Women’s History Month Profiles of USGLC State Leaders

March 28, 2024 By Elizabeth Onibokun

The USGLC is proud to have a wide and deeply engaged coalition of government, business, military, faith, and humanitarian leaders committed to building a safer and more prosperous world for all. This month, in celebration of Women’s History Month, we are shining a spotlight on two of our Advisory Committee members, the impactful work they are carrying out in their communities, and why leading globally matters locally.

Katherine Kolios is the Executive Director of Rain for the Sahel and Sahara (RAIN), an organization that works in partnership with underserved rural and nomadic peoples of Niger to increase educational opportunities and improve livelihoods for more resilient communities. She is a member of the USGLC New Hampshire Advisory Committee.


As the Executive Director of RAIN, what are some lessons of leadership you’ve learned throughout your career and are important to share?

I think there are so many strong leaders across the USGLC. And in some ways, I feel like I’m at the beginning of my leadership journey. And that always makes you start to say, “well, who am I to be to be giving advice?” But I think one of the benefits that I had is that I came into my job relatively young. And so, I came in knowing at the outset that I didn’t have all of the knowledge or the skills or the experiences that I needed for the organization to succeed. The only way to do justice to this organization was to seek out the people who did have the knowledge and the skills that the organization needed, and to find a way to bring them into the work. And I think the truth is that no matter what experience you have, you could be the most dedicated, passionate, competent, experienced professional, you still can’t do it alone. And even if you could do it alone, the results wouldn’t be as good. I think sometimes, either for personal reasons or for cultural reasons, it’s hard for us to admit that we need that community around us. And I think ultimately, whether at a big organization or a small organization, that a leader can’t know or do everything. Your job is to sort of say, how do I identify what’s needed, figure out where the gaps are, and then find the people and the resources that complement what I and my team bring to the table? Right? And then how do we get those people to buy in.

RAIN forges partnerships with rural and nomadic peoples in Niger to enable enduring and relevant livelihoods through access to education and opportunity. What have you learned from these experiences about the importance of investing in others?

Yeah, that’s such a great question. I had a call with a Nigerien-American and it was so interesting, because he’s been in the US about 20 years now. He was telling me that he had to walk 45 minutes to go to elementary school, and how in the village that he was from, he and his siblings were the only kids that went to school and how painful it was as a kid to walk past his friends playing games. Not only was he the only one going, but then he shows up in this place where he doesn’t know anyone, they look different, and they dress differently. He remembers distinctly feeling like an outsider. But now he’s had this experience working here and it was this moment of self-reflection for him. And he was saying that listening to us talk about the kids that we work with, that he was really thinking about how he got to where he is today because of the opportunities that he’s had and the help that he’s received along the way. For me, I was reflecting on having grown up in the U.S. where I didn’t have to fight to do any of that. And thinking about how what he accomplished is almost impossible. Right? Even at the outset only he and his siblings were the ones who even got to try. And so, it’s almost impossible. But the thing that makes it almost impossible, instead of literally impossible, is the opportunities and the connections.

Can you speak to the role of women in the communities you work with? And why it is so important to consider the unique challenges women face when working to find effective solutions for pressing challenges?

I think that is a fascinating question to bring to any community. There’s a particular dynamic in many communities RAIN is working with. In these rural areas, there’s a phenomenon they call an Exode, like an exodus. Essentially, it’s so hard for families to survive in the context that they’re in that most of the able-bodied men leave for work. They could be leaving for a couple of months at a time or even years at a time. But it means that in most of our partner communities, the people who are left at home are women, children, the elderly, and the men who, for whatever reason, can’t make that trip. And so, in a sort of unexpected way, you end up with these communities that are majority women-led households. They’re stuck providing for themselves, their families, and for the most vulnerable in their communities and they’re doing it all without a formal education, without formal employment opportunities, and without access to banking institutions. So, you have these women who are smart, and they’re warm, and they’re capable but there’s not a clear path forward. We work with them in these women’s collectives where our role is to help create access to the funds and the resources that they don’t have locally, to help create some sort of context for this peer support, and to help create access to whatever expertise or coaching that they might need. Essentially, to put them in a position where they can leverage their own skills in ways that maybe they couldn’t before, because they didn’t have that infrastructure. At the end of the day, women truly hold every community together.

What would you say are the most pressing economic burdens on women? How can we most effectively tackle these issues head on?

There was a coup in Niger in July, and even in the first two weeks ECOWAS imposed these harsh sanctions. The cost of rice shot up to 40% in a week or two making it nearly impossible to fulfill a family’s daily needs. And the reason I want to take this answer in a different direction is to say there’s no easy fix. The real durable solutions are these systemic long-term solutions. We know that the girls and frankly, the boys, in these communities need access to quality education. Because those basic language and math skills open the door to alternative futures. And between climate change and the insecurities that follow, realistically, the way people are living right now is not going to be a tenable solution. So, they need access to these alternative futures and education is the bridge for that. As far as I’m concerned, it’s hard for everyone, but it’s obviously harder for girls. They’re less likely to enroll in the first place and less likely to continue. In Niger, about 9% of girls finish elementary school and half of them drop out before middle school and those statistics are worse in in rural areas. Niger also has the highest rate of child marriage in the world. 28% of girls are married by 15 and 76% of girls are married by 18. We do a lot of work with middle school girls, and it’s eye-opening for them to understand that there are alternatives. And that is an incredibly powerful motivator. There are an infinite number of pressing needs, but the most pressing economic burden is that there needs to be a pathway that changes.

Where have you seen the biggest impact on the communities you work with through RAIN?

What gets me in my gut is our girls’ education work, and we have this girl at one of our Learning Centers. The team goes out into rural communities that don’t have a local middle school and they recruit girls whose families are able and willing to send them to the Center. This girl, Amina, who started coming to our center when she was 11 is truly mind blowing. She has a single mom, her dad passed away and she’s one of six kids. At 11, she was engaged to be married to someone from her community who’s 16. First, as crazy as it sounds, that’s already lucky, because he’s just 16 [as opposed to much older] but because of the Exode, he has already left the community to go work in a goldmine to try to earn some money before they get married. This is when my colleagues show up to the community to do the entrance exam for the girls. She’s sitting there, and she’s watching her neighbors take this test and it’s just tormenting her knowing despite having better grades than all of them, she must sit and wait for this boy to return. There’s something so relatable about that.

So many families see marriage as a way out but despite this, Amina does not see this as her solution. This 11-year-old girl manages to convince her mom, and then she and her mom take this proposal to the head of the Learning Center. Together with the head of the Learning Center they go to the fiancé and against his family’s wishes he lets her out of the engagement. The day that Amina learned she was going to the Center, she felt like she had been reborn. It’s so crazy to see how much work went into just opening the door. Right? RAIN in general, is not leading the way but clearing the way. When I was 11, half my classmates were trying to skip class. And these girls are scheming on how to go to class? They truly inspire me.

As we always say at USGLC, “leading globally matters locally.” What is the deeper importance of American global leadership for women both at home and abroad?

I think that there are these alternative, more communal models of leadership. And that it’s more of “a rising tide lifts all boats” kind of model. I think that leaning into that collective leadership helps us to build more just and more sustainable leadership models. And I think that supports the communities we work with abroad, but I think it also offers much healthier alternative models for leadership here in the United States. We do this women’s entrepreneurship program, and we always have open ended discussions to hear from people, what did you take away from this? What did you learn? What was meaningful to you? The thing that they appreciated the most was the relationship building and creating this network of women that they could turn to when they were having a challenge. Those are different ways of thinking about leadership. By looking at women’s leadership we can find ways to truly transform our communities.

You can follow Katherine on Linkedin.

Learn more about the USGLC in New Hampshire and the New Hampshire USGLC Advisory Committee.


Pam Pollard is the Director of Finance for the National Federation of Republican Women, National Committeewoman for Oklahoma at the Republican National Committee, and RNC Vice Chair. She is a member of the USGLC Oklahoma Advisory Committee.


Has politics always been the path you envisioned for yourself? What significant steps in your life have led to where you are today?

Funnily enough, politics was never in my sight! I’m an accountant and I run a financial consulting business. One day, I was at home homeschooling two of our grandkids and a legislator knocked on my door. And by the time we got finished with the conversation, he said, “I would love to get you more involved as you have some interesting things to say.” And I thought, “Who me?” So, I ended up attending a Republican women’s meeting with his wife and that was just the beginning of my political journey.

What have you found to be the biggest challenges of being a woman in politics and how do you overcome them?

I think there’s always challenges for women. And I’m sure there’s some for men, but I know the challenges that we have as women. When I was a state Republican Party Chairman, I was the first woman in 25 years. It’s been 10 years since then and there still hasn’t been another woman elected so I’m the only female Chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party in 35 years. What I have found in my experience is that if you are educated and professional, people take you seriously and look past the male-female divide. I think as long as you present yourself in a professional way, know what you’re talking about, have good ideas and act like part of the team, they will accept you as part of the team. Now, did I have doors open for me? No, usually not. I had to fight through. One of my examples is that members of Congress would invite previous chairmen to cigar events for all the members to get together. I didn’t get invited to that. They had a golf tournament, and the men would get invited to things like that, but they didn’t invite me. So, there’s always things but I overcame and tried to make it based on knowledge and experience and a vision for what my role was at the time.

With the gender gap in our political system, what would you say to young women who are interested in this path but might perhaps be scared or intimidated?

You must believe in yourself. Above all things, that would be my number one thing to say to young ladies and women of all ages. You must believe in yourself, and you must have a vision. And that vision must come from within you for you to be successful and share that vision with others. When you have a vision, and when you have a plan, then people will follow. That’s what being a leader is, as opposed to just walking in a group. And I think the person with the attitude of being a servant of others is strong. I think it’s also critically important, especially as a woman, to balance being compassionate with sometimes being a hard-nosed HR manager. You must show leadership by being part of the team. 

With it being Woman’s History Month, who is a woman either today or throughout history you admire and have drawn inspiration from in your career?

There were some female legislators that were elected when Republicans took the majority in Oklahoma in 2004, it’s just been 20 years. And we had some wonderful women, very inspirational, who lead with their faith, and lead with confidence. And again, confidence to stand and speak for what they believed. And those ladies were a huge example to me, because they motivated me to follow them and their ideas. And that kind of taught me that to motivate others to follow my leadership ideas, I had to find ways to motivate them too. So, these local ladies, a state representative and a state senator, have probably been my biggest influence.

As we always say at USGLC, “leading globally matters locally.” What is the deeper importance of American global leadership for women and girls both at home and abroad?

We must treat women with respect and give women give women opportunities to fulfill their desires. You know, when men have vision for establishing businesses, inventions, organizations, their thing is to be a salesman to get other people behind them. And no one questions them. But it seems like women have to establish their foundation of respect and trust, before they can even take the first step to get people to understand their vision, whether it be an idea, or an invention, or a business. So, we have to just give women opportunities to be the leaders that they truly are.

You can follow Pam on Linkedin.

Learn more about the USGLC in Oklahoma and the Oklahoma USGLC Advisory Committee.