Kuda Chitsike
Change & Innovation, Justice

An activist who is breaking the glass ceiling in politics

Kuda Headshot

Kudakwashe Chitsike (Zimbabwe’15) is a women’s rights activist who is committed to changing the culture in Zimbabwe so that more women can run for political office.

Harare, Zimbabwe

In the midst of a global movement of women taking strides towards political leadership, Chitsike uncovered the barriers that prevent women from succeeding in her country. After her fellowship ended in the fall of 2015, Chitsike secured funding to research why women were reluctant to take on political leadership roles. Even though Zimbabwean women make up 52% of the population, government, political parties and decision-making bodies fail to engage and encourage women to participate in politics. Despite the Zimbabwean constitution’s clauses on gender equality and quotas in place, the number of women in the National Assembly has not dramatically increased.

Why is it so hard for women to enter into politics in Zimbabwe?

According to Chitsike, factors that stopped women from running for office include attitudes towards women in politics, lack of support from spouses and family, domestic responsibilities, the absence of the rule of law, and lack of resources for campaigning.  Chitsike discovered, however, that fear and violence, both real and perceived was the most significant barrier.

The real and perceived threat of violence emerged this year when four women ran for the office of the President of Zimbabwe, out of 23 candidates in total. Working with organizations like Women in Politics Support Unit, Women in Politics Incubator Zimbabwe and GenderLinks through the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, Chitsike helped deliver programs to raise the number of female leaders in parliament and councils. These female candidates and organizations came up against a fierce battle with hate speech, slander, online bullying, body shaming, sexual harassment and threats of physical violence. According to Chitsike, government and other political parties did not do enough to condemn these acts of violence against women. The election results showed a disappointing 15% support for women candidates despite women constituting 52% of voters.

With the #metoo movement as a backdrop, new strategies were used to fight the backlash facing women running for political office. Some candidates used social media hashtags to reclaim words such as “prostitute” that were once used to wound and target them. Chitsike explains that “if you haven’t been called prostitute in your quest to promote and protect women’s rights, then you haven’t been doing a good job. If you embrace the term, it cannot be used to hurt you.”

In the future, Chitsike plans to continue to work behind the scenes to encourage and support women to run for office. Chitsike’s counsel to those who stand with her for women’s rights is this: “The fight against a patriarchal and misogynistic society is not for the fainthearted. Women’s rights activists and women in leadership in any sphere must be prepared for the long haul as changes are not going to happen overnight. Although ground was lost in the July election, there are lessons to be learned that can bring about the desired result, increased women’s political participation. These lessons should include supporting the few women that did make it into parliament in whatever way possible. Challenges will continue along the way but anything worth fighting for doesn’t come easy.”

Listen here for Chitsike’s words of wisdom.

Change & Innovation, Justice

Smart city innovator builds equity

United States

Austin, Texas is a city that boasts of booming technology and innovation start-ups, with a growing skyline to match. The transition in the city has been rapid and quite remarkable.  However, with the growth has come a painful 37% cost of living increase between 2010 and 2015. As a result, access and equity have become two of the city’s greatest challenges.

At the center of these issues is Chelsea Collier (USA/Zhi-Xing ’16). Collier connects and engages people from public, private and non-profit sectors to build community and share information about the potential for innovation and technology to make a positive impact – namely through the development of smart cities.

Just what is a smart city? A smart city is a municipality that uses information and connected technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and resident welfare. According to Collier, smart cities would experience some of these positive outcomes if they properly invested in “smart” infrastructure: street lights that could dim based on pedestrian traffic or illuminate during an emergency; residents who could access real-time weather forecasts block-by-block that would help them prepare for urban flooding; and emergency responders who could be alerted to a potential hostile situation well before any citizen would have to place a 911 call. This requires enhanced mobile broadband and WiFi capabilities, a platform to connect the Internet of Things (IoT) and a cohesive smart city strategy.

To encourage this smart city conversation, Collier works across three distinct platforms – Digi.City, Smart Cities Connect, and the Impact Hub global network. She created Digi.City as a direct outcome of her Eisenhower Fellowship. The fellowship application itself encouraged her to focus on one particular area where she hoped to make a difference, and she realized that smart cities were at the intersection of everything that she was already committed to—public policy, technology, entrepreneurship, social impact, workforce and economic development.

Being one of the early U.S.-based communication platforms focused on smart cities, Digi.City serves as a space for elected leaders, city officials, community advocates and industry innovators to learn best practices from one another and share resources. Not only is Digi.City a digital platform, but it has hosted dozens of small events from coast to coast providing thought leadership on how different cities can address common challenges such as equity, access to resources, transportation and sustainability by leveraging technology to find and implement solutions.

Another concrete outcome of her Eisenhower Fellowship was working with the Impact Hub Austin team to support the creation of a Workforce Development Accelerator, designed to address the widening gap in the local economy between the “haves” and the “not haves, yet”, a phrase that Collier uses to describe the hope for growth and opportunity in her region. The Accelerator brings together nine diverse teams to focus on how innovation can address access to middle-skill jobs, particularly for disadvantaged populations. This program was inspired by her collaboration with Nate Robinson (USA/Zhi-Xing ’16) through a concept they designed for the EF iLabs, which took place during the EF Future of Work Global Conference in Spain.

Collier’s connection to the EF global family is one that deeply inspires her: “We are in an era of great upheaval and rapid change. In the face of transition and 24-7 news cycles, it is easy to get lost and believe that our world is growing darker. EF’s mission to gather, encourage and lift leaders around the world who are making positive and important progress to create peace, prosperity and equality is more needed than ever. We are inspired by each other and can also share the more quiet work that is happening in our own areas. Seeing and celebrating these efforts is now all of our collective responsibility.”

 

Photo above: (Back row) Stacey Chang (USA ’15), Nate Robinson (USA/Zhi-Xing ’16), Jack Bienko (USA/Zhi-Xing ’16), Anu Passi-Rauste (Finland ’14), Chris Laing (USA/Zhi-Xing ’15). (Front row) Romana Lee-Akiyama (EF staff), Chelsea Collier (USA/Zhi-Xing ’16).
Change & Innovation, Prosperity

Revolutionizing the Nigerian agricultural sector

Nigeria

Mezuo Nwuneli  (Nigeria ’15) is co-founder and managing director of Sahel Capital, a private equity firm focused exclusively on the Nigerian agribusiness sector.  Nwuneli is a 2015 Global Fellow and explored agricultural finance, private equity and the use of technology to minimize post-harvest loss. His goal is to increase Sahel Capital’s capacity to tailor financing to small and medium sized agribusinesses and farmers.  Since his fellowship, Nwuneli has continued to work to help Nigeria reach its agricultural potential by increasing investments into businesses around Nigeria and doubling Sahel Capital’s investment funds from $33 million to $66 million in just two years.

With a population of close to 200 million people, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. Despite its exponential growth over the last thirty years, Nigeria continues to import a large amount of certain food products due to the predominance of small scale farming and limited access to equipment and technology.  It is against this backdrop that Nwuneli used his fellowship as an opportunity to learn different farming practices, understand private equity in the agribusiness setting and also gain access to technological trends in the industry, in an effort to make Nigerian farming more productive and spur economic growth.

As one of the five major food and agriculture private equity firms operating in Africa, Sahel capital has steadily raised its profile by tripling its investment team and investing in three additional businesses.  Nwuneli also said that the wide exposure and knowledge gained during fellowship continues to inform his work by providing a frame of reference and larger appreciation for the varying techniques and changing landscape of farming in the American market.  From visiting farms in rural America to meeting with industry leaders at an agribusiness private equity conference in New York, Nwuneli said that the breadth of perspective offered by the fellowship was vital, even where some of the information did not directly transfer to the Nigerian market.

Nwuneli also indicated, that thanks to the fellowship, he was also inspired to create Sahel Management Training, a two-year program that offers nine month internships for college graduates. The internship offers experiences with some of the top portfolio companies in Nigeria and intensive training and guidance at the head office in Lagos. Beyond these activities, Nwuneli has expanded his influence in economic policy in Nigeria through talks he has given to high level government officials and other policy makers who have sought his insight into the agribusiness sector.

Though the economic downturn of 2016 and other events have posed challenges in the Nigerian market, Nwuneli is optimistic in his ability to continue to drive growth and to achieve his ultimate goal of poverty reduction and economic development through investment in agriculture. With invaluable ideas and networks forged during his Eisenhower Fellowship, Nwuneli has maintained consistent growth of Sahel investments, which he hopes will revolutionize the Nigerian agricultural sector.

Featured: Jennifer Hashley (USA ’16) with Nwuneli in Nigeria.

 

Written by: Chioma Azi, Program Officer

Change & Innovation, Prosperity

An architect of career advancement for Rwandan women

Rwanda

Shivon Byamukama (Rwanda ’16) is deputy chief executive officer of Babylon Health Rwanda (Babyl), a digital healthcare provider headquartered in London, England. Byamukama is a 2016 Fellow from the Africa Regional Program and examined women’s leadership and capacity building in business, and sought to expand her social enterprise LegalBiz, which focused on providing women with free legal tools and guidance to help them launch successful businesses. Since fellowship, Byamukama has become a leader in women’s mentorship in the business sector.

At the time of her fellowship, Byamukama worked as the company secretary and head of corporate affairs at the Bank of Kigali, Rwanda’s largest bank. The fellowship provided her with valuable insight into how to develop leadership skills and channel them into pathways for career growth for women.  Byamukama indicated that while she had been considering making a transition in her career to pursue more senior opportunities in banking, the information gathered and connections made during fellowship gave her the passion to venture out into a new direction and seek a senior role with Babyl Health.

Rwanda is one of the top countries globally in terms of gender equality, yet women still face challenges in terms of having equal access to mentorship and leadership development opportunities that are critical to a woman’s career success and advancement according to Byamukama.  With the help of the fellowship, Byamukama created strategies that she has since implemented through programs that she is running to help women prepare and excel in their businesses and career advancement. She has expanded her women’s mentorship program and added a workshop series led by field experts.  She has also ventured into youth-related mentorship programs.

Byamukama says that the fellowship journey also reinforced the importance of network building and development. This concept forms a key part of her work not just as deputy chief executive officer but as a leading architect of women’s career empowerment in Kigali. Byamukama continues to collaborate with her fellow Fellows to enhance her own knowledge base of tech and its interweaving into the health sector.  She remains excited about the opportunity to go global with Babyl and is well positioned to help Rwandan women reach new heights.

byamukama

 

Written by: Chioma Azi, Program Officer

Change & Innovation, Prosperity

Tech entrepreneur drives social impact

Sri Lanka

Harsha Purasinghe (Sri Lanka ’14)

As a young technology-focused entrepreneur, Harsha Purasinghe was instrumental in initiating and leading a unique social innovation in the aftermath of an Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.  He developed “DEWN – Disaster & Emergency Warning Network” in collaboration with Dialog Axiata – Sri Lanka’s leading mobile operator. At present, it is being used by the government of Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Center for mass dispatch of disaster and emergency warning messages through multiple technology channels to alert citizens via text message.

His commercial software venture Microimage HCM is a leader in Digital HR technology. He intends to take the product to global market towards becoming the leader in Mid-Market Human Capital Management. He also led the company to build broadcast automation solutions which is used in Sri Lanka and some of the regional media networks.

And though he had already made major contributions to the field of technology commercially, he wanted to expand his personal interest towards driving social impact. After returning home from his fellowship, he brainstormed ideas with like-minded friends who are working towards creating the social impact ecosystem in the country. Eventually he appeared as an impact investor in a reality TV show for social entrepreneurs. The TV show enabled him to educate the broader public on the concept of social entrepreneurship while giving potential entrepreneurs a chance to access seed funding.

In addition, he partnered with Nathan Sivagananathan (Sri Lanka ’15) on the recent launch of a Colombo-based accelerator hub that will house 700 seats. A portion of the seats will be dedicated to entrepreneurs who are designing businesses that have a positive financial, environmental and social impact. He is exploring further partnerships with Fellows especially in the Asia Pacific region, in addition to Fellows in his home country of Sri Lanka.

Listen here to learn about his many endeavors.

harsha purasinghe