Akua Kuenyehia Foundation: One girl at a time
In ‘Kuenyehia on Entrepreneurship’ I define social entrepreneurship as ‘the process of using entrepreneurial principles to organise, create and manage a venture in order to create social change. Mission-related outcomes or social impact (rather than wealth creation) is the purpose of social enterprise”.
Given that my entrepreneurial ventures had been in the for-profit-space, I didn’t know what to expect when I ventured into the not-for-profit space. But conscious as I have been since childhood of the important role an educated woman plays in our communities, I decided my first foray into social entrepreneurship was going to be a mission to assist in providing education for the future women of Ghana.
It was the difficulty in finding a suitable birthday present for the most outstanding woman I know that led my sisters and , to set up the Akua Kuenyehia Foundation (“AKF”). When my mother turned sixty, we felt it was more fitting to the person that she is, to give her a present that would outlive her, myself and my sisters. It was perhaps a more fitting present than another piece of wax print cloth, for example, because our mother’s work as a lawyer, an academic studying gender issues and a women’s rights advocate, made her, and later us, conscious of the gigantic need there is.
So, on a typically hot and humid August afternoon in Accra, a small group of us – mainly friends and family and a few of my mother’s ex-students, gathered to launch AKF. The bold vision we had set ourselves – to change Ghana, one girl at a time – didn’t reflect in any way, our modest start. Our mission and the work we do to develop bright and underprivileged girls into successful women who would give back to their communities hinges on our belief that in helping them turn around their circumstances, we would be helping develop Ghana, one girl at a time.
Fast forward eleven years of learning, failing, course correcting and constant cash flow challenges, we’ve helped fifty girls through high school and university while guiding them on a journey to become strong, conscientious women leaders in our society.
Unlike the majority of scholarship programmes, AKF is like a family and our interest in our beneficiaries goes beyond just their books. We take time to understand their needs and guide them every step of the way so that there are no barriers to their success in school. We’ve had to intervene to provide extra tuition to strengthen the performances of some of our struggling girls with startling improvements in class.
Each year, on the Akropong Ridge, our girls come together for a one-week retreat that can only be described as a crash- course in womanhood. Inspirational women role models (and a few men) take the girls through a wide range of practical social and life skills to contribute towards them becoming all-rounded women. We haven’t had to look far for the standard- our lifetime patron and the woman because of whom AKF was founded – Her Excellency Judge (rtd) Professor Akua Kuenyehia, mother to all the girls, is on hand to listen, teach or scold as the case may be, just as she did –and still attempts to – for myself, my sisters Akofa and Mawulom.
The girls that make it onto our programme are disadvantaged by their humble circumstances and in most cases would almost certainly fail to continue their education without the support we provide. How does a society like ours hope to develop if we do not correct the historic imbalances of women’s education and when one’s background would determine one’s future prospects rather than one’s potential and promise?
Our experience shows, as it does in many and social entrepreneurial ventures, that starting, no matter how small, really is the most important step; well, after dreaming the initial dream in the most vivid form.
As you read this article, almost 9,000 miles away from Kotoka International Airport, five young Ghanaian ladies, are living a dream they’d previously have dismissed as too audacious for them, given their social and economic circumstances. Today, the dreams of Martha, Joana, Jennifer, Safiatu and Gifty have materialised. With senior high school behind them, they’ve been awarded coveted MasterCard Foundation scholarships to study at Marist College, New York, the University of Botswana, and United States International University in Nairobi and the Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
Along with other MasterCard foundation scholars, they are attending a pre-university orientation before they begin the next stage of their surreal journeys.
The demands of my other business interests that my sister, Mrs Akofa Bentsi-Enchill (Executive Director for the past six years) is the person who deserves the most credit for providing what started as a small ‘table-top’ social enterprise with a life of its own, taking other lives along with it.
My sisters and I passionately believe the words of James Kwegyir Aggrey that “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation”.
Martha, Joana, Jennifer, Safiatu and Gifty are just five of many others who are, and who begin what will undoubtedly be immensely rewarding journeys chalked with many momentous highs and significant accomplishments, of which mother Ghana can only be richer. I imagine that “Aggrey of Africa”, looking up from above, would certainly toast to this.