Co-Founder Dave Hughes

In 2007, I was working for Europe’s largest property company as a chartered surveyor and everything in my world seemed set for a corporate career when I was handed a book by a close friend. He strongly recommended that I read it.

The book  “Shake Hands with the Devil” was written by Romeo Dallaire, the head of the UN troops during the Rwandan genocide. This random gift and the pressing advice of my friend to read the book changed my life. The vivid account of the Rwandan genocide, the failure of humanity to prevent it and the hopelessness of the response by the United Nations who had troops on the ground, awakened my conscience.

I had a thirst for knowledge on Rwanda and l read everything on the country, its people, problems and aspirations. Although l had never been to Rwanda, l soon felt compelled to visit the country l now call home. As this desire grew so did my determination, not only to visit, but to contribute in some way. I researched organisations that were on the ground and was impressed by an NGO that worked with street children being run by Elizabeth Dearborn Davis. I called her immediately and after speaking to her, l called nobody else. I resigned from my job, and bought a plane ticket to Rwanda.

After several months of volunteering, Elizabeth and I made the decision to focus our efforts on one key problem: the lack of opportunities for young women.

We were frustrated that the current educational institutions were not preparing students for jobs in the local economy.

We set about raising the funds and building the team to make this happen. During this planning period, Elizabeth was 24 and I was 25 years old.

Only a few years later, the community at Akilah has already exceeded our wildest dreams.

My favorite moments are when I can sneak into the back of a classroom and watch the passionate and dedicated Akilah students speak about their visions, their goals, and their plans to transform their communities.

Thank you for helping us make this possible.


Dave Hughes

Co-Founder & CEO Elizabeth Dearborn Hughes

In September of 2008, Dave and I decided we wanted to create a new educational model for young women in Africa.

More than two years had passed since I moved to Rwanda. I spent that time volunteering with grassroots projects for street children and then started a nonprofit organization in the US to support these initiatives.

I was deeply inspired by the resilience and reconciliation witnessed in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, when more than 1 million people were killed in 100 days.

Rwanda has made tremendous progress in moving away from their dependence on foreign aid and stimulating local development. In 2008, Rwanda became the first country in the world to have a majority of women in Parliament.

Today, Rwandans have a vision of a knowledge-based economy. This future could mean jobs, investment, and poverty alleviation for subsistence farmers. This requires innovative entrepreneurs and leaders.

Co-Founder Dave Hughes and I sketched our vision of creating an institute for young women, an environment that would provide our students with valuable skills and training, propelling them onto a meaningful career path and preparing them to launch their own ventures. This nurturing environment would provide a space where young women could heal after experiencing severe trauma during the genocide.

In just one year we found a location, hired staff, developed curriculum, selected our first class of 50 students, and raised the start up funds. We opened our doors in January 2010.

We chose the name “Akilah” because it means “wisdom” in Swahili.

To our team, “Akilah” means confidence in oneself as a leader. Wisdom is the ability to see opportunity, to have the entrepreneurial skills to create and innovate. Wisdom is the conviction to stand up for what is right and make a positive impact in one’s community.

Wisdom is the knowledge that Rwanda has a very bright future. The young women at Akilah today are the foundation of that bright future.

We have watched our students grow as they deepen their leadership and public speaking skills, give back to their communities, and take home their first paychecks from their jobs.

I first moved to Rwanda in 2006 because I wanted to be a part of the reconciliation process. But today, I live in Rwanda because I am deeply inspired by the people who remind me every day that this small country is and will continue to be a model for the rest of the world. I’m honored to be a part of that development.

On behalf of the young women whose lives have been changed, I deeply thank those fearless supporters who have poured their energy and love into making this dream a reality.

This is the first step in building a powerful institution that will affect thousands of women and their families. Thank you!

With deep gratitude,

Elizabeth Dearborn-Hughes