AKILI DADA: Educating Women in Kenya

     I have spent the last month or so interacting with Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, the founder of Akili Dada, a start-up which is funding education for smart women in high school who need the financial and social support resources to get through high school.    In a number of ways, this adjunct professor  of politics and an Ethnic Minority Dissertation Fellow at University of San Francisco reminds me of my long time inspiration, Prof. Wangari Maathai. Her willingness to tap into the top girls and support them is inspirational, and an important resource for women in Africa and the diaspora.

For those who do not speak Swahili, Akili (Ah-keeley) means intellect, ability, strategy, knowledge, competence and Dada (Dad-uh) means Sister; a term of endearment and respect among women.

Akili Dada is an international non-profit organization which is dedicated to providing education opportunities for women in a manner that acknowledges the dignity and respect of the African woman. The organization provides scholarships and leadership training to the girls and offer the future leaders a chance to network with mentors and peers. Akili Dada awarded its first four scholarships in February 2006. This year, the organization more than doubled its number of grants. In Kenya, the group is a registered nonprofit; in the United States, it operates as a global support fund of the Tides Foundation.

Kenya has produced  illustrious female scholars, professionals, and leading experts in their fields, who have given us a series of firsts. Many of the leading women have sponsored school fees on a one-off basis or for a season. Akili Dada introduces a structured approach to sustainable educational investment in a helpful way to build Africa’s future women leadership by opening up the opportunity to invest to a wider audience.

In an interview for her alma mater, Whitman College, “The goal of Akili Dada is to nurture a generation of women leaders while restoring hope for young Kenyan women — hope that lets them see how vision and hard work can lead to success,” said Kamau-Rutenberg. “You’ve got dynamite if you can identify a brilliant young woman who has already overcome unspeakable poverty, link her to a network of her peers and other professional Kenyan women, and eliminate the burden of worry about school fees.” In another article in the San Francisco Foghorn, Kamau-Rutenberg says, “Akili Dada is about more than education. It’s about creating future leaders, infusing the girls with confidence to be whatever they want to be when they grow up. It’s more than just sending tons of people to school. They’re going to finish and excel beyond that.”One board member views Akili Dada as a ‘feminist, collaborative approach to empowering women’.

Akili Dada is offering students enpowerment through education, which is a value-based approach to donating to a cause. I always heard, and believe, that if you educate a woman, you educate her whole village. Think of the impact of an educated woman on the global village.

For more information on Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg’s work, visit akilidada.org, or read her blog for updates on Akili Dada at wanjirukr.blogspot.com

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