Enabling Women on a Mission to Speak for Themselves

September 1, 2016

by Martina Mok

How do you get a crowd to stop, listen and care? How do you tell a life story in two minutes – let alone seven stories?

FleishmanHillard in Hong Kong recently held a reception for clients, staff, partners and friends to benefit the Asian University for Women (AUW), as part of ongoing pro bono support and our global social inclusion initiative. Based in Bangladesh, AUW grants scholarships to high-potential young women from 15 countries in Asia who would otherwise not have the opportunity to gain an international university education.

We are fortunate in Hong Kong, but gender equality and access to education shouldn’t be taken for granted. As our work extends across Asia Pacific, it’s only fitting that we take a broader view. Too many women in rural and marginalized communities in Asia still lack equal access to higher education and career opportunities, whether due to sociocultural norms, structural barriers, financial burdens or more. But what could we do as communicators?

Our team spent time with seven AUW students interning in Hong Kong this summer – Yang, Priyanka, Sonia, Moury, Sanjida, Moumita and Sharmin. In getting to know these young women, we were impressed by their passion and bravery, confidence and ambitions. We realized the best way to raise awareness of AUW and its impact on these women was simply to let them speak for themselves, and tell their own stories of breaking the mold against all odds.

So in the midst of our cocktail reception, we turned off the lights and immersed people in a soundscape journey to Bangladesh:


“In my society, most women don’t have the right to truly speak and dream.”

Through “Voices in Your Head” and a Q&A with the students, we revealed first a voice, then a face and a name – taking a micro lens to humanize this big issue. Instead of presenting statistics about millions of women in need, we engaged the audience through personal stories, helping to raise more funds than expected.

“There are many more Priyankas like me who need your help, and I would love to help more Priyankas in the future.”

FH70 AUW Event - Students Q&A 20160817

As an agency, we often talk about authenticity. This was a prime example – real comments recalled by these women captured raw emotions best, and their own words were most impactful. We took a backseat as editors, directors and coaches, guiding them in becoming better ambassadors for AUW. Our reward came in seeing their speaking skills and confidence improve with every meeting, studio take and rehearsal, up until the final delivery on stage.

Working with these students was a humbling experience, and guests found inspiration in their stories as well. The more these women receive, the more they hope to give back. Many are now role models in their community and have changed the minds of those who initially opposed their pursuit of higher education. All aspire to serve their country and work toward social change.

Sustainable Development Goal number 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. It’s a lofty goal, but in the words of Malala Yousafzai, let us remember: “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen, can change the world.”

AUW students on a walking tour of Hong Kong with FleishmanHillard volunteers.

AUW students on a walking tour of Hong Kong with FleishmanHillard volunteers.