Growing up without access to books, Wairimu Mwangi relished paging through her father’s Reader’s Digest magazines.
“Reading and re-reading those stories were perfect days for me,” Wairimu says.
Wairimu, a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow and founder and chief executive of the Literature Africa Foundation, is working to provide the next generation in Kenya with access to the books she didn’t have as a child and, by extension, raising up empathetic, empowered young leaders.
“We’re providing children and young adults with access to books and other learning materials,” Wairimu says, “in addition to pairing them with mentors to use their talents, strengths and skills to build their future careers.”
Wairimu understands intimately the importance of strong role models to direct the course of a young leader’s life.
“Despite coming from a village where nobody had ever come across an author — we only saw their names on book covers — I made a conscious effort to find myself a mentor who writes,” Wairimu says.
Indeed, under the guidance of author Mutahi Miricho, Wairimu published eight educational books now used in schools across East Africa.
“The experience inspired me to connect children and young adults to their role models too,” Wairimu says.
Fundamental to success, in the literary field or otherwise, Wairimu says, is building meaningful relationships with others.
“Finding the right team was a challenge at first,” Wairimu says. “Not everyone envisioned the organization working the way I did. But by participating in the Mandela Washington Fellowship, I was able to leverage my networks and bring together a team of people who are supportive and who want to see positive educational outcomes.”
Throughout her career, Wairimu has worked to provide others with the opportunities she didn’t have and, critically, has never waited on the approval of others in realizing that aim.
“If you identify a need in your community, work to provide a solution,” Wairimu says. “Don’t ask for permission to disrupt the status quo.”
Even with the establishment of her foundation, Wairimu has an elegant humility about her and works to model a similar selflessness across her organization.
“Those at the top need to hold down the ladder for others to climb up,” Wairimu says. “Your ability to achieve your dreams is dependent on the networks you create and, importantly, keep.”
Wairimu’s career in the service of others has always, in her estimation, been grounded in a strong vision for the future.
“For me, a perfect world is one where every child has access to an education and can use that gift to challenge inequality,” Wairimu says. “That’s what I want my legacy to be: to educate, to inspire and to empower others.”
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The views and opinions expressed here belong to those interviewed and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.