Chingwel Mutombu, executive director and founder of First Step Initiative, has been named the recipient of the Luther College Young Alumni Award for 2013.
The Young Alumni Award recognizes Luther alumni who have graduated in the past 15 years and rendered notable service to their profession and society in their vocation or avocation.
Award recipients have demonstrated significant professional achievement, leadership abilities and distinctive service to Luther or society. Their record of commitment, leadership, character and ethic exemplify the college mission.
The award will be presented to Mutombu at the college's Commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 19. Her citation will be read by Kris Gregersen, a 1982 graduate of Luther and co-president of the college's Alumni Association.
A native of Congo, Mutombu currently resides in Minneapolis, Minn., with her husband Larry Jolivette. She graduated from Luther in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in French and political science.
Mutombu was born in Iowa to Congolese parents but moved to the Congo at age two, where she grew up in a small rural village with no plumbing, no running water and no electricity.
At 17 she returned to the states to avoid war and to study, earning a degree at Luther then completing her studies and earning two master's degrees from Seton Hall in public administration and international relations.
Mutombu started the First Step Initiative in 2006. The nonprofit organization helps women in the Congo build small businesses as a way to sustain them and become economically independent.
Mutombu admitted her passion for this topic derives from the life of her own mother. She describes her mother as a strong, entrepreneurial woman, but also describes the Congolese women as having that same trait. Mutombu is attempting to help these women reach their goals by removing some of the barriers that have previously held them back.
After getting assistance from the organization, many women have begun their own businesses. About a third are food vendors who sell in the markets; a third work in clothing manufacturing, where everything else is made from scratch and another third work with livestock.
In February of 2012 Mutombu began writing a memoir to honor her mother, who is losing her memory. She hopes it will provide a better insight into the life of Congolese women and Mutombu's interest in the First Step Initiative.
To learn more about the memoir, you can visit www.chingwell.blogspot.com.
To learn more about the First Step initiative, you can visit www.firststepinitiative.net.