I had the good fortune last night to attend the award ceremony for the recipient of the 2009 Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership, that honors innovative and creative leaders in the nonprofit sector. This year's recipient is Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, an organization that has provided access to education to over 350,000 women and girls - in a war-torn country where women have few rights and are routinely denied education.
Dr. Yacoobi was very clear about the mission of her organization. By educating women, their lives are transformed, but so is the status of the entire family. Education is the key that unlocks the ongoing cycle of poverty for many Afghan families.
Dr. Yacoobi told the story of one woman, but her story is typical. A bride through an arranged marriage at age 13, she had 4 children by the age of 21 when she heard about the opportunity to learn to read and write offered by the Afghan Institute of Learning. After repeatedly begging her family to allow her to attend the school, they relented, but only after she had finished her household and parenting duties and the chores on the family farm. Today that woman is a teacher and carries on the good work of the Afghan Institute of Learning.
For a woman to become educated in Afghanistan, requires tremendous courage. Women who seek out education routinely receive death threats. Each and every day as Dr. Yacoobi continues her mission to educate women and children, she never knows if she will return to her family in the evening. As a leader of an organization that uplifts women, she is the constant target of elements in her country that combat education and the basic rights of women. It takes courage to dedicate one's life to creating and leading an organization that tries to tackle the biggest and most important social problems, ignorance, poverty, hunger, but it takes exceptional courage to lead an organization (or participate in one) under the constant threat of death.
When we think of leadership in our own organizations, communities, or in government, we know that effective leadership requires courage - to stand up for what is right, for what we believe in, and to take the necessary risks to be innovative and creative. In some cases, such as that of Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, the level of courage is truly extraordinary.
To find out more about Dr. Yacoobi and the other outstanding recipients of the Kravis Prize, go to www.kravisprize.claremontmckenna.edu
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