Today I have the great pleasure of sharing with you another one of the amazing female worldchangers behind Circle of Health International. Anna and I “met” via Skype about 4 months ago and I was immediately smitten by her down-to-earth nature and cool girl vibe. But Anna’s no average cool girl. She’s the kind of woman that female empowerment, philanthropic minded, inequality hating, action oriented dreams are made of. When you read Anna’s interview you’ll see exactly what I mean. She spends her time empowering female leaders in villages and cities around the world, while also rallying troops behind COHI’s mission of saving the lives of women and children. Yes, we can say it, “She’s BadAss!”.
Anna’s interview also illuminates the power of a mother’s influence and in particular how her parents cultivated within her a strong work ethic and passion for seeking equality for women. Without further ado, here’s my chat with Anna.
AM: Please introduce yourself.
AF: I’m Anna Franceschi, 27 years old, born in Fayetteville AR and raised in College Station, TX. Currently live in Austin, TX. I left Texas to attend the University of Arkansas for my undergrad, lived in NYC for a 7 month internship in a pro bono law firm, studied abroad in Austria, finished my undergrad and then moved to Croatia to teach English for 2 years. I did my masters at Central European University in Budapest, and then returned to Croatia for an internship with the United Nations Development Program and then worked for a maternal health tech startup before moving back to the States.
AM: What are you passionate about?
AF: Feminism, women’s health, birth, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, giving back every day, practicing gratitude. Thankfully, I’ve found myself working for an organization that so closely aligns with my passions. If I can move the needle each day, even just a little, towards equality for women and their access to healthcare and healthy nutrition, I feel fulfilled.
AM: How has your upbringing influenced your work today?
AF: I was raised in a feminist household, where both parents practiced equality and taught me and my sister to love and care for others. My mother, like so many other professional women in her generation, paved the way for me and my female colleagues. I saw her push against the invisible barrier of sexism in her professional life, and because of that, I know it takes passion, determination and fortitude to tackle what you want to accomplish most. My father taught me the value of a strong work ethic, that you give 100% to anything you do. And he taught me that we need men too, to help fight the inequality women face.
AM: What sparked your interest in women and children’s issues?
AF: Since I could remember, I knew I wanted to make a difference for those left vulnerable in our global society. I credit my parents, of course, for opening my eyes to the troubles women and other populations face, and for instilling the purpose to challenge those inequalities.
AM: How did you come to work for COHI and how long have you worked there?
AF: This is a pretty good story! I’ve worked for COHI and with Sera Bonds, our CEO/Founder for a year and a half now. When I first came back to the States, I knew I wanted to live in Austin and work in the nonprofit realm. Sera’s mother and my mother worked together decades ago, and our mothers connected us. I met first with Sera to ask her professional advice, but I realized immediately COHI was the organization I’d been longing to work for. As it so happened, the Nepal earthquake struck not 5 days later, and Sera asked me to lend a hand as COHI organized its response. And a year and a half later, here I am!
AM: What is your role at COHI?
AF: I’m the Deputy Director, which essentially means I wear lots of hats. I help Sera apply for grants, coordinate fundraising and crowdfunding initiatives, write our communications pieces, and conduct domestic training when needed.
AM: When and where was your first trip abroad with COHI? What was the experience like?
AF: My first trip abroad was to visit our Haitian partners in a small town outside of Port-au-Prince called Fonds Parisien in December of 2015. I had traveled extensively before then (for personal enjoyment), but nothing prepared me for this trip. I saw such need for COHI’s services, and felt an intense sense of purpose, humility and respect. There is so much work to be done for women’s health across the globe, and I became acutely aware of how COHI’s model addresses those needs while honoring the women and children served, without diminishing their value or personal experiences. Haiti has been subjected to such heavy-handed top-down international aid that many are desensitized to it, and are skeptical of any white person saying they’ll solve X or Y. There are so many bad ways of doing disaster relief and development aid, and I feel so thankful that I’m a part of an organization that sees value in working closely with local communities without any dogma or politics, training and equipping women with knowledge and skills, and working diligently to help women empower themselves.
AM: If you could share a piece of advice or insight with A Global Tribe of Women, what would it be?
AF: There’s a great cross stitch piece my grandmother made, and I made a copy so I could keep it as a wonderful reminder. It says “Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch.” I take that to mean that we should be kind to ourselves. You can only do so much! I know I won’t change the world, but my daily actions might help one mother have a better birth experience, one infant have a healthier start to life, one girl feel no shame about her menstruation, one man realize domestic violence isn’t the answer. All our efforts are drops in a very large bucket- but collectively, each working incrementally, we can make a difference for those most vulnerable.
AM: You recently visited the United Nations headquarters. Please share about the award that COHI received and what that experience meant to you.
AF: COHI and our partner Ayzh received the Positive Action Challenge Prize from the UN’s Every Woman Every Child initiative for our work in Turkey training Syrian midwives and equipping them with clean birth and menstruation kits. I was over the moon when Sera told me we had won the prize, and also felt a sense of validation- like, yes, we deserve this- this is how we do our work always: providing training and supplies at the same time, to female healthcare workers, who make the most impact for women and infants in their communities. Having the UN recognize that your model works, that’s a great feeling. (And we kind of feel ahead of the curve, since we’ve been doing this work for almost 13 years!) On a personal level, speaking at the UN was actually one of my “reach goals” for this year- and I definitely didn’t expect it to actually happen, but it felt amazing reaching that personal goal. And to be honest, I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet!
AM: What is a current goal that you have?
AF: My personal goal is to be a pro at this whole life balance thing. Being kind to your body and mind, and always make time for play. My professional goal is to kick COHI’s fundraising into high gear, so we can make an even greater impact for the women we so ardently serve. I’d love to raise over $1 million for COHI in 2017!
AM: Where do you envision yourself 5 years from now?
AF: In five years, I hope I’m back at the UN representing COHI and our work. I want to grow the advocacy arm of COHI, and use our growing audience to advocate for better domestic & foreign policies and better methods of international development and relief aid. Personally, I envision myself happy with COHI’s success, and exploring the world in my free time- I’d love to visit all 7 continents!
See what I mean gals?! Isn’t Anna A-mazing? What a life she’s led and she’s only 27 years old. I’m so honored to know Anna and be able to share her story with #AGlobalTribeOfWomen. She’s inspired me so much and shown me just how impactful a single life can be.
Much love, success, and blessings to you Anna!
You can find out more about Anna’s work with Circle of Health International on their website and Instagram page. They’ll also be launching their annual “In Her Shoes” campaign on November 7th. “In Her Shoes” is a campaign aimed at bringing greater awareness to the issue of maternal malnutrition. During this 13-day event women all around the world will choose 3 days to come together in solidarity and eat the diet of a woman in crisis that has been served by COHI. To find out how you can join this movement and my team who’ll be eating the diet of a Tanzanian single mother, click here.