2011 Yamashita Prize winner directs leadership incubator for African women

The 2011 Thomas I. Yamashita Prize for an outstanding young activist-scholar has been awarded by the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Social Change to Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, founder and executive director of the non-profit Akili Dada leadership incubator for young African women.

The prize recognizes work that builds valuable bridges between academia and marginalized communities and includes a $2,500 cash award. It will be presented in an award ceremony from 4-5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 5 at the Women’s Faculty Club at UC Berkeley.

Kamau-Rutenberg is an assistant professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, where her course offerings include the politics of international aid and development, African politics, and the politics of racial and ethnic identity. She has said that her academic scholarship informs her work with Akili Dada, which aims to empower the next generation of African women leaders by providing them access to high quality education, personalized mentoring, and intensive leadership training.

Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg

Martín Sánchez-Jankowski, a UC Berkeley professor of sociology and director of the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues where the Center for the Study of Social Change is housed, said the prize selection committee was impressed by the Akili Dada’s “innovative and transformative model of leadership development.”

Kamau-Rutenberg called the Yamashita Prize “a powerful validation of our belief that high-quality education should be embraced and informed by community activism, and that community activism benefits from rigorous academic analysis.” She said that through Akili Dada’s scholarships and leadership training program, young women scholars from underprivileged families in her native Kenya are empowered to become agents of social change, starting within their home communities.

In addition to the Yamashita Prize, an honorable mention award will be presented on May 5 to Genevieve Negron-Gonzales, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. Negron-Gonzales provides leadership training to, and builds bridges between, immigrant communities around issues of affordable housing, immigrant rights and funding for social services.

Thomas Isao Yamashita was an undergraduate student in civil engineering at UC Berkeley and a member of the class of 1942. The internment of Americans of Japanese descent on the West Coast of the United States in 1942 made it impossible for him to graduate from UC Berkeley, and he eventually received his engineering degree from the University of Nebraska. As a civil engineer, Yamashita spent most of his career in Hong Kong, where he focused on solving complex engineering problems and developing new construction techniques that altered building practices and changed Hong Kong’s skyline.

More information about the Yamashita Prize and its past recipients is online.

A video of Kamau-Rutenberg talking about contemporary philanthropy also is online.