Yukabeth Kidenda: I Want To Celebrate And Dignify The Teaching Profession

Teach For Kenya is one of many independent chapters of the Teach For All Non-Profit organization, that is currently being set up in Nairobi, Kenya by Yukabeth Kidenda who is both its CEO and founder.

Passionate about education and mentorship, Yukabeth is on a mission to build a movement of ethical leaders to drive reforms in Kenya’s education ecosystem.

In this article, Yukabeth talks about her passion for teaching and her dream for education in Kenya.


What inspired the Teach For Kenya initiative?

Teach for Kenya is not the first of its kind, there are actually 50 other partner networks that exist all over the world.

Teach For All was started by Wendy Kopp, an American who actually started it as Teach For America initially. Her inspiration came from coming face to face with the inequities in education in her hometown and feeling a burden in her heart to help bridge those gaps.

From the success of that, she decided to replicate the model across other countries.

When I was done with college, I decided to take a gap year and went to serve as a teacher in Honduras, Central America.

That entire year was 365 of the happiest days of my life. I came back home, but for one and a half years, I couldn’t find a job.

That really made me question everything that I had believed. For a long time, I had this belief that education was what gets you to be successful.

I questioned that notion a lot and began to think –

  • How come the education that I received didn’t prepare me for this slump on the road?
  • How come this great education made me sit at home for over a year jobless?
  • Why didn’t it help me sell myself to a potential employer?

That is when things in my mind changed, I don’t want to just help people get access to education, I want to help them get access to QUALITY education that will enable them to thrive in this 21st century.

That’s why I dedicated my life to working in educational organizations.

I started with adult learning and corporate training, then worked with @Microsoft with their education team to push ICT training and certification – Yukabeth Kidenda Click To Tweet

I started with adult learning and corporate training, then worked with Microsoft with their education team to push ICT training and certification.

Thereafter I joined Metis where I was running a fellowship program for educators across all sectors and went on to work with the African Leadership Group as a leadership facilitator and now getting ready to launch Teach For Kenya.

I had been mulling over this with one of my mentors, Kennedy Odede for about one and a half years and by the beginning of 2019, I just decided to get on with it and actually do something. I think right now the country is ripe for such a great innovation and I’m glad to be at the forefront of it.

Why is education important to you?

I have a vast background in education, all the way back to my time in high school when my mother was diagnosed with cancer.

My parents really valued education a lot and still do, my siblings and I all went to very good schools. My mother’s illness did take a financial toll on the family but one thing I took note of, was that my father did not make us switch schools at any point.

We could have saved so much money by going to other schools that were not as costly and I could not understand why he chose to make that sacrifice. As I got older I realized the kind of doors that getting a good education and being exposed to that kind of learning could open for me.

During my university years, I approached my dad and told him that I want to support other people who don’t have people rooting for them the way he rooted for us.

My dad and I soon started doing a lot of projects in the community, going out to various areas, providing books, toiletries, things that just make the learning environment more habitable and more comfortable for the students.

That really generated the passion I have had since then to do more in the education field.

3. How is it going with putting together the launch?

It’s been a scary, engaging, challenging but exciting process all the same. One thing that has worked in my favor, is that this is my dream job. I’ve always wanted to work with people who don’t have anybody cheering them on and supporting them.

Teach For Kenya puts me in that unique position where I have basically taken the responsibility to run this organization that will help mentor recent graduates and put them in a position where they come face to face with the challenges facing their community, transitioning them on to the alumni face of the program and watching them go out into the world to impact and join initiatives that are seeking to address these challenges.

So I’d say right now that the education space in Kenya is very ripe. There are so many people who are very receptive to the idea of Teach For Kenya, and think it’s been a long time coming so the support has been overwhelming in a good way.

I plan to pilot this program with our first 20 fellows in January 2021 so what I’m focusing on right now is doing community research and going out into the areas where we will potentially get to speak to the communities, the teachers, students, and parents and find out what their needs are and how our skills can best match those needs.

It’s a lot of work but I feel like all of us as citizens of this country and this continent needs to do our part, this is me right now choosing to do my part.

I hope this encourages anyone who may think that their part may be too small – we’re all pieces in a puzzle of a beautiful bigger picture and by doing our part, we are working one day at a time to transform this country into one of the best.

With over 800,000 children in Kenya out of school, what do you think is a probable solution to this problem?

I’ll be very honest and say I really don’t have a solution myself but I will say that in everything that is done, there are pros and cons.

When free primary education was introduced in Kenya, there was a great influx of students into the public school system but the system was not prepared to take that influx. Click To Tweet

One of the reactions I remember that members of the community did was to start low cost private schools in the slum areas. These particular schools don’t have as much support as the government schools have.

The schools provided increased access to education at low costs but the level of accountability was reduced as a single teacher is not able to keep track of about 100 students alone.

What we need to do is champion more for the increase in the disbursement of resources especially to public schools, to enable them to absorb that high influx of students but also increase the level of accountability with teachers.

This goes back to a motivation issue because yes, they have more students to look out for but who is looking out for the teachers? That’s one thing that Teach For Kenya is really keen about – we want to celebrate and dignify the teaching profession because none of us would be where we are if it wasn’t for our teachers.

We need to place a bigger focus on teachers, building capacity for teachers, allocating bigger budgets to that sector.

We still have a lot of untrained teachers who are unemployed right now but the government just doesn’t have enough funds to train and employ them.

Children being out of school is a big issue and with Teach For Kenya, we really are committed to sending out more people to act as aspirational role models in the classrooms to try and dignify the teaching profession.

We will be recruiting recent graduates from every profession, we’ll have lawyers, engineers, musicians, etc in the classroom teaching.

That way, when a child looks up at their teacher, they will look at him/her with awe and because even after 4 years of law school, he/she still thinks it’s cool to be a teacher.

Which teacher/s in your life had the biggest impact on you?

I’d like to mention my high school principal – Mrs. Mbaya. I was always one of those well-performing kids in school, but I also did well in being naughty.

For most teachers, those two character traits could never reconcile, but for Mrs. Mbaya, I was just acting like a normal child. She made me feel like it was okay to be smart in class and also be a bit naughty.

When I got so much backlash from other teachers, she was the one person on my side. We had such a great bond that she would invite me to her house for tea over the school holidays, I really felt seen and understood by her.

Because of that, I was able to thrive in school. All the backlash I was constantly getting would have forced me to decide what part of the spectrum I wanted to be in, but thanks to her I successfully managed to be naughty and brainy until the end of my time at that school.

I am someone who loves people a lot so everywhere I have been, I have fallen in love with the people there.

For example, my kindergarten principal, Ms. Mildred Obuye, is still my friend to this day, we are now working in the education space together and we collaborate on various projects together.

All through my life though, my greatest teachers have been my parents, I can attribute 98% of what I have learned in life to them.

They are the greatest embodiment of what a teacher should be in this life which is engaging and willing to make a genuine human connection with a student.

What do you foresee for the future of education in Kenya?

Right now there are so many amazing things happening in the education space. Everyone is beginning to plant their small seeds of change with so many privately owned education ventures already taking off in Kenya.

It’s a great time to be alive as an educator in Kenya, we saw Peter Tabichi win the Global Teacher Prize and it shows that we are on the map and that it’s the right time to nurture those seeds that we have planted to continue the fight.

Kenyans are beginning to think outside the box, they are taking risks and being disruptive and what I can say to that is – keep doing what you’re doing. I’m really excited for all the innovation that is happening for all the alternative education systems.

What are your thoughts on homeschooling versus traditional schooling methods?

To speak for myself, I think it’s best that you find what works for you and for your child. This means connecting and knowing your child, understanding what they want and what they need and figuring out if it’s you who will be able to give it to them or the traditional school.

So I wouldn’t say I prefer the traditional system over homeschooling or vice versa but I would just say the center of education needs to be the learner, connect with the learner, find out their needs and then put them in the best place that would be able to satisfy those needs.

What mantra do you live by?

Honesty – You need to be honest in your dealings

Humility – You need to be humble because if you’re not you’ll never be able to hire people who are smarter than you to join your team and get you to success

Responsibility – We all have a responsibility first because God put us on this earth for a reason and we are responsible for the positions that we find ourselves in.  

Prayer – This is what has gotten me through everything in my life. My biggest supporter and cheerleader has been God, he has been my best friend through this whole journey and prayer is how I connect with him.


This month of July, we’re telling stories about boss ladies breaking boundaries, and how you also can hit your #BossLadyGoals. Got a boss lady story to share with us? Click here.

How to build an online media company on a start-up budget

Eyitemi Popo ayiba magazine media

Before launching Ayiba Magazine, I searched online for existing African-authored content sites targeted at young Africans and was scant to find any doing what I had in mind.

I launched Ayiba with the goal of providing a platform that showcased African change makers around the world who were disrupting tired narratives through media, technology, and innovation.

I didn’t just want to start a blog, instead I wanted to build a network of writers that covered content from across Africa and the Diaspora in a way that connected our generation.

If we look at mass media outlets that cover Africa, we have the BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera, amongst others, but none of them are African owned. I have always asked myself why there are no prominent African owned media outlets that cover content from across Africa.

A long-standing argument in development has been that all the books written on Africa are authored by old white men. Well, we’ve entered a new Digital Age and the same thing remains true about a large percentage of the content found online.

Of course that is increasingly changing, but it’s due to sites like Ayiba, channels like Arise TV, and others in the new media ecosystem. I believe Ayiba is important for the media landscape because our readers are our writers. We create content to inspire young Africans that is written by young Africans.

What sets us apart is this authenticity and the fact that we constantly strive to cover content from all over Africa – not just the usual suspects of Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa.

Over the past three years, there are five key strategies that have allowed our platform steadily scale. All of them relate to content creation because as the say “content is Queen.” Or do they say King?

Anyway, from day one, we have focused on generating diverse and quality content because we know that is how we will one day grow to millions of readers. A girl’s gotta dream!

Our strategies are:

Building a well-managed virtual office:

Since our team lives across three continents and four time zones (and is often moving between locations), we have had to create virtual processes for everything we do.

We’ve refined and streamlined our digital work environment using a combination of platforms, including Slack, Google, Facebook, and Dropbox.

Building a diverse team:

When recruiting, we don’t limit our search. All that matters is that the talent is tapped into global media and has a voice.

It’s because of the diversity in our team that we manage to cover stories from all over the world and are able to land features with so many diverse subjects.
Ayiba Team_medium

Training new talent:

We can’t always expect to find the best ready-made talent. Sometimes we have to nurture the talent we seek.

Our editorial team is committed to working with our contributors to produce quality content that meets the standards Ayiba has set for itself and that our readers have come to expect.

Creating content partnerships:

A major aspect of the Digital Age is the sharing and redistribution of information. Ayiba contributes to this by republishing and cross-publishing content, as well as cultivating distribution channels for our content.

We would like to see more collaboration in the African new media ecosystem.

Designing an aesthetically pleasing site:

Your content can be ace, but if your site looks amateur, readers will be less likely to stick around. WordPress themes are inexpensive and can easily be customized to meet your needs.  

I highly recommend them.

Of the points listed, talent acquisition has certainly been the most challenging hurdle. However, since we recruit talent from both the Diaspora and the continent, this increases our talent pool.

In the Diaspora, we reach out to our founding team alumni networks at Mount Holyoke College and Yale University. In Africa, we use Opportunity Desk to post our internship and fellowship programs. The internship program is for all roles outside editorial and runs for three months at a time, while our editorial fellowship is for up to six months. Ayiba emphasizes training homegrown journalistic talent.

Our environment is fast-paced, yet focuses on quality of content rather than quantity. Our editors work directly with our interns and fellows to improve their craft, providing a partnership from which both parties benefit. Some fellows choose to stay on after their fellowship, which has been great, but most leave to pursue other great opportunities. However, all benefit from an experience that has improved their writing ability.

One tip I can give on recruiting in a start-up is to make sure that whoever you bring into your team buys your weakness and sells you their strength. This means the team needs to be balanced by whoever you decide to bring on board. Each individual should neutralize the weaknesses of the team as a whole with their strengths. That’s the best way of keeping a lean team that delivers.

Ayiba covers-urban to formationWe recently published our first print issue, which was well-received. In fact, it was invited to exhibit at the first African Art Book Fair at the Dak’Art Biennale in Senegal. It was a challenging and time consuming process, but the whole team learned a lot. The best part is that we were able to create and distribute our print issue to five continents with less than $100 spent on the project.

We did this by:

  1. Recruiting talented design students who were looking to expand their portfolios to include magazine spreads.
  2. Using a pay-per-issue print service like Blurb, so we didn’t have to order in volume or handle delivery.
  3. Using creative commons like Flickr for stunning high quality non-copyrighted images.

If you are unable to recruit designers, I would advise purchasing template bundles from sites like Creative Market or Themeforest and modifying them to suit your aesthetic. Adobe InDesign is quite easy to learn and YouTube is a great resource.

In under two months, my team with little experience in print publishing, pulled together a beautifully designed 60-page print issue on a shoe-string budget. This is an example of the importance of having a flexible and committed team that is willing to take risks and accept new challenges.

As we look to the future, Ayiba would like to continue building on our original series. We have had a lot of success with our Afropolitan Diary, Start-up Stories, and Becoming series. We believe this is because they focus on personal narratives.

Most recently, we interviewed Fadumo Dayib, the first female presidential candidate for Somalia, for our Becoming Series. By telling this one individual story, we were able to more eloquently and profoundly highlight larger social and cultural issues in Somalia than we could have with a hard-hitting op-ed, for example.

Going forward, we would like to build on our nuanced storytelling and diversify the mediums we use to create these stories. In the coming year, we plan to build new partnerships that will make creating video posts a possibility.

Ayiba was started with a team of two and funds from an Indiegogo campaign that raised exactly $1,090. Today, we have a team of eight spread across three continents and are seen by organizations like the Financial Times and Seedstars World as an outlet that connects them to artistic and entrepreneurial talent in Africa and its Diaspora.

My point is don’t let insufficient finances be an excuse for not starting a business or fulfilling your life’s work. It only takes hard work, perseverance and a little creativity to build something from what is seemingly nothing.

Becoming a leader from the inside out

The Growing Ambitions CoFounders_Lusungu Kalanga, Chikondi Chabvuta & Umba Zalira

Irene Umba Zalira is a women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health advocate. In this piece, she shares the impact of Global Health Corps on her views on leadership and how she engages with her work. 

Global Health Corps is a leadership development organization that places young leaders under 30 from all backgrounds in year-long paid positions. Applications for the 160+ positions for the 2016-2017 class are due February 2nd, 2016. You can apply here


Is leadership something you’ve always desired?

I never wanted to be a leader, never saw myself as one. I took on small roles throughout my primary and secondary school life but nothing too serious. At least that is what I thought. I didn’t know these small roles were preparing me for bigger leadership roles that I would take on later in life.

Last year, I spent a year serving as a Global Health Corps fellow at the Ministry of Health in Malawi. Prior to being a Global Health Corps fellow, I shied away from leadership positions, aiming for roles with  less responsibility.

From your experience, do you think leadership skills can be taught? Or is it simply an innate skill?

People who know me now would never believe I once shied away from leadership roles. I truly believe my Global Health Corps experience molded me into the leader I am today. None of the leadership workshops and trainings I ever attended mentioned the need to work on your self-esteem.

Everyone spoke of leadership as something you did on the outside: how you talk, how you influence people and how you convince people. No one mentioned self-acceptance and confidence are the source of leadership. And because I was struggling on the inside, I couldn’t see myself as a leader.

What has been the greatest inspiration for you?

I remember being at Yale University in a room full of 127 young amazing people who had done extraordinary things in their lives: 127 change makers. There was one specific story that stuck with me.

One of the program participants had lived in Vietnam, and taught kids in the village how to swim because there had been a lot of drowning incidents during the rainy season. It made me think: ‘wow, I don’t even know how to swim!’

Global Health Corps

There were people younger than me who had already started organisations and initiatives in their own communities. That was definitely not me!

But there is something about being in such a space, a safe space with peers, where you can be vulnerable to say: ‘I am scared’. ‘I don’t know how I am going to do this.’ ‘Hell, I don’t even know how I got here!’ But, by the end of those 2 weeks at Yale, I was ready to own the GHC slogan of ‘change maker’.

The sessions with GHC staff and my peers, helped me see myself as a leader. I started working on my fears, passions, abilities, strengths and even weaknesses.

That must have been a huge inspiration for you. What did you then do with all that fire?

I got back to my country and I was ready to serve! I was serving before, but this time around, it was different. I was more than willing to lead initiatives and own the title of a change maker. I was one of the founding members of the Rotaract Club of Lilongwe and served as the Director of Community Services in the first year.

The Rotaract Club of Lilongwe is a service club of young people between the ages of 18-30 from different professional and educational backgrounds. We use our diverse skills and resources to improve the communities we live through the implementation of various projects and programs.

We understand you’ve been involved in different projects. Tell us about them.

Two friends and I started a community initiative in Kauma, a peri urban area on the outskirts of Lilongwe City, Malawi after we noticed teenage pregnancies was prevalent, resulting in high school drop out rates for girls. Initially, the plan was to go through the project a local church in the area had started to address the issue, to talk to the girls and encouragement them, then move on with our lives. But my drive to make an impact didn’t let me be. When you start doing something you are passionate about, you have to see it through.

So 17 months later, we found ourselves as co-founders of an organization called Growing Ambitions. We are currently supporting more than 20 girls with school fees and school materials. We recently enrolled one of our girls, Esther, a 19-year-old mother of a beautiful baby boy, into Stella Maris, a prestigious catholic secondary school.

Our mission is to help girls make informed decisions through mentoring and career guidance. We envision a Malawi where girls, regardless of their socio-economic status or negative experiences, take charge of their lives and thrive.

Growing ambitions

Tell us more about Growing Ambitions

Growing Ambitions primary target group are girls and young women who have dropped out of school due to unplanned pregnancy. We re-enroll them into schools and provide support to ensure they stay in school. We conduct monthly sessions on different topics ranging from sexual reproductive health, human rights, feminism, gender, time management based on the girl’s interests.

So far, the initiative has been self-funded along contributions from well-wishers. But, seeing that we’re growing, there’s going to be need for an alternative source of funding. Currently, we are in the process of getting registered as a non-governmental organization with the Malawian Ministry of Justice, and look forward to serving more girls and young women in Kauma and beyond.

What inspires you to keep the initiative alive?

It’s been a new, and sometimes arduous journey for me, my co-founders and the girls as well. These girls and young women live in communities where their rights are disregarded and they’re treated as second class citizens. But every small step in the right direction ensures more girls complete their education, and knowing that keeps me going.