Giving Girls in West Africa the Tools to Succeed

August 10, 2015
By Jenny Li Fowler

Mariama Kabia MPP 2014 is helping empower a generation of young girls in a part of the world where opportunities can be scarce. As co-founder of Memunatu Magazine, a classroom magazine for adolescent girls in West Africa, Kabia is helping promote literacy, leadership, and empowerment.

The magazine is distributed through secondary schools and comes with a teacher’s guide, which includes a 30-minute lesson to help teachers facilitate the content in the classroom and/or in an afterschool club setting. Memunatu covers a range of topics — trends and current events, entrepreneurship and finance, and tips for writing and public speaking — and that’s just the beginning.

“The feature section highlights girls making a positive impact in their local community,” said Kabia. “This is my favorite part in the magazine because it shows local, young women making a difference in their community and gives our readers positive female role models.”

Kabia created the magazine with her twin sister Fatmata. The two named the magazine after their mother who grew up in Sierra Leone and was a huge influence on their lives.

“My siblings and I grew up in the U.S. watching the decade long civil war affect our parents’ home country,” said Kabia. “What struck me was how different my life was from that of the girls in Sierra Leone. Things that I had enjoyed — school, sports, clubs, etc. — were things they did not have the opportunity to take part in because of war, poverty, and cultural barriers. I saw these girls as part of my extended community and I have always wanted to do something that had a positive impact in their lives.”

Kabia says her education at HKS equipped her with the tools for innovation.

“I came to Harvard Kennedy School specifically to see how I could make a difference," she said. “I knew I wanted to work on Memunatu but was looking to gain the skills in management, finance, and business development that could help me make this venture a reality for the girls across West Africa. HKS did not disappoint!”

“While at HKS, I took classes in social enterprise, co-chaired the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, and incubated Memunatu at the Harvard Innovation Lab. HKS and more broadly Harvard, foster such an entrepreneurial community that I learned a great deal from my classmates who were working on their own ventures. In part, this community prepared me for a similar entrepreneurial environment at Halcyon Incubator in D.C. I feel better equipped to create innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”


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