Many traits make Karissa Idoko different from the typical ACU student. In addition to being younger than most college freshmen and an international student, Karissa also has her own non-profit organization.
Karissa is a freshman interior design major from a city in West Africa called Lagos, Nigeria. She is active in the honor’s college and just turned 17 on Oct. 21.
Karissa’s mom, Uchenna Idoko, has a non-profit called Center for Gender Economics (CGE Africa) working to create innovative solutions for achieving economic equality, advancing work and creating economic security for women. On Karissa’s 10th birthday, her mom provided the resources she needed to make a difference in her world by helping her create her website and aiding her in her opening event. And by her own choice, Karissa earnestly started Karissa’s Girls in Africa for Progress (K-Gap). The goal is to provide educational and social development opportunities for girls to achieve their aspirations, allowing them to positively control their future.
“I really like helping people, and I’ve always been someone who puts my friends’ comfort above my own, so this role in K-Gap was perfect for me. I accepted [the opportunity and resources] immediately,” Karissa said. “We hold quarterly workshops for girls who have not had the best in life or they are trying to find themselves and make the best version.”
When Karissa started K-Gap, she would invite classmates to workshops, but seeing the impact when girls would ask questions or tell her they are going to take tips from her presentation into their daily lives, she began inviting more people. Every time she saw someone in need of help, she offered an invitation.
Karissa describes workshops as interactive. She gives a short presentation on topics such as puberty, social awareness, peer pressure, how to deal with relationships and more. Next, the invited speaker presents. There is a Q&A after, and finally, the girls do a trust-building exercise based on the topic or the invited speaker’s choice.
One of Karissa’s closest friends is Hannah Park, a freshman marketing major from Chicago, Illinois. She said she recognizes the impact of Karissa’s words.
“Everyone is undoubtedly inspired by the fact that she is only 17 and already accomplishing so much,” Hannah said. “She just brightens your day by saying so many off-the-cuff things, so I know she never fails to make someone laugh.”
Karissa’s family in Africa has access to reliable resources and availability of fair treatment. Due to this, she was able to witness unfair treatment of young individuals, especially young women, from a different point of view. Karissa finds these experiences life-changing, and she shows gratitude daily for her circumstances.
“A lot of girls my age or even younger than me are getting married, being sold off and even in this modern day and age, you wouldn’t think this would be happening but it still happens,” Karissa said. “Growing up around women that have broken the cycle of generation to generation and became lawyers, nurses, advocates and people that are changing the world and changing the system is really inspiring.”
While at university, Karissa has managed her non-profit virtually through Zoom and online meetings. She gives high praise to her Board of Directors, as well as her mom for being so understanding and helpful in these new adjustments. Karissa runs a LinkedIn account as well as a website that contains more information about the non-profit. On campus, Karissa has inspired ACU staff through her leadership skills. Associate Dean of Students and Leadership Development, David Moses, has already been amazed by Karissa.
“In my conversations with Karissa, I’ve discovered a young woman who is courageous and innovative,” Moses said. “I’m excited to watch her become a leader on our campus who puts others first and who embodies kindness, fairness, and humility.”
K-Gap has partnered with other non-profits over time. In 2020, the organization partnered with GirlUp Campaign. This campaign originates from the United States and works alongside the United Nations Foundation. Karissa spoke with many impactful people during this time. In addition, Karissa has written and published a book called “Don’t Enter That Pressure Pot” based on notes in a journal she accumulated since starting up K-Gap. The book is available on Amazon.
“There is a lot of pressure, especially on teenagers,” Karissa said. “There’s your family, there’s your classmates, your teachers, your school work and then there’s your mindset and mentality. All of these things are coming at once to one person. This book is something that I experienced in elementary school and middle school. Peer pressure is something that really does affect girls.”
K-Gap is funded through international donor funding, crowdfunding and partnerships with private firms. Beyond monetary donations, Karissa wants people to gain awareness of the treatment and opportunities for women around them. Treatment of women under harsh circumstances happens globally, and she aims to reduce the shock of seeing women in high positions.
“Support the people around you that you see struggling,” Karissa said. “Everyone globally has one issue or the other. If you see a lady, an elderly woman, even your niece that’s close to you, or even if it’s a stranger, if someone is struggling or they need to learn something, just be there for them and don’t judge them. That’s one of the best ways to support K-Gap.”
Growing up, Karissa identified as a people-pleaser but after personal growth, she learned her personal opinion is valuable and adds to the conversations. She does her best to encourage other young girls to realize their voice is just as valuable. Her encouragement and love has made an impact in the lives of more than 125 women and she hopes everyone will continue this pattern by being a supportive and understanding individual.
“Believe in yourself, and don’t let other people’s judgmental words consume you for a long time because it will enter you and it will impact your life,” Karissa said. “Know that you are not alone in these situations, and there are millions of organizations that are willing to help other people, women and girls to be the best versions of themselves.”