A Kenyan food activist famed for supplying affordable meals to children has been named among the top Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which has recognised her efforts in helping them stay in school.
Ms Wawira Njiru, the founder of Food for Education, was this week selected among 112 most promising young leaders aged between 30 and 40 years committed to improving the state of the world and whose work and activities are having an impact. Those picked are involved in a range of activities, including
fighting for equality, inclusivity in medical research as well as access to affordable, safe and nutritious food.
Ms Njiru– who was in 2018 listed among the Top 40 Under 40 Women by the Nation Media Group’s Business Daily — told the Sunday Nation yesterday that she was excited to be named as a Young Global Leader and hoped it would elevate her cause to the world stage.
“Child hunger is a global issue affecting millions of children with so many going to school hungry here,” she said.
In addition, Ms Njiru and the 10 other Young Global Leaders from Africa will also benefit from a fellowship supported by the Aliko Dangote Foundation, named after the Nigerian billionaire businessman and philanthropist who is also the continent’s richest man.
Some of those who have previously been named on the World Economic Forum’s list have risen to be heads of state, Nobel Prize recipients, Pulitzer winners, and chief executive officers
Ms Njiru said this opportunity would shed a light on the important work Food for Education is doing using technology, smart logistics and operations to deliver quality, nutritious meals to over 30,000 school children a day.
“This recognition brings us closer to our goal to reach 1,000,000 school children a day with nutritious meals and advocate to ensure no child has to learn while hungry. It highlights the need to continue feeding the future of Africa,” she said.
Food for Education, a non-profit organisation, supplies healthy meals to public primary school children in Nairobi, Kiambu and Mombasa counties. Launched in 2012, it has supported at least 500,000 school children using a central kitchen that distributes food to 25 schools in urban and per-urban areas of the three counties.
Using data on need and latest technology, parents pay Sh15 through wristbands linked to mobile money payment service. Eligible pupils then wear the wristbands and ‘Tap2Eat’. The transaction often lasts less than five seconds, saving the childrenthe need to run home for lunch or eat unhealthy processed foods. So far, the average number of children supported by the programme is 33,000 and Ms Njiru said the meals are all sourced locally.
The 2021 Young Global Leaders list that she is part of includes fellows from 56 countries across the world, including 11 from Africa. The Young Global Leaders programme includes executive education courses, expeditions and opportunities to collaborate and test ideas among a trusted network of peers.
For Ms Njiru and others from the continent, the World Economic Forum said the aim of the fellowship supported by the Aliko Dangote Foundation is “to increase the quality and quantity” of young African leaders by supporting their enterprises or non-profit ventures.
Ms Mariah Levin, the Head of the Forum’s Young Global Leaders said the new group includes “thoughtful and courageous leaders who will shape a more sustainable and inclusive post-pandemic era.”
The Young Global Leaders was founded in 2005 by Klaus Schwab, the founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum “to create a world where leaders take responsibility for a sustainable future while meeting increasingly complex and interrelated challenges.”
The programme has benefited some 1,400 entrepreneurs, political leaders, researchers and campaigners across the world including Kenya’s famous filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu.
Ms Njiru’s selection adds to her other accolades.. She is a Ford Foundation Global Fellow, was the youngest recipient of the University of South Australia’s alumni award 2017 and was also granted the 2018 Rainer Arnhold Fellow. She has also won the Builders of Africa Award 2018 and the Global Citizen Youth Leadership Prize in 2018 by tech systems firm Cisco.
The World Economic Forum says that in the past year during the pandemic Young Global Leaders have worked on at least 30 COVID-19-related initiatives, including expanding the use of free public digital health services, launching data challenges to build an ecosystem that can help tackle the pandemic, creating mobile intensive care shelters, opening mental health support platforms and working on vaccine development.