Starting any organization is hard, but for two young, socially conscious entrepreneurs, it just became a little bit easier. Deborah Ahenkorah and Maria Vertkin are this year’s Grinnell Prize winners and recipients of $100,000, half of which goes to the winners and the other half to their organization.
The Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize, also known as the Grinnell Prize, is awarded annually to organizations that have shown outstanding dedication to bringing about positive social change. It is the largest monetary award of its type given by any U.S. college.
Ahenkorah created her organization, Golden Baobab, to diversify the field of children’s literature to represent a group that has largely been underrepresented: African children. Golden Baobab’s mission is described as supporting children’s literature “by Africans for Africans,” according to the Grinnell Prize webpage.
Ahenkorah wanted African children to see people like themselves represented in literature. Golden Baobab aims to do just that by supporting African writers and illustrators through a variety of means, from cash prizes to workshops.
“Winning this prize has been an incredible experience and a significant boost to our work,” Ahenkorah said in a video created to accompany the announcement of the Prize winners. “Over the next 10, 15, 20 years, we will see a world filled with more and more African stories for children.”
For her part, Vertkin started an organization called Found in Translation to help homeless and low income women with bilingual or multilingual skills utilize their expertise as a viable profession.
Vertkin saw an opportunity to fulfill the needs of two groups: women struggling to make ends meet and healthcare institutions struggling to find interpreters. Found in Translation builds a bridge between the two by providing certificates in medical interpretation and career placement services for 20 to 30 women each year.
“By providing interpreter services, the graduates of Found in Translation promote equal access to healthcare, inclusivity and social justice,” Vertkin said in her video.
Vertkin and Ahenkorah will be on campus Oct. 26 -29 to engage in dialogue and events with students, faculty and staff. They will be discussing the approaches they have taken in their work, the sources from which they draw inspiration and the strategies they have developed for overcoming obstacles.
President Raynard Kington will be conducting an award ceremony on Tuesday, Oct. 27, in Herrick Chapel at 4 p.m.