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
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
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.