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Evelyne Mwandia

Start A Library Trust

Kenya

Evelyne Mwandia serves as the Executive Director of Start A Library Trust. A charitable trust committed to eradicating illiteracy in Africa by establishing school libraries in underserved communities to enhance access to reading materials for pleasure.
She firmly believes literacy and lifeskills are essential for every child aged 4-14 in primary schools because reading and writing form the foundation of learning, crucial for individual development and communities' socioeconomic progress. By promoting literacy, she will break down barriers to education, employment, financial independence, and social justice. Through the WLW Fellowship, she seeks the support of its Network to chart the organization's long-term vision and direction, with the ultimate goal of establishing a library in every school in Africa!

Evelyne Mwandia

About
Me.

What is your story?

What drives your work?

Literacy is fundamental for learning in school and at home. The ability to read and write forms the heart of primary education for all. Literacy development is a process that spans through early childhood years, and it is one of the essential skills children acquire as they progress through their early school years. But it is horrifying that:
i. Nearly 400 million children of primary school age cannot read or write (Save the Children).
ii. Only two in five grade 4 learners meet expectations in reading an appropriate grade 3 English text (Uwezo report 2021).
iii. Approximately 95% of public primary schools have no libraries in Kenya
iv. Kenya has no basic education library policy and guidelines

With this kind of statistics, it means that we are setting our children to fail from the word go, if we allow them to graduate from school without learning to read. What motivates me to the goal towards Zero Illiteracy is that, growing up in one of the underserved villages in Kitui County, Kenya, I could barely speak English or our national language Swahili throughout my primary and secondary education. In secondary school, my self-esteem was highly challenged and everyone thought I was timid. It was not until I joined the University that I could access a library. My career path especially climbing the ladder in leadership took a longer time, for the same reasons lack of self-awareness, low self-esteem and poor communication skills. Literacy affects the long-term productivity of a country. People with low literacy levels have more difficulty finding and keeping a job. They also earn less money. Illiteracy goes beyond career, however. It can harm our ability to live our whole lives. The emphasis, therefore, on fighting illiteracy in Kenya and Africa at large is essential lest the continent lags economically, technologically and socially. For it to develop and stay on the cutting edge, all stakeholders need to put a concerted effort into recognizing that information is the nerve centre of development and literacy is the repository of information; it is the quest for self-discovery. It is necessary, therefore, to create awareness in schools and the general public on the importance of literacy for leisure and not necessarily to pass exams. That is what Start a Library Trust is doing.

Describe your biggest strength as a leader

My greatest strength has been the capacity to deliver visionary leadership. I excel at creating a clear and appealing vision for the organization, breaking goals for each team member, rallying the team around common goals, and ensuring that everyone is on board with our mission. My communication abilities have also helped to establish a pleasant and collaborative organizational culture.

Describe your biggest challenge as a leader

I have a high standard for the quality of work and outcomes, which sometimes means that I spend more time than necessary on certain tasks.

About the
Organization
and the Project.

Sector

Not-for-profit

Vision & Mission

Mission: To champion literacy in Africa by creating a thriving school communities through establishing vibrant Model School Libraries, Capacity building for sustainable development and robust advocacy.

Year Founded

2022

No. of Employees

8

Years in the Organization

7 years

Annual Budget (USD)

$180,000

Geographical Area Served

Kenya -nationally

Organizational /

Project Description

- One year project goal:
Have a fundraising strategy that will enable us to secure multi-year funding.
Communication strategy that will guide in marketing, branding and storytelling of our work.
A holistic draft strategic plan for the organization.

-Objectives:
Conduct needs assessment and stakeholder analysis to identify the specific organizational needs and gaps.
Research best practices and case studies from similar local and global organizations.
Develop goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)for the organization's three-year strategic plan.
Engage various stakeholders in the strategic planning process.
Develop Strategic Partnerships with potential strategic partners, including government agencies, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and private sector entities, for fundraising, program development, and/or advocacy efforts.
Create a comprehensive fundraising plan.
Design a program framework that outlines the organizations core programs and services, taking into account the needs identified during the needs assessment phase.
Establish a governance structure and policies, including the Trust's governance structure, board of trustees composition, roles and responsibilities, and decision-making processes. Develop policies and procedures to ensure compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.
Create communication and outreach plans to raise awareness about the Trust's mission and programs, engage stakeholders, and mobilize support.

Why is this project important and timely?

What is the target population of your project? 

Start A Library Trust (SAL) serves school-going children aged 4-14 in underserved public primary schools across Kenya by establishing Model School Libraries. These children lack access to relevant reading materials, which hinders their ability to read and write at grade level. SAL's holistic approach involves empowering the entire school ecosystem of learners, teachers, parents, and community members to champion the institutionalization of school libraries. To date, SAL has established over 290 libraries in 22 counties, reaching over 340,000 children and empowering over 3,000 teacher-librarians. These communities often grapple with systemic injustices and inequalities arising from cultural, economic, and political factors, resulting in parents prioritizing other necessities over storybooks, deeming them luxuries. Similarly, teachers, educators and authorities generally perceive them as supplementary rather than essential language textbooks. Through the Model School Libraries, we capitalize on the school setting, aligning library lessons and literacy activities with the curriculum, training language teachers as teacher-librarians, and fostering parental and community involvement to recognize the pivotal role of libraries in addressing socioeconomic challenges.
Through this fellowship, I aim to develop a three-year strategic plan that aligns with our mission and objectives to enable us to grow our impact. The strategic plan will lay a road map for strengthening our organizational systems and procedures, including Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning (MERL), financial management, resource mobilization, and storytelling capabilities. Furthermore, we plan to diversify and expand our donor and partner portfolio to secure additional resources, especially landing multi-year funding to support our programs.
As the organization grows, I envision the strategic plan will also outline how to empower the management team and board members to foster a culture of innovation, collaboration, and accountability. Moreover, we are dedicated to forging deeper collaborations with government agencies, leveraging their resources and expertise to amplify our impact and reach and ensure project sustainability. Through these concerted efforts, we aim to have a holistic strategic plan to help us significantly scale up our organization's impact, making meaningful strides towards our mission and benefiting the communities we serve.

How will you know that you have achieved that impact? What data will you use to assess your impact?

- Number of new libraries established
- Number of learners impacted
- Number of teachers trained
- Number of new donors and partners onboarded
- Change in how community members are engaged with our programs
- Change in learners' literacy and lifeskills acquisition
- Change in teachers' capacity to manage the libraries
- School performance metrics
- Increase in fundraising revenue, grants secured, and donations received over the three-year period.
- Change in policies or legislation supporting library development and literacy initiatives are influenced by the Trust's advocacy efforts.
- Recognition and support from policymakers and stakeholders at local, regional, or national levels.
- Feedback from stakeholders on the impact of the organization’s work

How do you anticipate this unique leadership education impacting you personally? What new skills are you hoping too develop & grow through this experience?

The WLW Program offers a unique opportunity for personal growth. I anticipate that the program will provide me with valuable insights into effective leadership strategies, which will enhance my abilities to navigate complex challenges. I also expect to learn global perspectives that foster a global mindset and allow for adaptability to diverse audiences. I look forward to honing my strategic thinking skills from the pool of mentors and interacting with fellow participants to enable me to set clear personal goals, navigate uncertainties with confidence, and formulate strategies that ensure the sustainable growth of Start a Library Trust.

Where would you like to see yourself professionally in the next 3 years?

In the next three years, I am looking forward to taking on more responsibilities and playing an important role in drafting the organization's five-year strategic plan. I am committed to honing my leadership abilities and using my experience to achieve positive results. In addition, I plan to actively participate in professional development opportunities to stay current on industry trends and upcoming technology.

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