At the beginning of 2015, our President, Dr. Anne Mize, visited two Mize Family Foundation grantees based in Nairobi, Kenya. These organizations, Akili Dada and Urgent Action Fund-Africa, work to empower African women by supporting their education and leadership. Akili Dada promotes girls’ and women’s leadership in schools, villages, and cities in Kenya. Urgent Action Fund – Africa protects the rights of women throughout the continent.
Dr. Mize met with the staff of each organization to learn more about their accomplishments and goals in the coming year.
The origin of the name of Akili Dada:
“Both words are Kiswahili words; akili means brains – but more than just brains. It’s intelligence, capacity, ability and strategy. Furthermore, it goes beyond book learning, but into smarts, broadly defined. Then dada means sister. Not just sister through blood, it is a term of endearment between women and in important ways cuts across all forms of barriers, be they racial, ethnic, generational or religious. So what we are doing at Akili Dada is nurturing a sisterhood; a community of women that is strategic, that is capable and that celebrates our ability to excel.” – Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg
Purity Kagwiria became the Executive Director of Akili Dada in early 2014 after the Founder, Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, decided to transition into another position. Ms. Kagwiria holds a degree in Gender and Development from the University of Nairobi and a Diploma in Journalism from Kenya Institute of Mass Communication. As an activist in the women’s rights movement she is ecstatic to be working with young women and girls in a program that empowers them to become leaders.
Akili Dada’s powerful work is evident in the passion of their staff. When Dr. Mize met with Ms. Kagwiria and the Dada employees, she was impressed and inspired by their drive and love of the organization. Employees spoke of the joy of working in such a collegial and uplifting environment, and how they are motivated to pursue their true career passions (becoming engineers, government officials, doctors, and a long list of others!).
The organization’s two most successful programs are: Young Changemakers and Innovation in Leadership. These two programs are unique in that they don’t just focus on education, but on cultivating a community of leaders. This is a critical piece of the curriculum, ensuring that women and girls can realize their full potential.
The Young Changemakers focuses on girls 13-19; it creates the foundation and support they need to continue their education and develop their skills as influential, active members of their communities. Through this program, Akili Dada provides Kenyan girls with opportunities for scholarships, workshops, and mentoring. Furthermore, they require that each girl develop and implement a plan that will serve a need they have identified in their neighborhood.
As the girls grow into women, Akili Dada continues to support them in different facets of their professional lives. The Innovation in Leadership program gives women 18-35 opportunities to further their careers, become life learners, and engage in their communities. The core of the organization’s mission is to create a network of support for women and girls, so that they can continue to succeed in their careers and, in turn, help to improve the lives of those around them.
One fellow, Maria Omare, has taken the skills she gained from the Leadership program and created The Action Foundation working in the Kibera slums of Kenya. This organization provides health care access to young children with disabilities, and the necessary support their families need. Furthermore, they help to raise awareness for these children so they are not marginalized in their communities. Ms. Omare and The Action Foundation are one of many stellar examples stemming from the Akili Dada programs.
Urgent Action Fund – Africa
For Urgent Action Fund – Africa, 2014 proved to be a year filled with struggles and successes. The organization faced a diverse set of issues including: the Ebola crisis, an increase in legal needs, and disseminating news on women’s rights violations. Each hurdle was met with fervor and tenacity to provide real-time and pertinent solutions.
To address the Ebola crisis, UAF-Africa dispatched doctors and nurses to affected areas; and worked on strengthening healthcare for individuals. Moreover, they provided vital information on the complexities that arose from the crisis, and recommendations for tackling the problem. They highlighted the fact that women are disproportionately affected in this tragedy, and our solutions must address this inequality.
The staff also spoke of the trends that have appeared in their work. Previously, much of their grant requests were centered on crises affecting women. Now, requests are increasingly focused on legal rights for women. In South and East Africa, there is a need, more than ever before, to educate women on the rights afforded them through the law. Frequently, national legal rights tend to differ from those outlined by customary and traditional laws. Women can more effectively champion their own needs when they are aware of these disparities.
For example, in Kenya the constitution now states that women are able to own land. In the past, if a woman became widowed or divorced, she had no legal holding on the land she resided on. UAF-Africa is supporting many Kenyan women in exercising their constitutional rights to ensure that they receive what is legally theirs.
UAF-Africa staff work on these issues from offices based all over the continent; employees in each country update their colleagues on regional and departmental events. In Nigeria, the communications department handles all the intakes for emergency grants. In Tanzania, staff manages the organizational programs and oversees their implementation. In the DRC, reporters provide news on the violations of women’s rights. This network of UAF-Africa employees allows for the organization to respond quickly to the needs of human rights activists throughout the continent.
Dr. Mize left these two site visits inspired and enthusiastic about the goals and accomplishments of these two grantees. The Mize Family Foundation’s focus on climate change is increasingly influenced by the struggles of women’s and human rights throughout the world, and specifically, Africa. Both issues are inextricably intertwined, and we must work on both in order to make any positive effect for our future generations.