Where's WANDA? Creating food sheroes in our communities (a girl empowerment nutrition program)

What if we could inspire a generation of girls to see themselves as food sheroes in our communities?

Photo of Tambra Raye Stevenson
6 9

Written by

Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

As a girl growing up in Oklahoma, I wondered why my family members were dying from lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. I thought medicine was my solution. Yet my life's journey led me to finding the answer was within our food, land, and heritage. In high school I was required to study agriculture and later studied nutrition at Oklahoma State University and public health at Tufts Medical School. But as a mom and nutritionist of NativSol Kitchen, I realized we need an army equipped for this food fight after facing blockades in my kids' school and community. Three key moments resonated with me: 1) While teaching school gardening at Harriet Tubman ES, local youth ridiculed my 3rd graders by calling them 'slaves.' 2) A student asked if I visited Africa since I was teaching African nutrition sparking my travel to Africa. 3) Though healthy school lunch legislation passed in D.C., teachers create their own classroom policies like providing junk food as student rewards. So to no surprise in 2014 while in pre-Kindergarten, my 4-year old Ruby had her first cavity. I spoke with the principal, teacher and tried to join the school’s PTA which never held meetings. Her teacher told me to bring healthy snacks for her and she wasn’t changing her policy. That’s why I created WANDA: Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics and Agriculture - a movement of women and girls to become the food sheroes in our communities on the frontline of this food fight.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)


http://www.iamwanda.org (new launch in September for Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and African Heritage Month celebrated in Washington, DC)

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • District of Columbia

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Washington (Ward 8 has highest rates of unemployment, youth, and diet-related diseases)

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • District of Columbia

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Washington, DC; Prince George's County, Maryland; Montgomery County, Maryland; Baltimore, Maryland; Alexandria, Virginia; Arlington, Virginia; Fairfax, Virginia

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Our communities have a high supply of diet-related diseases like diabetes and a low supply of black nutritionists and farmers. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, African Americans make up 2.6% (3600) of Registered Dietitians-Nutritionists. The USDA Agricultural Census reported only 6100 Black female farmers in America. Yet studies show our children’s generation is supposed to die before us due to childhood obesity. We have a lack of role models, mentorship, leadership and advocacy of women food leaders who reflect the black girls who need food sheroes and programs that reflect their lives. Studies focus on grocery stores and farmers markets as the food justice solution; but we need programs like WANDA to share, reach and teach the 2,000+ black girls in the DC area. Therefore we need to create a new generation of food sheroes to improve the wellbeing of our communities.

Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics and Agriculture (WANDA) was born out of love to heal our community by inspiring, engaging and informing women and girls to honor our ancestors: 1) by embracing our foodways to heal ourselves and our communities; 2) becoming a healthy food entrepreneur and 3) advocating for healthy food policies for their communities.

Image title

Based in Washington, DC, WANDA is a Pan-African women’s leadership network from farm to fork that recognizes that women and girls of African descent are severely underrepresented in these fields. We are developing a pipeline and a platform for women and girls of African descent offering mentorship, service leadership and training opportunities to encourage them to lead in transforming themselves, their communities and the food system.

Image title

Why empower Little WANDA and Big WANDA?

  • We invest in girls because they will become women with the capacity to uplift their families and transform their lives.
  • As future nutrition researchers, food scientists, dieticians, farmers and food entrepreneurs, they will build local economies and promote inclusion in the STEM field.
  • As community educators, they will share and preserve their cultural foodways. Also as mothers they will provide the first foods for their babies.
  • Women and girls - eat locally and think globally - are key drivers of influence of taste, choice and trends in food.
Image title

"Where's WANDA?" inspires girls to become explorers within themselves, healers of their meals, citizens of the world.  Little WANDA is the "DocMcStuffins" of nutrition meets "Dora the Explorer" of the African diaspora encouraging girls to become food sheroes and global citizens by learning their foodways and how to heal their community.

The "Where's WANDA?" character Little WANDA is the role model for girls to aspire to become champions for their community like First Lady Michelle Obama. They will continue to carry the torch for supporting healthier communities through food and nutrition. 

Using a "train the trainer" model, "Where's WANDA?" program equips educators, parents and mentors to become Big WANDAs to support and inspire Little WANDAs in their community. As a part of the "Where's WANDA?" experience, Big WANDAs and Little WANDAs will identify a nutrition challenge to address through education, advocacy and innovation.

The WANDA's World toolkit will include the “Where’s WANDA? book series, resource guide, certificates, pre- and post- surveys, and lesson plans. After completing the program, they will be awarded a WANDA certificate and scorecards to measure impact. We will have an online forum to promote communities of practice and collaboration.

"Where's WANDA?" program creates empowering girl-themed messages that they can identify with, have ownership plus positive mentorship about their heritage, healing wisdom, history and identity through food. Food is a powerful tool to express identity, value and build a culture of healing that lies within the community.

In the curriculum, Little WANDAs discover a world of food sheroes from Africa the Diaspora such as Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai, First Lady Michelle Obama, Mikaila Ulmer, Food historian Dr. Jessica Harris and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics President Dr. Evelyn Crayton.

With the the guidance of Big WANDAs, they embark on a self-discovery journey from farm to fork learning about female farmers, nutritionists, farmer markets, African restaurants, and food purveyors through field experiences that they capture through photos, videos and stories.

The heart of the "Where's WANDA?" program beats the ancestral wisdom of Mama Africa meets the spiritual nature of Mother Earth. For the plants, trees and rivers share their powerful messages coupling with words of wisdom from food sheroes like Wangari Maathai of Kenya and Oprah Winfrey in America.

During the program, Big and Little WANDAs pledge to uphold these WANDA principles gained from their WANDA's World experience: a call to food sheroes on a purpose-filled journey:

  • W: wisdom of her ancestors guides her journey
  • A: authenticity is the path she walks and talks
  • N: nourishes her mind, body and spirit with reaffirming self-love
  • D: determined to dig deep and become rooted to remain still in spirit
  • A: arise from tribulations spreading her wings and bear fruit for her community

Diving into girl-themed lessons in a supportive sister space, Little WANDAs  will explore food intersectionality issues along with  career exploration topics but not limited to:

  1. food + femininity =  redefining food, feminism and power and Goddess foods
  2. food + mood =  stress, trauma, eating disorders and  body image
  3. food + spirituality = mindful eating, food consciousness
  4. food + heritage = African foodways,  food rituals, and new traditions
  5. food + function = food as medicine, nutritional science, and have tastings
  6. food + art = creative expression by playing with food as a form of healing
  7. food + tech = sharing their voice via blogs, videos, and ads
  8. food + justice = food equity as a civil rights issue
  9. food + agriculture = meet female farmers, and learn environmental issues
  10. food + policy = participate in grassroots advocacy and policymaking process
  11. food + entrepreneurship = tour food incubators and develop business ideas
  12. food + herstory = study food sheroes and create food shero stories

Along the journey she not only discovers self, but discovers the food friends that help her on the journey to the heal the community. The foods give her wisdom and nourishment. Through the Big WANDA-Little WANDA bonding, personal childhood food issues may rise; Little WANDAs work together in sisterhood and at times independently on various activities:

  • writing a blog post for National Nutrition Month
  • write a food review of your meal at an African restaurant 
  • testify for 'nutrition education for all' to City Council
  • attend a food policy meeting
  • shadow a nutritionist
  • interview a female food entrepreneur
  • take photos of food tour experiences
  • keep a food journal
  • make an art piece using food
  • meditate and taste a new food you never experienced

Engaging, entertaining and educating guide the lesson plans and activities with key learning themes for the Little WANDAs to grow, challenge and become food sheroes in their community:

  • sense of self: adapting and trust the process and Big WANDA
  • responsibility of self and others: being independent
  • prosocial behavior: thinking to resolve conflict
  • problem solving: role-play, circle time
  • logical: group and compare foods around the Diaspora
  • symbol: Where's WANDA? puppet theatre
  • listening and speaking: food memoirs and journalling
  • reading/writing: books and blogs, learning African languages,
Image title

WANDA seeks to educate, advocate and innovate for women and girls in the areas of agriculture, nutrition and dietetics  by cross-cutting sectors of education, community development and health care. Big WANDAs (who are current and emerging leaders) inspire, influence and invest in Little WANDAs (primary school to college). Using a multimedia platform, we bring awareness and appreciation of Big WANDAs, provide skills and support to Little WANDAs. Ultimately we are planting the seed for the "soul sisterhood of the soil" to take root and bear fruit for the community to thrive. 

  • EDUCATE: Provide skills-based training and continuing education in agriculture and nutrition
    • WANDA Ambassadors program is a speakers bureau
    • WANDA's World "train the trainer" program to reach and teach to primary aged school girls.
    • WANDA Writers will develop inspirational stories of WANDA Women on the first Wednesday of the month for the website.

  • ADVOCATE: Build a grassroots advocacy initiative as a key part of mobilizing women and girls to lead in creating healthy communities.
    • #IamWANDA brings awareness on unsung food sheroes  who are creating the change in their communities  
    • #ILoveWANDA focuses on men to become the gate openers of opportunity for women and girls

  • INNOVATE: Leverage technology to build a pan-African women’s network and promote entrepreneurial activities to strengthen local economies.
    • Where’s WANDA? girl empowerment model provides an online supportive community using interactive mobile apps and an creative narrative addressing food as medicine, highlighting female farmers and food entrepreneurs, and travelling across the African Diaspora
Image title
Image title
We envision a lifetime value chain of Big WANDAs and Little WANDAs. In building momentum as we climb, we are on a mission to build a movement  to transform a new generation of women and girls to build healthier lives and communities through food, agriculture, and nutrition.

Image title
We are smashing through silos to find the intersectionality to transform how we find the value of and lend our voices of women and girls through the prism of food. Providing a safe sister space, we incorporate social and emotional learning to address traumatic stress associated with food and farming issues and include behavioral health specialists to build personal coping skills and. And our homes, schools and communities will be key in this transformation.
Image title

#IamWANDA is the hashtag campaign to share awareness that food sheroes exist and will continue to emerge  to bring the change that we so desperately need on college campuses, schools, communities and homes.

Image title

WANDA cross cuts sectors, generations and geographies to ensure a new crop of women and girls lead from farm to fork. We recognize that women and girls hold the key to bring the healing and reconciliation through food and heritage that we need for a firm foundation to move forward in the future.

Image title

Through our partnership with NativSol Kitchen and Genii Games, we bring creativity, culture and our heritage foods to Little WANDAs to inspire and inform them to lead healthy lives. Additional partners such as sororities, women-led groups, motherhood networks and girl empowerment programs are key in expanding our reach.

Image title

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Religious minorities (non-Christian)
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

Health care: health centers, and health departments; Faith centers: churches, mosques, and parishes

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Start-Up (a pilot that has just started operating)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Tonya attends a WANDA workshop where she enrolls to become a Big WANDA. Through the 'train the trainer' series, she meets other educators, parents and mentors who desire to become Big WANDAs to support and inspire Little WANDAs in their community. She receives the WANDA's World toolkit which includes the “Where’s WANDA? book, resource guide, certificates, pre- and post- surveys, and lesson plans. As a part of the "Where's WANDA?" experience, Tonya leads Little WANDAs in learning about their heritage, history, identity through food and takes them on tours. After completing the program, they will be awarded a WANDA certificate and scorecards to measure impact. She logs onto the online community to learn best practices from other Big WANDAs.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Launched in March 2016, WANDA has 225 Twitter followers, 1576 Facebook fans, 6,000+ newsletter subscribers; 2 published news articles about WANDA; invited to speak at teaching hospitals, universities and nonprofit organizations in DC, Sweden, Oklahoma and Nigeria; and held "Where's WANDA?" workshops to over 400 children, educators and parents in our launch in Nigeria in May 2016. Also WANDA raised 92% of its goal in a 60-day crowdfunding campaign in Spring 2016 to support "Where's WANDA" book launching at the US Library of Congress in September 2016. Also WANDA received a grant to pilot a girl-centered nutrition and ag education and leadership program. We intend to pilot the "Where's WANDA?" program to train 50+ Big WANDAs and 250+ Little WANDAs in the DC area over a 24 month period.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $50k - $100k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Currently we made personal investments, received community contributions and grants to fund our work. Going forward we anticipate a stream of revenue that will include a combination of direct-to-consumer sales, institutional sales, grants, foundation support, corporate philanthropy along with individual donations. Also we are working on a social enterprise model that include annual membership, licensure, and certification fees.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Our unique value is that we are empowering girls to embrace their heritage, history, health and identity through food. Taking a 'learn by doing' approach, Big WANDAs have the option to be trained and certified online or in person to implement the WANDA's World toolkit anywhere and anytime to mentor, engage, and empower Little WANDAs. We are silo smashing 4 worlds: women and girl empowerment, African heritage (cultural competency), health, nutrition and agricultural education, and career exploration. Ultimately we will build girl leaders from farm to fork and encourage to create WANDA circles.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

WHOLE CHILD APPROACH - A promising development that we have witnessed is the recognition that a child’s wellbeing expands beyond physical health but to social determinants of health. INTERSECTIONALITY - Privileged women may not always relate to disadvantaged girls. That's why a girl-centered education addressing race and religion in the context of food is the bare minimum in producing more capable and self-confident girls to lead the food system. POWER OF MENTORSHIP - The African proverb, "it takes a village to raise a child" is at the heart of WANDA because we all need a mentor to guide.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Uriyoan Colon Ramos ScD, MPH of George Washington University's Global Health Program

Program Design Clarity

a) Little WANDA are girls of African descent over 6 years old in the DC area. b) We hold WANDA workshops for Little WANDAs, train and certify Big WANDAs to implement the WANDA's World toolkit, and provide an online community for them to share best practices. c) Located in schools, churches, health clinics, and community centers on a monthly basis. d) Big WANDA are women of African descent who are educators, parents, faith and community leaders. e) The toolkit includes a resource guide, lesson book. certificates, and Where's WANDA book. More tools include mobile app and animated series.

Community Leadership

We will establish a WANDA Community Leadership Board comprised of educators, parents, faith leaders, health providers and girl advocates to ensure program design and relevancy. Our engagement plan includes coordinating roundtables, recruit WANDA Ambassadors for community outreach, and 3) distribute surveys and polls to solicit feedback. The founder is a DC Food Policy Council member building cross-sector partnerships.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

1) Geographic: We plan to expand the program starting on the East Coast with women and girls-centered organizations like sororities, women-led groups, and motherhood networks. 2) Policy reform: We plan to advocate for 'nutrition education for all" and a career pipeline for girls in agriculture and nutrition. 3) Licensing: We will work on partnership agreements to license the brand and programs to girl-centric programs and organizations.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

The core of WANDA is redefining the culture of wellbeing that embraces healing from our ancestral trauma, honoring our divine femininity and leading the change we need to see in ourselves and community. Big and Little WANDA's potential ascend beyond their current plight. At WANDA we are working to create a world for women and girls to go to new heights, build a sisterhood of the soil and soul, and dare to value their voices.

Leadership Story

As a girl I didn't embrace my heritage, womanhood and let alone know nutrition. WANDA is a testament of my healing journey and solidifying my purpose to inform and inspire other women and girls that 'all we need is already within' us. As the only African American in my university nutrition program and now as a mom with a daughter, I created the WANDA to encourage her and other girls to explore their foodways, emulate food sheroes, and build their confidence. By embracing their femininity and heritage, we envision them finding their purpose with the support of other women and girls. #IamWANDA

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

WANDA received the 2016 DC Divercity Fund grant to pilot the WANDA Africa Farm to Fork Leadership Academy; the Fest Africa 2016 Honors community service award by the Afropolitan Youth Association and became a nominated Changemaker to attend the 2016 White House United State of Women Summit.

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)


Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)


Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 75%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 25%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 50%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 50%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 0%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 50%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 25%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 25%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 25%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 75%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 0%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 50%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 0%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 50%

View more

Attachments (3)

NAACP DC Letter of Support WANDA.pdf

NAACP DC Branch supports the WANDA initiative to improve the child nutrition education in the District of Columbia.

Letter to WANDA .pdf

The Nigerian in Diaspora Organization (NIDO) DC Chapter supports the work of WANDA to improve nutritional outcomes of the Nigerian immigrant community in the District of Columbia as it has in Nigeria.

Mandela Fellow Support Letter.pdf

Washington Mandela Fellowship Alumni Association Board Chairman endorses WANDA for America after seeing impact in Nigeria.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jennell Riddick

This sounds wonderful Tambra! I particularly appreciated and identified with the whole child approach because if any area is unaddressed the child is greatly impacted. Keep up the great work!

Photo of Tambra Raye Stevenson

That's the only way this can truly work! Smashing through siloes, finding the commonality, and build a solid holistic foundation to support the whole child. Thank you for seeing the possibility of this project! Be well.

View all comments