About Us

Asenath Mwithigah
CEO

Asenath joins Orchid Project from Equality Now where she was the Global Lead – End Harmful Practices (FGM/C & Child Marriage). In this role, she provided thought leadership and strategic direction to the end harmful practices programme and led the team in designing and developing effective and sustainable approaches on ending FGM/C and child marriage.
Prior to joining Equality Now, Asenath worked as the Programme Analyst for United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Kenya Country Office implementing the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the abandonment of FGM and was seconded to the Anti Female Genital Mutilation Board, Kenya as the Technical Advisor to the CEO. In this role, she was in charge of all programming on national and community Level interventions for prevention and response to Gender-Based Violence and Harmful Traditional Practices at the UNFPA Kenya Country Office and provided technical and strategic guidance to the Government of Kenya’s Anti FGM Board, other state and non-state actors.
Asenath’s wealth of experience in ending FGM/C spans over a decade having developed and implemented national and regional programmes including the FCDO Phase I programme, the Girl Generation as the Social Change Communications Manager in ten African Countries and being the founding member of the Youth Anti-FGM Network-Kenya, a movement of young people working towards abandonment of FGM.

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Anush Aghabalyan
Head of Policy and Advocacy

Anush joined Orchid Project in June 2021 from her role as the Director of Global Campaigns at the United for Global Mental Health. Prior to that, Anush spent 7 years at the largest voluntary organisation for girls and young women, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) as the Head of Advocacy and External Relations. In WAGGGS she led the global advocacy work and the oversight of the global Stop the Violence campaign that reached over 70 countries. Her previous roles were mostly within the United Nations family, focusing on gender equality and labour migration. At Orchid Project, Anush oversees policy, advocacy and communications work. She is passionate about girls’ rights and empowerment and social justice.

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Sean Callaghan
Head of Research

With over 30 years of experience in international development, Sean has worked with the highest levels of leadership, consulting with clients across Africa, the Middle East, the European Union and the United States. Over this time Sean has developed extensive social capital – a global network of trusted local partners.

Sean is now leveraging this social capital to bring proven real-world expertise, invaluable grassroots access and experienced impact pathways to research projects. Working at the nexus between practice and theory, the resulting interdisciplinary collaborations have the potential to produce high-quality knowledge that can shape programming and inform policy.

Sean is also a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Sean’s research explores FGM/C in diaspora communities.

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Kimberley Ellis
Fundraising Manager

Kimberley joined Orchid Project in January 2019 and shares responsibility for donor relationships and fundraising. Previously, Kimberley has managed projects that address inequality and violence in Higher Education and local community spheres, and has led research into antisocial behavior and hate-motivated violence against minority groups within the University Sector. She is impassioned to accelerate and enrich the movement to end FGC, through stewarding and connecting with funders.

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Saada Ibrahim
Finance & Operations Manager

Saada is the Finance and Operations Manager at Orchid Project. She’s passionate about human rights and was inspired to join Orchid Project in its mission and vision to end FGC in 2018. Saada is responsible for leading the project financial management, compliance and control, day-to-day orchid project finances and overseeing orchid project partners on aspects of budget management.
Prior to joining Orchid Project, Saada worked as a Project Support Officer at axiom International supporting a capacity-building programme in Somaliland for the country’s justice system on behalf of the FCDO. The highlight of her work at Axiom was the successful coordination of an international meeting on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Saada is working towards her CIMA qualification to become a chartered global management accountant.

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Macharia Karanja
Programmes Manager

Macharia is a development and social sciences professional with over fifteen years’ experience in developing, managing, monitoring and evaluating national, regional and international programs in the areas of gender and youth equality, sexual and reproductive health and rights and civil society strengthening.
Prior to joining Orchid Macharia worked as National coordinator for the youth anti FGM network coordinating youth led NGOs, CBOs, and activists in the 22 hotspot counties where FGC is prevalent in Kenya. He has vast experience in managing comprehensive and integrated gender and youth advocacy projects targeting vulnerable girls, women and young people. The programmes are aimed at addressing issues around violence against women and empowering them on poverty alleviation initiatives. Over the years he has assisted in mobilizing for networks and have coordinated programmes between Kenya, Norway, Kuwait, United Kingdom, East Africa, West Africa and southern Africa regions.

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Hassan Khan
Head of Finance and Operations

Hassan, a Chartered Certified Accountant; FCCA, started his career with a firm of Accountants and then moved into industry, Commerce and Charity sector in Management and Finance roles. A commercially astute, qualified accountant who effectively combines proven technical knowledge with considerable cross-industry experience. Hassan has worked at senior level at SME’s within Industry, the not for profit sector, in welfare/disabilities charities and Arts/Education sector. Specialises in improving the quality and accuracy of financial information with expertise in change management, improvements in processes and procedures and system implementation to bring efficiency to operations. Hassan is passionate about human rights and social injustice.

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Kirigo Njenga
Advocacy Officer

Kirigo Njenga joins Orchid Project as Advocacy Officer to support the Africa Led Movement in influencing policy to end FGC through global advocacy, capacity building, technical support, and research.
Prior to joining Orchid Project, Kirigo was the Africa Coordinator at 28 Too Many, where she was responsible for supporting research and influencing policy on harmful practices at regional and national level. She was also involved in building the capacity of grassroot organisations in using evidence to inform advocacy and programming towards ending FGC.
She comes from a background as a human rights lawyer, researcher and policy and advocacy professional with over 10 years’ experience in litigation, policy development and capacity building in the areas of gender, women, girls and children rights.
She is passionate about human rights, gender equality and ending violence against women and girls.

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Kwesi Quartey
Finance and Operations Manager (Maternity Cover)

Kwesi is the Finance and Operations Manager (Maternity Cover) at Orchid Project. He is enthusiastic about human rights and was inspired to join Orchid Project in its mission while exposed to such issues at work at the Red Cross and alongside the International Committee of the Red Cross. He was also part of the co-chair BAME committee at the Redcross.

Before joining Orchid Project, Kwesi worked as a word as the Head of Operations for an executive coaching company but has a background in Financial Services in legal & corporate immigration

Kwesi is responsible for leading the project financial management, compliance and control, day-to-day orchid project finances and overseeing orchid project partners on aspects of budget management.

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Fiona Peart
Head of Development

Fiona joined Orchid Project in January 2022 from her role as Senior Trusts Manager at Leonard Cheshire. Here, she spent 6 years fundraising and managing grants from Trusts & Foundations to support children and adults with disabilities in Asia and Africa to access education and employment. Prior to that, Fiona spent 4 years at WaterAid as Programme Funding Officer for East Africa, where she worked with governmental donors to increase access to water, sanitation and hygiene in East Africa. Her previous roles include fundraising at organisations focusing on human rights, environmental rights and children’s rights. At Orchid Project, Fiona oversees all fundraising activity. She is passionate about children and girls’ rights as well as gender empowerment.

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Sophie Radice
Communications Manager

Sophie has been a freelance journalist since her early twenties. She has worked for content editors ‘Editorial Intelligence’ creating podcast content and writing in depth reports for a varied range of clients. Over 2020 Sophie lead a social mobility networking partnering with Google, linking mentors to young people who want to set up social enterprises.
For six years Sophie worked as the Communications Executive for the NGO Women for Refugee Women and worked on the campaign ‘Set Her Free’ to stop the detention of asylum seeking women.
Sophie has been to Sierra Leone to work as a Communications Adviser for a small local NGO providing health care for women and girls and then the educational charity ‘We Yone Child, which provides education for children in neglected communities.

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Birgitte Zachau Handwerk
Fundraiser and COO for Orchid Project’s Danish association

Birgitte heard Julia, Founder of Orchid Project, speak when Orchid Project was still not officially an NGO. Birgitte was inspired by Julia’s vision of a world free from FGC, and so helped set up Orchid Project and later on started the Danish association of Orchid Project with a group of like-minded Danish supporters. Birgitte has been part of developing Orchid Project’s strategy and projects from the beginning and has been fundraising for and visiting programmatic work in Kenya and Senegal since 2011. Apart from being Orchid Project’s representative and spokesperson in Denmark, Birgitte works as COO for a Danish Conference agency. Birgitte holds a Masters in accounting and auditing and has worked in the advertising business for many years.

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Cécile Belaman
Board Chair

Cécile is Managing Director with Bain Capital in London. Prior to this, Cécile was with Morgan Stanley for nine years, most recently as Head of Global Fundraising for the Private Equity Fund of Funds business. Cécile has also worked for the financial sponsors group at JPMorgan and at HVS International, and is a founding member of Level 20, a non-profit organisation that aims to inspire women to join and succeed in the private equity industry.

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Jim Drummond

Jim is a senior development professional who was part of the UK Department For International Development (DFID) leadership team. He was most recently DFID’s Director for Western and Southern Africa and before that for South Asia. He has worked in India, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania and in senior positions in the Cabinet Office and Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

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Carolyn Esser

Carolyn is the Deputy Director of Communications for Europe and the Middle East at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She is responsible for the foundation’s communications strategy in these regions, which seeks to raise awareness of the foundation and the initiatives that it supports and works closely with the government relations and advocacy functions to mobilise resources for international development. Previously, Carolyn was Global Communications Director at Logica, the FTSE 250 technology and business service company.

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Dimiana Farag

Dimiana is an education strategist focused on social innovation, youth development, global citizenship, and inclusive entrepreneurship. She is a long time advocate for social justice and women, girls, and children’s protection and rights anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). She served as Vice-Chair on the Trustee Board of 28 Too Many, now a part of Orchid Project. She has worked with government agencies in the GCC, along with higher education institutions and NGOs in different geographies, with a particular focus on the EMEA region. Her work has included managing projects for USAID and US State Department, along with work developing startups focused on advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She is founder of Global Vision Impact Consulting, US-based firm and founding member of People of Impact, a Dubai-based company, a social network to accelerate advancement towards achieving the SDGs.

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Mette Hoffmann Meyer

Mette is CEO and Co-founder of The Why Foundation, a non-profit, Peabody Award-Winning organisation striving to ensure that all people have free access to independent information. Mette has worked with documentary film for nearly 30 years, and is the former Head of Documentaries and Co-Productions at the Danish public service broadcaster Danmarks Radio. She is now focusing on modern-day slavery through the campaign WHY SLAVERY?

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Elisabeth Paulson

Elisabeth is an investment director with Impetus-PEF. Previously, she has worked as a philanthropic consultant with innovative, international funders: The Elton John AIDS Foundation, Comic Relief and The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. She worked for ten years with The Economist Intelligence Unit, where she was the Deputy Director of the Country Forecast Service, senior economist and editor of the Asia division and the lead South Asia analyst.

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Carole Presern

Carole is Head of the Office of Board Affairs at the Global Fund to fight AIDs, TB and Malaria. Prior to that she was the Executive Director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health based out of WHO, which she joined after working at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Up until 2008 she worked for the UK Department For International Development (DFID) and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). Carole has served on the Boards of the Global Fund, UNAIDS, WHO, and humanitarian agencies in her FCO/DFID role. She also served for many years on the Board of the HIV Alliance. Carole started her career as a nurse and midwife, working in a refugee camp on the Thai/Cambodian border. She has a PhD in Public Health Policy, and graduate education in Anthropology and Health Systems Management.

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Delphine Rive
Treasurer

Delphine was a Managing Director in Accenture, working across the UK and France. She recently stepped down from this role. She held a number of client roles in her 25 years career with Accenture, mainly focused on large scale transformation programmes and digital transformation in the High Tech sector.

Delphine has been a Trustee of Orchid project for 3 years. She spent seven months in 2022 as the Interim CEO for Orchid Project.

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Joseph Ssentongo

Joseph is a Senior Director in the Analytics team at the Global Innovation Fund (GIF) where he focuses on the measurement of economic and social impacts of prospective and portfolio investments. He works across various thematic areas including gender-based violence, health and livelihood-creation for the poorest people in developing countries. He previously worked with the Investment Climate Facility for Africa (ICF), where he led the evaluation of over 30 e-governance projects across 15 African countries. Prior to ICF, Joseph worked in the Gender division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations where he undertook assessment of gender inequalities in agriculture sub-sectors.

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Dr Rewan Youssif

Rewan is a Medical Doctor from Egypt who has been active in the movement to end FGC for a number of years. Having been a Programme Officer for The Girl Generation in Egypt over the duration of the programme funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, Rewan’s knowledge of the issue and connection to activists across Africa is broad and strong. She has also Co-founded the First Regional Youth Network on HIV and SRHR “SIBA” supported by UNAIDS, UNDP and WHO.

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Hibo Aden
Women’s Rights Facilitator, ActionAid International Somaliland

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in April 2016

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Hoda Ali
Activist, Nurse, Community Outreach Project Manager

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in March 2019.

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Farah Dirie
Project Officer, Women's Action Advocacy and Progress Organisation (WAAPO)

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in April 2016.

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Sister Fa
Performer and Activist

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in November 2016.

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Christine Ghati
Activist and Founder of Safe Engage Foundation Kuria

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in March 2019.

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Rena Herdiyani
Vice Chairperson, Kalyanamitra

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in April 2018.

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Leyla Hussein
Psychotherapist and activist

Attended Tostan Training Center in January 2020.

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Jay Kamara Frederick
Activist and Founder of SKiM Network

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in March 2017.

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Sarian Kamara
Community Facilitator, Activist and Founder, Keep the Drums Lose the Knife

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in July 2016.

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Shaheeda Kirtane
Co-founder, Sahiyo

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in July 2016.

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Amos Leuka
Co-Founder and Project Manager, SAFE Maa

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in July 2015.

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Lilis Listyowati
Chairperson, Kalyanamitra

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in April 2018.

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Cess Mugo
Programme Officer, Education Center for the Advancement of Women (ECAW)

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in July 2015.

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Beatrice Muiyuro
Finance and Administration Manager, COVAW

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in December 2018.

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Florence Mwikali
Programme Officer, COVAW

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in December 2018.

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Olachi Peace Ojimadu
Entrepreneur, activist and Programmes Assistant for Youth Network for Community and Sustainable Development

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in March 2019.

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Natalie Robi - Werema
Executive Director and Founder, Msichana Empowerment Kuria

Participated in Mercy Corps GirlSPARKS training in 2018.

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Hawa Sesay
Executive Director, Hawa Trust

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in July 2016.

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David Shakai
Outreach Officer and Performer, SAFE Maa

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in April 2016.

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Naserian Simpano
Outreach Officer and Performer, SAFE Maa

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in April 2016.

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Bethel Tadesse
Founder of Hidden Scars

Attended the Tostan Training Center in January 2020.

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Mariya Taher
Co-founder, Sahiyo

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in July 2016.

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Hibo Wardere
Author and Activist

Participated in a Tostan Training Centre seminar in March 2017.

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Julia Lalla-Maharajh OBE
Founder

Julia founded and was Chief Executive Officer of Orchid Project from 2010 – 2019. Prior to this she spent 18 years in the corporate sector, specialising in transport policy. In 2008, she volunteered in Ethiopia, where she came to understand more about the devastating scale and impacts of FGC. In 2010, she led a panel discussing how to end FGC at the World Economic Forum in Davos and then spent time in Senegal and The Gambia, visiting communities and seeing incredible change happening at the grassroots level. This community-level change inspired her to set up Orchid Project to meet the vision of a world free from female genital cutting. In 2017 Julia was awarded an OBE for her work to end FGC. In 2019, Julia chose to hand over the leadership of Orchid Project. She now divides her time between volunteering and consulting globally with social justice organisations whose work she admires. She is on the International Board of Voluntary Services Overseas and is Chair of Under One Sky, a UK homelessness charity.

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Orchid Project Timeline

  • March 2020

    March 2020

    Launched the Asia Network to End Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) Consultation Report in collaboration with the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW).

  • February 2020

    February 2020

    Launched the Don’t Cut Her Short campaign on the International Day to End FGC 2020.

  • December 2019

    In partnership with the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, Orchid Project launched the Asia Network to End FGM/C (FGM/C).

  • November 2019

    November 2019

    Co-launched the Global Platform for Action to End FGM/C at the International Conference on Population Development in Nairobi, Kenya.

  • August 2019

    Grethe Petersen joined Orchid Project as our CEO.

  • February 2019

    February 2019

    3,000 Maasai came together on the International Day to End FGC 2019, through the work of SAFE Maa, to publicly declare an end to FGC.

  • 2018

    2018

    Responded to UK Department of International Development investment announcement on BBC News.

  • 2018

    Fed into work on ending FGC by the UK Department of International Development, which announced a £50 million investment.

  • October 2018

    October 2018

    Launched “Aissata’s true story: choosing a world free from FGC” animation and comic in partnership with Tostan and Positive Negatives.

  • 2018

    2018

    Held reception at the Canadian High Commission to the UK, marking the International Day to End FGC.

  • 2018

    Held panel event at the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women.

  • February 2017

    February 2017

    Julia Lalla-Maharajh received an OBE for services to supporting an end to FGC.

  • 2017

    Partnered with Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW), in Kenya.

  • May 2017

    117 communities in Senegal publicly declared abandonment of FGC, with support through Orchid Project and Tostan’s partnership.

  • September 2016

    September 2016

    Co-hosted parliamentary event in Ottawa, Canada, with Islamic Relief Worldwide, attended by Canadian Minister of International Development, the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau.

  • July 2016

    Supported conference held by Ifrah Foundation in Mogadishu, Somalia.

  • July 2016

    Supported baseline study in Somaliland in partnership with Action Aid and Edna Adan Hospital Foundation.

  • July 2016

    July 2016

    Partnered with transnational grassroots organisation, Sahiyo, in India and the USA.

  • June 2016

    Began outreach to Canadian Ministers and Global Affairs, Canada.

  • June 2016

    Showcased partners’ work at European Development Days in Brussels.

  • May 2016

    Hosted event at Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

  • April 2016

    April 2016

    Julia Lalla-Maharajh gave TEDx talk at London Business School.

  • November 2015

    Held event and supported activists to attend Girl Summit in Zambia.

  • November 2015

    November 2015

    Orchid Project travelled to Senegal with Crown Princess Mary of Denmark to witness declaration of FGC abandonment in Kaolack.

  • June 2015

    Orchid Project’s Evidence Advisory Group was established.

  • March 2015

    Held event during the 59th Commission on the Status of Women in New York, highlighting FGC as an issue outside Africa.

  • February 2015

    February 2015

    Held event at the UK Mission to the United Nations in New York, with deputy chairs of UNICEF and UNFPA.

  • November 2014

    November 2014

    Held event in Danish parliament with ministers from Sweden, Norway and the UK.

  • October 2014

    Began lobbying for inclusion of indicator dedicated to FGC within the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

  • September 2014

    First Orchid Project Knowledge Sharing Workshop is held in Kuria, Kenya.

  • July 2014

    July 2014

    Held event at the UK Department of International Development at Girl Summit 2014 (Pictured: Activists Sister Fa and Jay Kamara Frederick).

  • June 2014

    Attended second Middle East and Asia Conference to End FGC in Istanbul.

  • March 2014

    Julia Lalla-Maharajh joined an advisory group to the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening MP.

  • February 2014

    February 2014

    Supported first declaration of FGC abandonment ceremony in Bamako, Mali through partnership with Tostan.

  • February 2014

    Held reception with Orchid Project Denmark welcoming US Ambassador to mark the International Day to End FGC.

  • January 2014

    January 2014

    Partnered with the Education Center for the Advancement of Women (ECAW), in Kenya.

  • 2013

    Worked alongside UK Department of International Development civil servants ahead of the government’s first investment into ending FGC of £35 million.

  • 2013

    Journalists from the London Evening Standard and The Times newspapers travelled to Senegal with Orchid Project, to witness communities publicly declaring abandonment of FGC.

  • 2013

    2013

    Partnered with grassroots organisation, S.A.F.E. Kenya.

  • March 2013

    Fed into work on ending FGC by the UK Department of International Development, which announced a £35 million investment.

  • 2013

    Held reception in House of Lords marking the International Day to End FGC.

  • December 2012

    Joined with global civil society supporting the UN General Assembly Resolution against FGC.

  • November 2012

    Presented a Theory of Change for ending FGC to 80 social development advisers at the UK Department for International Development.

  • 2012

    Gave evidence to Human Rights Council on FGC in Indonesia.

  • 2012

    2012

    Launched ‘Social Mobilisation Programme’ in partnership with Tostan in Senegal. (Pictured: Malick Niang, SMP lead, Tostan)

  • 2012

    2012

    Partnered with hip hop artist Sister Fa (pictured) to support artist workshop in Senegal.

  • February 2012

    Held reception in House of Commons marking the International Day to End FGC.

  • April 2011

    April 2011

    Orchid Project gains charitable registration in the UK and partners with West African grassroots organisation, Tostan.

  • January 2011

    Travelled to West Africa to witness communities declaring an end to FGC through the work of Tostan. Julia was inspired to set up Orchid Project.

  • January 2010

    January 2010

    Having won the “Davos Debates” YouTube competition, Julia took the issue of FGC to the World Economic Forum.

  • 2009

    2009

    Julia Lalla-Maharajh volunteered in Ethiopia and found out more about the extent and scale of female genital cutting around the world.