Irene Mbari- Kirika is the Executive Director at inABLE.org, a NGO that empowers the blind and visually impaired students in Africa through computer assistive technology. Recognized as a dynamic, global strategic leader and an executive-level innovator who has created technology-powered special-educational environments to positively affect the lives of blind, visually-impaired, and multi-disability youths in Africa. She is also a sought-after consultant and public speaker who has collaborated on training, evaluation, research, and policy projects with the World Bank, the government of Kenya, multiple international universities, and many global corporations.
Irene has been a featured speaker at several high-profile educational events, including the UNESCO Mobile Learning week in Paris and ICT Connected Summit in Kenya, as well as an invited participant at the Zero Project Conference 2020 held at the Vienna headquarters of the United Nations in Austria, and TechShare Pro 2019, which took place at Google UK headquarters in London England.
As the Executive Director at inABLE.org, Irene Mbari- Kirika has researched, developed, and executed the organization’s accessibility of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) strategy, and has led and facilitated discussions on best practices in the accessibility space and international nonprofit operations. She has championed initiatives related to global policy, advocacy, and international development.
She has also co-authored research reports- A Comprehensive Report on the Nationwide Baseline Survey of Technology Skills for Learners with Vision Impairment in Kenya by the Georgia Institute of Technology – and A Computer Training Program for the Schools for the Blind in Kenya published by the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research.
Irene holds a Business Management degree from Kennesaw State University in Georgia and a Global Master’s of Arts (GMAP) in International Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts, USA.
Impact & Philanthropy
The inspiration for inABLE began when Irene attended a reading day at the Kenya National Library. A group of students who were extremely competitive, smart, and outgoing captured her attention. This group stood out in the reading challenge for the day.Yet, to her astonishment, Irene learned these students were all blind or low vision.When she inquired about these youths and learned that they were from a nearby blind school that had a shortage of Braille books and paper and without access to computers and the Internet.
This disparity in education sparked an urgent drive to connect these students to the rest of the world by destroying the barriers to communication and employment. The inABLE organization can truly be described as “visionary,” because its mission is to empower blind and visually impaired students in Africa through technology. From the very beginning, inABLE has watched blind and visually impaired primary and secondary students transform as they learned how to access online educational resources, research homework assignments, communicate with new friends worldwide, use social media, host blogs and develop employable skills, such as JAVA programming and HTML website design.
What is unique is that the inABLE computer lab is a complete technological solution that removes barriers to learning with an innovative educational platform that promotes information computer technology as an integral classroom tool. With assistive-technology computer skills, students gain independence to use multiple devices, access eBooks and online educational resources, real time news and the ability to communicate and interact with the rest of the world.
Over the last 10 years, inABLE has set up eight computer assistive technology labs at special schools for the blind across Kenya and enrolled more than 8,000 students. inABLE’s programmes are designed to have the following lasting and transformative impact on the lives of beneficiaries:
- Bridging the gap between the blind and sighted in Kenya through technology. Our graduates will be able to seek lucrative employment in fields that would otherwise be completely closed to them.
- Contribute to increased feelings of self-worth, self-esteem, and independence for our graduates.
- Societal transformation where blind children are viewed as assets to their families rather than liabilities, which will in turn result in more families believing in and investing in the children’s future.
- Transformation of social attitudes toward the blind and visually impaired as they begin to be seen as productive members of society.
- Augmenting the Africa’s workforce with highly trained and highly motivated blind contributors.
- Engage in policy change related to digital accessibility to ensure everyone has access to information on the Internet, including people with disabilities.
Additionally, Irene has led inABLE to a position of leadership in inclusive tech in education, accessible computer skills training, and assistive technology research by forging foundational relationships with charitable partners, foundations, and global technology leaders, including Safaricom Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Microsoft, Google, Mastercard Foundation and many more.
While working through inABLE’s start-up and growth, Irene Mbari- Kirika grasped another critical factor which lead to the establishment of Irene’s most recent venture Technoprise Consulting. Technoprise promotes inclusive technologies as well as hiring of people with disabilities in the tech industry. Its primary goal complements inABLE’s — increasing employment of persons with disabilities in the tech industry in Africa, while providing digital accessibility services to public and private sector clients around the world.
During the unprecedented challenges of Covid-19, Irene had to pivot and launch the Inclusive Africa Conference as an online event next fall- Inclusive Africa. Without missing a beat, Irene gathered global leaders in inclusive education, design, and employment to participate in the Inclusive Design Africa monthly webinar series, including a Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) program – Inclusive Africa Webinar.
In recognition of her many accomplishments, Irene Mbari- Kirika has received both The Order of the Grand Warrior of Kenya (OGW) in 2016 and the Humanitarian Award, Kenyan Diaspora Advisory Council of Georgia in 2013.
ESSA: Women must have more leadership opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa to improve society for us all
ESSA CEO, Lucy Heady (Image: ESSA website)
ESSA- There is a lack of evidence about the role of universities and colleges in sub-Saharan Africa in equipping women with leadership opportunities.
Speaking during a press briefing to launch Education Sub Saharan Africa’s (ESSA) State of Women Leading Report, Dr Jennifer N. Udeh, Head of Programmes and Partnerships said through its Women Leading project, the organisation’s aim was to begin to fill this gap and to bring attention to the situation for women in sub-Saharan Africa by using data and evidence to improve practices within universities and colleges to support women. This includes both female academics seeking leadership roles in universities and colleges, and female students for whom leadership skills will be a critical factor in their success as they transition into work. As part of the Women Leading project, ESSA led a research phase which has included a desktop review, interviews with women, and a survey with over 400 female faculty, students and early career graduates.
ESSA initiated a women leading project following the recognition of a stark disparity between men and women in leadership positions in universities and colleges in sub-Saharan Africa. ESSA in partnership with Association of African Universities, Population Reference Bureau and Ghana Tertiary Education Commission, formally National Council for Tertiary Education had conducted a study of the demographics of faculty in Ghana and reveal that only 8% of professors at public universities were women.
Women she said, must have more leadership opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa to improve society for us all. Whilst this is not unique to education, ESSA believes that academia can set the bar.
“Women still face barriers to leadership, including socio-cultural expectations, limited access to mentorship and networking opportunities, unhelpful working environments and policies and barriers relating to mindset. The Covid-19 pandemic is also particularly impacting women.” She added.
The State of Women Leading Report captures insights from existing research and the current perspective of women who are at different stages in their leadership journey. She emphasized that the specific objectives of the report are to unlock the potential of female leaders in education, by contributing to the understanding of the current state of women’s leadership, including current barriers preventing women transitioning into leadership, existing solutions aimed at supporting and increasing women’s participation in leadership and possible solutions going forward Additionally she stressed that women are underrepresented in leadership in sub-Saharan Africa in all sectors including tertiary education and more can be done to ensure gender parity.
“Our research has highlighted conceptual skills as the most important skillset for leadership development of women in all sectors e.g., critical thinking/decision-making/problem solving/analytical abilities, logical reasoning. This is followed by skills relating to Leadership ethics and values, e.g., integrity/trust/empathy/emotional intelligence/self-awareness/self-confidence. It also points to four key types of further support that will have a high impact on leadership development for women. These are: scholarships, leadership training and development programmes, gender sensitive organizational/structural policies and networking programs and opportunities.” She said.
In her closing remarks, she extended a word of thanks to the project sponsor Dubai Cares, individuals and partners organisation who took part in the research
“Your engagement and support have been invaluable in bringing this research to completion. ESSA’s contribution to unlocking the potential of female leaders is in supporting and working with universities, colleges and organisations, to understand the evidence and co-create solutions. Just as we have done through this research and the subsequent stakeholder workshop that we hosted in June 2021. Our ambition is to continue to identify issues and bring together evidence of what works and what is needed to drive change. We will do this through continued partnerships, stakeholder consultations and engagement. We look forward to continuing this work with you all and building on what we have started… we hope the state of women leading report is useful to all organisations and policy makers seeking to engage and contribute to research and the improvement of practices, to increase women’s participation in leadership“
ESSA is a charity improving education in sub-Saharan Africa so that young people achieve their ambitions and strengthen society. We support university and college leaders, employers, policymakers, and young people to turn evidence into practical solutions and maximise resources. By working together, we can improve education policies and delivery.
Click here to access the event recording https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/play/NXaTsLroo2YPpi3DcoSdJ9mGzCHJjA0ERe2ZRKTU2s9pg8WR8J5OhB2aTmgc5WKmpiNFBcgOSmCy_K2-.M43EzZ_TPe8d8RtK
Kudoti, South African Recycling Platform recognised as one of the global winners of the Nestlé’s 2021 Creating Shared Value Prize
Kudoti, South African recycling company, was announced in the top five winners of Nestlé 2021 Creating Shared Value (CSV) Prize, for their innovative recycling impact through technology.
The CSV Prize has been running for over 10 years and has identified multiple initiatives for some of today’s most critical environmental and social issues around the world. This year’s competition, conducted in partnership with the non-profit organization, Ashoka, was entitled ‘How do we create a waste-free future?’, It aimed to identify and award innovative solutions with a system-change approach and a strong growth potential, or a replicable model for other social, cultural or geographical settings.
Kudoti (meaning trash in Zulu) is changing business perspectives of waste into recovered materials through supply chain solutions. The company’s digital approach helps track recyclable waste in real-time and matching it to demand. The use of technology improves market conditions for waste materials, which drives up recycling behaviour.
Matthieu de Gaudemar, one of the founders of Johannesburg-based Kudoti, expressed gratitude to Nestlé and Ashoka for this CSV initiative. “Businesses and individuals have a concept of waste as waste, when we should have a concept of waste as a resource. With new business models, we can change the way that waste is viewed.”
De Gaudemar adds that their platform’s success was collective team effort. “It truly takes everyone to address systemic environmental issues. Through this financial investment and technical resources, we will amplify our impact by scaling up our solution in South Africa.”
“When people speak of the future, a world of hover crafts or holograSaint-Francis Tohlangms may come to mind. But at Nestlé, we are seeking a more environmentally futuristic landscape. Through these Awards, we are on a mission to identify and empower market disruptors in the hope of accelerating a waste-free future”, says Saint-Francis Tohlang, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Director at Nestlé East and Southern Africa Region (ESAR).
As one of the winners, Kudoti will receive a cash prize of $40 000 and will benefit from Ashoka’s online resources and workshops to explore potential collaboration with Nestlé and a mentoring programme.
“Innovations such as Kudoti not only help reduce waste but also drive consumer behaviour change which is key to achieving a waste free future and takes us closer to a circular economy”, concluded Tohlang.
By Weber Shandwick
Doing Good Work in Africa Marks Its First Anniversary of Supporting Students and Impacting Future Growth in Africa
Doing Good Work in Africa (DOWA), a non-profit initiative designed to connect students in the United States to African-based entities focused on providing scalable solutions to commonplace challenges, celebrated its first anniversary in April. Launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, friends Ola Erogbogbo and Emiola Abass, co-founded a program that generated 400 applications and placed ten students at three partner companies within two months. In just one year, DOWA placed 27 students and conducted seven educational webinars with over 400 attendees from over 17 countries.
“DOWA seeks to provide a path to ‘brain gain’ by attracting US students (African and non-African) to the continent through internships. The premise is that the solution to Africa’s problems must come from within, supported by human and capital investments across the globe.” said Erogbogbo.
DOWA connects students with internship opportunities allowing them to work on socio-economic projects and experience the African culture and corporate environment. Students can take advantage of this unique experience through grants and scholarships funded by some universities. Matching the students with partner companies is accomplished through a rigorous application process, provided at no cost to the students. DOWA’s partner companies and organizations address challenges in healthcare, education, agriculture and champion growth initiatives in technology, artificial intelligence, and power generation in Africa.
“We are proud of our partnership with DOWA – we had two interns work on geospatial AI-powered education technology in low resourced environments. These engaged students’ contributions will help further our goal to raise one million AI talents” said Bayo Adekanmbi, Founder at Data Science Nigeria.
Liam Casey, a Venture Capital Fellow at Funema, said, “My experience has helped narrow down career goals and interests in impact investment and venture capital for emerging markets.”
DOWA is intentional in partnering with organizations that have a shared mission to work on initiatives that further the advancement of Africa. Erogbogbo further said, “DOWA believes that the challenges we face on the continent present opportunities, and thus, connecting students to companies working to address these challenges can result in more effective solutions.”
DOWA was launched with the help of founding supporters that include Scholars in Our Society and Africa (SOSA) at Cornell University and Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM). With over 300% participation growth and thanks to its growing network of partner companies, DOWA for the 2021/2022 internship cycles is projected to provide internship opportunities to 70 students from over 20 schools, including five Ivy League colleges.
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