Empowering Women: Global Grassroots Founder Teaches Women to Create Social Change

Imagine walking for miles each day to bring water to your family for cooking and drinking, water that is not even clean, but it is all that is available. Now imagine that you are physically unable to do this, too poor to pay for someone to help bring it, possibly forced to trade sex for this water for your family. In parts of Rwanda, where the Portsmouth-based non-governmental organization Global Grassroots operates, this was many women’s reality.

In a moving keynote speech at the Nov. 10 meeting of the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation, in a room filled with hundreds of women, many still stunned by the results of the presidential election, Global Grassroots founder Gretchen Steidle told of how her organization empowered these women, many illiterate and uneducated, to change the situation to provide water for themselves as well as hundreds of others. The mission of her organization is not to go dig a well for communities like this, but to help the women find a way to identify solutions themselves in an empowering and sustainable way, “to catalyze women and girls as leaders of conscious social change in their communities,” said Steidle, who formerly lived in Rye and now lives in Kennebunk.

The concept of Global Grassroots, which is headquartered in Portsmouth, began when Steidle, who worked in finance and holds a degree from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, was in South Africa in 2004 researching a solution for the HIV/AIDS and sexual violence epidemic. Her initial plan was to get large corporations interested in the ideas of social entrepreneurs who were combatting HIV/AIDS. She reflected, “I came from a business background and was trying to think strategically, trying to figure out why change doesn’t happen more. That’s when I realized that the problems needed to be solved differently.”