Ford Foundation awards fellowship to renowned advocate and scholar to support the foundation’s work on women’s leadership

February 13, 2024 — Today, the Ford Foundation announced that Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, PhD will join the organization as a senior fellow. Kamau-Rutenberg is an activist and academic known for her extensive work on women’s leadership. During her fellowship, she will leverage her decades of experience supporting women’s empowerment to scale Black Women in Executive Leadership (B-WEL), a global initiative focused on improving the numbers, experiences, and impact of Black women in senior and executive leadership across sectors. She will also work closely with Ford’s director for Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice International (GREJ-I), the BUILD team, and Ford’s fellowship team to inform the foundation’s intersectional work to advance social justice. 

“Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg’s extensive on-the-ground advocacy work and her strong background in academia reflect her unique ability to not only strategize and think big, but set into motion initiatives that can change our perspectives and approaches,” said Ford Foundation executive vice president of programs Hilary Pennington. “Her ongoing collaboration with our program areas and regional offices will further strengthen our efforts to foster responsive solutions that empower women and girls and champion justice and equity. We look forward to learning from each other on our shared journey toward gender justice.” 

“Long inspired by the Ford Foundation’s vision, and with deep admiration for this team of grantmakers and thought leaders, I am thrilled to be joining the Ford Foundation as a senior fellow. There are many visionaries on the frontlines of social change around the world whose contributions to our most pressing problems often go unheard because they happen to be Black and female,” said Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg. “B-WEL’s work connecting Black women executives from around the world to learn from each other’s most successful strategies, tools, and tactics in navigating the intersection of patriarchy and anti-Black racism, then leveraging those insights to shape individual and institutional collaborations towards systemic change, is powerfully aligned to the Ford Foundation’s mission and I’m excited for this opportunity to collaborate with Foundation colleagues as, together, we build a more just global society”.  

Kamau-Rutenberg has decades of global experience supporting visionary leaders across a variety of sectors including education, scientific research, food systems, and climate change. Before founding B-WEL, Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg served as the inaugural director of the Rise Program, a joint initiative of Schmidt Futures and the Rhodes Trust.  Earlier, she was director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) which works towards inclusive, agriculture-driven prosperity for the African continent with more gender-responsive agricultural research and innovation.  

Kamau-Rutenberg also founded and led Akili Dada, an award-winning leadership incubator and Ford Foundation grantee that invests in high-achieving young women from under-resourced families who are passionate about driving change in their communities.

She has received widespread recognition for her work including prestigious fellowships, and being honored as a White House Champion of Change by the Obama Administration and receiving the United Nations Intercultural Innovation Award. Kamau-Rutenberg has also been recognized on several influential lists, including 100 Most Influential Africans, 100 Most Reputable Africans, and Kenya’s Top 40 Women Under Age 40, among others

She is a member of the selection committee of the Africa Food Prize and serves on the Malabo Montpellier Panel alongside other independent experts who support African governments and civil society in identifying and implementing policies that enhance agriculture, food, and nutrition security across the continent. She also sits on the Board of the Autodesk Foundation, Syngenta Foundation, Landesa, the Global Food Banking Network, and the council of Co-Impact’s Gender Fund & the African Climate Foundation.

She began her career as an assistant professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and a lecturer in International Relations at Hekima College in Nairobi, where her academic research and teaching interests centered on African politics, gender, international relations, ethnicity, and democratization, and the role of technology in social activism.

Born in Kenya, Kamau-Rutenberg holds a PhD and a Master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Minnesota,  as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and a Doctorate (Honoris Causa) from Whitman College in Washington, U.S.A.

The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

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