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Meet alumnae from Zawadi, a catalyst organisation that accelerates the growth of women leaders


The fifth HALI Access podcast episode is now live and available on Buzzsprout, Spotify, Apple Music and Stitcher. In this week’s episode, Helen and Janet are joined by Leila and Christine, two alums from the Zawadi Africa Education Fund. Zawadi is a leadership and development fund based in Kenya that gives African women scholarship opportunities to turn them into future leaders. Zawadi is also a member organisation of the HALI Access Network. Zawadi’s unique programme not only gives girls the tools that they need to succeed, but also creates a sisterhood through mentoring. This community network connects girls between year group cohorts and universities, helping them to support each other in and out of academics.

Christine and Leila share their experiences of growing up in Kenya. Both are incredibly academically gifted, placing in the top seven and two percent of their high school cohorts respectively. However, this drive was influenced by their childhoods and family lives. Christine recounts how growing up on a farm sparked the passion, hard work and determination that she has today. Leila says that she was influenced by her grandfather’s discipline and his struggle with diabetes to pursue a career in chemical engineering. Zawadi has shaped the way that both Leila and Christine think about the world, but this would not have been possible without their own determination and preparation that got them into the competitive programme.

Zawadi has a particular focus on leadership as a means to achieve female empowerment. Zawadi creates opportunities to interact with women who have succeeded in leadership positions. This shows its students that they are not alone, and that there is a community of smart women around them. These women are traditionally viewed as intimidating, but by having the the opportunity to meet and work with them, this “woman effect” is incredibly powerful when trying to inspire and empower other young women. A strong message comes through from all of them that women have to work twice as hard as men to achieve their goals. Janet expresses that this sort of programme is extremely rare in Africa and that the Zawadi model is something that she wishes she’d had access to growing up. Christine and Leila have been able to use their leadership skills to mentor other Zawadi students. They have also been able to apply these skills to positions within their universities.

Leila is a second year student at Michigan State University. While she has already chosen her major in Chemical Engineering, and dreams to work on pharmaceuticals, Christine has only just started at Meredith College and is still deciding on her chosen path.  Christine has a diverse range of interests including food, business and data science. Both students have interests and extra-curricular activities outside of university work. Leila was nominated to work with the Tower Guard Organization after she was placed in the top 1% of the university. Here she works with students with disabilities to find innovative ways to make their lives at university easier. Christine has been studying online at Meredith College but taking the opportunity to volunteer for Zawadi during the pandemic and has been nominated to take on an ambassador role within the organisation.

The podcast draws to a close with a message from all participants to the girl who is listening. “Take all of life’s opportunities and “just go for it”. This may seem scary, but fear can be a positive driving force.” Helen mentions that although this may seem daunting, big plans can always be broken down into small actionable steps. You don’t need to impact millions of people; one person is a good enough starting point.

A quick update since the podcast was recorded – listeners will be pleased to know that Christine travelled safely to the US in January and is now settling in to life at Meredith College.


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