Awa Maïga is a Master of International Public Affairs (MIPA), Candidate at UW-Madison, The La Follette School of Public Affairs. She is the former Executive Director at Leading Change Africa, the current president of Leading Change Mali, and the Founder of KITAB. Awa is a published author, she is passionate about Education Policy, Leadership, Public Service, Gender, and International Development. Her current research is aimed at understanding the role of African women in politics focusing on women in Mali, and West Africa as a whole. Additionally, she earned another Master’s degree in Culture and Business and a certificate in communications in Algiers. Awa is the author of two books.
What is your background?
I am originally from Mali, which is a French-speaking country in West Africa and I have been in Algeria for five years where I got my bachelor’s and Master’s degrees before coming to the US. I am a current graduate student in the La Follette School of Public Affairs in the Masters of International Public Affairs. My current research proposal is titled “The Role of African Women in Politics, focusing on “West African Countries.” During my journey in Algeria, I have been leading the Malian student organization as the first woman elected leader in that position, along with completion of an internship in the Embassy of Mali in Algiers, Algeria.
What projects/experiences have shaped you into the person that you are today?
After high school, I got a scholarship that provide me the opportunity to study in Algeria. From a young age, I have been passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. This was my primary motivation to study in Algeria, as it was the most racist country in the world at that time. I wanted to get a better education quality as well. I studied in Algeria for 5 years resulting in a Master’s degree in Culture and Business. This was a special time for me as it enabled me to connect with myself, know who I am, and learn about my passions, ambitions, and vision. Additionally, it led me to get more involved in student associations during my graduate studies. My previous position as coordinator of the Malian student organization back there was a valuable personal and professional experience. It has positively impacted younger girls and inspired them to strive for leadership positions.
After that, I entered the Embassy in Mali. This experience provided me with exposure and knowledge about public affairs and learning more about diplomacy and affairs. It was one of the key experiences that led me to the MIPA program here at UW-Madison.
I was also a part of Leading Change Africa, which is a nonprofit organization based here in the United States and in Africa. Leading Change Africa provides scholarships to African students to study in the US, get knowledge, and go back to their respective homes to create jobs and opportunities for the community. After a year of volunteering with Leading Change, they hired me as an Executive Director and presented me with the opportunity to come here to the US.
All of these experiences motivated me to not only serve my community but understand the importance of making a positive impact on individuals and the community at large.
Tell me about KITAB.
I grew up in an area in which women are discouraged to go out and get an education. Oftentimes women in Mali are expected to get married and stay at home taking care of their husbands and children. Men are expected to be more public than women which is a big issue relating to domestic violence. Witnessing this injustice motivated me to pursue the MIPA program here at UW-Madison and led to the creation of KITAB, primarily an association, and a book club that I founded when I was pursuing my studies in Algeria.
When I got to the US, I decided to officially create it as a nonprofit and extend its vision and goals to more broad dimensions in Africa. The purpose of KITAB is to empower youth and women in Africa, specifically Mali, by providing access to higher education, and personal and professional development opportunities through our leadership and future scholarship programs. The issue right now isn’t getting women into education but ensuring that they stay. Oftentimes, parents take their daughters out of school due to marriage and other social factors. KITAB also provides opportunities like entrepreneurship and assisting women and youth in starting their businesses.
Getting more educated women and youth involved in public policy and public service would make our continent a better place to live in terms of equity, freedom, peace, security, changes, and opportunities. I believe, we can prepare in being role models for the future generation of leaders.
Long-term, we envision creating centers throughout Africa in which all youth and women’s wellness would be top priorities along with getting empowered though training in our centers and utilizing those skills to challenge real-life issues by participating in making a change in communities.
What are some successes and challenges with KITAB?
Some of the challenges that we have seen is gaining domestic support at some institutional and bureaucratic levels. Additionally, when we are talking about domestic violence, human rights, and women’s rights, it is often misconstrued as we are ignoring customs and traditions, and coming in with the white man’s ideas. Another issue is the Youth’s mindset itself is influenced by the environment’s realities and habits.
In terms of success, we are at an early stage and still going slow and making progress with our goals. There are more collaborators in our work in the U.S. and back in Africa, which have generated meaningful connections and donations. Some of our actions this year were school supplies donations to primary, secondary, and high school students. We also initiated a workshop to give youth an exchange platform to make their voice and needs to heard and for us to evaluate their requests and see how we can potentially respond to some of them. We hope for more support and collaborators to continue supporting KITAB’s members, goals, and vision.
Where can people go to find out more about KITAB?
Individuals can subscribe to KITAB’s newsletter and be up to date on what is occurring. We are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Our website is currently unavailable at the moment but once it is up and running, I will share it with the ASP community.
What are ways in which the ASP community can support you in this endeavor?
I would love to connect more with the ASP community and share my vision for KITAB with others. Any type of connection is valuable whether it is doing a presentation about KITAB for a class, monetary support, donating books, scholarships, educational opportunities, connecting more with alumni, and much more. I’m very excited to connect with the ASP community and looking forward to it.
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