CGI: Guest Post – Helping Girls in Kenya to Give Back

Linda Lockhart, Managing Director, Global Give Back Circle

Imagine you are a disadvantaged girl in Kenya, categorized as coming from the bottom of the economic pyramid. Imagine you grew up sleeping in a hut made from mud and dung, and next to you, in another hut your grandparents kept a cow, some chickens and maybe a goat. Imagine that you lost both parents, within a 12-month period, when you were just five. Nobody talked about how or why they passed away, but everyone knew it was because of HIV/AIDS – because this is how HIV/AIDS was attacking the parents of other children in your rural community – it was attacking them quickly and without discrimination. You were not aware of it at the time, but YOU were among the first generation of AIDS orphans.

Primary school in Kenya was free back then, but you still had to walk an hour each way to the closest school, and you walked barefoot. Imagine that a charity organization sponsored you through high school. Your village chief recommended you, because you were a bright girl. For the first time in your life you traveled out of your district and into the Nairobi area and you boarded in a safe and nurturing environment for four years. You received a uniform and a pair of sturdy black shoes that reminded you that you were functioning, and learning. The shoes reminded you every day that you could have dreams – dreams about all of the opportunities that awaited you in your society. But, after high school graduation you had to hand back your black shoes, forfeit your dreams and return to the bottom of the pyramid because you did not have the skills that lead to employment – and because you were a girl.

When a disadvantaged girl graduates high school, she has already overcome extraordinary odds. Unfortunately, the gap period between high school graduation and university is from 12 – 22 months. So, where does a poor girl go? Just a little more investment in her tertiary education provides the world with an extraordinary return on benevolent human capital investment.

It’s important that girls do not fall through the cracks after high school graduation. That’s the objective of the Global Give Back Circle (GGBC). It gives her a support system that will enable and empower her to step change her life by ‘completing her educational journey’. It was created in such a way that private sector corporates in Kenya treasure the investment in her tertiary education – since an investment in her is an investment in ‘benevolent human capital development’, because she is connected to a circle of giving back that has embedded a give back ethos into her DNA.

The GGBC connects mentoring, private sector investment and local community support in a process which guides a disadvantaged girl to complete her educational journey, gain employable skills and become an agent of change herself. The girls are guided to apply to university and leverage higher education loan packages. They are from all parts of Kenya and they are awarded mentors from all over the world. The mentors give back ‘time and talent’, the private sector gives back ‘treasure’ and the girls commit to giving back time, talent and eventually treasure to their communities.

The vision is that all girls who commit to a circle of ‘giving back’ (270 currently) are able to complete a tertiary education path which will enable them to find employment to step change their destinies – breaking through cultural, economic and political barriers. Gaining IT skills is a critical component of the plan.

In 2008, Microsoft’s Woman of WECA (Western, Eastern and Central Africa) collaborated with GGBC to implement Microsoft IT Labs in Kenya, with a goal to turn the Gap Period into a ‘Gateway’, as each girl completes a 9-month Microsoft IT course with marketable applications like, Word, Excel, Power Point, Programming, Website Design, Accounting, etc. Today, there are two Microsoft IT Labs with a goal to implement a third.

The Labs are much more than IT training facilities. The girls actually live in dedicated dormitories just next to the Lab. They form a very special bond during this time period, with each other and with their mentors. Up until the Lab, they communicate with their mentors through letters. Once they enter the world of Internet access, they begin communicating with their mentors in a much more robust manner – weekly/daily.

They take courses during the day and connect to the world in the evenings. They NEVER want to leave the Lab! They learn about university options, scholarship opportunities and career planning. They research new give back commitments and they learn about the global world they are now a part of. The IT Lab EMPOWERES them in ways we never could have imagined when developing the concept.

IT Skills are transformational….


Vivian Onano was raised by her mother and in a rural village in Kisumu, Kenya. She walked an hour to and from primary school each day. Through charity, she graduated high school from Starehe Girls Centre in 2008. Throughout 2009 she lived in the Microsoft IT Lab 24/7. Her experience in Microsoft’s 9-month ICT Course transformed her life. She started communicating with her mentor on a daily basis, and her mentor inspired her to believe that anything is possible.

Her new IT skills helped her secure an Internship at the Mama Maria Clinic where she computerized data on HIV/AIDS to allow for easy calculation of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in regions. She taught computer skills to the staff and residents of the rural village. She used the Internet to research college scholarships abroad, and through an on-line application process she secured a full scholarship to Carthage College in Wisconsin. Vivian will return to Kenya as a physician.

Truphena Wambui lost both parents when she was 5 and was taken in by St. Martin’s Girl’s Centre located in Nairobi’s Kibagere slum. She lived there and received an education for 12 years. Truphena was an average student with an above average will to achieve. Truphena’s mentor became Truphena’s light as she guided her to visualize what success looks like and the types of career options that can lead a poor girl into financial and societal independence.

Truphena always struggled with math, but still dreamed about becoming an accountant. Truphena entered the Microsoft IT Lab in early 2010 and discovered a ‘second brain’. The computer compensated for her mathematical learning challenges and allowed her to make spreadsheets sing! Truphena will begin a course in Financial Accounting at Visions College in Kenya starting January 2011. She will enter the workforce with IT and accounting skills and she ‘will’ find employment!

We now have over 60 sixty girls who have gone through the IT Course with another 50 due to start in January 2011. Their individual success stories provide tangible evidence that this societal intervention is working and creating a movement of its own.

To learn more about the Global Give Back Circle visit:

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