You might expect that someone who started a program for at-risk girls must have come from a difficult upbringing. That’s not the case with current U.S. Virgin Islands resident Angela Coleman, Master of Business Administration ’03, who founded Sisterhood Agenda when she was just 24 years old. In fact, Coleman’s father was a self-made man who put himself through law school and retired a superior court judge.
Her hard-working mother enjoyed a successful career in her own right in financial management. “I was raised by someone who was very strong and also by someone who was very beautiful,” reflects Coleman. Today, she is working to instill these values—and others gleaned from her close-knit, extended family—in young girls and women in 32 countries around the globe.
Inspiration for change
During her undergraduate studies at Princeton University, Coleman’s research showed her the gender identity and self-conceptualization issues that women and girls face, especially those of African descent. “I was disheartened by what
Coleman looked at existing programs designed specifically for this population but felt they were failing to engage these women and girls. “There was just something missing,” she remembers. In 1994, she decided she could make a difference. Coleman founded Sisterhood Agenda, an award-winning, nonprofit organization to help historically underserved girls and women enhance their self-knowledge, self-development and self-esteem. Her programs and curriculum address the heath, cultural, social and economic needs of girls and women worldwide.
“When I started Sisterhood Agenda, I thought I would just do it on the weekends,” she says. Coleman asked schools and courts for referrals for girls who could benefit from her program. Because she was running this startup alone, Coleman kept the class size to a core group of 10 so she could focus on building meaningful relationships with the girls, as well as trying to involve the mothers. “Soon, we had a waiting list,” she remembers.
Slow and steady growth
Coleman quickly realized that she needed to expand if she wanted to serve more girls with Sisterhood Agenda. She returned to school to pursue her MBA from University of Phoenix to gain the skills she needed to grow Sisterhood Agenda in a responsible and sustainable way. Initially, she tried to expand her program through charter offices in other cities. She learned that this model had its logistical—and financial—challenges. “I did not feel like I was being a good steward of donor dollars and resources,” she admits. Through her MBA program, she was exposed to various expansion models and found a good fit for Sisterhood Agenda. “My program really reinforced what I was doing right, and I learned what not to do in business,” she explains.
Coleman fine-tuned her growth model in North Carolina for 10 years before she expanded nationally through program replication. “We create materials for other agencies and train them how to implement Sisterhood Agenda on their own,” she says. She made certain her expansion model worked before she rolled out the program across the country, and ultimately around the world. “This is more than a feel-good program,” she stresses. “It has to do what it says it will do—that’s why I created it.”
From grass-roots to global
Today, Coleman runs Sisterhood Agenda from her new office in the U.S. Virgin Islands where she is setting up a Global Training Academy for her 3,000 partner agencies. Funded by grants and donations, together they serve more than 5 million girls and women worldwide with Sisterhood Agenda’s award-winning curriculum. At the academy, Coleman’s partners will learn more about how to implement local youth programs, special events, training sessions, workshops and retreats in their corners of the globe.
Coleman is ready for whatever the future holds for Sisterhood Agenda. “I am excited about our future here in the U.S. Virgin Islands—not just about our local impact but also bringing our global partners here,” she says. “What we’re doing is not about money or ego. It’s about really helping people. It’s a soulful enterprise.”
|Closing the global gap
Though they hail from 32 countries around the world, Sisterhood Agenda’s partner agencies share one thing in common: the desire to connect with one another. To facilitate this interaction, Coleman is planning an inaugural conference in November. “Our partners want to get together, learn from each other and support each other in a more meaningful way,” she says.
Coleman also engages her partners with the Sisterhood Agenda Magazine and the Positive Media Program, which allow them to share their content digitally—think videos and podcasts—with Sisterhood Agenda members around the world.