Africa has the youngest population in the world, with 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24. According to the World Bank, youth account for 60 percent of all unemployed people on the continent, with young women bearing the sting of unemployment as young men are favoured for jobs. Instead of succumbing to fear of these statistics, many young people have taken the entrepreneurship route, turning problems that they encounter in their communities into solution-orientated businesses.
Here is a list of top 10 young African leaders doing great things to transform their communities and their lives:
Sitawa Wafula – Kenya
Sitawa Wafula is a 31-year old mental health activist, philanthropist and entrepreneur from Nairobi, Kenya. As a result of a traumatic experience at the age of 18, Wafula suffered from severe depression which resulted in a dual diagnosis of epilepsy and bipolar disorder. With no support system, rising medical bills and little access to information, Wafula faced stigma due to her condition. Out of this experience, she decided to provide a forum for Africans going through the same experiences, to not only access information about mental health issues, but also to find support. She launched her self-titled blog as well as her mental health social enterprise; My Mind, My Funk which ran Kenya’s first free mental health support line and provided support to over 11,000 Kenyans struggling with mental health issues. She has been named as a Non Communicable Disease Champion by the Kenyan Ministry of Health, recognized among the top 40 under 40 women in Kenya and has had her work featured in various media publications including BBC and Al Jazeera.
Haneefah Adam – Nigeria
Twenty-four year-old Nigerian medical scientist, Haneefah Adam, gave the popular Barbie doll a makeover. Adam got the idea for the makeover after coming across the Barbie style Instagram page and thought that it would be great to see a doll in a hijab – an attire that is culturally relevant to her. Adam also hopes that Hijarbie will change the negative stereotype of the hijab as oppressive clothing for Muslim women, into a positive affirmation of female Muslim identity and culture. Hijarbie has since amassed more than 58 000 followers on Instagram. The popularity of Hijarbie ties in with the JWT 2016 Trends report that forecasted that Middle Eastern and North African style will play a bigger role in the fashion and beauty spheres particularly for women.
Mabel Suglo – Ghana
Mabel Suglo is a 23-year-old entrepreneur from Ghana who is the founder of the Eco-Shoes Project, which is an initiative and company that manufactures shoes and accessories from discarded tyres and recycled materials. Suglo employs disabled people who are often marginalized from society due to discrimination. In an interview, Suglo says that the initiative was inspired by her late grandmother, who suffered discrimination due to her leprosy condition, and various other people in her community who had physical disabilities. She wanted to create employment opportunities for them, as well as create comfortable shoes for her grandmother from durable materials. She then created her first pairs of shoes made from discarded tyres for her grandmother, then partnered with a local school for disabled children and two business partners to get her idea off the ground. The business now employs five artisans, and manufactured over 1000 pairs of shoes in 2014. She was the second runner up of the 2015 Anzisha Prize by the African Leadership Academy in South Africa and the MasterCard Foundation.
Kayli Vee Levitan – South Africa
Kayli Vee Levitan is a South African copywriter, blogger and co-founder of the successful philanthropic initiative, The Street Store. Levitan co-founded The Street Store, which is a pop-up clothing store for the homeless, with her colleague, Max Pazak in 2014. The initiative is stocked by donations, and is now an open-source initiative that allows other philanthropists from South Africa and abroad to host their own pop-up store in collaboration with a charity of their choice. Over 200 pop-up stores have been set up globally, and over 200 000 homeless people have been assisted with clothing. She has also worked on other philanthropic projects, including work with Dementia SA and the Women’s Hope.
Samah Al-gadi – Sudan
Samah al-Gadi is a 32-year-old Sudanese entrepreneur who won the first season of the popular Sudanese entrepreneurial TV show Mashrouy. The TV show, which first aired in 2013, is devised to encourage young entrepreneurship in the country where over 60% of the population is under the age of 25. Aspiring contestants apply with a potential project, which is then screened by judges, who then choose 12 contestants to be part of the show. Al-Gadi, with an academic background in social development and agriculture, proposed an environmentally friendly project to help communities living along the riverbanks of the Nile, which involved removing water hyacinth that causes problems such as parasitic growth and diminishing fish populations with the help of community members, who would then repurpose the hyacinth as materials for ropes, bags and furniture. Her project not only earned her first place in the show, but also inspired female Sudanese viewers to place more importance on their studies and careers. Her prize included over $20 000, an opportunity to meet British entrepreneurs as the show is sponsored by the British Council and business training in Thailand. Her project is being implemented in the Nile community of Kosti in Khartoum.
Christopher Ategeka – Uganda
Ugandan born Christopher Ategeka is the founder and CEO of Rides For Lives, which is a company that provides mobile healthcare to rural communities in Kampala. The mobile health units are fitted with a pharmacy, a general practitioner and a lab for conducting tests for diseases such as malaria and HIV. The idea for the company came as after Ategeka’s brother passed away due to lack of access to adequate healthcare after he fell ill. He has a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley, and has several awards under his belt for his work on Rides For Lives including the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) award and the Judith Lee Stronach award. He also made it on the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work with the company in 2014.
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu – Ethiopia
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is the founder and CEO of SoleRebels; a footwear company that is the world’s first Fairtrade Certified footwear by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). Alemu started the company in 2004 in Addis Ababa, as a means of job creation for skilled but underemployed artisans, weavers and small farmers in her community while exporting Ethiopian heritage to the world. Over 90 percent of manufacturing is done by hand, earning the company the accolade of being the world’s first Fairtrade-certified footwear company. She has a few accolades under her belt for her eco-friendly and community-minded business, including a Young Global Leader award as well as the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the 2012 World Economic Forum on Africa. The company has 18 global standalone outlets and further expands its reach through online stores such as Amazon.
Lebogang Maruapula – Botswana
Botswana’s Lebogang Maruapula is the regional ambassador for Girl Rising; an international movement which brings awareness on equal opportunities for girls as well as the co-founder of The Goddess Foundation, which focuses on women empowerment for young women through mentorship and education. Driven by a passion to positively influence her community and make a meaningful impact, Maruapula co-founded The Goddess Foundation in 2011, and which has since been involved in mentoring young women and hosted the Goddess Sanitary Pad Drive to provide feminine personal care products to underprivileged girls. Passionate about community and social development, Maruapula is also a United Nations Online volunteer as well as an activist at UNICEF Pacific’s Youth Media. She was a fellow at the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper in 2014.
Refilwe Ledwaba – South Africa
South African pilot, social entrepreneur and academic Refilwe Ledwaba set the record in 2005 by becoming the first black woman to earn a helicopter pilot license in South Africa, and the first black person to fly operationally for the South African Police Service. She also founded the non-profit/public benefit organization, Southern African Women in Aviation and Aerospace (SAWIA) in 2009 to provide a platform for young women in the SADC region aspiring for a career in aviation to access information, mentorship and financial support. The organization has the Girl Fly Programme in Africa, which hosts an annual camp in January for 150 high school learners as well as educational programmes for both primary and high school girl learners, with an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM education), focusing on aviation and space technology. Ledwaba completed her BSc degree in biochemistry and microbiology at the University of Cape Town as well as her postgraduate diploma in business administration at UCT’S Graduate School of Business. She was included in the ranking for Young People in International Affairs Top 35 Africans under 35 in 2014 and was the winner of the South African Youth Development Agency Awards in 2012.
Senai Wonderufael – Ethiopia
Senai Wonderufael is a 28-year old entrepreneur from Addis Ababa who founded Feed Green Ethiopia, which is a spice and coffee production company. While employed at Ethiopian Airlines, he noticed that there was a demand from the Ethiopian diaspora for spices such as Shilo and Berbere and for traditional Ethiopian coffee. He company opened its doors in 2012, exporting Ethiopian produce to diaspora communities mainly in the US and Europe. It has since expanded to new markets across Africa, and is fully staffed by women as its way of providing job opportunities for women who are often excluded from the job market. Wonderufael is motivated by seeing development and poverty eradication in his home country.