Margaret Achieng

‘I Am Because We Are’—a Pursuit for Equity That’s Personal

By Denise Schiavone

MITRE health systems analyst Margaret Achieng grew up in an impoverished community in Africa. Now she works to reduce disparate outcomes and drive equity for underserved populations, like U.S. veterans and their families. 

With absolute clarity, Margaret Achieng understands her calling in the world: to serve others. It’s a pursuit rooted in humble beginnings, including helping with her grandmother’s small fish business to support the family in her home country of Kenya.

“The spirit of hard work was ignited in me a long time ago, as well as the spirit of serving other people,” she says, adding that her strong faith also informs this call.

Achieng strives to follow the African ethic of Ubuntu: ‘I am because we are.’ The philosophy ‘embodies a communal ethos that emphasizes shared responsibility, trust in each other, and interconnectedness among the community.’

Her career at MITRE offers her one opportunity to live out that ethic. The policy expert—and 2023 BEYA STEM Conference winner—leads a multidisciplinary team partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs to “build equity into the fabric of VA’s mission.” Achieng’s team developed an equity action framework to drive equitable solutions for veterans, their families, VA employees, and other underserved communities. The framework positioned VA as a federal model for inclusion, diversity, equity, and access.

Not Just Shoes—But Shoes That Fit

When it comes to a widely used term like equity, she wants people to be clear on what it is and what it isn’t.

“Equity is different from equality. Equality is about giving people shoes. Equity is about giving people shoes that fit,” she explains, paraphrasing a well-known unattributed quote.

We’re working to eliminate disproportionate outcomes to ensure nobody's left behind…and we’re moving the needle when it comes to reducing inequities. That brings me joy.

Margaret Achieng, Health Systems Analyst

Achieng knows something about the struggles of the right fit. She recalls the challenges she faced as a young Black immigrant woman, wherever she went. While in China for graduate studies, she encountered strangers randomly taking her picture, someone once scratched her to “extract the chocolate off her skin,” and shop owners commented in Mandarin that the “Black person has come in.” In the U.S., she heard remarks that “African people are too direct” and a suggestion to take accent reduction training.

Such experiences drove her desire to better the lives of minorities and people like herself from underserved communities.

Now, she says, “It’s my duty to ensure no one faces discrimination.”

Her passion for equity extends outside of work, as well. She envisions “a world where disenfranchised children can access education, unlock doors of opportunity, and pursue their dreams.” To that end, Achieng supports a nonprofit organization committed to educating 1,000 Kenyan youths. She also mentors young STEM professionals.

Working to Leave No Veteran Behind

Achieng followed a path of diverse academic and professional experiences that paved the way for her present successes. After earning a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the United States International University, the 21-year-old graduate found herself unable to get a job in her native country. So, she accepted a scholarship opportunity in China and obtained a master’s of law in international relations.

Once back in Kenya, she served as a principal cabinet advisor for the Mombasa County Government. There, she spearheaded a critical malaria awareness campaign. After immigrating to the U.S. in 2015, she earned a master’s in public policy from George Mason University while working for a nonprofit that assisted retired U.S. foreign service officers and their families. She then took a position as a consultant supporting the Veterans Health Administration in improving VA policy compliance.

Achieng came to MITRE in 2021, embarking on a new chapter in her career. Since joining our team, she’s leveraged her extensive policy and public-health expertise to deliver big impact for U.S. veterans. 

With a great grandfather who served in World War II, several uncles who served in the Kenyan military, as well as friends in the U.S. armed forces, Achieng finds a special satisfaction in helping those who serve their country.

“It’s about understanding the plight of the people who would lay down their lives so we can have something better—I see how much they give," she explains. "For me, this work is my opportunity to serve."

“We’re working to eliminate disproportionate outcomes to ensure nobody's left behind. We’re engaging with VA decision-makers, we’re talking to veterans, and we’re moving the needle when it comes to reducing inequities. That brings me joy.”

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