SEATTLE, Washington — Oprah Winfrey founded the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in 2007 as a gift and pledge to Nelson Mandela. It is an academic institution in South Africa. After meeting with Nelson Mandela for the first time in 2002, Winfrey pledged to create an all-girls school after both of them had agreed upon the fact that education is the most effective way to end poverty in South Africa. Thus, Oprah’s Leadership Academy for Girls was born.
The Leadership Academy for Girls
At Ophrah’s Leadership Academy’s conception, it was limited in scope, only serving girls in grades seven and eight. It now serves almost 300 girls from grades eight to 12. Additionally, the academy is not just an academic facility but also acts as a boarding facility for the girls. This helps them achieve academic success as well as also giving them the opportunity to leave their impoverished home towns.
Who Does It Help?
The school serves girls from nine different provinces in South Africa, specifically rural and impoverished communities. Many of the girls who attend the school grew up in “rondavels, thatch-roofed huts with walls made of mortar mixed with cow dung and sand” in a largely patriarchal society. Many South African communities still devalue female potential solely based on their gender. Thus, one of the main goals of Oprah’s school is to counteract that narrative and teach girls their potential.
Oprah actually handpicks each girl that attends the academy with some unique characteristics in mind. Unlike regular admissions, Oprah doesn’t look at girl’s grades but for a “sparkle,” something that makes each girl special. This helps elevate girls even if they haven’t had the best educational opportunities.
Effects of the Academy
Winfrey has donated about $140 million of her own money into helping the girls at this school see their potential. However, according to other staff members at the institution, Winfrey has not only donated her funds and time but also her talents. Her presence at the school is visible and the impact of it has shown in the success of each year’s graduates.
Most of the girls that attend Oprah’s Leadership Academy do not have the financial means to attend college. After attending her academy, many of the girls have gone on to attend “Stanford, Skidmore, Brown, Oxford, USC, University of Cape Town and Varsity College. They’ve pursued post-doctorate degrees and secured prestigious jobs in major cities around the world.” However, Winfrey makes it clear to the girls that the goal of her academy is not necessarily academic achievement but for the girls to see their worth. She wants to help them make better lives for themselves.
Each year girls win awards for different types of achievements made at the academy. The 2018 winner for academic achievement said that the best thing about the academy to her was that she was able to “exist in a space where you can become more than you were yesterday” at the Leadership Academy. That is the exact goal Oprah was trying to achieve.