Posted by Wanjira Kamwere
Government Engagement Manager at Microsoft WECA
Education is viewed by some people as a basic human right. I include myself in this group, however the reality is that education is a luxury for many people in the world and pockets of society often find it hard to access. Across Africa, I feel that the value of educating women in particular cannot be underestimated. Providing education and skills to African women offers them a brighter future and a way to support themselves and their communities in unprecedented ways. Happily, supporting young talent and local communities across Africa is a huge priority for Microsoft and I’m proud to be one of those responsible for driving initiatives in the WECA region, especially when I see firsthand the results it brings.
I’m really proud of some work that I have been able to be a involved in as part of the Global Give Back Circle, which is in turn part of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and is committed to empower disadvantaged adolescent girls in Kenya. Through the Global Give Back Circle (GGBC), women at Microsoft, such as myself, mentor young local girls to help create opportunities and design a future path for them. The programme also addresses a critical challenge for all young people in Kenya – the unavoidable 21 month gap between high school and university. We help to bridge this gap by engaging young, women on a nine-month ICT course in specially built IT Labs in Kenya. This is complemented by an arranged internship, equipping the ‘mentees’ with critical e-Skills and experience of the working world before they embark on their chosen university courses.
As the name suggests, this mentoring programme is also designed to promote the culture of giving back to the community. The young women who take part in the GGBC become mentors themselves, transferring knowledge to others by teaching computer skills. The cycle of local empowerment improves local community support, promotes independence and encourages private sector investment.
The GGBC has helped many young women reach their full potential – three of the first GGBC class of 2009 are Clinton Scholars in the American University in Dubai, two were awarded scholarships to US universities and 25 are attending university throughout Kenya.
This year I was excited to see the programme lead one young Kenyan girl to even greater horizons. Thanks to her commitment to the GGBC, 19-year-old Pauline Kachinja was selected as the spokesperson for the local Microsoft IT Lab during a live-stream of the facility at the 2010 CGI Session on Democratizing Education. This year she went on to win a place as the sole African female representative at the July leadership training summit in Washington DC. Pauline also had a rare opportunity to meet US congresswomen and has gained skills in project and financial management as well as on-camera interview experience. Back in Kenya, she will impart these skills to others, giving back to the community.
Being part of the Global Give Back Circle is a great example of how Microsoft is helping young people worldwide to unlock their full potential, empowering them to expand their horizons, learn new skills and improve their chances of employment. In Kenya this takes on even greater significance as these opportunities offer young women greater independence and ultimately help themselves, and others, escape from poverty. Personally, I look forward to seeing this empowerment eventually come full circle as more highly-skilled young talent enters the business world and fuels our burgeoning local economy. But don’t take it from me, here’s Pauline’s own words on her GGBC experience…
My name is Pauline Kachinja – I’m a beneficiary of the Global Give Back Circle and an undergraduate student at Moi University, Kenya – and I was offered the precious chance to attend the IL2L International Girls’ Summit in Washington D.C. this summer. I was nervous before going, in case I didn’t represent Kenya as best I could. But I shouldn’t have worried – I met so many inspiring girls my age from all over the world, learnt a great deal and I was selected as one of the best two speakers at the summit! My prize was to be filmed in a TV studio talking about my background and my ICAN project, which was great.
I also visited the Kenyan embassy and met His Excellency, Ambassador Elkanah Odembo, who gave me these words of encouragement: “Leadership is a long journey with numerous challenges but if you stay focused you will make it.” My whole stay in the United States was crowned by the graduation which was held at the Georgian embassy. I was joined by my new mentor and her family. All the participants received a certificate, it was a very emotional moment because of the bond that we had created amongst one another and now it was time to part. We are already planning a reunion in ten years so we can see how far we have all come.
Being part of the GGBC and going to America has been a life-changing experience that I can never forget. I’m taking two very valuable lessons back to Kenya from it all:
• You don’t have to be rich or to be so educated to make a change in this world; all you need is to believe in yourself. Women are a force of change in this world.
• As a leader, try to find an opportunity in every challenge, and overcome any challenges in every opportunity, that comes your way.
Pauline meets the Kenyan Ambassador in Washington D.C.