Rakesh Rajani

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Rakesh Rajani
રાકેશ રજની
Rakesh Rajani 2012.jpg
Bornc. 1966 (age 52–53)[1]
ResidenceNew York City, USA
EducationInternational School Moshi[1]
Alma materBrandeis University (B.A.)
Harvard University (M.T.S.)
OccupationExec. Dir., HakiElimu (2001-07)
Head, Twaweza (2009-14)
Director, Ford Foundation (2015–)
ChildrenAmar and Chhaya

Rakesh Rajani is a Tanzanian and global civil society leader. He has established and led many key social initiatives in the evolution of education in Tanzania and East Africa starting in 1991 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'. Rajani is considered a thought leader for much International Development work, particularly related to child rights, education, democracy and open government in East Africa and globally.

Life and career[edit]

Rajani was born in Tanzania where he completed his primary and secondary education. He then won a full Wien Scholarship [4] for university studies in the USA, and 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, Rajani was a member of the Catholic Worker movement through Haley House in Boston, MA, which worked with homeless people.

From 1991 to 1998 Rajani 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. The work with street children was based on a situation analysis [5] that helped shift thinking about street children from a charity view to understanding deprivation was caused by a lack of rights. 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, Rajani 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 continued as a non-resident fellow for many years since, including serving as an associate of the Joint Learning Initiative on Children and HIV/AIDS [6] from 2006 to 2009.

In 2001, Rajani founded HakiElimu and served as its executive director. Early on, the organization offered crucial external advice on the primary education and secondary education development plans (PEDP and SEDP) that led to the massive expansion of government primary and secondary schooling 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. Rajani also co-edited two volumes of speeches and papers on education by Julius Nyerere, Tanzania's founding president. The first volume is downloadable here [7].

Starting in 2004, HakiElimu 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. Rajani stepped down as executive director at the end of 2007 but continued some work with the organization through its Board until 2009. [8]

After leaving HakiElimu, in 2008 and 2009 Rajani 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 driven accountability could be strengthened in East Africa. This work led to the formation, in 2009, of Twaweza, a program to promote access to information, citizen agency and better service delivery in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda [9]. Through this Rajani played a key role in helping set up the Open Government Partnership, where he served as the civil society chairman for two years. A major project of Twaweza is Uwezo which undertakes a large scale assessment of basic literacy and numeracy in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania on a regular basis, which has shown that universal expansion of schooling has not been matched by improvement in learning outcomes. The World Bank Development Report in 2018 [10] was anchored in the main finding of this work. Another major program of the work started ubnder Rajani's leadership is Africa's first nationally representative mobile phone survey, known as Sauti ya Wananchi (Citizen's Voices) [11] which regularly collects and publishes independent and scientifically credible data.

Rajani stepped down from Twaweza in December 2014, and became director of the Democratic Participation and Governance program at the Ford Foundation in New York, USA in January 2015, charged with strengthening the organization's global engagement. [12] At Ford Rajani oversees work on US democracy, voting rights, census and civic engagement, as well as establishing new global work on civic space, human rights defenders and fiscal justice. He has also been known to be champion of grant making that promotes NGO leadership, strategic coherence and effectiveness, favoring long term core support grants. From 2014 until 2015, Rajani served on United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, co-chaired by Enrico Giovannini and Robin Li.[2]

Rajani has made several video presentations that are available on YouTube [youtube/rakeshrajani] and has been a frequent contributor to journals and a featured speaker in meetings. For example, in May 2014 he was featured in a special 30 minute program 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 married in 1998 and has two children, Amar and Chhaya. Rajani was born into a Hindu family and converted to Christianity.[1]




  1. ^ a b c 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. ^ Independent Expert Advisory Group Members The UN Secretary General's Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development.

External links[edit]