Rakesh Rajani

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Rakesh Rajani
રાકેશ રજની
Rakesh Rajani 2012.jpg
Born c. 1966 (age 50–51)[1]
Mwanza, Tanzania
Residence New York City, USA
Nationality Tanzanian
Education International School Moshi[1]
Alma mater Brandeis University (B.A.)
Harvard University (M.T.S.)
Occupation Exec. Dir., HakiElimu (2001-07)
Head, Twaweza (2009-14)
Director, Ford Foundation (2015–)
Children Amar and Chhaya

Rakesh Rajani is a Tanzanian civil society leader of Indian descent. He has established and led many key social initiatives in the evolution of education in Tanzania and East Africa throughout the last decade including [1], familiar to many people in Tanzania, especially as a vocal advocate for young people through education and recently, with [2] and [3], open government and ICT. In addition he helped set up and served as the first chairman of Policy Forum, a network of over 100 NGOs in Tanzania involved in helping 'policies work for people'. Rakesh is considered a thought leader for much International Development work, particularly related to child rights, education and open government in Tanzania and globally.

Life and career[edit]

Rakesh was born in Mwanza, Tanzania where he completed his primary education. For secondary school he went to Moshi, Tanzania Tanzania, on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. He then went to the USA on a graduated summa cum laude from Brandeis University with a BA in Philosophy and English Literature in 1989 and Harvard University with a MTS, (Liberation) Theology in 1991. He was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa Society, a highly prestigious society. For a few years, Rakesh was a member of the Catholic Worker movement through Haley House in Boston, MA, which worked with homeless people.

From 1991 to 1998 Rakesh co-founded and served as the first executive director of the Kuleana Centre for Children's Rights in his hometown of Mwanza, Tanzania. The organization worked with street children and advocated for children's interests across the country. It received the prestigious Maurice Pate Award and was at one point a leading children's agency in the world, but is now largely defunct.

After Kuleana, Rakesh served as a resident fellow at Harvard University's Center for Population and Development Studies and the Human Rights Program of the Harvard Law School from 1998 to 2000. He has remained a non-resident fellow ever since, including serving as an associate of the Joint Learning Initiative on Children and HIV/AIDS [4] from 2006 to 2009.

In 2001, Rakesh founded HakiElimu and served as its executive director. Early on, the organization offered crucial external advice on PEDP and SEDP national policies that led to the massive expansion of government primary and secondary schools in Tanzania throughout the 2000-2010 decade (specifically the increase from 57% to 87% for primary student attendance and advancement up to grade 7). This report is a good example of this work. Rakesh also co-edited two volumes of speeches and papers on education by Julius Nyerere, Tanzania's founding president.

From 2004 and after Rakesh's time, the organization has led several important TV and radio campaigns throughout Tanzania advocating for quality of education, and citizen involvement in education and democracy, and to switch the medium of instruction from English to Kiswahili. This work was hugely popular and challenged the authorities, leading to the authorities trying to shut down many activities of HakiElimu, but it never quite succeeded in closing down the organization completely, likely because of the wide media and public support enjoyed by HakiElimu. One study analyzing effects HakiElimu's advocacy work is informative. Ultimately, in February 2017 after a high level meeting between HakiElimu and then Prime Minister Edward Lowassa all restrictions against HakiElimu were lifted. Rakesh stepped down as executive director at the end of 2007 but continued some work with the organization through its Board until 2009. [5]

After leaving HakiElimu, in 2008 and 2009 Rakesh worked as a consultant with Hivos, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Google.org and other agencies. His main work involved researching and advising on how citizen based accountability could be strengthened in East Africa. This work led to the formation, in 2009, of Twaweza, a ten year initiative to promote access to information, citizen agency and better service delivery in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda [6]. Through this Rakesh played a key role in helping set up the Open Government Partnership and increase access to information in East Africa. A major project of Twaweza is Uwezo which undertakes a large scale assessment of basic literacy and numeracy in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania on an annual basis, which has shown that universal expansion of schooling has not been matched by improvement in learning outcomes.

Rakesh has been frequently been featured several times on YouTube and has been a frequent contributor to magazines and a featured speaker in meetings. In May 2014 he was featured on CNN African Voices

Board membership and affiliations[edit]

Rakesh advises or serves on several boards. These include:

In the past he has advised and/or served on other boards including

Personal life[edit]

Rajani was born into a Hindu family and converted to Christianity.[1]




  1. ^ a b c d Mngodo, Esther (24 October 2014). "Rakesh Rajani: Changing the world, one challenge at a time". The Citizen. Dar es Salaam. Retrieved 22 July 2015. 
  2. ^ "An Insight An Idea With Rakesh Rajani". Global Shapers. Retrieved 22 July 2015. 

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