Akili Dada was founded in 2005 by Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg to address the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in Africa. During her dissertation research on women’s rights in Kenya, Wanjiru realized the extent to which women’s voices – particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds – were missing in the policy and decision-making processes affecting women’s lives in Kenya and across the continent. As her own experience had taught her that access to such positions typically required university education, strong mentors, and leadership experience – all beyond the reach of most underprivileged young women – she set out to bridge that gap. Having earned scholarships for her own degrees in higher education, Wanjiru knew the power of scholarships to open doors for underprivileged young African women.

In 2006, Wanjiru and her husband Dr. Isaac Rutenberg made a financial commitment enabling Akili Dada to take on its first beneficiaries. Today, Akili Dada is the realization of Wanjiru’s vision for an organization that enables other young African women to pursue the types of educational and leadership opportunities that she has been so fortunate to experience, and to take their rightful places in society.

In her words:

“I moved from Nairobi to Denver at age 14 with the sense of rooted belonging in the African continent. Driven by a deep gratitude and a joyful obligation, I started Akili Dada in 2005 as a way to leverage my unique position on the cusp of two continents and to pay it forward. From painful personal experience I have insight into African women’s challenges in the quest for education as well as the difference that thoughtfully structured scholarships, compassionate mentoring, and purposeful leadership training can make. As a feminist researcher I wrote my doctoral dissertation about the bottlenecks to African women’s access to decision-making positions. It is here that I became convinced that leadership is not accidental but rather it must be nurtured with intention and purpose. As a scholar activist, Akili Dada is my purest expression of the personal as political!” 


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