Sophie Dowllar Ogutu

2019 Recipient of the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award

StateraArts has named Sophie Dowllar Ogutu as the 2019 recipient of the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award. This award, established in Martha Richards’ name, is given annually to a visionary woman who uplifts, amplifies, and advances women in the arts. StateraArts established this award to recognize outstanding leaders and support the work of women who are creating pathways for others. StateraArts is honored to highlight the extraordinary achievements of women leaders in the arts who provide powerful role models for mentorship and intersectional equity. The recipient is nominated by the public and chosen by committee. The award comes with international recognition and a $2,000 prize. Read more about how the award was established:
Statera Establishes the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award >>>

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“In Kenya ‘pathways’ for the arts do not exist unless you belong to a small group of privileged people. But Sophie creates opportunities to perform and to be recognized and celebrated for your talents.”

“Sophie makes sure that there's always media platforms on SWAN day to cover what we do and show it on national TV. This gives women chances to be known, to get gigs, and invites established artists to mentor the upcoming women artists.”

“I play the Nyatiti, an instrument from my clan - it was a taboo for a woman to touch it let alone playing but Sophie encouraged me to take the challenge and I now play well. She helped me take the risk and now am a rising star.”

“Since 1995, the 5C Human Rights Theatre has been doing progressive, interactive and open participatory theatre pieces for social change.”

“I work in a UK university surrounded by inspirational women but Sophie is at an entirely different level.”

“Sophie is selfless in her endeavors to support women all over and empower them to become holistically strong. She has come to the rescue of battered women. She has cried out when human rights activists have been murdered or jailed or gone missing. She is a tower of strength and a beacon of light to many.”

About Sophie

Sophie Dowllar Ogutu (she/her) is a mother, an unapologetic women's rights defender, a community mobilizer and organizer, and above all - a feminist artist. She is a key coordinator of The 5 C's Theatre Collective, co-founder of the Mamma Africa Community Centre, a board member of the Kenya Community Media Network (KCOMNET), a mentor with the Girl’s Brigade, and the principal organizer for SWAN Day Kenya. Sophie is also an International Committee Member for the World March of Women, which has led to collaborations with the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.

From Sophie:

“I appreciate, value, and respect people, and I love working with everyone. In my art-ivism, I work a lot with diverse communities, a rare opportunity that makes the arts space special and unique. Born and raised in a happy and loving family of 10, we learned to love and cherish any opportunity that comes along the way. I started my art journey as a teen, acting in church. When I graduated from high school in 1995, the first opportunity to prosper in life, was in an arts space. It was a radical, political space, and too much for a young girl, but given my background, I continued to strive. This shaped me and helped me choose the arts path. That opportunity made me who I am today. I continue working with women in arts and will always support wherever I can. The role that arts play as a medium for communication, has enabled me to reach many vulnerable hearts of women seeking ways to share and talk about their plights. Women in the arts remains my number one form of interaction and connection to those many hearts.”

Quotes from Sophie’s nominations:

“Everything Sophie does is WOMEN-centered. She introduced international grassroots feminist women to us here in Kenya. She also introduced SWAN Day Festival. She believes in empowering women. She truly is a believer of women's advancement and true empowerment.”

“Despite huge personal challenges Sophie has been the driving force behind SWAN day in Kenya for over a decade and shows altruism and compassion in all she does. In a culture steeped in patriarchy and corruption she is a beacon of honesty and courageously stands up for women’s rights in particular through theatre and the arts. She has been working for change ever since I first met her when she was an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.”

“Sophie gives women the courage to stand for themselves. Networks have been created to ensure that women can not only engage in business but also support one another emotionally and socially. She helps women become a sister's keeper and their wellbeing has become strengthened through this.”

“We have walked the 5Cs journey together and I’ve seen Sophie champion the rights of many. She seizes every opportunity to empower women artists. Now with the SWAN Day platform, we see even more opportunities created through creatives. Sophie is one resilient person.”

“Sophie’s theatre collective, the 5Cs, which is a women led human rights group, is one of the most progressive groups with community social change approaches.”

“Given the complex reality of gender inequality, factors that render women most liable to discrimination are not always easily identifiable, but through the SWAN platform, Sophie has created panels where women in the arts have talked about their forms of discrimination in their work as women artists, and continue to seek alternatives to those problems / challenges through active participation of women artists.”

“Sophie is a committed feminist in a patriarchal society. We set up Mamma Africa Community Centre as a small charity supporting rural women around Lake Victoria. This gave them access to training to become better at whatever they chose: to learn from agricultural practices, first aid, the arts, or technology. The project has developed based on the analysis that the culturally encouraged lack of confidence in women is what holds women back from developing their potential and that trained women can look at evidence of competence to build their confidence one bit at a time. Sophie has been the driving force.”

“The radical leadership style that Sophie brought, even with a lot of opposition at first, she continued with so much love. She never gave up and has never discriminated against anyone. This has opened up a lot of space for young women and they enjoy being part of the change we all yearn to see.”

“Sophie organizes with so much passion and amazing zeal.”

“The arts community served by Sophie because of her popular progressive theatre for social change. It has positively impacted the lives of many, especially young people, who otherwise are the "forgotten bracket”. She creates community theatre that provokes minds to bring about change.”