The importance of sharing
Dr. Soheir Stolba
The Share Institute, a small nonprofit organization based in Fair Oaks, does bighearted things for poverty-stricken women and children in the United States and across the globe. Dr. Soheir Stolba, Share’s president and co-founder, grew up in Egypt and has worked in 28 countries as an international consultant. She combines her multicultural perspective with a determination to keep her organization financially independent and responsive to the needs of women worldwide.
What is The Share Institute’s main focus?
The Share Institute was formed 11 years ago, and the mission was to help women and children around the world. When we started, we really wanted to have a group that helped based on the need of the people and not a government type of help or a need for a certain religion or ethnic group. We wanted to remain open for all religions and ethnic groups that need help.
What led you to start The Share Institute?
I saw the need as an international consultant. I worked in many countries and formed strong relationships with women in nongovernmental organizations and I was frustrated by government-to-government aid, because there’s big money and very ambitious goals, but nothing gets accomplished because of corruption or cultural reasons. Through The Share Institute, I wanted to maintain a stronger tie with NGOs and actually see the progress they’ve made.
Why focus on women?
I think the need was to help women, because they have been marginalized through the years. Men have collaterals and can go to banks and borrow money, but most women don’t have access to credit, and that’s where the focus was. We give small $500 loans, called microcredits, for women working on a small project at home, for instance.
How does the microcredit program work?
I get a proposal from an NGO abroad. For example, they’ll say we want to teach women sewing and give them money to buy their own machines to work in their villages. They’d total out the cost of supplies needed, and then we examine the proposal and research the organization. If everything checks out, we send them the money. They sign a contract and agree to turn in a technical report and send us some pictures of projects in process. We don’t give the money directly to the women; the nonprofits that work with us do.
What are some countries The Share Institute has worked in?
We’ve worked all over the place, and we’ve worked in those countries because NGOs reach out to us. We’ve worked on 169 projects in 28 countries: Nigeria, Kenya, Haiti, Vietnam, South India, Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, Somalia, Congo, Ghana, Nicaragua, Laos, Egypt, Uganda, Nepal, and the U.S., to name a few.
Who inspires you?
I never really thought about it, but if there were an example in my life, it would be my father. He passed away, but he was a role model for me, and I followed in his footsteps of public service. He was the equivalent of a governor and worked really hard to help people and serve the people as well as his own extended family. I don’t know if I would use the term inspiration, but he is definitely somebody I aspire to be like.
You’re also an anthropology professor at American River College. What is your favorite class to teach?
My favorite class is cultural anthropology, because that’s where I get to speak about and share my stories from all over the world and interactions with others and how customs and values and norms work in those cultures.
How did you become interested in the field of anthropology?
When I came to the U.S., I had a degree in English literature, and at the time I had this fantasy that I was going to be a novelist. I quickly realized that probably wasn’t going to happen. I had a [master’s degree] in teaching English as a second language, but that was only practical in Egypt. So I knew I was going to have to rethink what I was going to do, and that’s basically when I decided to pursue a degree in anthropology, since a lot of my skills and experiences fit well in that area.
Which issues concerning women do you believe people should be more cognizant of?
Female genital mutilation and trafficking of women. Female genital mutilation negatively affects girls and women both physically and emotionally, and trafficking of women occurs in almost every country, although often times it is concealed and taboo. Unfortunately, these are the results of poverty.
Why do you do what you do?
I feel that one has to make some difference in the world. We’re here for a short period of time, and living for yourself isn’t appealing. You have to go beyond yourself and see how you can help others.
How can others help you do what you do?
There are many ways to help! One way is to help spread the word. Other ways include fundraising, volunteering, purchasing the women’s handmade jewelry and other handmade items we have on display.
What would be your definition of a perfect world?
A perfect world would be a peaceful world where everybody pursues happiness and a healthy living. That’s it.