is an extension of the work she has done in India where she observed that children from ages 4 to 9 being watched in mobile daycare/crèches at developers’ construction sites used those facilities primarily to make bathroom visits and to take meals, not to learn. These crèches, provided for the protection of children against safety hazards of construction sites, are often too uncomfortable to facilitate the children’s sitting through lessons with no work space and seating on the ground.  This led to Riddhi’s design of the “Kumej” – a knapsack which turns into a desk for children.  Kumej is a combination of the Hindi words for chair (“Kursi”) and table (“Mej”).

Riddhi won a National Student Challenge for her design which has undergone many revisions with prototypes being tested at NGOs and local schools such as Holy Mother School in the Malad Malwani slum in Mumbai.  Once production can achieve economies of scale, the Kumej is expected to cost USD 10 per unit.  Riddhi’s hope is initially to partner with real estate developers and NGOs to distribute Kumejs to mobile crèches/daycares and street schools in urban centers.  She hopes that their proven success in this setting will allow her to approach local governments to reach out to rural schools where, according to a recent UNICEF/World Bank Group study, an estimated four out of five children live in extreme poverty in a country which houses a full 30% of the world population of children living in extreme poverty.*  At current estimates of India’s population of 1.34 billion people, the number of  young children in India aged newborn to 9 years old is likely to be as high as 267 million … a very large proportion of whom are cared for in the crèches, street schools and rural schools targeted by Riddhi’s product.

Since “school plays a major role in shaping a child’s future,” Riddhi’s long-term objective is to continue to develop and implement design plans to improve education in developing and crisis countries by making the educational environment more comfortable, welcoming, and healing at the grassroots level with minimum resources.  She is likely to be successful; as one of her referees puts it, Riddhi shows “exceptional promise as a socially-engaged architect.  Kumej is the best example I have seen in several years of design’s ability to promote social wellbeing.” 


Riddhi’s studies and efforts provide a testament to the enabling work of MMEG grants and the amplification effect of supporting continuing education for our recipients. Her work and that of the 300 plus recipients of Margaret McNamara Education Grants provide benefits in real terms in grantees’ home countries.  As Riddhi says in her application for her grant, “I realize that architecture is not just about building houses.  If architects can divert some of their attention to rural areas where the majority of the population lives, simple and powerful innovations will definitely help in transforming the rural life.  Design can help create more engaging spaces to help a child’s mind develop freely.”

Brigid Holleran

*Ending Poverty: A Focus on Children, UNICEF and The World Bank Group, October 2016.

The invention idea Kumej is filed under pending Indian National Patent 3522/MUM/2013 (Equally owned by: Ami Matthan, Avinav Venkatachalam, Riddhi Shah and Vishesh Kehtawat)

MMEG Annual Arts & Crafts Fair, Tues Nov 14 - Thurs Nov 16, 2017

The Margaret McNamara Education Grant (MMEG) Annual Arts & Crafts Fair,

Tuesday November 14 through Thursday November 16, 2017, 10am – 4pm each day,

World Bank Main Complex (MC) Building (Glass Lobby and Preston Auditorium)*


The MMEG Annual Arts & Crafts Fair will open to WBG staff and the general public (photo ID required to enter) from Tuesday November 14 through Thursday November 16. This will be the 34th annual Fair. While many WBG staff members may have seen the words “Shop for a cause!” plastered around the World Bank, and while many of these staff, and visitors from outside the Bank, have certainly flocked to the Fair over the years, you may not know why this Fair is held, the history behind it, or its unique place at the World Bank.

Here are a few facts to motivate you further as you shop!

·        Since its inception in 1981 through this year, MMEG has disbursed $3.1 million for 351 education grants to women from developing countries pursuing university studies. In FY17, we awarded 33 grants to exceptional women from 21 different countries, divided almost equally among three continents: North America, Africa and Latin America.

·        MMEG is an all-volunteer organization. We receive ongoing support, in-kind and otherwise, from the World Bank, the World Bank Family Network and dedicated MMEG and WBFN volunteers. Funding for MMEG grants comes essentially from two sources. First and foremost, direct monetary donations from World Bank Group staff and retirees, private individuals and a few external foundations for which we owe grateful thanks; and secondly, fundraising activities, the biggest of which is the Annual Arts & Crafts Fair. The Fair has generated valuable revenues for MMEG for over 30 years and is a significant way in which we fund our mission. In 2016 and 2017, Fair income accounted for an average of 22% of total grant funding.


As we know it today, the Fair is a bustling, festive event. It is colorful, animated and often exotic. Items sold range from spectacular jewelry, silk scarves, fancy hats and clothes to gourmet chocolates and tableware. There is a gourmet table where hungry shoppers can enjoy snacks from all over the world – samosas, Turkish boreks, sushi, savory and sweet pastries and sandwiches are some of the goodies on sale. One of the first tables that shoppers see as they come in is MMEG’s treasures table. Items sold at this table are all donations made to MMEG – by MMEG and WBFN volunteers, as well as from the Bank.  There is something for everyone!

The Fair is the brainchild of then MMMF (Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund) Committee member Carla Scearce. Carla’s idea led to the holding of a bazaar in a church in Virginia in October 1984. Items left over from this first bazaar were then sold a couple of weeks later at the World Bank. The bazaar and sale netted a total of $7,600 for the MMMF, substantially more than any previous event. The bazaar grew exponentially the following  year, and in 1986, it became the "International Arts and Crafts Fair'' and was held in the World Bank’s H Building Auditorium.  The Fair has been held every year since then. In 2009, with the closure of the World Bank’s H building offices, the Fair moved to the Preston Auditorium in the MC building. This move gave the Fair access to a bigger, more open space that was easier to find and provided easier access for the general public, substantially raising the profile of the event.


Today, the Fair is MMEG’s main fund-raising activity. In addition to the funds it generates for grants, it significantly increases MMEG’s visibility in the Bank and with the public. It is a fun and productive event that motivates volunteers, creates camaraderie, and even long-lasting friendships. To quote Caroline Berney, who took over chairing the Fair from Carla Scearce in 2002, the Fair is “more than the sum of its parts”. It is a big event that cuts across many offices of the World Bank:  the President’s Office, the General Services Department, Bank moving, security, fire safety, and cleaning staff all contribute to making it a successful event. The Fair would not be possible without any of these actors and we owe them our sincere thanks!

Organizing the Fair is a challenging, cooperative endeavor that brings together some 50 to 60 MMEG and WBFN volunteers every year.  These include: the organizing Fair committee, “runners” to collect and tally sales receipts during the event, salespeople to man the gourmet and treasure tables, and helpers to set up, take down and clean up. Georgine Ahmad, Fair Chair from 2010 to 2014, notes that the Fair is “a real enterprise”. It is a huge job that requires extensive preparation and multiple backup plans.

All of these efforts are geared toward one goal: raising money to fund education grants. The money raised comes from a percentage of sales from vendors, flat fees for vendor participation and sales from MMEG-sponsored treasure and gourmet tables. Last year, proceeds from the Fair funded 8 of our 33 grants. To make our goal and results more concretely tangible to visitors to the Fair, most years one or more grant recipients are invited to attend the Fair to meet vendors, shoppers and volunteers. This year, two 2017 grantees will be attending:  Singmila Shimrah, a PhD student at George Mason university who is working on peace processes in armed conflict, and most particularly the challenges of women’s participation in the peace and dialogue process in the Naga conflict; and Veronique Taylor, a nursing student at Trinity Washington University, who is committed to working with women and children to make healthy lifestyle choices, avoiding unhealthy relationships and bad habits such as drinking, smoking and drug use.

We warmly invite you, WBG staff as well as friends and holiday shoppers outside the Bank, to visit the MMEG Annual Arts & Crafts Fair. It is a great place to browse during your coffee break or lunch hour, pick up unique holiday gifts before the rush starts, or even spoil yourself with something beautiful and unexpected. It is also a wonderful opportunity to meet two MMEG grantees.

And above all, shop for a cause!

Support extraordinary women to achieve extraordinary results! 

Sincere thanks to long-time Fair Chairs Caroline Berney and Georgine Ahmad for providing historical context and background on the organization of the Fair.


*  World Bank Main Complex (MC) Building, 1818 H Street, NW, Washington DC 20433.

Providing Comfort on a Park Bench: The Power of Human Contact

This story of inspirational women is not from a grantee, but from one of their countries.  “Grandmothers” have been trained to address some mental health issues in Zimbabwe, where only 13 psychiatrists are available to serve a national population of 14 million.

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“On any given afternoon in the capital of Harare and nearby cities, an elder woman can be found on a bench outside a clinic, listening intently to another person’s stories. She’s affectionately called a “grandmother”… for her role offering comfort, encouragement and a ready ear,” for those who may feel (in Western terms) depressed. The women are also trained to recognize who might need more advanced care at a health facility.

Dixon Chibanda, one of the psychiatrists who co-developed the program to hone  “mental health care down to basic human connections”, made medical concepts accessible in laymen’s terms, and enlisted women to create “friendship benches” where problems could be resolved at community level. Research shows that social support methods can help treat mental illness.

The Zimbabwe story also reminds us that education continues beyond universities, and that women of all ages continue to contribute to the well-being of their communities.

posted by Reiko Niimi