Techonology opened the world to this young woman from the slums of Mombasa, Kenya.
When Mary Mwende graduated from the American University in Dubai in May, an unexpected
guest looked on from the sea of people gathered for the ceremony: her mom. She arrived
just hours before, struggling at the last minute to secure a visa and passport,
then board a plane for the first time to travel from their hometown in Kenya.
“A lot more girls need to be educated beyond the high school level. They need the
skills to be able to survive in the workplace, know their rights, and emerge as
Mary was one of the first 10 girls selected for a program created by Global Give
Back Circle, an organization founded by philanthropist Linda Lockhart, who connected
with Mary during a trip to Kenya and remains a mentor, friend, and inspiration.
Funded in part by Microsoft, the program provided the girls with a nine-month course
in information and communications technology (ICT) and a place to live during the
Mary, who grew up in the slums of Mombasa, the second largest city in Kenya, says
her childhood experiences inspired her to fight for change for young girls.
the course, Mary was selected by Lockhart to represent the Global Give Back Circle
at the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative Meeting in New York. At the event, Elias Bou
Saab, executive vice president of the American University in Dubai, awarded Mary
a full scholarship to the university. She chose to major in business and finance.
Around the world, young people face a myriad of social and economic challenges,
including rampant youth unemployment, which is globally double that of the rest
of the population, and up to 50 percent in some countries. Inspired by stories like
Mary’s, Microsoft developed its YouthSpark initiative to address this opportunity
divide. Announced in 2012, Microsoft YouthSpark is focused on creating opportunities
for young people to realize their full potential through programs and partnerships
with governments, nonprofits, and businesses that strengthen education, expand digital
inclusion, and give young people the tools they need to change their world.
Mary hugs her mom, Mercy, after her graduation from the American University in Dubai.
“Seeing Mary in a cap and gown, hugging her mom, was magical,” said philanthropist
In Mombasa, YouthSpark is funding a third lab, similar to the one that helped Mary. It will
be built in 2014. Through the Global Give Back Circle, 550 girls in Africa are currently
receiving mentoring; about 50 of those mentors are Microsoft employees. The girls
are participating in IT training and will have their college educations funded.
With the third lab, the number of girls in the program will dramatically expand.
Now 22, Mary plans to get a master’s degree in public policy. She is applying for
graduate programs at the Fletcher School at Tufts, the Kennedy School at Harvard,
and the Wilson School at Princeton. Armed with her education, Mary will return to
Kenya to advocate for women and girls throughout Africa. She is committed to working
to narrow the achievement gap between boys and girls, putting an end to female genital
mutilation, and shortening the waiting period between high school and college.
She has become an ambassador for the organization that helped her. In addition to
being voted as the first African woman student body president her junior year and
named the most accomplished student in her graduating class, Mary has traveled the
world to share the message that young people need jobs and financial inclusion.
She has spoken at conferences in Boston, New York, and Kuala Lumpur. She spent time
in Haiti sharing her mentoring skills with at-risk youth and welcomed President
Clinton during his visit to American University with a choral poem.
Mary says she was shaped by her childhood experiences and wants to continue to pay
forward. “A lot more girls need to be educated beyond the high school level,” she
said. “They need the skills to be able to survive in the workplace, know their rights,
and emerge as leaders.”
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