Our mission has always been to deliver a market-relevant education that enables young women to achieve economic independence and obtain leadership roles in the workplace and in society.

Women entrepreneurship is the key for success for any country and there are some dedicated institutions across Africa making an impact with their disruptive women empowerment models. In our pursuit to connect with higher education providers across the continent, we crossed over from Ghana to Rwanda to interview some of the leading HE institutions making an impact on women in society. A lot has been talked about post-genocide Rwanda and steps taken by Government and private bodies to develop the manpower in Rwanda.


In East Africa, there is a profound gap between the education system and the human capital needs of the new booming private sector. Businesses complain regularly of a poorly trained and inadequate workforce, and yet 85% of women still work in subsistence agriculture, living on less than $2 per day. Only 1% of the population enters university, and less than one-third of those students are female. Clearly, there is a disconnect between what employers want and what the education system supplies. Akilah acts as the bridge connecting underemployed, high-potential young women to jobs in the fastest-growing sectors of the economy.


Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda is targeting exceptional young East African women who show passion for the Akilah educational experience, potential to succeed in the classroom and the workplace, and fit our criteria for academic excellence. Read the interview with Mrs. Elizabeth Dearborn-Hughes, Founder, Akilah Institute for Women, an institution fully dedicated for training and empowering girls and women of East Africa.


UniAfrica.net: Akilah Institute for Women is celebrating its 6th Anniversary this year. How do you see your journey since its inception in 2010? Do you feel that Akilah have made an impact on the life of African youth in these 6 years?


Elizabeth: Our mission has always been to deliver a market-relevant education that enables young women to achieve economic independence and obtain leadership roles in the workplace and in society. That hasn’t changed. However, our methods for realizing that mission have. We’re continually refining our curriculum, adding new student services, and introducing new employment and internship opportunities. For example, we launched our Information Systems diploma in 2014, and this year we opened two new computer labs, a hospitality lab, and a Business Incubation Center to help students turn their ideas into viable businesses.

We value objective measurements, and the numbers show that we’ve made a positive impact on the lives of our students. Approximately 75% of our students were unemployed prior to joining Akilah. Once they graduate, 88% find jobs within six months. They earn, on average, 12x the national median income. They go on to work for international companies, such as Marriott International, Serena, Airtel, and One Acre Fund. And, most importantly, they move up the ranks quickly to assume leadership positions. Many also start and run their own businesses, becoming employers themselves.



UniAfrica.net: Akilah’s curriculum and training are mostly centered around “The Akilah Model”. How do you see it different than an industry owned curriculum which is now been widely introduced in most of the progressive African universities.


Elizabeth: We believe in working with employers to develop our curriculum. We have over 60 employment partners that we regularly consult while designing our courses. We also solicit their feedback on the performance of our interns and graduates so we can update and refine our model to meet labor market demands.

Industry-led programs tend to focus on the technical skills. We believe soft skills (like problem-solving, communication, and teamwork) are also necessary for our students’ long-term development. Akilah offers both the technical skills students need to get a job and the soft skills that will ensure they become leaders in their workplaces, families, and communities.

All of our students must complete 512 hours of leadership instruction, a Social Change Project, and at least 80 hours of community service. They participate in student clubs and national competitions. We feel all of these experiences are critical to developing well-rounded, ethical leaders.


UniAfrica.net: With more African students opting to pursue their university education within the continent, do you think that Akilah is aptly placed as a truly pan-African Institution? Can you share some interesting facts about your Institution which will excite our readers.


Elizabeth: I believe that Akilah is a pan-African institution. For the past six years, we’ve prepared hundreds of women for competitive careers and leadership roles in East Africa. The world needs more female leaders, and we’re excited to help educate and support them. We have plans underway to scale our model across Africa and to offer our courses online. I’ll share more on that below.

I think an 88% job placement rate is a really exciting fact! Our graduates are progressing quickly in their careers too. Approximately 58% have received at least one promotion in their position and/or salary since graduation, and 36% are supervising at least one other employee.

We’re also proud and excited to see that both employers and our graduates are overwhelmingly satisfied; for the class of 2015, 79% of employed graduates were ‘satisfied’ to ‘extremely satisfied’ with their jobs. In addition, 92% of 2015 internship partners were so impressed with their Akilah intern that they requested another intern in 2016!


UniAfrica.net:  Regional education hubs not only attract a share of the global population of mobile students but are becoming favored destinations for students within regions. Rwanda has been promoting itself as one of the Regional Education Hub in Africa, attracting students from across the continent. What do you feel are some of the factors promoting Rwanda as favoured destination for higher education in Africa?


Elizabeth: The Rwandan government has made education a top priority, and international universities are attracted to this favorable environment. In the past five years, we’ve seen Carnegie Mellon University, Oklahoma Christian University, Vatel, and Partners in Health open campuses in Rwanda. We’re expanding our Kigali campus and will accept 400 students for our 2017 intake.

Rwanda is positioning itself as a continental leader in growing fields like technology and hospitality. Students can tap into an ecosystem filled with industry professionals at the top of their game and intern with cutting-edge companies. For instance, Zipline, the world’s first commercial drone company, and Marriott International, the world’s largest hotel company, both established operations in Rwanda this year. International companies like these provide exciting learning and employment opportunities for students.


UniAfrica.net: Do you agree that most often students choose universities and courses based upon other’s preferences, be it following the peers, accepting choices made by parents, influence by media or just following the current trends. What advice you would like to offer to students and the parents, from Rwanda and other African countries, who wish to pursue their higher education in Rwanda?


Elizabeth: Parents still encourage their children to go into traditionally prestigious fields, such as medicine or engineering, but I think that’s changing. Increasingly we’re finding those industries are not necessarily where the jobs are.

For instance, in Rwanda, the hospitality industry is booming. It’s estimated that nearly 6,000 people must be trained every year to keep up with current industry demand.  As more young people launch successful careers in industries like hospitality and technology, I think more parents will encourage their children to enter these fields.

We’re also seeing more women pursue careers in fields that are traditionally male-dominated, such as IT. I think positive female role models play a significant role in changing perceptions. Our Information Systems students and alumnae mentor secondary school girls. When these young girls meet our students, they realize that they too can pursue a career in technology.

When considering a career field, I’d advise students to do their research. Read the economic forecasts from places like McKinsey and The World Bank about which industries are growing -- that’s where jobs and opportunities lie. They should also chose a field that excites them. I’d advise them to contact people in the industry to find out about the day-to-day routine and the advancement opportunities. They should also pursue internships, which will help them confirm whether they’re cut out for the job and provide valuable practical experience.

UniAfrica.net: Students usually find it difficult to get information about universities for admission in other countries. How do you feel UniAfrica.net is helping to bridge this student - university information gap?


Elizabeth: We need resources that enable students to make informed choices about their academic and professional futures. There’s a lack of transparency in higher education, and students can take on debt without realizing that a particular program may not result in a job. With all of the higher education options available, students need more information on career paths, financial aid, university employment rates, and scholarships. Services like UniAfrica.net play an important role in bridging that information gap.

UniAfrica.net: Akilah model has been successful in transforming lives of young women in Rwanda and Burundi. Our readers would like to know your plan of expanding Akilah’s experience to other parts of Africa?


Elizabeth: I’m excited to announce that Akilah will open seven more campuses by 2030. The new campuses will allow us to serve 40,000 women globally.  

We’re also launching online certificate courses so that women all over Africa and the world can access Akilah’s unique content, which is design specifically for emerging female leaders and entrepreneurs. By 2030, we expect 1 million girls and women will have participated in our online courses.

UniAfrica.net: What advice do you have for young Africans who aspire to be like you?


Elizabeth: I have two daughters, and at bedtime we skip the damsel-in-distress stories and read about strong leaders like Malala, the Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner who stood up to the Taliban for her right to go to school. I want them to grow up knowing they have the agency and power to create their own futures. I would say the same to young Africans with big aspirations. You can’t wait for a “prince”, you have to own and act on your goals.

Source of Image: www.akilahinstitute.org/tag/highlights/