Executive Management

Katie Carlson, Founder & CEO

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Katie Carlson is the Founder and CEO of Paper Crown Institute, and is a vocal advocate for the rights of women and girls around the world. As a specialist in gender and development with a particular focus on the African context and concentrated experience in Rwanda, Katie has been collectively studying, writing about and working in gender for over 13 years. In recent years she has focused primarily on developing capacity-building and training programs, and has extensive experience in project management and community development. 

Katie graduated from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, with a Masters degree in international development specializing in gender, focusing on civil society groups and quality of life for women living in democratic developing countries. She first fell in love with Rwanda when she conducted field research in the country for her graduate thesis, working with top women leaders and grassroots organizations in both Rwanda and South Africa.

In recent years, Katie has presented at various international conferences and has been academically published for her research regarding the importance of engaging men and boys in dialogues about gender-based violence, using Rwanda as a case study and co-authored with Dr Shirley Randell, a world-renowned gender expert. Following this, she presented her published work at the 31st Triennial Conference of the International Federation of University Women (IFUW) in Istanbul, Turkey in August 2013. In March 2014, Katie attended the United Nations 58th Annual Commission on the Status of Women in New York, as a member of the IFUW panel of delegates.

At the community level, Katie is an active member of the Rwanda Association of University Women (RAUW), and collaborates frequently with other RAUW members to promote lifelong education for women and girls locally through various activities. In addition, she conducts site visits for project evaluations in the East African region on behalf of the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund, which provides project grants to organizations that benefit women and girls.

Board of Directors

Habyba Kazimbaya, Chair

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Habyba Kazimbaya is one of the seven founding members of Good Windows, a local NGO based in Kigali that aims to be of service to others as an inspirational model of living. Good Windows works to strengthen communities in rural areas of Rwanda, perform charitable services and promote sustainable development. Habyba is currently the Executive Secretary of Good Windows and plays a key role in the leadership and direction of the organization.

Habyba graduated from Pondicherry University in India with a post-graduate diploma specializing in rural development, and spent her college years working as a volunteer at an orphanage in India. In 2012, Habyba traveled to Sudan for a two-week intensive leadership training program for youth, and later joined the youth political leadership academy in Rwanda, where she received a certificate for a three-month program which she completed from January to March 2013. Habyba is an active member of numerous community organizations in Rwanda, including the Rwanda Association for University Women and the Association of Rwanda Muslim Youth, both of which aim to promote women and ensure long-term sustainable development for a better Rwanda.

Dr Shirley Kaye Randell

Dr Shirley Randell was the Founding Director of the Centre for Gender, Culture and Development at Rwanda University's College of Education (formerly the Kigali Institute of Education). She is currently a gender consultant in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda with the Commonwealth Secretariat, NELSAP and ICCO Uganda. Following a distinguished career in education and in commonwealth, state and local governments in Australia, she has provided advisory services in education, governance for empowerment, gender mainstreaming and public sector reform for governments in the Pacific, Asia and Africa since 1997. Dr Randell was World Vice President of the International Federation of University Women from 2007-2010 and Founder and first Secretary General of the Rwandan Association of University Women, where she is now Convener for International Relations.

Among many professional affiliations, she is Patron of the Australian Centre of Leadership for Women and Sunshine Foundation Inc., and Board member of the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund. She is also the Founder and Managing Director of Shirley Randell International and Associates, a global gender consultancy firm, comprising SRIA Rwanda Ltd and SRI Public Sector Reform Pty Ltd. In 2010, Dr Randell was decorated as an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to international relations, particularly through the promotion of human rights of women and through public sector reform in developing countries. She was also one of Australia’s 100 Inaugural Women of Influence in 2012 and one of the International Alliance for Women’s 100 World of Difference Awardees in 2013. Dr Randell continues to advocate for women’s rights and empowerment on a global scale, speaking regularly at international conferences and events around the world, as well as researching and publishing academically in the field of gender, education and development.

Marie Odette Kansanga Ndahiro

Marie Odette Kansanga Ndahiro is the former Vice Chairperson of the Rwanda National Electoral Commission in charge of national election processes, activities and policies. In addition to her current work as a consultant for a variety of sectors, she has undertaken extensive research on governance, politics, and gender equality. Marie Odette holds a Masters of Social Science in Gender and Development, and is also a certified accountant. She has extensive experience in feminist qualitative research methodologies, which strive to investigate socially constructed paradigms that perpetuate gender inequality. As a positive female role model, Marie Odette has been working to support women’s empowerment through trainings, conferences and personal mentorship initiatives for over 10 years. She has been an Akilah Institute women’s mentor since 2010, and has over 15 years of experience in ethnographic research and consultancy covering a wide variety of topics, including Rwandan genocide rape survivors, girls education and children’s rights in Rwanda, Rwandan transitional justice and peace building, the Rwanda gacaca courts, the Rwanda Women Parliamentarians contribution to good governance, the impact of the Demobilization and Repatriation Commission on Rwandan development and democracy, and the Great Lakes regional peace building process. 

Shamsi Kazimbaya

Shamsi Kazimbaya holds a Masters of Social Science in Gender and Development with more than 12 years of extensive experience in coordinating the implementation of policies and programs for the promotion of women’s rights and gender equality. She has had consistent success in mainstreaming gender in various programs in partnerships with government at all levels, the national gender machinery and development partners. Apart from this experience in Rwanda, Shamsi has contributed in sharing her knowledge and experience regionally and internationally on strategies of gender promotion and mainstreaming, as well as gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and response. Her strong and diversified career portfolio includes strategic oversight, coordination and supervision, program management and compliance, financial and administrative management, human resources, networking, advocacy, fundraising, outreach and representation, research and assessment, training material development, as well as adaptation and facilitation. Shamsi is now working with the Rwanda Men’s Resource Center as the National Coordinator for the MenCare+ project, a global fatherhood campaign aimed at engaging men as caregiving partners in Sexual and Reproductive health, Maternal and Child Health and fighting against GBV.

Cindy Carlson

Cindy Carlson is a Canadian entrepreneur and is the founder and managing partner of multiple successful small businesses in British Columbia, Canada. She is active in her community on numerous levels and is a vocal advocate for social justice causes, women's empowerment, effective democratic governance and environmental protection. Cindy is an avid supporter of services that benefit women and children who are leaving violent and abusive relationships, and has been working with Ishtar Transition Housing Society for the last three years, volunteering her time on a weekly basis to make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable citizens of her community.