Akilah Institute unlocks job opportunities for women
When Elizabeth Dearborn Davis and Dave Hughes co-founded the Akilah Institute for Women in 2009, they aimed at equipping women with skilled they need to play their role in economic development.
According to the 2002 national census, women constitute more than half of Rwanda’s population.
“They saw the need for facilitating access to higher education for women who would not otherwise have been able to get it,” said Lisa M. Martilotta the executive director of the institute.
The first campus in Kigali that opened with 40 students now has 100.
Louise Umutoni, 22, is one of the students. She completed high school in arts subjects but could not continue her education. “I was not able to continue with my studies for financial reasons,” said Umutoni who spent two at home until she heard of Akilah.
“I was excited beyond words when I heard I had been admitted,” she said.
Akilah founders also wanted to contribute to the achievement of the country’s vision, by developing the most critical agent of development—human capital. “We first started our program focusing on an area that is quickly developing which is hospitality and tourism,” said Martilotta. “We offer our students a two-year business diploma with an emphasis on hospitality management.”
Akilah strives to give the best formation to their students by working with different partners and experts to ensure that the curriculum is relevant to the local and global market. “Education is not our goal in itself, but it is considered as the vehicle towards our principal goal which is to help the young women have a bright future by empowering them so they can find meaningful employment,” said Martilotta.
The education model also includes community service. The students have already completed 700 hours of community service since January 2010. “This is done in an effort to give back to the community, and also improve our leadership and public speaking skills,” said Grace Uwantege, a final year student. “We identify the problems and challenges in the community and we look for ways to address them.”
They include changing the youth’s poor attitude towards work, fighting domestic violence, malnutrition and promotion of family planning.
One of the biggest achievements of the institute is the formation of global partnerships, especially the one they formed with Marriott International, an American-based worldwide operator and franchisor of a broad portfolio of hotels and related lodging facilities. 14 of the 39 students who will graduate in August were accepted for a ten-month training program with Marriott hotels in Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The training program leads directly to a full-time career for these women.
“This is a really big opportunity for us to gain a first class experience in hospitality,” said Uwantege. These young women will come back to work at the Marriott Hotel that is projected to open its doors in the second half of 2013. The partnership with Marriott International is long-term.
The institute covers a big percentage of fees through scholarships and the students pay for the rest. “It’s really great to be given this kind of chance,” said Mary Urujeni, a first year student.
As a non-profit institution, Akilah’s gains are all invested back in the campus. “We are more concerned with quality rather than profitability, and at this stage our small numbers help ensure that every one of our students receives the best education we can give,” said Martilotta.
The institute is not only going to start up a new program in Entrepreneurship, they are also developing a second campus in Bugesera on a 42 hectares land donated by the government. “We are busy constructing and renovating; we hope that the campus will be ready to open in September 2013,” she said.
But perhaps the best environment Akilah provided for their students is a place where they can feel like a family. “The girls who are ahead of us are like our big sisters,” said Urujeni. “This gives us the support we need and the staff is also very supportive.” The mentorship program also helps students to develop professionally by pairing them with a person in the field of work they want to be in later. The institute has 100% employment guarantee for its students.
“Once we have fully developed here, we are planning to expand to other countries in the East African Community,” declared Martilotta saying that they received a lot of interest and will develop programs that are specific and relevant to every local market.