The Chicago Council on Global Affairs awarded the 2008 Patricia Blunt Koldyke Fellowship on Social Entrepreneurship to Ada Onyejike, cofounder and chief executive officer of the Girl Child Art Foundation (GCAF) in Nigeria. The fellowship brought Onyejike to Chicago for the week of October 20-24, 2008, to exchange ideas about education, the arts, philanthropy, nonprofit management, and health initiatives.

Onyejike’s GCAF uses the arts to empower and educate young women in Nigeria where sons are often more highly valued than daughters, and many girls drop out of school at a young age. Performing and visual arts and creative writing programs are employed to build confidence, promote education and social rights, and help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Inspiring independent and empowered women isn’t an easy task in Nigeria, where women from all walks of life— rich and poor, educated and uneducated, urban and rural—face inequities and violence such as female genital mutilation, child marriage, trafficking, rape, and polygamy.

Using painting, sculpture, music and dance as catalysts for social transformation, Onyejike is demonstrating the unique power of art to foster independence and achievement. A GCAF Dance Fest, for example, focuses on inculcating positive HIV/AIDS practices. Youth involved with the foundation also participate in poetry, crafts, bead making, and ceramics, and a collection of their art is shown in the GCAF gallery and library.

Initially beginning in 2000 as a volunteer operation with no financial assistance, Onyejike now oversees GCAF centers in three of Nigeria’s states and operates programs in more than 200 communities. Reaching thousands of young women between the ages of 8-25, GCAF receives support from the Nigerian and U.S. governments, as well as from international organizations such as Art for Global Development and the Alliance Française.

“The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is delighted to honor Ada Onyejike and her groundbreaking use of the arts to empower youth in her country,” said Marshall M. Bouton, president of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “The education of Nigeria’s children is vital to Africa’s future and to the United States. Chicagoans will be inspired by Ada Onyejike’s creativity as well as her dedication to providing unique opportunities for Nigeria’s rising generation.”

The Patricia Blunt Koldyke Fellowship is funded by the Koldyke family to recognize a leading social entrepreneur between the ages of thirty and forty-five from any region of the world, working to transform their societies through creative innovations to social problems. This year the selection committee focused on primary and secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa. Exemplifying these qualities, Onyejike was selected from a large and extremely competitive applicant pool.

During her visit in October, Onyejike met with Chicago’s education and civic leaders, philanthropists, government officials, and the media. The fellowship was designed to provide her with perspectives on our city’s best practices. Onyejike delivered a major public address for The Chicago Council on Global Affairs on the evening of October 23, 2008.