White House Recognizes USF Professor’s Work in Africa

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Politics professor Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg was recently honored as one of the Champions of Change by the White House.

She was recognized along with 13 other leaders of diaspora communities with roots in the Horn of Africa on January 30 in Washington, D.C. The Champions of Change program is part of the Obama Administration’s Winning the Future Across America campaign, which seeks to profile Americans whose work helps the United States tackle challenges of the 21st-century. Those recognized along with the USF professor were acknowledged for building bridges between international communities and developing stronger neighborhoods and communities. They were applauded for their achievements in mobilizing international networks to address global challenges.

Kamau-Rutenberg was recognized for her work with the organization Akili Dada, which she founded in 2005. The name is derived from the Swahili language. Akili refers to intellect, ability, strategy, knowledge, and competence. Dada is a term of endearment that means sister, respect, and familiarity among women.
Kamau-Rutenberg created the organization to address the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in Africa. During her thesis research on women’s rights in Kenya, where the professor is originally from, Kamau-Rutenberg became conscious of how women’s voices, predominantly those from underprivileged backgrounds, were missing in political round tables and the decision-making process in Kenya and around the world.

“The award was a way to remind people in Washington D.C. and across America that there are solutions to challenges we are facing,” Kamau-Rutenberg said.

Linking her work in Africa to achievements of African Americans during Black History month Kamau-Rutenberg said, “What Akili Dada does is empower young black women to gain spaces in decision-making…And in the essence, there is a big connection between American Black History Month living internally within all of us and lasting a lot farther than one month.”

A Kenya native, Kamau-Rutenberg’s research focuses on the politics of philanthropy, ethnicity, democratization and the role of technology in social activism. She divides her time between the U.S. and Kenya, where Akili Dada is based. Kamau-Rutenberg is currently on sabbatical in Kenya working on academic study and social entrepreneurship.

During the event in Washington, D.C., Kamau-Rutenberg said she networked with several organizations with similar philanthropic visions. She did not meet President Obama, but when speaking about the event she said, “It was exhilarating. ” Her nomination for the award came from an anonymous member of the White House.

She expressed how USF’s faculty, staff, and student population has supported her efforts with Akili Dada’s mission and goals.

She also expressed her happiness in having received White House recognition for her work.
“To be a part of something that has been a part of me and others for so long, and then to be recognized by the President of the United States as really doing good work is just a incredible feeling of accomplishment, but also, a type of nervousness that tells me we better deliver more,” Kamau-Rutenberg said during a Skype interview.

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