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.
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