Test Leadership

Elizabeth Hughes
Cofounder & CEO
Elizabeth is the CEO & cofounder of the Akilah Institute for Women, a college with campuses in Rwanda and Burundi. After founding Akilah with her husband, Dave Hughes, Newsweek and The Daily Beast recognized Elizabeth as one of the 125 Women of Impact. She was recognized as one of the World’s Most Influential Female Social Entrepreneurs by Forbes Magazine.

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Elizabeth moved to Rwanda a few days after graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2006. After volunteering with grassroots projects, she co-founded the nonprofit Amani Africa to provide scholarships to street children, support an orphanage in Kigali, and organize reconciliation and conflict resolution conferences for genocide survivors.

In 2008, Elizabeth and her husband, Dave Hughes, began working with business and civil society leaders to analyze the training needs of the Rwandan private sector. They founded Akilah to provide market-relevant education and career development to promising young female leaders. Newsweek and The Daily Beast recognized Elizabeth as one of the 125 Women of Impact. She was recognized as one of the World’s Most Influential Female Social Entrepreneurs by Forbes Magazine. Acumen founder Jacqueline Novogratz named Elizabeth one of The 5 Most Powerful Women Changing The World With Social Entrepreneurship. Elizabeth received the Woman of Peace award from the Women’s Peace Power Foundation in October 2009. Akilah has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, GOOD Magazine, ABC News, the Council on Foreign Relations, HuffPost Women, Hope Magazine, the Tampa Bay Times, and more.

Elizabeth and Dave live in Kigali with their children, Lorraine, Tamsyn, and Elliott.

Dave Hughes
A Hong Kong native, Dave moved to Rwanda in 2008 and volunteered with a grassroots organization that operates sports teams for street children. Dave runs the Jade Water Group, a property company and investment fund, with offices in Hong Kong and Kigali. Dave is a professional member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and is a graduate of Reading University, Berkshire UK.

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Dave lives with his wife and Akilah co-founder, Elizabeth Dearborn-Hughes, and their children, Lorraine, Tamsyn, and Elliott.

Joyce Banda
Honorary Chancellor
Dr. Joyce Banda, Africa’s second female president and long-time champion of women and girl’s education, brings her wide-ranging experience in government, business, and advocacy to the Akilah Institute as Honorary Chancellor.

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Dr. Joyce Banda was the President of the Republic of Malawi from 2012 to 2014. She was Malawi’s first female president and Africa’s second. She is also an entrepreneur, activist, politician, and philanthropist. In 1997, she received the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger, alongside the President of Mozambique, and used the prize money to launch the Joyce Banda Foundation International, which has started three schools and provided an education to more than 3,500 girls. Dr. Banda was instrumental in the formation of the African Federation of Women Entrepreneurs, the Council for the Economic Empowerment of Women in Africa, and the American & African Business Women’s Alliance. Forbes Magazine recognized her as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world.

President Banda holds a M.A. in Leadership from the Royal Rhodes University of Canada, a B.S. in Gender Studies from Atlantic International University (U.S.), and a Diploma in NGO Management from the International Labor Organization Center in Turin, Italy. Jeonju University of South Korea conferred an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Economics on Dr. Banda in January 2013, and Wheelock College conferred an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Education on her in May 2015.

Karen Sherman
Karen Sherman is President of the Akilah Institute for Women. Throughout her career, Karen has combined her expertise, passion, and transformative leadership skills to affect lasting economic and social change for women around the world. Karen served as Chief Operating Officer and then Executive Director for Global Programs at Women for Women International (WfWI), an organization that enables women war survivors to restart their lives, where her work resulted in measurable impacts on women’s income, health, decision-making, and social networks.

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Before joining WfWI, Karen served as Executive Vice President at Counterpart International. Karen has served as a thought leader and spokesperson on global women’s issues through the media, public appearances, and diverse social media platforms, including as Executive Producer of The Other Side of War: Women’s Stories of Survival and Hope, published by National Geographic.

Karen holds a Master’s Degree in Russian and East European Studies from The George Washington University and a Bachelor’s Degree from University of Oregon. She serves as Board Chair of Everywoman Everywhere and on the Board of Trustees of Mary Baldwin College.

Aline Kabanda
Executive Director
Aline Kabanda is the Country Director of the Akilah Institute in Rwanda. Aline received her initial training in the medical field and completed her Master of Science in Physical Therapy at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. She then worked as a lecturer in the College of Medicine and Health Sciences for five years. Her strong interest in women’s empowerment through education directed her path to Akilah, where she has been working for over five years now leading the strategic management, development, and growth of the institute.

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Aline holds an MBA with a focus on leadership and organization development from Oklahoma Christian University. She is the proud mother of two boys and a life mentor to many young girls.

Outside of Akilah, Aline is the cofounder and board member of Ishyo, a Rwandese nongovernmental organization that operates as a platform for professional artists, cultural experts, creative entrepreneurs, and art lovers with the main objective of making culture accessible to everyone.