WISER Co-Founder Challenges TASIS Students to Build a Better World
Posted 12/08/2017 10:01AM

Andy Cunningham from WISER

Andrew Cunningham, who last visited TASIS seven years ago when he was seeking a partner for the WISER Girls Secondary School—a pioneering boarding school in Muhuru Bay, Kenya, that he co-founded in 2006—returned to campus on November 30 to address students in all three divisions and meet with the current members of the TASIS WISER group, which has existed at the School since 2010 and became an official Global Service Program group when the pioneering program was endowed by Jan Opsahl '68 in 2013.

WISER has been an astonishing success in a region that still sees 75 percent of girls drop out of school before finishing high school, with 51 percent dropping out because of pregnancy. After seven years of operation, the dropout rate at WISER is now zero percent while the college admission rate is 90 percent.

"That all happened in the last ten years, so imagine what we could do in the next 10 years," Mr. Cunningham said in his address to High School students, which can be viewed in full below. "I remember standing here seven years ago, dreaming and praying that we would partner with an elite institution like The American School in Switzerland. I remember speaking to parents and teachers in Muhuru Bay and describing not only your campus but your teachers and yourselves, and they absolutely were enthusiastic and inspired. They said, 'Does someone actually care?' And over seven years, TASIS, unlike any other partner school, has gone above and beyond—not only in terms of your fundraising, but also in terms of your time and talent in coming to Muhuru Bay every year."


Mr. Cunningham's address centered around his top ten list for how we can continue to champion the cause of girls worldwide who are denied a fair shot at an education: 1) Dream big, but dream together; 2) Invest in people to make lasting change; 3) Invest in education and health; 4) Cultivate gender allies for girls' education; 5) Inspire lifelong partnerships for sustainability; 6) Promote learning in 4-D; 7) Adopt a "what's next" attitude; 8) Measure and celebrate impact; 9) Change the bigger picture; 10) Re-imagine what's possible.

He closed by asking students, "What if one more girl could graduate from secondary school? What if one more girl never had to sell her body to feed her mind? What if one more girl could spend five more hours learning rather than five hours carrying water from the lake? One if one more girl had the opportunity to...Live WISER...Learn WISER...and, ultimately, Be WISER."

Andy Cunningham from WISER

Andy Cunningham from WISER

Later in the day, Mr. Cunningham met with the current WISER Global Service Program
group and shared his message at Elementary School and Middle School assemblies.

Mr. Cunningham is currently the Global Education Advisor with the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF). Although based at the foundation's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, he travels 180 days a year, co-leading AKF's global education portfolio, working in partnership with governments, school faculties, parents, and communities to develop affordable, innovative solutions that raise the quality and accessibility of public school systems for marginalized children across 16 countries in Eastern and Western Africa, Central and Southern Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. He oversees AKF's global school improvement program for children in primary and secondary education while also identifying meaningful uses of information and communications technology (ICT) for improving student learning, professional learning, and systems learning.

"I remember standing here seven years ago, dreaming and praying that we would partner with an elite institution like The American School in Switzerland."

Before joining AKF, Mr. Cunningham worked for UNICEF Kenya, the World Bank, World Learning, and the Education Above All Foundation, amongst others. In 2006, he co-founded WISER in Muhuru Bay, where he lived out of a mud hut as its Executive Director for the school's first two years. The first girls secondary boarding school in its region to offer full scholarships to all girls, WISER has emerged as one of Kenya's top-performing girls' secondary schools in the country, especially in STEM and global health.

Mr. Cunningham graduated summa cum laude from Duke University with a double major in International Comparative Studies and Chinese and earned a Masters in Comparative International Education at Oxford University with distinction. He will soon finish his Ph.D at Oxford University, with a focus on understanding local realities of effective school leadership strategies through mobile and cloud-based technologies in Kenya. He is the recipient of the prestigious Marshall Scholarship, Truman Scholarship, Robertson Scholarship, Goldman Sachs Global Leaders Award, Oxford University's Vice Chancellor's Award for Social Impact, and Duke's President's Young Alumni Award for Global Leadership.

TASIS Opsahl Global Service Program

The Opsahl Global Service Program was envisioned by Jan Opsahl '68, who became the first international student at TASIS when he came from Norway in 1965. The pioneering program was launched in 2013 with major support from a most generous donation from Mr. Opsahl and his family to set up the Global Service Trust. This Trust, along with support from the TASIS Foundation, make this incredible, life-changing experience for our students possible.

The Opsahl Global Service Program, which has been directed by Zach Mulert since its inception, transforms lives by providing every High School student a unique opportunity to connect across borders through comprehensive experiences that build empathy and encourage personal responsibility. Participation in the program—which is designed to awaken students to humanitarian needs, inspire them to build enduring, mutually beneficial relationships, and lead them toward a life of active citizenship and committed service—is a graduation requirement.

 

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