College-building in Africa: Alumna founds school with limited resources

GW alumna Kibre Dawit knows all about the challenges of founding a school with limited resources.

As a graduate student at the School of Business in the early 1990s, Dawit had a vision to start a university for the less fortunate. But after founding a school in 2000, she realized the hardships of getting an educational institution off the ground.

Many students at her school cannot afford their own textbooks, much less the cost of tuition. And perhaps the most difficult part of this college is its location: central Ethiopia, Africa.

“We are working with inputs that Ethiopia does not currently have,” she said.

Dawit, 43, was born as the daughter of a diplomat and grew up living in various parts of Africa, Europe, Canada and the United States. She received her undergraduate degree at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, before attending GW for graduate business school.

“I chose GW because it is in the capital of the United States,” Dawit said. “GW’s program was also one of the top in the nation.”

While completing her master’s in business administration, Dawit worked full time at the GW Hospital and attended classes at night. As if studies were not enough, she also raised a child.

“I slept for only four and a half hours every night between 1985 and 1990,” Dawit said.

In 1991, Dawit received her M.B.A. from GW and considered continuing her studies to pursue a doctorate.

“I took management courses because America reached its (potential) by knowing management skills,” said Dawit, who hopes to utilize her education to help Ethiopia develop.

Instead of attempting to get her doctorate in the mid-90s, Dawit moved to Ethiopia and helped start the Africa Village Academy, a non-governmental organization that helped train Ethiopian farmers and educate Ethiopian women and youth.

As an extension of her interests in education, Dawit established Kisama Africa University along with partner Samrawit Haimanot. Dawit said her goal in founding the university was to increase the number of qualified engineers, architects, urban planners and software developers.

But reaching this goal has been a challenge. Dawit needs lab equipment and books for her university, but the lab equipment Dawit wants is not manufactured in Ethiopia, and has to be imported at high prices.

On top of needing to subsidize the costs of textbooks and tuition for her students, Dawit and her partner also must deal with attempts by the government to interfere with the management of the university. The government is wary of expanding the private sector of education, she said.

These roadblocks have not stopped Dawit. Her university graduated its first class in 2006 and plans to add a fourth department in March and offer a masters program once three classes of students have graduated. There are currently 306 students, and 45 instructors at Kisama, which is located in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa.

According to Dawit, all 91 students of Kisama’s graduating class of 2006 are employed. In addition, employers are impressed by the skills and professionalism of the graduates and are asking the university to send them more students.

This, Dawit said, is a credit to the education that the students are receiving at Kisama. She and others believe that the future of Ethiopia lies in technological know-how. Without it, the nation will not be able to develop, she said.

Over the next five to 10 years, Dawit hopes to see Kisama continue to grow. She also plans to continue research and development into construction material, solar and wind energy and town planning.

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