The Center for Public Leadership (CPL) at the Kennedy School of Government presented the 2007 Gleitsman International Activist Award to Sakena Yacoobi on Dec. 4. Yacoobi is the founder and executive director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), which she established in 1995 to provide teacher training to Afghan women, to support education for boys and girls, and to provide health education to women and children.
“We are honored to be able to recognize a social activist who has truly made the world a better place in which to live,” said Donna Kalikow, executive director of CPL. “Dr. Yacoobi’s commitment to improving the lives of Afghan women and children through education and literacy is a contribution to the improved welfare of all Afghanis, regardless of gender. We hope that the world will find inspiration in her story.”
Until the fall of the Taliban in 2001, AIL operated underground, supporting home schools for more than 3,000 girls. It was the first organization to open women’s learning centers, which taught women to become economically independent. With the adoption of a new Afghan constitution, women have been allowed to return to work, and some have been appointed to prominent positions in the government. AIL now serves 350,000 women and children each year and employs about 415 Afghans, more than 70 percent of which are women.
“When an award is given to any Afghan woman, it is really given to all Afghan women. It gives us hope and courage, and we know that the world has not forgotten us, and, despite our troubles, we know that we will continue to study and become educated, work and support our families, and continue the struggle for our human rights,” Yacoobi said.
Retired television executive Alan Gleitsman created the International Activist Award (IAA) program in 1993 to reward and encourage leadership in social activism by individuals whose selfless efforts have improved the quality of life in their countries. IAA judges include Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire; Fang Lizhi, astrophysicist and Chinese democracy advocate; Jacqueline Novogratz, chief executive officer of the Acumen Fund; Sadako Ogata, president, Japan International Cooperation Agency; and David Gergen, director of the CPL. The award is given biennially and includes a prize of $100,000. Past honorees have included Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Yunus, and Jaya Arunachalam, the founder of the Working Women’s Forum.
Swanee Hunt, director of the Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program and former ambassador to Austria, co-hosted the Dec. 4 award ceremony with Gergen. It was held at the Taubman Building at the Kennedy School.