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News 2 > Global Student Prize - Finalists > 2023 Finalists Global Student Prize > Kate Ekanem Hannum

Kate Ekanem Hannum

19 Jul 2023
United States of America
2023 Finalists Global Student Prize

Kate was born into a very traditional environment in Nigeria that was keen on early marriage for girls as a pathway out of poverty and an assurance of access to food and other basic needs. Her community prioritized boys’ education but encouraged girls to marry older wealthy suitors and prepare to be mothers, cooks, and dishwashers. However, this expectation was dashed when Kate became pregnant, as she was forced to work multiple jobs to feed her child as well as the father of her baby. Food was always lacking, and she was also physically abused. 

The turning point came after a chance meeting with a group of educated women, which convinced Kate to strike out on her own. At the age of nineteen, she became a single mother, homeless and without an education, but filled with determination. Immediately she decided to start an advocacy campaign to empower girls in her community, with a mission to utilize literature as a tool for social change. It was the first organization to respond to this need in a community where more than 1,000 girls were being forced into early marriages every year.  

This campaign eventually gave birth to the Inspire Community Network Foundation. Now in its 11th year, the Foundation has engaged youth from more than 200 communities across Nigeria and provided training and workshops to over 35,000 girls and women in rural communities – inspiring them to mobilize, research, and develop new solutions to their communities’ pressing issues. Then, when her daughter Precious was five years old, Kate got a scholarship to study for a bachelor's degree at Muhlenberg College in the United States. She is the first female student in her ancestral line to ever sit in a university classroom, and her daughter is with her today as she studies for a master's degree at Wilkes University. 

Kate’s contributions have also been acknowledged with a wide range of awards. In 2015, she became the first Nigerian, competitively chosen out of 3000 applicants, to represent the African Union at the G(irls)20 summit in Istanbul, Turkey. In 2016, she was presented with the Queen Elizabeth Young Leaders Award for community services, for a project that directly empowered more than 2,500 young people with early literacy skills. In 2018, she became the overall winner of the African Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) Empowerment Category for directly serving marginalized girls and women in Africa. 

If Kate wins the Global Student Prize, she will commit 95 per cent of the funds to an initiative that seeks to bridge the gap in the representation of Women, Black, and Indigenous people in the visual art and literary market (since these groups are confronted with multiple obstacles that hinder their access). Her initiative is a combination of publishing house and art gallery, specifically focused on researching, identifying, and amplifying the work of women and marginalized people. The remaining five per cent of the funds would be used to fund the rest of Kate’s graduate program. 

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