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Social Impact Heroes: How Wawira Njiru is providing food to help thousands of impoverished children to get an education

I define leadership as service. I believe that the greatest thing you can do as an individual on earth is to be of service to others. I believe the greatest leaders view their work as service. One of my inspirations, for example, is the great Wangari Maathai, who was the first African woman to win […]


I define leadership as service. I believe that the greatest thing you can do as an individual on earth is to be of service to others. I believe the greatest leaders view their work as service. One of my inspirations, for example, is the great Wangari Maathai, who was the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize for her work in environmental conservation. She worked with women to empower them to work towards conserving the environment through service. To be a servant is the greatest honour, and that is true leadership.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Wawira Njiru. Wawira is the founder and executive director of Food for Education. She is the recipient of the first-ever Global Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership Award.


Thank you so much for doing this with us, Wawira! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in Ruiru, Kenya, a small community in Kenya, where a lot of kids in my neighbourhood would go hungry. I’d share my lunch with my playmates and very early on was conscious about my privilege of having three meals a day. When I began my degree in nutrition and food sciences at the University of South Australia, I started to learn about the impact of nutrition on children’s ability to learn and grow. I was able to relate every statistic about nutrition with the children I grew up with. I started “Food for Education” because I believe that kids like the ones I grew up with shouldn’t have to grow up in hunger.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The most interesting story happened recently when we scaled from 3,000 to 10,000 kids served a day, thanks to the Cisco Youth Leadership Award. We moved from six to 11 schools over a month and it was honestly one of the hardest things my team and I have ever done. The best reward for it was seeing so many kids happy to get daily lunches. Seeing thousands of kids lined up to get meals then walking away with the biggest smiles on their faces keeps me going.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

During our first fundraiser when I was living in Adelaide, Australia, where I went to university, I arranged a Kenyan dinner to raise money to construct a makeshift kitchen that would feed 25 kids a day. I cooked all the food and burnt all the rice. Unfortunately, 80 people who came for the fundraiser had to eat burnt rice that they paid $20 for. Everyone was so nice and said they didn’t even notice that the rice was burnt! We raised $1,680 during that fundraiser which enabled us to feed all 25 kids.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

It is estimated that by 2050, 1 out of 4 people in the world will be African. We believe feeding the future is the greatest investment we can ever make because it is impossible to learn on an empty stomach. We have seen the meals we provide contribute significantly and directly to improved performances in school, better school attendance and ultimately greater high school transition rates. This impacts largely on young people’s ability to use education as a tool to get out of poverty.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

Every child who goes through our programme and is ultimately able to transition to high school and who otherwise wouldn’t have had that opportunity is a story. But I can single out a particular girl, who was among the first 25 students we fed when we began in 2012. She was orphaned and living with her grandmother and younger sister in extreme poverty. Because of the meals we provided, she was able to stay in school and successfully complete her primary school education and through generous sponsors went on to high school. She is now currently in her third year at university pursuing a degree in political science. We hear the same stories from thousands of students we have worked with, and that shows the power of meals to change lives.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  • Create legislation that allows for school feeding programmes to be mandatory across all public schools in the country.
  • Lobby African governments to commit to create funding in their annual national budgets that go to feeding school children across the continent.
  • Give to organisations that work towards improving the lives of children around the world.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define leadership as service. I believe that the greatest thing you can do as an individual on earth is to be of service to others. I believe the greatest leaders view their work as service. One of my inspirations, for example, is the great Wangari Maathai, who was the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize for her work in environmental conservation. She worked with women to empower them to work towards conserving the environment through service. To be a servant is the greatest honour, and that is true leadership.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Things become clearer with time — When I started, I was an impatient and very curious 21-year-old. I am now learning to be more patient with the process.
  2. Seeing kids eat and be able to learn will always feel like the best thing in the world.
  3. You will find your way and place in the world eventually — I was very insecure when I was younger and growing older has helped.
  4. Nothing will turn out exactly as you think, but if you don’t give up, things could turn out even better.
  5. You can only take care of everyone around you if you take care of yourself too.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would inspire more investment for African youths in education and employment opportunities. In 2050, 1 in 4 people in the world will be African and the time is now to invest in the potential of African youths. I believe that African youths hold the key to some of the world’s largest challenges. Investing in them now is good for the world and the future.

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Things will take the time they need to take.”

I love this quote because it reminds me to work towards what I believe in because eventually, things will align.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Yes — Michelle Obama. I read her book “Becoming” earlier in the year and loved her view that we are all becoming more each day, and leadership is a process of constantly defining who you are and living true to your values.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram/Twitter/Facebook; @Food4Education

Website: www.food4education.org to learn more on the work we do.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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