Women Rising in Kenya: “Even the presidential seat—we can do it.”


Originally published on Medium

Jahenda Sheilla is a slight, 23-year old woman whose tempered voice might at first give an impression of shyness. But Jahenda is anything but shy. She takes her time to listen, and in reality, there is no need to raise your voice if you believe in what you say. And Jahenda knows exactly what she is saying—and what she wants.

Jahenda grew up in Western Kenya. Her parents divorced when she was young and she did not see her father much. Her mother worked as a subsistence farmer and money was always short. In 2013 she moved to Kibera – Africa’s largest slum and one of the biggest in the world. Living with her aunt and doing small jobs here and there, she barely managed to cover her expenses. But she dreamed of studying to become a nurse or teacher.

From a friend, Jahenda heard about Digital Divide Data (DDD), a social enterprise that has been part of one of Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs. DDD helps youth like Jahenda access education, while providing employment during their studies. DDD hires talented young people from low-income areas to perform Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) work (for example, data entry, image processing and research), in order to train, employ, and educate them for better jobs and greater future opportunities.

As part of DDD’s work-study program, Jahenda was, for the first time in her life, making enough money to support herself as well as her mother and brother when necessary. This was very important to her, because she wanted to learn how to live independently.

 PHOTO COURTESY OF DIGITAL DIVIDE DATA DDD’s team originally participated in the GSBI in 2004 and then again in 2015. Through these programs, DDD’s leadership worked with veteran Silicon Valley executives to refine its business plan and prepare to scale its impact globally. With the lessons learned in the GSBI program, DDD has expanded operations to Cambodia, Laos, and Kenya, and has increased lifetime earnings for youth in these countries by a projected total of more than $300 million USD.

Furthermore, DDD recognizes the importance of Miller Center’s Women Rising initiative and has made a commitment to employ 50% women in an industry where women are underrepresented.

Almost 1,000 DDD associates, like Jahenda, perform BPO services for such brands as Fossil, AOL, Intuit, and international organizations like the World Bank and UNICEF. DDD also works with academic institutions such as Harvard, Stanford, and Yale as well as the British Library and Reader’s Digest.

Back in DDD’s Nairobi office, Jahenda said: “Our work as women is often viewed as looking after our children or looking after our husbands.” She paused and shook her head. “But if women stand up and say ‘yes, we can,’ then we can do anything. What a man can do, I can do even better,” she added, determined. “Even the presidential seat—we can do it.”

Through DDD, Jahenda is pursuing her dream of obtaining her Bachelor degree in Education Science, Chemistry and Biology. After she graduates in 2018, she wants to earn a Master’s degree. Her plan is to teach at school and university—and maybe, who knows!—go after that presidential seat.