Empower Rwandan Women through Leadership & Training for Meaningful Jobs

Empower Rwandan Women through Leadership & Training for Meaningful Jobs

Rwanda
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Budget: 
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Akilah is a career training and leadership institute for young women in Kigali, Rwanda. It is the only school in Africa to use specialized, practical education to transform women’s lives and help them overcome poverty. Akilah students undergo intensive studies aimed at meeting the current demand for well-trained hospitality professionals in Rwanda.Students will graduate career-ready.

About You
Organization:
Akilah Institute for Women
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Section 1: About You
First Name

Kelley

Last Name

Mulfinger

Country
Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Yes

Organization Name

Akilah Institute for Women

Organization Phone

813 732 4511

Organization Address

109 Brush Street, Suite 300 Tampa FL 33602

Organization Country
How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, KR

Innovation
What makes your idea unique?

A New Model: Akilah has conceived a new and holistic model for educating young Rwandan women. Through intensive training that is highly focused on satisfying current needs in the Rwandan economy, Akilah students will become leaders and entrepreneurs.

Focused Curriculum: The Akilah curriculum is a direct response to the needs of the private sector. As it was developed, input was solicited from business leaders and officials from the Private Sector Federation, Rwanda Development Board, Workforce Development Authority and Ministry of Education. This enabled a better understanding of the current gaps between the Rwandan education system and the private sector and allowed for the creation of a revolutionary education model that bridges this gap. Graduates will be in high demand and will posses both a practical and relevant skill set. They will find stable and well paying jobs that will allow them to provide for themselves and their families.

Self-Sufficiency: Akilah will run on-campus social enterprises that generate income and ensure long-term sustainability, while also offering students more practical experience. While attending the school, students will work in an Akilah eco-lodge and restaurant and will assist with agricultural programs, allowing them to gain more practical training.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Impact
Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

Imagine a young woman who has lost everything. She once was part of a growing family, happily singing songs and learning local customs, never dreaming it would come to a devastating end with a brutal genocide. Now, she is the sole wage earner for her family yet lacks relevant skills to land a job. She is the lone care giver for her siblings and other dependants, yet lacks the means to provide for them in the long-term. She is one of many seeking a job in a growing economy but lacks in-demand English-language skills and practical experience. She is determined, but lacks the confidence to proactively fight for her future and to compete in a global marketplace.

This woman is a typical Akilah student. She has overcome tragedy, yet she perseveres. She has a vibrant personality, a strong passion and a deeply rooted desire for success. She is the future of Rwanda. And the Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali is helping her get there by providing intensive studies aimed at meeting the current demand for well-trained hospitality professionals in Rwanda.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

Women bear the brunt of poverty in Rwanda and they head over 35% of households. 80% of them work in agriculture. The government has promoted the importance of gender parity in secondary schools and there has recently been an increase in female secondary school graduates. Yet, this success has not been replicated in higher education. Only 1% of Rwandans attend university, and less than 1/3 of higher education students are female. The achievement and completion rates are significantly lower for women than men.
The Rwandan government is focused on shifting away from subsistence agriculture to a more diversified, service-based economy. Tourism has had a significant impact on the economy, contributing to job creation and international investment. The number of tourists visiting Rwanda increased by 54% in 2008, and 1 million tourists visited in 2009. This industry is now the number one foreign exchange earner and the government expects it to bring in $650 million in foreign investment by 2020.
Unfortunately, job-training programs that would permit Rwandans to meet the requirements of the careers necessary for the proposed service-based economy are greatly limited. A study by the OTF Group found that the lack of skilled workers is one of the biggest obstacles towards developing Rwanda’s economy to its full potential. In 2009, a national skills audit by the government found that the current human capacity in the hospitality industry is at less than 30% of what is needed. The government estimates that 5,000 to 6,000 people must be trained per year to keep up with the present economic growth and demand.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. What might prevent that success?

The Akilah curriculum is a direct response to the needs of the business community and is a result of extensive research. Our initial diploma programs will provide young women with the skills and experience to become leaders in the hospitality and tourism industry. The 2-year diploma program is being developed and will be accredited by the Higher Education Council. The curriculum emphasizes leadership development, practical training, and entrepreneurial skills.

Foundation Year: This program was designed for young women who demonstrate exceptional potential but would benefit from an extra year of intensive studies before beginning an Akilah diploma program. This program started on February 2, 2010 with 50 students who come to the Akilah facilities 5 days a week. We have 3 American instructors and 1 Ugandan instructor who teach the following courses 1st semester: English, Health & Nutrition, Leadership & Ethics, and Introduction to Hospitality. The 2nd semester they will also take Computer Skills and Business Math. In their computer classes our students are being instructed by hospitality professors from around the world with international expertise.

Challenge: We do not raise sufficient donor funding to cover our capital costs.
Solutions:
-Postpone the Bugesera move until 2012 and continue the diploma course in the Kigali facilities.
-Limit the number of scholarship students and increase fee-paying students.
-Offer evening professional courses to create another revenue stream in the short term.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

Akilah will have a significant impact on the societal attitude regarding women in the workforce. Rather than viewing higher education as an option only for the upper class, Akilah will show that it is highly practical and has direct benefits on a woman’s economic empowerment and the living conditions of her family, thereby removing some of the prevalent cultural barriers. Akilah will also contribute to the government’s goal of developing the hospitality industry into a primary driver of the economy.

There are 50 young women in the first Akilah class. Most of them live in Kigali but a few commute from over an hour away. More than half of the current students lost their parents in the genocide. Nearly all of them received a scholarship from an NGO to complete secondary school. These young women had no other option for higher education or additional training, but Akilah provides them with the opportunity to gain tangible skills and become a valued addition to the workforce. Their income will increase significantly and they will be able to take better care of their families. All of the Akilah students are on full scholarship for the Foundation Year program.

Once we move to our Bugesera campus with dormitories, we will be able to target young women from around the country. We currently have 50 students, will have 100 students in 2011, 150 students in 2012, and will have 600 students by 2015. By 2020, there will be at least 650 Akilah graduates of the Bugesera campus working in the hospitality industry and starting their own businesses.

We will open a second Akilah Institute in 2013. The location of this campus will be determined by the attitude and support of the local business community and the proven need for higher education in a particular field. This campus will grow at a similar pace as the Bugesera one so there will be 650 graduates by 2023. This alumni base will employ hundreds of other people in their businesses, and be responsible for an estimated 2,000 children.

How many people will your project serve annually?

101‐1000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$50 - 100

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?

Yes

If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

Akilah will change the dialogue about higher education for women. By providing an innovative, sustainable learning environment with emphasis placed on leadership and ethics, Akilah will provide solid and practical experience in running a business: NOT a theoretical training. Akilah fills a national need. Few young Rwandan women are entering the workforce with tangible skills. Akilah will produce graduates who have the skills to immediately enter the workforce and excel.

As a result, Akilah will have a profound impact on the societal attitude regarding women in the workforce. Rather than viewing higher education as an option only for the upper class, Akilah will show that it is highly practical and has direct benefits on a woman’s economic empowerment and the living conditions of her family, thereby removing some of the prevalent cultural barriers. Akilah will also contribute to the government’s goal of developing the hospitality industry into a primary driver of the economy.

Sustainability
What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?

Yes

Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your innovation

The Ministry of Education has demonstrated their support by providing existing school facilities and 40 acres of agricultural land for the Akilah Institute. The campus will also include the Akilah social enterprises, student run businesses that generate income and ensure long-term sustainability. 600 students will work in the Akilah ecolodge, restaurant and agricultural programs to gain more practical training. They will graduate with a deep understanding of the realities of running a small business. We will replicate this model around East Africa to provide a relevant and community-based solution to the challenges that women face in pursuing higher education.

Our partnership with Architecture for Humanity ensures that Akilah is an example of green and sustainable design in Africa. Architects from leading firms in Washington Dc have committed their time and resources to help with our initial phase of design. The educational surroundings will be different than any other school in Rwanda. Students will learn about organic farming and the solar system that will power the school.

Currently an advisory board of education and training experts in the States and East Africa are developing the Akilah curriculum. This includes individuals at New York University, Cornell University, and Womens World Banking. This will be submitted to the Higher Education Council and will be implemented with the support of the Ministry of Education in 2011.

Additionally, we have partnerships with local Rwandan hotels & restaurants for internships for our inaugural Foundation Year students. Specifically, the Manor Hotel is providing paid internships & Volcano Safari is helping with internship placements.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

Other higher education institutions depend on government and donor funding rather than their own revenue streams. If this funding is cut, tuition increases exponentially and the number of low-income students entering the system is drastically reduced. The financial model at Akilah will show that training institutions can and should be self-sufficient. Our revenue will be a combination of tuition fees, scholarships, and funds raised through our campus social enterprises. We stand apart from other African schools because our social enterprises (the on campus training ecolodge, restaurant and agricultural programs) will create another revenue stream and more training opportunities.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

The words of our Founder & CEO, Elizabeth Davis:

I have lived in Kigali for 3 ½ years. I developed a fascination with Rwanda when I was 18 and read an article about the genocide. I wrote my senior thesis about microfinance in Rwanda, and moved there three days after graduation as part of a Global Youth Connect delegation. Through GYC, I met a Rwandan couple who ran an orphanage in Kigali and organized sports teams for street children. After the delegation, I stayed in Kigali to volunteer with them. We started 5 drama and human rights clubs for girls in secondary schools and a scholarship program for street children. After a year of volunteering, I started Amani Africa, a 501c3, to raise funds for these initiatives. By this time, we had expanded to provide services to nearly 2,000 children and youth.

As the Executive Director of an NGO working with vulnerable youth and street children in Kigali, I witnessed a startling lack of educational opportunities for young women. The female students in our programs had so much potential but the opportunities for them to pursue higher education were practically nonexistent. Only wealthy families could afford university, and the majority of government scholarships were given to young men.

It was clear that Rwanda needed another system of education that was designed especially for women, and would provide them with the necessary skills to succeed in the workforce. For three months in the fall of 2008, I worked with four Rwandan and European interns to conduct research on the training needs of the business community. We developed an advisory board of civil society and business leaders.

It soon became clear that the hospitality industry provided the most opportunities for career advancement. There has been a great deal of outside investment into this industry, but lack of human capital presents a huge challenge to its development.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

Elizabeth founded the Akilah Institute to provide opportunities to young women who have the potential to become leaders and entrepreneurs in their communities.

Elizabeth moved to Rwanda a few days after graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2006 with a degree in International Development and Political Science. She joined a Global Youth Connect delegation to study post-conflict reconciliation and human rights advocacy. She stayed in Rwanda to volunteer with grassroots education projects and in 2007 she founded a nonprofit organization to provide scholarships to street children, support an orphanage in Kigali, and organize reconciliation and conflict resolution conferences for genocide survivors and high school students. In 2008, she began working with business and civil society leaders as well as local community members to analyze the training needs of the Rwandan private sector. This research and discussion led to the creation of the Akilah Institute.

Prior to founding Akilah, Elizabeth worked on education and community development projects in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, and South Africa. Elizabeth was a founding member of Students for Kenya, an organization supporting the Lwala Health Clinic in Western Kenya. She was the president of STAND: Students Taking Action Now Darfur at Vanderbilt, and a co-founder of Fashion for A Cause. In 2008, she was selected as a StartingBloc Fellow, a highly selective program for young social entrepreneurs. Elizabeth received the Woman of Peace award from the Womens Peace Power Foundation in October 2009.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Email from Changemakers

If through another source, please provide the information
ICRW
Does your project address any of the following barriers to women’s technology access and use?

Social norms, Economic or institutional constraints.

If you checked any of the boxes above, please explain how.

Akilah will catalyze women’s development in the region by changing the conversation about higher education in an era of profound change and rapid economic development.

Universities in East Africa gain prestige for the number of graduates that move to the United States or Europe to pursue post-graduate degrees, rather than concentrating on the development of skilled workers for the immediate needs of the local economy. Rwanda has developed ambitious plans to become a knowledge-based economy but there is a gap between the needs of the economy and the education system. Akilah is not only encouraging more women to attend higher education, we are creating a new system of education that is relevant to the needs of the local economy and the development priorities of the government. The jobs and the demand exist, but the education system must prepare students to take advantage of these opportunities. By using computers to access the most up to date information, students will communicate with renowned hospitality professors & receive the most relevant training. As a result, Akilah wil provide low-income women with a practical experience and a competitive edge, propelling them to the front of the newly developing sectors of the economy.

Other higher education institutions depend on government and donor funding rather than their own revenue streams. If this funding is cut, tuition increases exponentially and the number of low-income students entering the system is drastically reduced. The financial model at Akilah will show that training institutions can and should be self-sufficient. Our social enterprises will create another revenue stream and more training opportunities.

Does your project involve women in one or more of the following stages of the technology lifecycle? Identification of the problem the technology will solve:

Technology training, Creation and maintenance of market linkages for women's economic outputs.

If you checked any of the boxes above, please explain how you will ensure women’s involvement in each relevant phase of the technology lifecycle.

A significant bulk of the students' training will be done through technology, especially utilizing Skype to connect with professors around the world. Since this is a new program, the students and their feedback will help us to continually improve the quality of the coursework. Our fundamental mission is to ensure that our students are prepared to be leaders and entrepreneurs in the workforce. Their internships and work placements will serve as a feedback mechanism to ensure that our training is equipping them with market relevant skills.

If women are a focus of your project, how did this focus evolve?

The project focused on women from its conception..

Which type of women will your project reach directly?

Rural, Peri-urban, Urban, Low income, Middle income.

In what ways does your project team/leadership involve women?

It is led by a woman/women., It is led by a woman/women from a developing country., The core project team includes women., The core project team includes women from developing countries..

Has your organization formed any new partnerships in response to this challenge? If so, with what type/s of organization/s?

Non-profit/NGO/community-based organization, Women's organization.

Has your project leadership had prior experience with the following?

Working with women, Working with technologies, Working to increase women's economic empowerment through technology, Working on innovation.

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