When I first met Daisy Nashipai Mepukori, she made it crystal clear that she is no daisy.  She is strong and resilient, not delicate like the flower, and goes by “Nash.”

Bravery is a quality she has cultivated.  “When I was 18, I got accepted into the African Leadership Academy (ALA) in South Africa. This was a big deal because it would be the first time I would spend a considerable amount of time outside my country and it would also mean abandoning my high school studies before the most important exam in a young Kenyan’s life – the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Exam (KCSE) – which determines entry into university and general success in life.

“My parents were scared to let me go. If ALA did not work out, I would not be able to gain admission into a Kenyan university. More importantly, they worried that I was too young to make it on my own in a faraway foreign country. By contrast, from the moment I received the admission letter, I decided I would attend this institution that brought together students from around Africa and trained them to be great leaders. There was no doubt that the transition would be tough – it would mean going a year without seeing my family and braving winter for the first time in my life – but I was certain that the struggles were nothing compared to the development I would undergo. Seven years later, I am eternally grateful to my 18-year-old self for her vision and determination. I came out of ALA with renewed passion to make an impact in my community and in my country, and built a network of likeminded leaders who will hold me accountable to my dreams.”

Her big dream is to revolutionize the health system in her country, Kenya.  She explains, “For a long time now, I have set my sights on the Ministry of Health. I believe that ministries have a critical role to play in strengthening systems in a country since they have the capacity to execute interventions that outlast NGO and private sector work. Thus, despite the fact that multiple people have warned me against going into public service and politics, I am determined to cut down the red tape and crack down on corruption in order to make Kenya’s Ministry of Health more efficient and results-oriented.”

Her role models change as she learns more about the world and people who have left a mark on it. “Recently, I have been reading about and listening to podcasts on Che Guevara [Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, guerilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist]. Stubborn, brilliant, and deeply moved by the plight of the poor, Che reminds me of myself. I am inspired by his resistance to society norms and his singular passion for the most marginalized. Learning about Che has pushed me to ask myself what I am willing to sacrifice in the fight for justice and freedom. Che gave up everything for his beliefs: his job, his family and eventually, his life. Being out of Duke for a year now, the question of what I am willing to give up to achieve my dreams is critical. In university, there are multiple safety nets to allow students to pursue what drives them without being punished for views that are against establishment. The same privilege is not accorded to regular citizens, and especially for those of us who come from conservative countries. Thus, for me, this past year as a citizen has been an opportunity to push myself to be braver even as I encounter pushback.”

Nash currently works as an Associate for Global Health Strategies (GHS) in New York, New Delhi, and soon in Nairobi. “At GHS, I have learned how to use strategic communications and advocacy to impact global health issues at a national and international level. For instance, last month, I was part of a team that led strategic communications at the Family Planning Summit which was held in London on 11 July 2017. At the Summit, more than 60 governments and partners committed at least $2.5 billion in funding to accelerate progress on rights-based family planning programs geared towards the hardest-to-reach women and girls, including those caught in humanitarian crises. During big global health moments like this, I truly appreciate the impact our work has in the lives of millions of people around the world.”

Nash’s passion for global health is evident in her description of her senior thesis: “My honors thesis was in many ways the culmination of my global health scholarship. In it, I analyzed Female Genital Cutting (FGC) from the perspective of one of the most marginalized ethnic groups in Kenya—the Samburu. Using qualitative data collected over a period of eight weeks in Samburu County, I documented the status and understanding of female circumcision in the Samburu community. At its heart, my thesis sought to understand the impact of an NGO-led anti-Female Genital Mutilation intervention program. The intervention, which goes by the name Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP), encourages communities to alter the rite of female circumcision by maintaining the healthy rituals surrounding the ceremony (e.g., traditional education) whilst getting rid of the actual cutting.

“My thesis found that the ARP program, which relies on quantitative donor targets for continued funding, often misses out on one of the most crucial aspects of behavior change, qualitative analysis and long-term follow-up. Indeed, although NGOs encourage communities to speak openly about this intensely private custom, their short-term interventions do not go far enough to challenge deep-rooted beliefs around female circumcision that have existed for over 2,000 years in the Samburu community. In the course of developing this thesis, I had to grapple with questions of women’s empowerment in highly patriarchal communities, the evolution of culture, and global development.”

Nash graduated from Duke in 2016 with a double major in Global Health and International Comparative Studies and a minor in French. She held leadership roles with the Undergraduate Conduct Board and the African Conversations Club. She was inducted into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa honor society and represented Duke at the McDonald Cadet Leadership Conference at West Point, New York.

When asked to reflect about her Baldwin experience, Nash responded, “The friends I made in the senior Baldwin class will remain dear to me for a long time to come. I have inspired and been inspired by these women. These are the people who know my dreams to make an impact in the world, and who will inspire me to keep going when life’s hardships tempt me to settle for a less than extraordinary life.”

She offers this advice to first-year Duke women: “Looking back at my time at Duke, my most significant achievement was the fact that I seized opportunities to grow as a scholar. By the time I graduated, I had received grants totaling $20,000 from the university to conduct in-depth field research on issues I cared about, including maternal health, child mental health, and Female Genital Cutting. Tap into university resources to get the most out of your time at Duke. Duke University has no shortage of great professors, mentors and funds, and it’s important to take advantage of these resources as early as your first semester of freshman year.”