Ashoka Fellow Lucy Kanu Wins Fairness Award for Helping Women Help Themselves

Lucy Kanu, Ashoka Fellow and founder of Idea Builders, wins award for her empowering emerging talent in sub-Saharan Africa to break free from the cycle of poverty.

Since 2010, the Global Fairness Initiative (GFI), founded by President Bill Clinton and Karen Tramontano, has selected leaders who support underserved populations in building stronger communities. The organization’s goal is to inspire a new generation of changemakers who will dedicate themselves to social justice and economic development for the world's working poor.

This year's class of honorees, presented at the historic Howard Theatre in downtown D.C. in mid-November, included Her Excellency Joyce Banda, president of the Republic of Malawi, Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for global women's issues at the U.S. Department of State, and Lucy Kanu, founder of Idea Builders.

Kanu is also a Nigerian Ashoka Fellow, who was elected to the Fellowship in 2007. Idea Builders helps marginalized populations reach their potential by connecting changemakers to private-public partnerships to improve their output and purchasing power, while respecting their livelihoods as independent producers. Once these partnerships are formally organized, the majority of Idea Builders' producer groups join forces to become powerful local cooperatives, which are able to take on additional business measures like processing, marketing and sales.

“We have little projects going on in quite a number of places,” said Kanu, in an interview with Voice of America's Ndimyake Mwakalyelye. “We have 31 communities where we're working, aside from 11 states. We build our programs to make sure that we target and reach women at the grassroots.”

By prioritizing and encouraging local aspirations, Kanu and the Idea Builders network creates new markets and helps budding entrepreneurs reach scale across sub-Saharan Africa. All projects are held to ethical and managerial standards, and receive technical and business assistance from an advisory board as well volunteers who are often sourced through the Nigerian Youth Corps Service (NYSC) program.

“Lucy Kanu is our grassroots leader,” said GFI co-founder Karen Tramontano at the awards ceremony. “She is demonstrating the fact that if you wake up everyday and worry about how to change the economic livelihood of the poor, it can be done.”