*By Essete Fitha-Amlak

Dadas presenting their dreams for the world even as we move toward achieving the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals. Dadas presenting their dreams for the world even as we move toward achieving the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals.

In our last installment of our 2015 Leadership Academies, we brought together 52 Akili Dada scholars from different parts of Kenya. This particular academy was designed to challenge our Dadas thinking and activate their agency as advocates for gender equality as young women who desire change and development for their communities. Akili Dada identifies as a feminist organization and as such we are intentional in ensuring that our Dadas not only gain knowledge on the history of the feminist movement but understand why feminism matters and its role in the fight for gender equality. We also explored the role of emotional intelligence in transformational leadership going through self-reflection sessions that helped our girls better understand how to manage themselves and others as they develop as leaders that will transform Africa unlocking its potential as the rich continent we all want to see.

Indeed the birth of Akili Dada itself is due to the observation that there is lack of women in leadership positions and the root cause for that fact was simply lack of quality education and leadership skills from an early age which is perpetuated by gender inequality. Therefore, it is our greatest joy to see the journeys of change and transformation that our Dadas go through as they flourish and blossom towards our main goal – assuming leadership positions in their own environment equipped with academic and emotional intelligence as well as different life skills. Hence, the impact we observe in our girl’s personal life and educational aspirations are; confidence in expressing themselves, consistency in their academic performance, the ability to articulate their ideas and plans while providing solutions to social challenges. Our Dadas stand out as they dare to dream big and set goals they aspire to achieve, responsibility towards each other and their community by giving back, assuming different leadership positions in school and community and many more.

You might be asking yourself, why take this approach in developing leaders?

Well, for Akili Dada, leadership is central to our mission and vision. Our 4-day residential workshops allow us to immerse ourselves and focus energies in developing different facets of leadership that are critical to the development of our Dadas as they grow in age and experience. We look outward, with a global lens on issues that affect not just young women but Africa’s development as a whole such as the newly adopted Sustainable Development goals. We particularly appreciate and are conscious of the fact that our Dadas will one day transition out of our programs to serve as leaders in various contexts, capacities and environments. We equip them to excel in the school context and beyond by sharing knowledge and skills that ensure that our Dadas understand themselves and their place in society. We also ensure that we have fun while learning new things.

This time round we explored Feminist Leadership, bearing in mind that many misunderstand the concept of ‘Feminism’. Indeed as she facilitated the session our Executive Director helped our Dadas understand that feminism is the fight against patriarchal systems that oppress women and perpetuate inequality between men and women ultimately denying us all the development and progress we need to move beyond some of society’s most critical social challenges. We debunked a number of myths that are out in the public space that portray feminism as a movement against men which elicits negative reactions.

To quote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her Ted talk presentation We Should All Be Feminists “…  a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.”

We helped our Dadas understand what gender equality is really about – ensuring that boys and girls and indeed men and women have access to opportunities and can exercise their human rights without fear of oppression. Indeed both boys and girls should have access to quality education, safe and secure environments that allow them to flourish as individuals. The status quo today however is one that has left girls and young women behind, denying them the right to make their own choices and chart their own direction in life. Indeed looking at our education system in Kenya for example we find that boys are exposed to STEM careers earlier on in their academic journeys with the assumption that girls should go for the softer careers such as nursing and teaching.

With 1.5 billion young people in the world today and half of them being girls and young women, we must ensure that this critical part of the population have access to choices and opportunities that allows them to be active and productive contributors to the continent’s development and growth.

What is it that we hope to achieve through this and other leadership academies?

To plant that seed of hope that allow our Dadas to dream, and to watch that seed grow equipping our Dadas with the right attitude and fire to overcome the challenges that stem from their backgrounds to grow as agents of change. Indeed listening to these young girls, still in their high school years, explain in a very articulate manner how they are going to provide solutions to better their communities using the skills they have gained in the leadership academy was the highlight of the academy for me personally.

See what our Dadas had to say about their experience in this Leadership Academy.