Empowering Women: The Akilah Model

Author: Paul Swaga 
Cross-posted from The New Times

It is amazing to see the great strides that this country has made in advancing women’s rights especially through education for girls and women. Historically, women were marginalized and their roles in society limited to crop cultivation, childbearing and looking after their husbands. Leaving half the population out of the professional workforce kept our society behind in terms of social, political and economic development. Empowering women is not just a matter of social justice, but of economic necessity. The Akilah Institute for Women is one of the learning institutions that are spearheading young women’s professional development by offering market-relevant Diplomas to exceptional female students who have completed high school.

The institute was established in 2010 to empower young women with skills that are relevant in the current job market. Akilah’s model is about connecting tertiary education to the demands of employers in the modern economy. The other objective is to graduate self-reliant young women who can become job creators and leaders in their communities.

Initially, the institute only offered Hospitality Management Diplomas because of the impressive tourism industry Rwanda has developed. Trained hospitality professionals with English communication and customer service skills have unlimited potential in modern-day Rwanda. The institute has also introduced two more market-relevant courses in Entrepreneurship and Information Systems.

In Rwanda, being one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, it is imperative that more young people are equipped with workforce-relevant skills. The Workforce Development Authority has been a key partner in reviewing and approving Akilah’s curriculum to ensure that it addresses employers’ needs. It is currently reviewing the curriculum for the Information Systems course.

Akilah’s unique education model equips students with practical skills that are much needed in the professional workplace. Regardless of their chosen courses, all students study English, Leadership, and ICT intensively throughout the three years at Akilah. English lessons equip them with good communication skills that make them competitive in the increasingly integrated East African Community. Akilah’s emphasis on leadership prepares students to not only succeed in the workplace, but also to become responsible role models in their communities. On campus, there is provision for one computer for every two students, because ICT skills are critical in any career and job candidates must be computer-literate.

At the institute, emphasis is put on teamwork where students perform various assignments in groups. This system helps them to become assertive and to develop self-esteem, interpersonal skills as well as skills in communication, problem solving, decision making and cooperation.

There is a vibrant career management department which is responsible for providing guidance to the students about their career goals. During career weeks, the institute hosts resourceful professionals to inspire the young women to work hard in order to achieve their career dreams. Such resourceful people serve as role models for the young women to emulate. The career talks give the students a clear understanding that they have the potential to achieve their aspirations by performing to their fullest. It also secures internship opportunities for the students so that they can get a feel of what takes place in the field of work. As they prepare to graduate, the career office assists them in identifying and applying for job openings.

The young women at Akilah are already benefitting from the Diploma programs. They complete a two-month internship in their industry before they graduate, gaining the practical, real-world skills that will enable them to secure gainful employment. As a result, Akilah students are already in high demand by the time they graduate.

The institute has a mentoring programme where each instructor is assigned some students that he or she mentors over a period of time. The students receive a lot of assistance from their mentors, who guide them on issues ranging from academics to social life. This guidance helps students to stay focused on their goals.

The institute recruits female students from high school who are passionate about their education and who have demonstrated leadership potential. As the institute expands, more and more young women will benefit from the unique education model Akilah offers. The enthusiastic young ladies at the institute consider education as their strongest defence in the fight against poverty, marginalisation and other social inequalities that exist not just in African society, but the world over.

It is indeed true that when you educate women you transform the entire society. Women make key decisions in their families and can pass down what they know to their children, creating a virtuous cycle from one generation to the next. Akilah’s mission of educating young leaders to excel in professional careers is already bearing fruit: Sarah, who graduated in 2013, joined  a women’s empowerment NGO: Girl Hub as a communications associate, and Ninah, from the class of 2012, now manages a team of nine at the Kigali Serena hotel.

All education stakeholders should continue pushing Rwanda’s gender agenda forward by encouraging girls to stay in school and young women to pursue higher education so as to take control of their lives and enter into meaningful careers.

The writer is an English Language Instructor at Akilah Institute