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Change: On leaving Akili Dada

July 29, 2015

Its been more than a year since I decided to make the transition from leading Akili Dada, an organisation that I founded and still love.  The decision was a difficult and emotional one but one also based in my belief that leaders must practice what they preach:  Akili Dada is a young women’s organisation and it must continue to be run by young women. I had aged out 🙂

Also important is that successful leadership transitions must be modelled and become more common as they are critical to effective social change for Africa.

Its been a while but in case you missed it, below is the message that I sent out to friends and supporters of Akili Dada:

Dear Akili Dada Community,

Over the past decade, I have had the tremendous blessing of working with you to build Akili Dada’s vibrant and joyous community. Together, we have built a home for young African women that nurtures them as they grow into strong, vibrant, dedicated leaders. Together, we have transformed what began as a small scholarship fund into the leading girls’ leadership incubator in Kenya and on the African continent.

I know that you understand the strength of Akili Dada and the abundance of leadership in our ecosystem. Because I, too, know and trust that strength, I have decided that it is time for me to move on from the position of Executive Director of Akili Dada.

My decision to step down as Executive Director is one that we have been working toward for quite some time, in open conversation with Akili Dada’s staff and senior leadership. This transparency has allowed us to plan accordingly to strengthen the organization to withstand my transition. Among other actions taken, my family and I moved to Nairobi two years ago, so that I could be more present in developing the infrastructure of Akili Dada.

The past two years have seen a tremendous amount of growth for Akili Dada. Our Board of Directors, which includes both new faces and old, provides strong leadership from women who are passionate about Akili Dada’s mission today and who carry a powerful vision for Akili Dada’s future. They are truly my dream team. We also have an incredible staff team comprised of the best, brightest, and most passionate advocates for young African women’s futures. Working in a synergy that can only be drawn from shared passion and sense of mission, we have led Akili Dada to numerous international awards including recognition from the U.S. White House. Although many of these awards recognized me as the face of Akili Dada, they were never about me as an individual; they were about the work that the Akili Dada community has and will continue to perform. I feel incredibly fortunate to have worked with such an amazing community and have full confidence that they will thrive even in my absence.

I have given my all to Akili Dada and feel that the strongest and most innovative ideas I’ve had for us have been shared, implemented, or added to our future plans. An organization’s strength is best proved by its ability to outlive its founder, and I know, beyond the measure of doubt, that Akili Dada will grow far beyond me. I feel it is my responsibility to take a step back and watch it flourish under new leadership. I believe that the best founders know when to hand over leadership.

I am especially confident in a smooth transition because the Board of Directors has already appointed my successor. It is our very own Purity Kagwiria! I feel so fortunate to be able to hand over leadership of Akili Dada to such an incredible woman, whose mind and heart are devoted to this work and who knows first-hand the struggles that African women face. For the next two months, I will be on leave and Purity will serve as interim Executive Director, assuming full responsibilities upon my official departure at the end of March.

Purity knows this organization, community, and the landscape of our work better than anyone. In the three years since she joined Akili Dada, I have been keen to prepare her to take on increasing levels of responsibility. From the start, I knew that she had a bright future in global leadership. We are incredibly lucky that she has chosen to stay with Akili Dada.

Over the past six months, I have been even more intentional in sharing every part of the Executive Director role with her in order to prepare her to lead this organization.

Still, this is not leadership bequeathed to her. Akili Dada’s Board of Directors undertook an intense and rigorous two-day interview process to satisfy themselves that Purity is the best next leader for Akili Dada. Throughout that process, Purity’s passion for working with young women, her extensive knowledge of the organization, and her fresh vision for Akili Dada’s future shone through.

As I pass the torch to Purity, I invite your active support of her as the new Executive Director. The strength of this community lies in our shared dedication to nurturing the next generation of African women leaders. Purity is a sterling example of the type of leader that Akili Dada seeks to send forth into the world. We are lucky that she has chosen us.

Even as I step down from my official position at Akili Dada, I remain committed to this institution’s growth, and I hope you’ll join me in celebrating what Akili Dada has been and will become. Indeed, I shall remain a vociferous advocate and ambassador of Akili Dada’s work, even as I work hard to give Purity the time and the space she needs to develop her own leadership style and vision for Akili Dada’s future.

Akili Dada’s greatest asset is the community of women and men who have worked so hard to make Akili Dada into what it is today. I will always be a proud founder of Akili Dada, and I am confident that together we shall propel Akili Dada to the next level of its spectacular growth.

With love and in deepest gratitude for an incredible decade, 

Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg
Founder and Outgoing Executive Director
Akili Dada

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