New Akilah Board Members

Akilah is thrilled to announce the addition of two new members to its Board of Directors: Carmen Nibigira and Michael Fairbanks. Over the last four years, Akilah has built a growing Board comprised of international development experts, educators, and committed donors. Carmen and Michael are incredible assets to Akilah, both in their institutional knowledge and professional experience as well as their strong passion for furthering Akilah’s mission. We recently had the opportunity to ask Carmen and Michael some questions about their background and ideas for Akilah. Here’s what they had to say (be sure to read their full bios on our website!):

Michael FairbanksBio: Michael Fairbanks

Michael was a teacher in the Peace Corps in Kenya. He has been a founder and chief executive in both the private and NGO sectors. Over the years, he has worked with countless heads of government. Since 2001, he has served as the Senior Advisor to Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame on private sector development and export competitiveness. Michael studied philosophy and biochemistry at the University of Scranton and African politics at Columbia University. He was a visiting fellow at Stanford and a Weatherhead Fellow at Harvard.

Akilah: When and how did you first learn about Akilah? 

MF: Elizabeth asked me to join her for breakfast. She brought fourteen tons of blueprints, financial projections, and photographs. I was hooked. The next day I introduced her to President Paul Kagame.

Akilah: You served in the Peace Corps in Kenya in the 80s. Was this experience the initial trigger that got you interested in East Africa?

MF: Yes. Two types of people join the Peace Corps: romantics and travelers. I was the first; I joined the Peace Corps as the ultimate volunteer experience. But two things happen to volunteers. The romantics crash and burn; they either give up early, or turn into the traveler type, the ones who finally realize they have more to learn then teach. Ironically, when that happens you find humility and then you learn to create value.

Akilah: You’re well versed in Rwandan history and keep close tabs on the country’s economic development and growth, particularly in the local private sector. As an expert in the field, what about Akilah sparked your interest and lead to your decision to serve on the Board of Directors? 

MF: I knew this was a vital institution to the needs of Rwanda, and that its approach was consistent with the values, beliefs, and goals of the country. Still, it was a hard decision. The leaders of Akilah are serious people and expect a lot out of everyone. I didn’t want to take it on until I thought I could dedicate myself.  So, I declined it initially. But Elizabeth and Lisa still asked me to do something every day, and I did it out of respect for them and Akilah’s mission. One day, I realized I was working hard anyway and my respect for them grew by the day. I decided I might as well join the Board and make it official.

Akilah: 2013 is a year of growth for Akilah, with the graduation of our second class and opening of two new campuses. What do you see as most important to Akilah’s scalability?

MF: We need to create an endowment to help us overcome peaks and valleys while maintaining focus on listening to what the average Rwandan tells us are the needs of country. These are two different skills that the leaders and donors of Akilah, so far, have found a way to integrate and accomplish.

Carmen NibigiraBio: Carmen Nibigira

Carmen, a Burundian native, spent most of her adult life in the UK engaged in academic studies. She has over 10 years of experience working in the hotel and tourism industry. Carmen has become one of the leading advocates in the development and re-launch of the tourism industry in post-conflict Burundi, with a deep understanding of the East African Community (EAC). She has run tour operations in Burundi, Rwanda, and Kenya and managed a major hotel in Tanzania as well as conducting capacity building services in Uganda. Carmen earned her bachelor’s degree in Travel Management from Brighton University and her master’s degree in Tourism Destination Management from University College of Birmingham. She recently started her PhD in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at Clemson University.

Akilah: When and how did you first learn about Akilah?

CN: I heard about Akilah in 2011 through a friend who was working in Rwanda. After meeting Elizabeth and Dave, I invited them to consider Burundi as the next step for Akilah’s campus expansion. In April 2012, they came to Burundi to meet with key stakeholders, ministers of education, and other government officials.

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