Founding Director

Zoe Timms, Founding Director


Zoe Timms first discovered the world of grassroots nonprofits when she was a student in the University of Wisconsin’s College Year-in-India program. Working with child laborers who had left work factories and fields and were studying for the first time, Zoe realized how much she wanted to help these ambitious children. “At this point,” she says, “I knew my career would be in grassroots education.”

After three years of working in New York with the Near East Foundation, Zoe returned to India. During this time, she met young women with dreams of becoming teachers, doctors and entrepreneurs who had worked hard to complete their high school education. But for these women, poverty made continuing an education and establishing a career impossible. Unable to afford college tuition, weighed down by family responsibilities, malnutrition, disease and violence, they instead ended up in low paying, often unsafe jobs and early marriages.

In 2002, Zoe founded Women’s Education Project (WEP) to help women in South India from the poorest backgrounds succeed in college and careers – careers that would lift their families from poverty forever. Together with Kathryn Ugoretz now a board member, Zoe envisioned an organization that would help young women from poor backgrounds succeed in college, a goal few nonprofits target.

With the guidance of the local community in Madurai and Hyderabad, Zoe developed the center’s concept: a comprehensive program in a caring, supportive, environment of gardens, classrooms, libraries, and computers. Students receive scholarships to college and attend training sessions to gain knowledge of health, environment, finance and civic issues. As graduates, WEP students are knowledgeable, capable, community role models – leaders who, with a lively awareness of life’s possibilities, are prepared to make important change in their own lives, families and communities.

Today, Women’s Education Project, a New York based 501(C)(3) foundation, operates four centers in South India.