Alex traveled to WISER in 2009, when buildings were still under construction and there were no students yet on WISER’s campus. After the early death of his aunt, Alex took time off from working as an engineer to turn his grief into something positive for others. He joined us in Muhuru Bay to help design and implement the first clean water system in the area in partnership with UNICEF WASH and the Muhuru Bay Water Board. To this day, this clean water system is the only source of clean water for 5,000 community members.
The combination of health, education, and community empowerment initiatives at WISER hooked Alex, and he’s been a strong supporter ever since. Each year, Alex and his wife Molly support a scholarship in honor of his aunt to a WISER girl with a talent for science and engineering, supporting her through four transformative years of education and leadership development. The Sally McCarthy Kuisel scholarship has supported two girls with tremendous engineering talent and interest in pursuing careers in STEM – Diana, whose success you can read about in her own words here, and Winnie, whose engineering talents are highlighted here.
We sat down with Alex to hear more about why our mission is important to him and how he continues to honor his aunt through WISER.
W: How did you first get involved with WISER?
AM: My friend, Kelly Teagarden Klein put me in touch with WISER when I was living in New York. In the 2008 financial crisis my company cut pay by 10%. When my boss called me into his office to break the news I pitched the idea of additional savings by letting me take the summer off without pay. I wrote a plan demonstrating why this experience would be beneficial to me, to the world, and how it would benefit the company — and the company went for it. My aunt, who I had been very close to, had recently died young of breast cancer. Not having children, she left her retirement savings to her three nieces and two nephews. So it’s really because of her that I was able to take the summer off. Being able to spend time at WISER in the service of others was a good way for me to take Sally’s tragically unused retirement resources and make a positive impact. I think she is proud to be associated with WISER.
W: We’re grateful you chose to honor her memory through supporting WISER. What does WISER’s mission mean to you?
AM: The gender component of WISER’s mission is most important to me. I come from an engineering background — and engineering education, even at a liberal arts-focused place like UVA, has limited scope to focus on social issues. But through my church and my mother and my sister, gender equality has always been important and demonstrated visibly in my life. Being in Muhuru, you see the limits of gender opportunity and understand how the benefits of gender equality would be enormous. I see educating women as WISER’s core mission, and education as the key to opportunity and economic growth.
W: And why does WISER matter to you?
AM: WISER matters to me because of the mission of educating women and because of the quality of the oversight from the individuals involved. You can drive around Kenya and Tanzania and you see projects that were well intentioned but that didn’t have enough local understanding or support to be self-sustaining. I was involved in selecting and designing WISER’s water system and it was great to know that WISER would be the local steward of that investment. Students would use it to learn about hygiene, filtration, and engineering, and through local water sales kiosks, it would collect revenue and be sustainable. It’s nice to be able to totally trust the staff of an organization completely and know that there are people who will do the right thing on the ground.
W: We’re so glad to hear that. What do you wish other people knew about WISER?
AM: When I talk about WISER, I start with the mission of educating young women. My second focus is efficiency. I talk about how responsible and what good stewards the WISER community is and how any contributions are utilized effectively and locally and without a lot of overhead. The people that I’m usually talking to, friends and peers, are interested in contributing to charities that are effective at minimizing waste and I think WISER does a great job of that. There’s no giant WISER office. It’s close to the ground. I know my donations to WISER are going to be used well and the opportunity that these young women have because of it will make their lives better and their lives will impact future generations in Kenya. The most important link in moving a society forward is educating women.
W: Thanks for saying that, and for everything you do to make opportunities possible at WISER.
AM: No, thank you! WISER is a great place with people who are doing good things. I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that a it is easy to try to do good things but evaluating outcomes and opportunity cost are equally important. WISER is made up of smart people who understand the social and cultural context and who are doing really great work that is both well intentioned and impactful. That’s really important to me.