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2020 Annual Letter from AUW Support Foundation

Posted on December 9, 2020

Written by Kiko

Dear Friends,

As we approach the end of a difficult year, we write to you with immeasurable gratitude for this community of supporters, and with a humble request to renew your investment in women’s education through a year-end contribution to Asian University for Women (AUW). We reflect on a year of unknowns and challenges caused by Covid-19 that were offset by extraordinary acts of service, generosity, and fellowship. In many ways, this community’s response to the pandemic is representative of AUW’s overall mission: to offer opportunity in the face of adversity, and to provide a pathway to solving global challenges. It is our immense pleasure to highlight several activities of opportunity through our 2020 Annual Letter.

Above: In normal years, students enjoy in-person classes with small group discussions and opportunities to study abroad at institutions like Lund University in Sweden.


A Global Campus

When the pandemic hit Bangladesh in March of 2020, our first priority was to ensure the health and safety of everyone on AUW’s campus in Chittagong. The campus was closed to all but vital business, classes were swiftly moved online, and additional health precautions— such as hand-washing stations and quarantine facilities— were put in place. Between April and August, as regional borders closed, AUW worked with donor organizations and embassies to enable more than 600 international students to safely travel home from Bangladesh. For the approximately 50 students for whom displacement or severe conflict makes returning to their home countries an impossibility, AUW has made all accommodations within its power to ensure their safety and comfort.

Meanwhile, AUW faculty adapted their curricula with remarkable speed and creativity to meet the needs of students spread across 18 countries. To assist students with unstable connectivity, faculty have implemented an asynchronous learning model, recording lectures for students to view prior to live Zoom classes. Alternative assessment methods have been designed to be more accessible and inclusive, and additional student support is provided by Heads of Programs and personal tutors.

This year, AUW also graduated the first cohort of former garments workers who enrolled through the Pathways for Promise program, which recruits talented women from some of the most neglected communities and prepares them for university studies over a two-year period.

Above: Students, faculty, and staff adapted to Covid-19 precautionary measures such as wearing masks and hand-washing frequently. 


A Global Community

As the University focused on maintaining its high standard of education and student development in such complicated circumstances, friends of AUW in all corners of the world rallied to highlight and support these efforts. Our AUW Strong initiative sought to offer stories of hope and resilience in a time of deep uncertainty. In the spring of 2020, we streamed four live webinars that illustrated the pandemic experiences of distinct communities represented at AUW, including reports from former garments workers, Rohingya students and alumnae working in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, and a special report from Afghanistan. AUW students and alumnae were joined by AUW Trustees, industry stakeholders, and the AUW Chancellor, Mrs. Cherie Blair, to imagine a new and better future for their communities in the wake of the pandemic.

AUW Strong also connected students to female role models within the corporate sector through remote guest lectures. Goldman Sachs’ Asia Pacific Female Managing Director Network hosted a ‘Women in Finance’ lecture for 60 students, and Alessia Falsarone of PineBridge Investments held a lively discussion on ‘Sustainable Investing’. Guest lectures from colleagues at Cisco and BlackRock will follow in 2021.

Cisco and Horizon Therapeutics have also brought the mission of AUW to their internal network through interviews with Chancellor Cherie Blair and AUW alumnae.

Finally, we are deeply grateful for individual, governmental, corporate, and foundational funders who stepped up to support the University at a most critical moment. Your steadfastness in this time of learning and adaptation has given new meaning to your ‘support’.

Above: Afghan students make up the second largest nationality represented at AUW after Bangladeshi students. In May, Afghan graduates spoke about the impact of Covid-19 on girls’ education in Afghanistan in a webinar hosted by AUW Trustee Dr. Maryam Qudrat. 


Volunteer Success

AUW’s mission is emboldened by the tireless efforts of volunteer groups around the world. Individuals contribute in their personal capacity to fundraising efforts, partnership formation, and advocacy that sustains the University. In October, the Japan Support Committee— co-chaired by Kathy Matsui, Catherine Watters-Sasanuma, and Miwa Seki— held its first virtual event, raising over US $1 million in support of the University. The Hong Kong Support Foundation— chaired by Lynne Anne Davis— is planning for its own virtual event in early 2021. New groups in the Bay Area, New York, and Seattle have also formed this fall, leveraging the unique capacities of their cities to provide marginalized women with a pathway to higher education at AUW. In early December, the Bay Area Advisory Board— chaired by Ritu Bhargava— closed its first event, a virtual film festival highlighting stories of women’s empowerment. The event raised funds for more than one scholarship in under one week.

Above: AUW student, Nazifa Rafa, and faculty member, Professor Tiffany Cone, joined film directors featured in the HERSTORY: Women’s Empowerment Through Her Lens film festival in a panel moderated by Ritu Bhargava, Chair of the Bay Area Advisory Board. 


Looking Ahead

Before we opened the University in 2008, we faced so many challenges—obtaining funding, finding space for dormitories and classrooms, reaching promising students, earning the trust of family members. Despite these hurdles, our commitment to empowering the Asia’s forgotten women through higher education propelled us to open our doors to 132 women from six countries that first year. Twelve years later, almost 900 students from 18 countries are enrolled at Asian University for Women, and over 1,000 have graduated. With your support, we know that we will be able to overcome the challenges of Covid-19, too.

In the next year, AUW will continue to refine the delivery of online learning, as classes will be held remotely until May of 2021. We also hope to begin the construction of our permanent campus, which will enable us to expand our student enrollment to up to 3,000 students. Despite the pain and uncertainty caused by this pandemic, it is still possible to think of a world where the aspirations of all people can blossom—but, such a world can only emerge if each and every one of us have the opportunity to reshape our own lives and turn our energies toward actualizing this hope.

We invite you to be part of changing our world through the power of girls’ and women’s education by investing in AUW today, in whatever way you can. It will make a difference.


Opportunity by the Numbers