Solange Bonello

Name Surname: Solange Bonello

Country: Malta

City: Sliema

Nationality: Maltese

I initially studied Early Years Education and then furthered my studies in Inclusive Education. After some years I decided to explore a different area and enrolled at the University of Malta to specialise in Youth and Community Studies. The course focuses on a wide range of humanitarian areas and I took a particular interest in minority groups particularly in disability and gender equality.

The above was the major reason why my involvement within the activism sector was initially in the disability area. Between 2014 and 2016 I served as General Secretary and later as CEO of an NGO called BREAKING LIMITS which is run by and works for the rights of persons with disability. Despite having ventured onto a new project I owe my activism exposure and mentoring to the wonderful people who were one way or another part of BREAKING LIMITS, and I am genuinely grateful for they believed in my potential from the very start.

In addition, I have always been a humanist at heart and consider my activism work as important as any other work I carry out on a professional basis. I am involved in activism for a number of reasons but I initially engaged in activism work as a result of my own journey. I was born with a visual impairment called Nystagmus which refers to involuntary eye movement together with long and short sightedness. As a result Nystagmus also means lack of depth perception and difficulty in balance. Due to the complexity of the condition the majority of individuals with Nystagmus are unable to do things like drive or focus on a moving object like simply catching a ball.

Back in December 2015 I had the opportunity to meet Ms Samantha Pace Gasan who at the time was finalising her thesis which was based on women’s political participation. I was interviewed as a young activist and Ms Pace Gasan expressed her innovative idea of creating some sort of network for young women who aim to become politicians or leaders within different sectors.

Eventually we formed a group of 7 young women who are now the executive committee of the NETWORK OF YOUNG WOMEN LEADERS. In addition, we have over 100 members and have had an overwhelmingly positive response across the board. Her Excellency the President of Malta has also involved us in a number of events and has continuously supported our cause. A number of other female politicians and entrepreneurs have also endorsed our mission.

Amongst various political stands we have recently launched a manifesto based on the election held in Malta and a number of our ideas and proposals were included in the political parties’ manifestos. Furthermore, we are currently working on very exciting projects that will continue to put women’s rights at the forefront of the general agenda.

Entrepreneurship is about having the capacity and willingness to develop and manage a business or project. Although my involvement within NGOs is not a profit making business, the skills of entrepreneurship are necessary for the general development of the organisation.

I do believe that the pediment of a successful organisation is having a clear direction of what you want to achieve and setting out a practical plan of how you plan to get there. I think that one of my strengths in terms of leading an organisation is that I like to back up my goals with practical strategies. Theory is just as important but if one does not partner up the two concepts then the success of the organisation is less straightforward and lacks direction.

Through the years I had gained a particular interest within the gender equality field and I am now a self-declared feminist. This was mainly due to observing more struggles experienced by females in the majority of minority groups. For this reason I moved on to work with another 6 females who have gender equality rights on their agenda. Together we set up an NGO called NETWORK OF YOUNG WOMEN LEADERS. I am currently the administrative co-ordinator and officer for disability and educational rights.

Opportunities: Many prominent women such as Her Excellency the President of Malta and Members of parliament gave us the opportunity to be heard and discuss potential ideas for the NGO. This truly boosted our moral and motivated us to keep working harder for the good of the greater community. In addition, as an individual I had the opportunity to be part of a feminist training camp that was held in Brussels by the European Women’s Lobby.

During this exceptional experience I met over 50 feminists coming from all around the world. Through the networking and the new relationships built I came back to Malta with a luggage full of ideas and my focus was no longer on just a local level but it widened my horizon to dream bigger and expand possibilities.

Threats: In the public sphere you are always subject to judgment and at times ridicule. Unfortunately we did at times come across individuals or groups who did not comprehend our ideas and attacked us either personally or as an NGO. Although I fully accept constructive criticism I do not appreciate uninformed judgment. However, this is a reality that one must face with great strength.

The beauty of politics and entrepreneurship are the diverse ideas and opinions within the field, but this is only when they are put forward through informed and justified research. Having said this, such experiences help us become stronger both as individuals and as a team. One must learn how to filter comments that are directed our way and be smart on what to take on and what to leave behind.