work journal

Designing a theory of change: Iqra Fund founder Genevieve Walsh

January 20, 2023

There’s something in the air at Iqra Fund. This weekend, I helped founder and CEO Genevieve Walsh design the {if} theory of change, and the energy surrounding her was palpable.

Eleven years in, the nonprofit has educated more than 5,000 students in the remote mountain villages of northern tribal Pakistan.

My work sessions with Genevieve slotted between calls with {if} staff in Pakistan and the U.S.; deeply committed board members, and with donors new and old. She accepted two surprise major pledges on her birthday. (Happy birthday, G!)

This team is pushing the needle on key indicators of community health. Now they’re starting to scale.

Genevieve Walsh drafts the Iqra Fund theory of change. Photo by Emily Stifler Wolfe

Step one: Build the first girls' high school for the entire Ganche region, so girls like Belqis and Sadiqqa can continue after middle school without traveling eight hours by foot and jeep to the city, leaving family for months at a time. These two were in the first {if} kindergarten class in 2011, and are now in 10th grade. They plan to earn degrees in medicine and women’s health and return to serve their villages.

“I’ve been building this organization for 11 years, and this is the moment I’ve been waiting for,” Genevieve told me, as I dragged her out to climb at nearby Red Rocks for a few hours. You gotta move and breath if you want the magic to flow.

Back in her living room, the pressure was on last night as dusk fell over the sandstone peaks to the west. We’d cleared our heads climbing that afternoon in nearby Red Rocks park, west of Vegas, and I was set to fly out this morning. Sticky notes flew while we strategized and storyboarded. We looked at examples from the Honnold Foundation and the Washington Housing Conservancy, then churned through versions, drawing and drafting.

How, by educating girls, is the {if} model creating a global effect?

We needed to make this abstract concept concrete. Bring her vision to life in one simple, powerful visual.

This morning, with seven minutes to go, our work coalesced. In a flood of clarity, Genevieve drafted the theory of change on her kitchen table.

I feel that energy coursing through me now as I write, my plane climbing high above snow-dusted desert peaks on the flight home to Montana.

You can’t walk away from this momentum. Once you feel it, you find a way to become part of it. It becomes part of you.

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