Ashoka names grad student ‘Emerging Innovator’

Sydney Gray
Her upcoming training in Kenya will mark Sydney Gray’s return to East Africa, where she had worked on a project that brought improved access to water for rural communities. (Photo by Ryan Rivet)

When Ashoka chose 100 people from across the globe to be 2015 Emerging Innovators, the international nonprofit included Tulane University graduate student Sydney Gray. She will be heading to Nairobi, Kenya, in August for the Ashoka-American Express Emerging Innovator Bootcamp.

Gray’s trip to join 20 social innovators in East Africa will mark her return to Kenya. She previously worked there on a water project through a fellowship, witnessing the strength and resilience of women in rural villages despite facing hardships the developed world no longer encounters.

Now a master’s student in the Payson Graduate Program in Global Development, she is the co-founder of the New Orleans-based, international nonprofit Mama Maji, which serves to empower women to change their world by improving access to water.

The Ashoka award recognizes Gray as a leader in social innovation. “I am thrilled to have been selected,” she said. “This bootcamp will provide an extraordinary opportunity to scale the impact of Mama Maji to reach over 30,000 people and expand my skills and knowledge to lead our work.”

Gray’s first water project in Kenya was a success —installation of a water kiosk in the Chiga Community there provided 1,500 people with reliable access to clean, safe water. Since then, the community has expanded the original project to create 22 home taps and to bring water to two schools serving 275 students.

Across East Africa, Mama Maji has ensured clean water access to 3,800 people and trained 150 women in sustainable business development.

With the Ashoka training, Gray will learn how to increase the impact of her work. The bootcamp will focus on innovation, social impact and sustainability, and the innovators will be featured in a three-month online campaign to share their insights with other up-and-coming changemakers.

Ashoka is a global organization that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs.

Originally posted by New Wave staff.