More Leadership Lessons from Rwanda

Susan S Freeman Blog

Step Up Leadership traveled to Rwanda this month to share our principles with the young women of the Akilah Institute for Women. Akilah means “wisdom” in Swahili. I cannot think of a more fitting word to describe this remarkable place.

Akilah leadershipAkilah is a college that offers a unique model of market-relevant education empowering graduates for success in careers and leadership roles.  I first learned about Akilah upon hearing Co-Founder and CEO, Elizabeth Dearborn Hughes, speak about her vision. At the age of twenty-four, this extraordinary young leader foresaw an opportunity. Upon reading about the 1994 genocide there, Elizabeth decided she had to help.

Elizabeth’s in-country research revealed a profound gap in East Africa 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.

Akilah was built to act as the bridge connecting underemployed, high-potential young women to jobs in the fastest-growing sectors of the economy. Four years later, the school has graduated its first class of emerging female leaders with 100% employment rate!

The partnership between Step Up Leader and Akilah evolved over the last few years, from hosting students at my home to working on the annual Metro Safari event locally. “Step Up Now” books were sent to each student of the school, and I received some positive feedback from students and teachers. I longed to see the school first-hand, and to share my experience with these aspirational young women.

Akilah leadership experienceThe experience of teaching at Akilah was one of the most inspiring of my life. Students were eager to learn; actively participated in small group exercises and discussions, and asked excellent questions. Most gratifying for me was the chance to get to know them; to hear their personal stories, to see the determination in their eyes to overcome the past; to witness their development as confident young women pointed towards a future they envision. They were inspirational beyond my wildest dreams.

These young women are anxious to Step Up into their own authentic leadership.  In our time together we explored an integrated approach to leadership, incorporating mind, body, emotion and language. They learned to:

  • —Identify and connect to their vision and purpose
  • Increase confidence as a leader
  • Learn tools for effective leadership communication that promote accountability and teamwork

Helping them lead from their core involved learning to “center.” Once they were fully present, they were able to see how this could help not only in conversation with others, but also in exploring their own authentic vision, strengths, and goals.   They shared with me a takeaway “nugget,” letting us both know they will be using what they learned right away.

I invite you to visit my Step Up Leader website for videos and photos for inspiration!

Akilah leadership girls

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