Friday, August 14, 2009

Lifestylz GH Interview : Catherine Hagan; Founder of the Right To Rights Foundation

A native of Ghana and a graduate of Temple University Japan, Miss Catherine Hagan was inspired to set up The Right To Rights Foundation, which aims at educating Ghanaians about their basic human rights, and holding government accountable for ensuring that these rights are not neglected. With their creative rights-based approach, Catherine and the foundation are set to take the non-profit sector in Ghana by storm. Check out the interview and the Right To Rights Foundation Website.


Lifestylz GH (LSG): Tell us a bit about yourself. Who's Catherine Hagan?

Catherine Hagan (CH): I am a freelance Public Relations (PR) and Events coordinator based in Tokyo and NYC. While at Temple University, Japan, my majors were International Relations and Asian Studies; which weren’t really related to PR. However PR comes easily to me so that is what I do for a living, for now at least. I am currently in Ghana looking for clients to represent and at the same time working very hard with the Right To Rights Foundation. My main hobby is shopping; embarrassing but true.

LSG: What are your key aspirations in life, and who are your main influences or role models?

CH: I really want to be a lawyer. I will be getting into Law School next year, so hopefully, in four years I should be a lawyer. This might sound old and cliché, but my main role model and influence is my mum, Ernestina Hagan. She definitely keeps me grounded and I learned everything I know from her. Funny enough, she is also a lawyer so I don't know if that factors into my wanting to be a lawyer.

LSG: How and when did the idea of Right To Rights come about?

CH: In Spring of 2007, a special course, "The Role of NGOs in Development," was offered at my university, Temple University Japan. Only 15 people were selected to take this course out of 150 applicants, and I was one of the 15 students that were selected. At the end of the class, students were given the opportunity to go to Chennai, India to meet and work with Professor Swaminathan (known as the Ghandi of our generation).

Professor Swaminathan was so influential and after working with him closely during the 2 weeks we were out in India, I decided that I wanted to do something similar and help people in Ghana. So I set up the Right To Rights Foundation when we got back to Tokyo. It was officially founded on June 3, 2007. It wasn't easy to do this, but with support from my family and Geeta Mehta (the professor of the NGO course) it became possible. Right To Rights is kind of a "hip" foundation in the sense that we want to involve mostly youth. We keep it real when we go out and speak to people. We don't claim to know it all, but we definitely want to help all Ghanaians enjoy their basic human rights.

LSG: Tell us about past, current and future projects that Right To Rights is involved in.

CH: For the past few years, Right to Rights Foundation has been trying to establish itself as a proper Non Profit Organization; that is, registering it in Ghana, putting together a team, establishing a board of directors, building a website , getting sponsors and supporters, and getting ambassadors; musician Sway and soccer player Junior Agogo. Now that we finally have all these in place, we are ready to set sail. Consequently, we decided to start from the ground up and we’re tackling the first right, which is the right to education. We visited the Nsaba Diaspora Senior High School in Nsawam, where we spoke to the girls about the importance of education and got their opinions on how they think their lives in school could improve. It was very successful and we are in the process of getting sponsorship for these girls. The next right the foundation will be focusing on is the right to health. We hope to start on that by the end of 2010. [Photo: Ghana Coordinator, Emi Beth and Catherine talking to the girls of Nsaba]

LSG: How did you go about registering the organization, and what are some of the challenges you encounter in its operation?

CH: So far Right To Rights Foundation is only registered in Ghana. We are in the process of registering it in the USA and getting a 501 (c) (3) which will make all donations tax deductible. The most difficult thing in the beginning when it came to Right to Rights is the number of "haters" out there that thought I was too young and inexperienced to set up a foundation. Thankfully, we have been able to prove them wrong. Emi-Beth Amable, our Ghana coordinator, has been highly instrumental in setting up Right to Rights. Most of the work we do would be impossible without her. We have a lot of volunteers and good hearted people that give us their services pro bono. When it comes to projects however, we depend on sponsors and donors for funding.

LSG: Many NGOs and Non-Profit Organizations worldwide operate with the support of volunteers. How do you anticipate getting Ghanaian youth involved in Right to Rights?

CH: We have volunteers in Ghana, Japan and USA. We even have some Right To Rights Foundation university groups springing up on US campuses. Once schools resume, we should start creating Right To Rights Foundation clubs in primary and secondary schools around Ghana, where we can recruit at least 20 students from about 20 schools in Accra, and possibly other cities and towns in the future. [Photo: Catherine and Japan Coordinator Hiromi Aoki at the Japan Pecha Kucha event.]

LSG: Throughout your experience with Right to Rights, what would you say is the greatest lesson you have learned so far?

CH: Impossible is nothing. If you heard some of the stuff I’ve heard - even from some top executives (especially in NY) - about how impossible it will be for my team and I to make a difference in Ghana, you would wonder how I even have the courage to go on. I remember telling Geeta Mehta (my mentor) one of the negative things I had heard and Geeta replied, "You would think they will be happy that you actually want to go out and help instead of getting a corporate job where you might most probably forget your social responsibility?" But then again, you always have positive people around that reassure you that you can do it. When I got the opportunity to speak about Right To Rights Foundation at the World Bank in Tokyo and at Japan's famous event "Pecha Kucha," I wanted to go to all the ‘nay sayers’ and say " IN YOUR FACE". Lol. But I didn't.

LSG: With your organization's current focus on the right to education, what do you think of Ghana's current educational system?

CH: I think on paper everything looks good. The Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education system is definitely my favorite, however I still see kids selling stuff on the streets, so obviously it isn’t being implemented as it should. If we could have more Ghana Education Services officials on these kind of issues, I think Ghana will be well on its way.

LSG: Within the next five years, what role do you see NGOs and Non-Profits such as yours playing in the development of Ghana?

CH: Within the next year and a half, Right To Rights Foundation would have created enough “noise” about education to get the government and some of the profitable companies out there more involved with the issues concerning the less fortunate in society. Within the next five years, Right To Rights hopes to let the youth in and outside Ghana own the country and know that if the country is messed up, it affects us directly. So more of us will be directly involved in the issues concerning Ghana, not only when it comes to soccer matches, the Obamas coming to Ghana, or all the other positive stuff related to our country. [Photo: Right to Rights team on visit to Nsaba Diaspora Senior High School.]

LSG: What final words do you have for Ghanaian youth?

CH: It doesn't matter what anyone says. If you want to do something, go ahead and do it. It doesn't matter what your background is, once you are determined to do something there should be no boundaries.


This interview was conducted by LSG Chief Editor Jemila Abdulai.

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