The Kisa Project - An AfricAid Girls' Leadership Initiative

The Kisa Project - An AfricAid Girls' Leadership Initiative

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The Kisa Project is an AfricAid leadership training initiative that harnesses the power of low-cost computing solutions, social networking and digital storytelling to create a corps of future women leaders in Africa. Kisa helps young women develop ICT skills, build powerful social networks, connect online with their American partners and find solutions to their communities’ most pressing needs.

About You
Visit website
Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



, CO

Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


Organization Name


Organization Phone

(303) 351-4928

Organization Address

25958 Genesee Trail Road, PMB 234, Golden, CO 80401

Organization Country

, CO

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, AR

What makes your idea unique?

Kisa means “story” in Swahili. Through the Kisa Project, young African women are empowered to become the creative authors of their own future story – and the future stories of their communities.

Kisa uses technology, combined with an innovative training program, to create a model for change. Through Kisa, promising Tanzanian girls are able to complete their education, while also participating in a powerful, 2-year leadership training program. These “Kisa Scholars” meet weekly with a Tanzanian mentor – a successful young woman and inspiring role model. During their sessions, mentors lead the Scholars through the leadership curriculum, help students implement small-scale social businesses, and develop their social networks.

At the same time, Kisa Scholars develop crucial technology skills through the low-cost computer labs Kisa installs at each partner school, configured with NComputing units that allow one computer to function as a server for 10 monitor-clients. Because the clients run on open-source software and can be monitored and maintained remotely, Kisa labs are both cost-effective and free of the viruses that plague many labs in Africa. Kisa Scholars use the labs to communicate with other women leaders in Tanzania and with their U.S. sponsors, engaging in structured dialogue through the Kisa website ( Scholars thus learn how to use important social networking tools to build a web of connections, resources, and mentors as they work toward creating their own small-scale service and business projects. Students also create short, multimedia digital stories in the labs, sharing personal stories and the issues they face. These stories foster dialogue across cultures through the Kisa website.

Thus, Kisa addresses both the traditional educational needs of girls and gives them the technology tools they need to create informed, sustainable change in their communities, while also building true global relationships.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

The Kisa Project was in part inspired by a bright young Tanzanian woman in secondary school named Josephine. When I first met her, she told me of her goal to bring the field of bioengineering to her country. But, without access to support, guidance or the necessary technological or entrepreneurship training, she didn’t know how to go about realizing her dream. Kisa is designed to give girls like Josephine the chance to attain their dreams. By providing scholarships to young women who might not otherwise be able to attend secondary school and giving them leadership, life skills and entrepreneurial training over a 2-year period, girls are empowered to transform their own lives as well as their communities. Technology is central to this experience. Through the Kisa-provided computer labs at participating schools, Kisa scholars develop technological literacy and learn how to start businesses, undertake service projects and mentor other girls. At the same time, they interact with other Tanzanian leaders and their American sponsors through the Kisa website.

The resulting social impact is profound. Over the next 5 years, it is expected that some 1,000 young women will have gone through the Kisa program and will, in turn, have mentored another 10,000 girls. In the process, they will create social businesses, undertake service projects, build vital social networks, and graduate with computer and communication skills that are in high demand in the Tanzanian economy. And, importantly, the relationship that Kisa Scholars develop with their sponsors will make them more aware of the complex challenges facing African women, and reinforce their commitment to supporting these women as they work to create change.

The end result: girls like Josephine will realize their dreams, becoming socially-connected and technologically-equipped leaders who will ultimately help improve the educational, economic and social status of Tanzanian women and the communities in which they live.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

Women in Sub-Saharan Africa continue to be one of the world’s most marginalized groups. Their traditionally subordinated status and lack of educational opportunities means they rarely have a voice in their future. Only 5% of Tanzanian girls are able to complete their high school education, often because they can’t afford school fees. When forced to choose, parents generally send only sons to school, leaving their daughters to believe they can’t achieve what men can.

Even those few girls who are able to attend secondary school are taught with rote memorization techniques that fail to enable them to become creative thinkers, leaders or entrepreneurs, or equip them to address the many daunting issues facing their communities and nation. And once they graduate, women rarely have access to the social networks through which to find employment.

Breaking this cycle and empowering women to become authors of their future requires an education that promotes entrepreneurial thinking and situates girls within supportive social networks. Kisa does just that: it exposes girls to positive women role models and gives them the tools they need to build relationships and, ultimately, create change.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. What might prevent that success?

The Kisa Project is now in its initial pilot year. The first 2 participating secondary schools in Tanzania have been selected, and computer labs have been outfitted at each with NComputing’s innovative, low-cost computing technology. The first set of Kisa Mentors have been identified and trained, and are now prepared to teach the leadership curriculum, guide their students as they undertake service and business projects, and instruct the students in utilizing the Kisa website to begin building relationships in Tanzania and across borders. Each of these mentors has created her own digital story, which can be viewed online: Additionally, sponsorship commitments for the first group of Kisa Scholars have been received, and the Scholars themselves will be selected by the end of April, when their high school year begins.

AfricAid will use the results of the pilot year to enhance and expand Kisa in 2011 and beyond. Several elements will determine the Kisa’s success in future years: the ability to obtain sponsors for the Kisa Scholars; identifying funding for added computer labs; and the girls’ drop-out rate due to external, cultural pressures.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

During Kisa’s 2010 pilot year, its first set of 4 mentors will work with Kisa’s 2 partner schools to select the first group of 20 Kisa Scholars. Throughout 2010, the Scholars will participate in a weekly leadership training curriculum, help start a social business as a group, and communicate regularly with other leaders and their American sponsors on the Kisa website. At the end of the year, AfricAid will evaluate the results of the pilot year to help improve the 2011 program.

The number of Kisa Scholars is expected to double in 2011, bringing 40 new Scholars into the 2-year program. At the end of the year, the first set of 20 Kisa Scholars will graduate and return home during the 6-month exam-results waiting period to implement a service or business project and to each mentor at least 10 other girls, using the tools and networks they developed through Kisa.

By 2012, Kisa will have 8 partner schools and 120 total students enrolled in the program. In addition, the second graduating class of 40 Scholars will return home to each mentor another 10-15 girls, thus expanding Kisa’s direct 3-year reach to over 800 young women, plus thousands others with access to Kisa’s computer labs.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?


If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

The Kisa Project aims to influence public policy through further integration of women into the education system and the incorporation of new media and teaching techniques into national syllabi.

In Tanzania, women continue to be underrepresented in secondary and tertiary education. Kisa’s leadership training component, combined with its social networking element, is expected to generate and mobilize a corps of women leaders who will advocate for change within the education system – and in economic and social arenas as well. The graduates of the program will thus help bring about public policy changes in Tanzania that are favorable to the next generation of female students.

Secondly, Kisa uses progressive teaching techniques and new media in ways that challenge educational norms in Tanzania that rely almost solely on rote-memorization. Kisa will develop creative thinkers who will use their education to undertake community service projects, build businesses and connect other young women. Indeed, as Kisa proves its sustainability and expands its reach, it is expected to become a model for the Tanzanian education system and be incorporated into national syllabi.

What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your innovation

AfricAid has developed several partnerships that will significantly contribute to the success of Kisa in its pilot year, and beyond:

1) The Tanzanian Government: The Kisa Project has been officially recognized by the Tanzanian Ministry of Education, giving it the authority needed to partner with and operate in both government and private schools.

2) NComputing: Kisa’s low-cost computer labs will rely on the technology provided by NComputing, a leader in virtual desktop computing solutions, which has partnered with Kisa to provide the equipment needed for Kisa’s pilot year.

3) Center for Digital Storytelling: This nonprofit organization has provided the model and resources for digital storytelling by Kisa Scholars, giving them the opportunity to relate their life stories and share their ideas and experiences via multimedia.

4) In addition to these partnerships, Kisa is discussing a possible collaboration with a major Tanzanian internet provider, an equipment and maintenance partnership with a Dutch firm, and partnerships with web development firms to undertake further expansion of the Kisa website in conjunction with anticipated growth of the program over the next three years.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

The Kisa Project builds on the proven grassroots fundraising track record of AfricAid, which has raised nearly $1 million since 2001, including $140,000 in scholarships. Since the US launch of Kisa at an event hosted by author and Nobel Prize nominee Greg Mortenson, AfricAid has now raised 75% of the funds needed for Kisa’s first year. These funds have come from a variety of sources, including sponsorships, individual donations, foundation grants, corporate grants and NComputing’s in-kind donation of technology equipment. We expect additional sponsor and/or grant funding will cover the remaining costs of Kisa’s pilot year, and will seek support from technology firms to fund the installation of computer facilities at future Kisa schools.

We have seen the fundraising power of a one-to-one connection between sponsors and students, and believe that the ability to demonstrate Kisa’s success in its first year will help ensure that we secure sponsors for the 40 girls entering the program in its second year. After year 2, we expect Kisa to be sustainable almost entirely through sponsorship funding, supplemented as necessary through donor contributions, foundations and technology providers.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

I was 11 years old when I first went to Tanzania, and was struck by the poverty I saw there, particularly among children my own age. I remember buying a t-shirt from a young boy who couldn’t be in school because he had to sell items by the roadside to support his family, and I became determined to do something to help. I soon learned that 95% of Tanzanian girls are unable to complete a high school education, mostly because they can’t afford the school fees. As a result, I formed AfricAid ( in 2001 when I was 16 to provide educational opportunities to young African women and enable them to transform their own lives and the futures of their communities.

I have since returned to Tanzania 7 times, taught secondary school there, produced an ethnographic documentary about one young Tanzanian woman, and conducted months of research there for both my senior thesis and for the Kisa Project. On one of those trips, I met a bright young woman who I learned was excelling in her study of biology. As we became better acquainted, she told me that she wanted to introduce the benefits of bioengineering to Tanzania, but didn’t know how to use what she was learning in school to create that kind of change. Her story, similar to so many I’ve heard there over the years, led to me to create the Kisa Project, which is designed to give young women the tools they need to forge their own futures and create sustainable change. I believe that, through Kisa’s innovative use of technology, Tanzanian students can work together with their American sponsors to create a new, powerful network of responsible leaders.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

I founded AfricAid when I was 16, and have helped build it into an organization with thousands of supporters who have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to support girls’ education in Tanzania. But it took years of study, research and work in Tanzania to fully understand the issues and needs of women there, and thus be prepared to address them through the Kisa Project.

I spent my high school and college years studying the cultural, educational, economic and political issues facing women in Tanzania, including learning Swahili and conducting thesis research in Tanzania on its system of education and national exams. My thesis was awarded summa status by Harvard and subsequently published by Tanzania’s leading educational advocacy organization, HakiElimu, and was presented at the Comparative and International Educational Society.

I’ve now traveled to Tanzania 7 times, including teaching at a girls’ secondary school, and spent 3 weeks in a remote Maasai village filming an ethnographic documentary about the return to the village of its first secondary school graduate. I spent the first half of 2009 conducting focus group discussions and meeting with students, parents, teachers and education officials in Tanzania. But most importantly, I have spent countless hours with the girls AfricAid supports, gaining insight into the challenges they face, and learning from them. Last year, I became AfricAid’s Executive Director, assembling a staff of 5 interns, an IT specialist and volunteer consultants.

Kisa is now possible due to the convergence of all these elements. My studies, research, cultural immersion and time spent listening to and learning from Tanzanians have enabled me to assume AfricAid’s leadership and create Kisa, a program that combines all I’ve learned with other tools and resources to systematically empower a new generation of women leaders in Africa.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Friend or family member

If through another source, please provide the information
Does your project address any of the following barriers to women’s technology access and use?

Women’s time poverty, Social norms.

If you checked any of the boxes above, please explain how.

Women’s Time Poverty: Kisa recognizes that girls in Tanzania rarely have the opportunity to access the tools needed to develop critical information and communication technology (ICT) skills and build the social networks needed for them to become leaders – often because of social norms that expect them to spend their time after school performing domestic chores and caring for younger siblings. Kisa works to combat those norms by providing school scholarships for young women – with the requirement that they meet after school with a Kisa mentor on a weekly basis in order to build their leadership and ICT skills. As these young women experience and demonstrate success in their leadership undertakings, and as they develop networks of individuals in Tanzania and around the world who provide ongoing career and mentoring support and who also recognize and celebrate their successes, it is expected that families will start to see the benefit of allowing their daughters to exchange working at home for spending time on developing the skills that will allow them to become economic providers in the family.

Social Norms: Walk into any computer lab in a secondary school in Tanzania after the school day is over, and you will find it filled with young men – but only rarely will there be a young women there. The use of computers – and corresponding access to Internet-based resources and information – is dominated by men in Tanzania. Indeed, in Africa as a whole, it is estimated that women account for less than 25 percent of Internet users (Hafkin 2006). The Kisa Project is designed to help reverse these norms, by equipping and encouraging young girls to develop ICT skills and become Internet-literate – thereby better positioning them for future employment, and giving them access to vital information and networks.

Does your project involve women in one or more of the following stages of the technology lifecycle? Identification of the problem the technology will solve:

Market research, Technology introduction, Technology training, Assessment and evaluation.

If you checked any of the boxes above, please explain how you will ensure women’s involvement in each relevant phase of the technology lifecycle.

Market Research: Kisa’s Tanzanian mentors have played a major role in the design of the Kisa website in its current pilot year, in order to help ensure that it is relevant, interesting, and accessible to the Tanzanian students it will serve. In addition, as the website evolves in conjunction with the implementation of the Kisa program, the Mentors – and later in the year, the Kisa Scholars – will continue to play a significant role in defining the content, aesthetics and features of the website.

Technology Introduction: Every year, the Kisa mentors will introduce the Kisa website and the Kisa computer labs – along with the digital storytelling workshops – to each new group of Kisa Scholars, and will endeavor to demonstrate to them, and to their families, the value of spending less time at home after school, and more time developing their ICT skills and building networks in the Kisa computer labs.

Technology Training: Each year, the Kisa mentors will train the Kisa Scholars in the use of the Kisa computer labs and the Kisa website, thus helping to ensure that the young women become computer and technology-literate.

Assessment and Evaluation: Upon completion of Kisa’s current pilot year, AfricAid will undertake a formal evaluation of the entire program, including its essential technology component. As part of that effort, the Kisa Mentors and Kisa Scholars will play an integral role in assessing the efficacy of the Kisa labs, the Kisa website, and the associated training program in building ICT skills and creating supportive social networks.

If women are a focus of your project, how did this focus evolve?

The project focused on women from its conception..

Which type of women will your project reach directly?

Rural, Peri-urban, Urban, Low income, Middle income.

In what ways does your project team/leadership involve women?

It is led by a woman/women., It is led by a woman/women from a developing country., The core project team includes women., The core project team includes women from developing countries..

Has your organization formed any new partnerships in response to this challenge? If so, with what type/s of organization/s?

Non-profit/NGO/community-based organization, For-profit, Government, Women's organization, Other.

Has your project leadership had prior experience with the following?

Working with women, Working with technologies, Working to increase women's economic empowerment through technology, Working on innovation.