At Akili Dada we deal in miracles and dreams. We exist to make the impossible possible in a world that doesn't believe that African women can. We are passionate about African women's leadership and are working towards a future where African women will have full and fair access to decision-making tables. We do this by functioning as a leadership incubator investing in high-achieving young African women from underprivileged backgrounds who are passionate about social change.
We invest in young women like Faith, one of Africa’s new generation of dazzling young social entrepreneurs and co-founder of Azma.co.ke. Started by a group of young women in high school, the innovative online platform allows high school students from across Kenya to connect, exchange ideas, and organize community service activities, mentoring, and outreach events in communities around the country.
We are also investing in Gloria, the daughter of casual laborers who survived Kenya's gory Post-Election violence after watching her baby brother burned alive in their meager home. She has twice emerged among the country's top students and is now thriving on a full scholarship to medical school. Displaying a resilience rare in one so young she writes, "I dream day and night of how I am going to transform my community, society and country at large. I want to make a difference and Akili Dada has empowered me to do just that."
Akili Dada also intervened in the lives of Sharon and Winnie when lack of school fees had them on the verge of dropping out of the top-ranked high schools in the country. Both are now thriving on full scholarships at some of the best universities in the United States and are active members of their new American communities. Describing her experience mentoring girls at a local high school Sharon writes, “every time I spend time with girls at Poughkeepsie high school I take pride in trying to show them that being poor does not necessarily mean [being] undignified. I know this because everyone in Akili Dada has modeled it to me.”
Our work is difficult and vastly under-resourced but we are propelled forward by a few simple questions: Beyond bemoaning the dearth of African women in decision-making what can we do to nurture the next generation of brave African women warriors for social change? In what ways do we need to hold poverty at bay so that it does not destroy the emerging crop of young women change agents that the continent and world so desperately needs? What barriers do we need to break and what doors do we need to hold open for these young sisters?
At Akili Dada we have learned a valuable lesson about nurturing leadership: provide high-achieving young women with the tools and encouragement they need and they will soar. Our future depends on them.
Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg is founder and Executive Director of Akili Dada, a leadership incubator investing in high-achieving young African women from underprivileged backgrounds with a demonstrated passion for social change. Kamau-Rutenberg is also an Assistant Professor in the Politics department at the University of San Francisco.