Early in her life, Mariam Diallo-Dramé wanted to help others. Moved by the plight of children living on the streets of Bamako, she founded the Children’s Parliament of Mali to stand up for children’s rights. It was 1994; she was just 13 years old.
“My parents were always a bit surprised by how young I was when I started out, but they always told me to do what I believed was right,” the YALI Network member says. Her father, she notes, “refused to have us scarred or married too early,” and her mother supported education for all of the children in the family.
By the time she got to university, she wanted to help all young people, especially young women.
Now 34, Diallo-Dramé is married and has three children — and she cherishes the roles of wife and mother. But she has always kept time in her schedule to help people in her community. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Montreal and a law degree from the University of Evry Val d’Essonne in France, she returned to Mali to work at a foundation for children.
In 2007, during the run-up to legislative elections in Mali, she provided three women candidates with training on political debates. In 2010, she founded the Association of Women’s Leadership and Sustainable Development (AFLED), for which she received a youth medal of merit from the government of Mali in January.
As president of AFLED, Diallo-Dramé works with 50 other volunteers in Bamako and 40 volunteers split between offices in Mopti and Ségou. The team has reached hundreds of women with services related to health, education, entrepreneurship and leadership.
“AFLED stands for a new generation of leaders,” she says.
In 2010, Diallo-Dramé and other young African civil society leaders were invited to come to Washington and share with President Obama their views about Africa’s potential. She shared her views about the future role of women in Africa and about security in the region.
After that, she joined 16 other members of that group to found “Change Is Me,” a project to empower young women displaced by conflict.
“Since the coup d’état in Mali in early 2012 and the conflict in the north of Mali, our focus moved to emergency,” she says.
A year later, when Malian and French forces recaptured most of the North from rebels, Change Is Me volunteers asked a group of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the region what type of help they wanted. Diallo-Dramé recalls being struck by one woman’s remark: “We want to work to live decently. We don’t want to be seen as IDPs but [as] Malian — common people,” the woman said.
Change Is Me assisted the displaced women in several ways. It provided counseling, skills training in local languages so the women could earn incomes, and small grants so they could start or restart a business.
Diallo-Dramé says she appreciates the networking opportunities the YALI Network provides. “Being part of this incredible network … [members] have no reason not to be proactive or engaged.”
“This experience [with the network] is incredible. It has changed my life forever and given me more confidence to stand up for liberty, democracy and development,” she says.