Dave ClarkReign FC

Reign FC Legend: Rwanda Girls Initiative co-founder Suzanne Sinegal McGill

Dave ClarkReign FC
Reign FC Legend: Rwanda Girls Initiative co-founder Suzanne Sinegal McGill

The Legends Campaign, a partnership between Reign FC and Avanade, honors women for their extraordinary contributions in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Prior to our August 11 match against Utah Royals FC, Reign FC will recognize Rwanda Girls Initiative co-founder Suzanne “Soozi” SInegal McGill as a Reign FC Legend.

McGill co-founded the Rwanda Girls Initiative in 2008 with Shalisan Foster. The pair had decided they wanted to start an educational nonprofit and decided to work in Rwanda after McGill took a family trip to the country. McGill and Foster travelled to the country and began partnering with local government entities to improve access to secondary education for young women.

In 2011, the Rwanda Girls Initiative opened the Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology, a STEM-focused boarding school that works to limit the challenges that often force girls to drop out of school early. Today, the Gashora Girls Academy has 528 graduates who have studied at 162 universities in 28 countries.

McGill has also served on the boards of other nonprofits, including the Foundation for Early Learning, Seattle Children’s Hospital and St. Thomas School. McGill lives in Medina with her husband T.J. McGill and their three children.

Have sports meant anything particularly special in your life?

I played soccer growing up. I grew up just after Title IX, I look back at it and I’m very grateful for the opportunity that I had to play soccer. It was an emerging thing there. I had two older brothers and I had grown up watching them and their sports, so I recognized the new opportunities for girls to participate. I loved playing soccer. I loved every bit of it. I loved the team aspect and my friends on the team. Being on the soccer field was very helpful for me growing up and learning about myself and learning to work with other people and to be strong in my own body. All of my kids play sports as well and it’s been really important to them for similar reasons. It’s a big part of our family.

What does being recognized as a Reign FC legend mean to you?

I am completely honored. I was very surprised when I was notified and honored and humbled to be recognized for this. This work that I’ve been doing and the chance that I have had to be a part of this and a small part of these young women’s lives has been amazing. I stand back from that and feel incredibly grateful from the progress that has been made and that our students are now beginning to take part in shaping the future of that country. That has been truly an honor of my lifetime, so to be recognized for it is humbling and an honor that I share with all the people that have worked on this project in big and small ways along the way. It also makes me think of our students, who have dealt with at times seemingly insurmountable challenges and how they’ve pushed through with such determination like I’ve never experienced before. I feel like I’m accepting the award for all those girls and everyone they work with.

What has the response in Rwanda been like to the foundation’s work?

It’s been great. One of the reasons that we were drawn to do this work there to begin with is that there is this real sense of wanting to partner with people. Our spirit in our work as well was never that we were coming in as these experts, which I think helped us. We didn’t come in with that attitude because we didn’t have all that expertise. They are very eager and interested in partnering with people who want to come in and help them achieve their visions for their country, which is what we were hoping to do. They have an amazing vision for the country and where they want to go. We said ‘how can we stand side-by-side and support that vision?’ We’ve had really great partnerships and connections both at the government level with the Ministry of Education and the local level, not to mention the students and their families who are part of our school community. I think it was starting from that beginning spirit of: ‘we’re here to partner and see how we can add value to this amazing vision you have for your country.’ It’s been a really positive experience with all of our partnerships with people there. We have the most amazing team who works with us in the country and the Gashora Girls Academy who are really driving what is happening now.

What advice would you give to young women who are pursuing dreams in a field where they are underrepresented?

What we always say to our students is to dare to dream big. Don’t ever let anyone else define your dreams for you. Continue to think outside of the box and dream big. There are really no limits unless you put them on yourself. The other thing I would say, because sometimes it is hard  and there haven’t been many opportunities, is to find women mentors either in your field or in an adjacent field who can be there to guide you or help you in those moments when it feels more challenging. It’s always great to find and have allies with you that understand the challenges and get their encouragement. I would also say to young women to look and see how you can be that mentor or support network to other young women.  It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you are on your journey, you can always be that person for another woman. Encouraging her to persevere and dream big as well! We must all do that for each other.