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Nonprofit Founded by USF Prof. Honored by U.N.


Akili Dada, an international nonprofit that provides scholarships to poor Kenyan school girls and that was founded by Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, University of San Francisco assistant professor of politics, has been named a winner of the Marketplace of Ideas competition sponsored by the United Nations’ Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC).

Chosen from among hundreds of applicants worldwide, the award has already helped garner attention and open doors to international leaders and foundations that can help Akili Dada continue to grow and assist more students.

Outstanding Young Activist

Recently, Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg won two more awards, the Foundations for Change Thomas I. Yamashita Prize award and an African International Achievers Award.

Presented annually by the Center for the Study of Social Change (CSSC)at the University of California, Berkeley, the Yamashita Prize honors outstanding young activists in California whose work transforms the existing social landscape and serves as a bridge between academia and the community.

The African International Achievers Award, honors individuals and organizations for their grassroots work toward the attainment of the United Nations millennium development goals aimed at alleviating poverty by 2015.

“It felt wonderful to have the work of Akili Dada validated and honored alongside other inspiring projects from around the world,” said Kamau-Rutenberg, of hearing that Akili Dada was among nine winners of the Marketplace of Ideas competition.

Unlike elementary school, which is free in Kenya, high school requires parents to pay tuition and fees. In Kenya, and other African nations, this has a cascading effect of forcing young women, particularly from poor backgrounds, to leave school for low-wage jobs or to marry at a young age, said Kamau-Rutenberg, a Kenyan who, in addition to being the founder of Akili Dada, is also the organization’s executive director.

In those roles, women are cut out of leadership positions in their communities and beyond.

“We target gifted young girls who have already exhibited incredible leadership potential by serving their communities,” said Kamau-Rutenberg, who first conceived of Akili Dada while she was researching Kenyan women's rights as a doctoral student and was astounded by the severe lack of women involved in decision-making processes. “We then nurture this academic talent and service ethic while empowering them to become the leaders that Kenya and all of Africa so desperately needs.

The ultimate goal is bigger than young women completing high school. It is even bigger than stopping the cascade. The goal is to reverse the trend by cultivating a growing number of young women who are able to act as leaders and voices for themselves, their families, and their communities. If women, especially from poor backgrounds, have equal access to the decision-making processes then policies and lives across African will be vastly improved, Kamau-Rutenberg believes.

Written by Edward Carpenter »usfnews@usfca.edu