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Q&A with Kikulu Foundation

Every month, Good Clean Love donates 10% of all website sales proceeds to The Change for Women Collective nonprofit organizations around the world, like the Global Fund for Women, Every Mother Counts, and this month's recipient - Kikulu Foundation.

We are proud to support The Kikulu Foundation, a non-profit organization removing barriers to education for kids in Uganda so they can dream and thrive. Last month we had the opportunity to learn more about their mission and their founder Alisha Robertson-Stephens' role in leading this organization. Read our Q&A with her below. 

Tell us about your role as founding director of Kikulu. What motivates you to do this work? What inspires you to show up each day?

Alisha Robertson-Stephens: As the founding director of The Kikulu Foundation, I lead the overall strategic direction of our organization - operations, our programmatic work, as well as fundraising. I work closely with our team of working board members who are all very passionate about ending poverty through education. Each board member brings a different skill set and perspective to the table, and we divide and conquer to meet the goals we set forth each year. We aim to work as smart and lean as possible so we can support as many students as possible. Our working board really makes this possible.

Before starting The Kikulu Foundation, I volunteered with numerous non-profit organizations in various countries around the world. During this time, something very big and very important began staring me in the face. I saw children and even young adults completely stripped of their right to an education. The problem was so pervasive, it seemed at the time any effort was just a drop in the bucket. This experience continually made me think about what my life would look like had I not received the opportunity to receive an education.

During my childhood, I saw firsthand how education changes everything. I saw what a college education did to improve the circumstances of my own family. My mother, who was a young single mom, used her education and a college degree to lift our family out of what many would consider poverty.

If there’s ever a day when I feel too exhausted or unmotivated, I think of my Mom, I think of the perseverance and determination of our students. I think about how drastically different my life would be had I not received the opportunity to receive an education. When I see kids thrive who are given a chance, despite their hardship, this is what inspires and motivates me to show up every day and give it my all.

What was your background prior to Kikulu?

ARS: I come from both a business and non-profit background. I started my career right after college in business, and I’ve also worked with other non-profits in their programmatic departments. My desire to work with people and communities in different parts of the world was first unleashed when I was teaching business English in the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile back in 2008. It was the beginning of an expansive journey that made me ponder deep, meaningful questions about who I am and how I want to contribute to this world.

Right before starting Kikulu, I worked and volunteered with other non-profits and NGOs around the world. I was working across seven countries and four continents – Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, India, South Sudan, Uganda, and Indonesia. I worked on many projects, with both small and large multicultural and multilingual teams, in various areas including education, community development, gender equality, community health, and micro-finance. I’m certified as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and have a degree in international business. 15+ years in the for-profit and non-profit sector have been invaluable to my work in global education and community development.

Can you take a few minutes to share the history of your organization? Why did you start? What’s your mission?

ARS: Did you know that there are roughly 226 million children around the world who don’t have the opportunity to go to school? It’s sadly true, and 41% of these children are in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. I met many of these children when I was working in Eastern Africa, and it was unacceptable in my eyes - to be a child full of potential but have no opportunity. I returned to the states and decided I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. I couldn’t just forget about the kids I had met. Kids who had become like family to me.

The Kikulu Foundation was founded to address a basic human right - access to education. I’m proud to share that since 2011 we’ve been working tirelessly to give children in Uganda a chance to receive a quality education.

We provide teacher training support, student scholarships, books and materials, educational resources, and portable solar-powered lights for nighttime studying. Education isn’t free in Uganda, and many of the kids have experienced hardship due to extreme poverty and parental loss, leaving them without the resource to attend school. That’s where we step in to help.

To date, we’ve invested more than $100,000 in educational support to ensure these students have the opportunity and resources they need to dream and thrive.

We'd love to hear about your biggest accomplishments over the years.

ARS: We started out extremely grassroots with more passion than a strategic plan. I would speak at local events, church communities, global education forums, and our small team would host documentary screenings. You name it, and we found a way to participate so we could talk about the kids we were hoping to help. In the very beginning, I had a sign that hung above my desk that said, “we have a strategic plan, it’s called doing sh*t.” I laugh when I think about that. Our passion definitely helped move us forward in the very beginning, but growing our team, working lean, and thoughtfully setting goals have helped us make the biggest accomplishments over the years.

We’ve expanded our team of three to a team of eight, gone from providing scholarships to only a few students to hundreds of students, and have organized collaborative teacher training workshops for hundreds of teachers, impacting thousands of students. This past year was a big year for us. We had some of our greatest accomplishments. We provided the most substantial investment in scholarships to date and 100% of our students progressed in grade level.

We have more students than ever before preparing for University in a country where higher education is considered almost unattainable. Evaline, one of the students we’ve been supporting over the last seven years, was recently accepted into nursing school. She is now one of four young ladies in University from the community we work with.

In a country where most girls don’t make it past primary school, we have girls breaking down barriers and showing others what’s possible.

It looks like you’re based in Texas. Do you have team members working on the ground in Uganda? If so, what is it like for them to work there? Do you get to visit?

ARS: Our non-profit status is registered in the state of Texas, where I am from originally. Our working board team resides throughout the United States. I currently split my time between Dallas, Seattle, and Uganda. We do not have U.S. nationals living and working full-time in Uganda. We have very strong relationships with our local community partners in Uganda in place of an in-country team. It is important for us to collaborate, partner, and engage directly with our local counterparts in Uganda to help drive social change.

We are regularly in Uganda collaborating with our partners. In fact, we just returned from Uganda this past November. With every student we support, we track their progress year-to-year and visit them in-country to see learning and progress in action. We also spend time with the schools, teachers, and community partners during each visit.

Tell us more about how education can change a child’s life.

ARS: Education allows a child to break the cycle of poverty they were born into while providing them with opportunities they never thought possible. They graduate and often come back to help other children in their own communities! Receiving and education restores their dignity, hope, and the ability to dream. And at Kikulu, we believe in dreams.

We know that education has the power to impact more than just students. What kind of impact can education have on others in the community?

ARS: In Uganda, nearly 50% of the population is under the age of 14. Educating youth has an amazingly powerful ability to transform the nation in the decades to come as these kids reach adulthood.

I believe that education is the greatest driver of social and economic change. When children learn to read, count, and reason critically, it brings generational change for entire families and communities. Simply, there is just no greater return than investing in education. Ensuring children have access to quality education is the single most powerful tool for sparking economic growth.

How can our readers support The Kikulu Foundation?

ARS: Individuals, brands, and companies with a passion for education equality can join us in sending kids to school in a part of the world where it’s needed most. Below is a simple breakdown of the most basic needs to make this happen.

  • $30 provides a child with a school uniform
  • $60 provides a child with books and school supplies for the year
  • $360/yr sends a child to school equipped with everything they need

We also have a Giveback Partner program for companies. Our company partners choose from a variety of monthly giving amounts to help us build sustainability. In return, they receive a media kit, a “giving badge” for marketing, and newsletter and social media recognition.

We’re always connecting with friends and fellow changemakers on Instagram and Facebook where we are growing our community that’s dedicated to education equality. We’d love for you to connect and say hi!

What are you most excited about for this year? Do you have any specific campaigns or initiatives coming up?

ARS: Last November, we journeyed to Uganda for a storytelling project that is slated to launch this spring. We have videos, photos, and interviews with some of our remarkable kids. Please join our community to see these inspiring stories when they launch. This campaign will help us widen our reach and help even more kids realize their dreams. We aim to double the number of scholarships we can provide for students.

We’re also excited because we’ve been selected as a LuminAID beneficiary recipient, for the third year, for their Give Light, Get Light program. This initiative allows us to provide our students with water-proof, inflatable solar-powered lanterns for nighttime study. Without this solar-powered resource, our students do not have access to light after dark, making them invaluable for nighttime reading.

About the Change for Women Collective

The Change for Women Collective is made up of creative leaders and businesses standing together to make a difference by supporting the protection of health, human rights, and equality for women and girls everywhere.

How did Kikulu get involved with Change for Women?

ARS: The Kikulu Foundation and the Change for Women collective have a shared goal to celebrate and empower women and girls. We have mutual aspirations to ensure women and girls receive the opportunity they deserve, allowing us to come together on this shared vision. I’ve known Jamie since childhood, and I’m grateful that our organization is recognized by the Change for Women collective for the work we do to bring change for girls in Uganda.