If there is one thing that the spread of COVID-19 demanded of everyone, it is the capacity to pivot and remain adaptable. For Hawa Keita, adapting was an imperative she had to implement as travel restrictions put a hamper on the programming opportunities her team had been working on. By 25, Hawa was appointed the Executive Director of CEED Concordia, a non-profit organization whose youth development initiatives brought students from Montreal and Gulu, Uganda together for international placement opportunities. Faced with an abrupt halt to international travel, Hawa and her team strategically pivoted to virtual programs that facilitated digital engagement between students. The team also expanded their reach to three more countries and are now working on initiatives in Columbia, Ghana and Senegal. In her own words, one of Hawa’s proudest moments has been “bringing change to CEED Concordia after going through a global crisis”.
Hawa’s story is one of tenacity and dreaming big. While she grew up primarily in France, she spent many summer holidays in Senegal, her country of birth, and recalls being astounded by the stark contrast between these two countries. Even at a young age she caught on to the inequalities between her experience and that of the talibé children who spent their days begging for alms across the streets of Dakar. These moments moved her deeply and she set her sights on international development as a field that could help rectify much of the injustice she was seeing. At Concordia University, Hawa pursued Finance as she saw its usefulness as a vehicle for providing secure investments to developing nations. It was also at this juncture that she came across and got involved with CEED Concordia, the very same organization that she is at the helm of now. Talking over CEED’s directive and approach, it is evident that this organization has steered away from the saviourism that is characteristic of many international development agencies. Rather, CEED has placed a focus on community leadership and approaching international development from a mutual-learning perspective. This approach is facilitating system change from the ground up as youth are empowered to utilize entrepreneurship, think about sustainability and focus on skills improvement to contribute to meaningful change. To date, CEED is proud to have facilitated training for 112 up and coming entrepreneurs and facilitated learning sessions for over 6000 students in Uganda.
Outside of CEED, Hawa is a gifted painter whose love for the continent shines through her art. She is an avid reader, enjoys the company of good friends and coworkers and strives to bring balance and harmony to her life. When asked for advice, she insists that students take advantage of the experiential learning opportunities that are available to them. She encourages folks to step out of the comfort of the classroom and make strides towards building connections and a network that will be a stepping stone to a meaningful career!