Social Entrepreneurship in Focus Through Documentary

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To some she is a radical out for trouble. To others she represents a bright post-Taliban future. Sakena Yacoobi’s weapon of choice: books, which she deploys via the Afghan Institute for Learning, a grassroots organization she founded 12 years ago. Kirsten Johnson traveled to Afghanistan in 2009 to document Sakena’s work and AIF’s grassroots network to bring education to a wide cross-section of Afghans. Production ended after one research trip due to security concerns for the films subject and crew. A short film focusing on Sakena and AIL was created and premiered at the 2010 Skoll World Forum.


Producer Julie Parker Benello had been following the amazing work of Sakena Yacoobi before Sundance issues the ‘Stories of Change’ call for proposals. She enlisted acclaimed cinematographer and director Kirsten Johnson to take a research trip to Afghanistan during the escalation of the American offensive in Afghanistan. Kirsten’s trip was cut short due to security concerns for both the filmmaker and her subjects. But her commitment to capturing stories of coming of age in war-torn Afghanistan laid the foundation for her feature documentary I Dream Them Always.

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Director: Kirsten Johnson

Director / Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson has travelled the globe capturing compelling images that convey the complexity of the human experience with artistry and intelligence. She is currently editing I Dream Them Always, which she shot and directed in Afghanistan. In the last year, as the supervising DP on Abby Disney and Gini Reticker's series, Women, War and Peace, she traveled to Colombia, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. She shared the 2010 Sundance Documentary Competition Cinematography Award with Laura Poitras for The Oath. She shot the Tribeca Film Festival 2008 Documentary winner, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Her feature film script My Habibi was selected for the 2006 Sundance Writer’s Lab and Director’s Lab and is the recipient of an Annenberg grant. Her previous documentary as a director, Deadline, (co-directed with Katy Chevigny), premiered at Sundance in 2004, was broadcast on primetime NBC, and won the Thurgood Marshall Award.

Producer: Julie Parker Benello

Julie Parker Benello is a Co-founder of Chicken & Egg Pictures, a hybrid organization that matches money and mentorship to support women filmmakers dedicated to using their storytelling skills to address the global justice issues of our time. Julie has produced documentaries on health and environmental issues for more than a decade. In 2002, she co-produced the Sundance award-winning HBO documentary Blue Vinyl, co-directed by Judith Helfand and Daniel Gold. Prior to Blue Vinyl, Julie produced the documentary Prostate Cancer: A Journey of Hope, which aired nationally on PBS in 1999. She has worked as a Production Executive for the Distribution Company Non Fiction Films and as a Researcher for Walter Cronkite's documentary series Cronkite Remembers. She currently serves on the board of The Center for Environmental Health and The Global Fund for Women.

Social Entrepreneur: Sakena Yacoobi, Afghan Institute for Learning

Professor Sakena Yacoobi is President and Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), an Afghan women-led NGO she founded in 1995.The organization was established to provide teacher training to Afghan women, to support education for boys and girls, and to provide health education to women and children. Under Sakena’s leadership AIL has established itself as a groundbreaking, visionary organization which works at the grassroots level and empowers women and communities to find ways to bring education and health services to rural and poor urban girls, women and other poor and disenfranchised Afghans.

AIL was the first organization to offer human rights and leadership training to Afghan women. AIL supported 80 underground home schools for 3000 girls in Afghanistan after the Taliban closed girls’ schools in the 1990s.

AIL was the first organization that opened Women’s Learning Centers for Afghan women—a concept now copied by many organizations throughout Afghanistan. Using their grassroots strategies, AIL now serves 350,000 women and children each year through its Educational Learning Centers, schools and clinics in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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