Meet 38 Women Social Entrepreneurs who made a major impact in Africa in 2015
Social entrepreneurs are making a tangible difference to improving the lives and economic prospects of Africa’s most needy people and communities. To celebrate the inspirational work of Africa’s leading women social entrepreneurs, during the month of January we will be sharing the remarkable stories of some of those making a real impact and looking back at those women social entrepreneurs whose contribution made such a difference in 2015.
At Lionesses of Africa, we are continually inspired by the stories of the incredible women social entrepreneurs who are making a real difference to the lives of others across the African continent. These women all share something in common — a passionate and unwavering belief that through their innovative business approaches, they can make change happen for the better. Whether the challenge is to find a sustainable solution to dealing with the increasing piles of waste in our urban slums, to finding innovative ways of creating employment, to dealing with environmental issues that threaten the wellbeing and livelihoods of those living in inner city environments, there are African women social entrepreneurs finding solutions. These women are practically demonstrating that they have a key role to play in a part of the world still characterized by severe socio-economic problems. We love what they are doing and, as a result, we are dedicating the month of January as Social Entrepreneurship Month, and to telling their stories and sharing their vision for a better world.
Around the African continent, women social entrepreneurs are leading a new and vibrant charge in helping to find innovative and lasting solutions to many of the challenges which exist today. Where others see insurmountable problems, these inspirational and smart social entrepreneurs see only possibility and potential. They are the catalysts for innovative solutions to be created to address these challenges and to bring about new ways of thinking to solve the many social crises impacting Africa. Their practical response is to build strong and sustainable companies and organizations which bring to the table a host of new inventions, groundbreaking technologies or radical new approaches to solving a host of social problems on the continent.
Here are just some of the amazing women social entrepreneurs we have met over the past year at Lionesses of Africa — we hope you are as inspired by them and their work as we have been.
Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola is a Nigerian entrepreneur and innovator, and founder and CEO of WeCyclers. This Lagos-based company is focused on giving low-income communities in developing countries a chance to capture value from waste and clean up their neighborhoods through an incentive-based recycling program. Her initiative is genuinely changing lives for the better and empowering a new generation of young micro-entrepreneurs in the process. Bilikiss holds an MBA from MIT and a Masters degree from Vanderbilt University. She is also a 2013 Echoing Green Fellow and a Cartier Womens Awards Laureate. Read more.
Achenyo Idachaba is a Nigerian social entrepreneur with a passion for finding solutions to an ecological problem adversely affecting local communities. Nigeria’s waterways are being invaded by highly destructive water hyacinth plants, so Achenyo created a unique business, MitiMeth, which takes these nuisance weeds and transforms them into beautiful hand-crafted and highly desirable products. She has taken an environmental problem and turned it into a win-win solution for her business, local communities and the country. Each hand-crafted piece is created from the weeds which are harvested from the local waterways and dried out in the sun before they can be used for weaving into highly intricate and beautiful finished products such as baskets, tableware and even jewellery. Read more.
Sue Barnes created Subz in response to a request for the donation of washable sanitary pads and panties for the under privileged girls in her area. Subz are panties to which sanitary pads can be clipped. There are 7 million girls in South Africa between the ages of 10 and 19 that every year miss 3 months of vital school education, as they cannot afford sanitary pads or do not have access to them. Sue designed, developed and patented a sustainable washable sanitary pad that will last these young girls for 5 years, and as a result, allows them to continue their schooling uninterrupted. She distributes the pads to the girls free of charge, accompanied by essential educational information on female reproductive organs, as many are not well informed on such vital health and wellbeing issues. This social entrepreneurship venture is providing a tangible and sustainable solution to a major challenge in South Africa, thereby giving these young girls a real chance in life to fulfil their potential.
Thato Kgatlhanye, founder of Rethaka Trading and the creator of Repurpose School Bags is a for-profit social enterprise that specialises in green innovative solutions for social development. Her Repurpose Schoolbag is a practical and sustainable solution to a major problem for many kids living in rural and non-electrified parts of South Africa. When the final school bell rings each afternoon, it doesn’t just signal the end of another day of learning. Instead, it also means the beginning of an arduous trek along busy and dangerous roads to get back home in time to complete their homework before sunset. Repurpose designs school bags from up-cyled plastic bags, integrating solar technology that charges during the day and transforms into light for school kids to study after dark. These 100% recycled plastic schoolbags are changing the lives of young learners — they are not only environmentally friendly, but they provide much needed renewable energy light sources for these young students who need to study after dark at home where electric light simply doesn’t exist. The integration of reflective light material in the bags also provides much needed visibility for these young students on the often dangerous roads as they walk many kilometers each day just to attend school. This young socialpreneur is a real game changer and destined for great things. Read more.
Essma Ben Hamida is the founder of Enda Inter-Arabe of Tunisia, the first best-practice microfinance institution in Tunisia. With a staff of 1300 working out of 79 branches, Enda serves 270,000 micro-entrepreneurs (70% are women and 35% youth, 40% in rural areas) with a US$150 million loan portfolio and a repayment rate above 99%. In addition to issuing traditional lines of credit, Enda has developed specialized products including education, housing and agriculture loans, and start up loans to help unemployed youth launch their businesses and create jobs. Enda provides business development services such as financial literacy classes, vocational training, marketing and workplace guidance. During the past 20 years, enda has contributed to improving the lives of over half a million Tunisians excluded from access to financial services and to creating thousands of jobs.
Anne Githuku-Shongwe is the founder of Afroes Transformational Games in South Africa, a leading edu-tech company. African youth present an interesting paradox to the continent’s future: the mobile revolution has created massive potential to inform, connect, and educate youth; on the other hand, these 400 million youth are diesmpowered, jobless and considered a threat to the stability of countries or a burden to states. Afroes is utilizing interactive mobile learning strategies to teach youth about entrepreneurship and leadership, and to empower them as citizens to address their countries’ challenges.
Njideka Harry is the founder of Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) in Nigeria. Since 2001, YTF has worked in regions of Africa plagued by poverty and pervasive unemployment, especially among youth and women. YTF Academy provides beneficiaries with life skills and resources to join the economic mainstream. Since inception, 40% of YTF Academy graduates have been employed by local companies in YTF’s partner network, and are being paid three times the average salary.
Lynn Worsley is the founder of All Women Recycling an inspiring women-led social enterprise in South Africa turning discarded plastic soft-drink bottles into beautiful upcycled, highly decorative giftboxes. The desire to create a sustainable and profitable business, whilst at the same time supporting the environment and empowering other women in the community, was the inspiration for All Women Recycling, a small eco-business based in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town in South Africa. Lynn wanted to find a practical way of keeping the country and its communities clean, by finding a sustainable solution to the thousands of discarded plastic soft-drink bottles. The end goal was to create sought-after, high quality, upcycled products using these plastic bottles as the source materials, that would benefit the environment and empower local women in the communities. The result was the creation of the kliketyklikbox™, a versatile and trendy, yet highly practical and upmarket, eco-friendly gift box recycled from these discarded plastic 2-litre cool drink bottles.Today, All Women Recycling produces approximately 350 kliketyklikboxes™ each day, all created by local young women, primarily previously unemployed single mothers. Read more.
Ellen Chilemba is the founder of Tiwale, a social enterprise in Malawi trying to change the difficult circumstances of women in the country who deal with low primary school completion rates, low socio-economic status, higher than average rates of HIV and AIDS, and one of the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality. Tiwale has trained 150 women as entrepreneurs, whilst also offering grants, loans and lessons that can lead to empowerment and independence. Her Tiwale Design Project trains women to do traditional fabric dye-printing. Some of the revenue from the sale of women’s handiwork is used to fund other programs offered by the organization that give women opportunities for self-sufficiency. These programs include a school grant program that covers fees, transportation costs, school supplies, and offers a small living stipend, plus the flagship microfinance loan program.
Speciosa Mbula Nguku is the founder and director of Machakos Surgery where she is also an anesthesiologist and pain specialist. Machakos Surgery operates as a surgical clinic in eastern Kenya, the first network of surgical hospitals in Kenya offering quality, affordable and ethical care. Speciosa works with children living with disabilities as part of a team dedicated to restoring dignity to patients through surgically correcting deformities. She holds a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery and a master’s degree in anesthesiology.
Judith Owigar is the co-founder and Operations Director of Akirachix, a Kenyan organization that nurtures generations of women who use technology to develop innovations and solutions for Africa. Through Akirachix, she is increasing the number of women who create technological solutions and, in effect, positively impacting on the perception of women in technology. Judith is a 2014 International Focus Fellow and recipient of the Anita Borg Change Agent Award 2011 for Women and Technology. She lives in Nairobi, Kenya and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in applied computing at the University of Nairobi. Read more.
Krupa Patel is the founder and CEO of Anza, a business incubator that provides a range of services to start, support and scale social impact businesses in Tanzania. Krupa is passionate about the transformational potential social businesses have on society and has infused these beliefs into all of Anza’s activities. Anza supports over 104 start-up entrepreneurs with mentorship and financing, in addition to running a number of in-house social businesses as subsidiaries of Anza. Krupa lives in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania.
Birikit Terefe Tiruneh Birikiis is the founding director of Women’s Health Association of Ethiopia, a grassroots knowledge-building organization that focuses on training women in life skills as well as health matters. Women’s Health works across nine regions in Ethiopia seeking economic empowerment through investing in marginalized women’s group businesses. The project has reached over 500 women in four years. Birikit holds master’s degrees in social work and rural development from Addis Ababa University and Indira Gandhi National Open University, respectively. She was a Peace, Security and Development Fellow at The African Leadership Centre, King’s College London.
Faith Nafula Wafula is the founder of SEMA, a youth-targeted initiative which creates policy change and aims to shift mentality and behavior to end the cycle of gender-based violence (GBV) in Kenya. She implements the program at Strategic Applications International, where she is the Gender-Based Violence Program Officer. Through SEMA, Faith has reached over 4,000 university, secondary school and community level youth with GBV training on awareness and advocacy. SEMA also launched the first GBV reporting phone app in Kenya. Faith lives in Nairobi, Kenya, holds a law degree and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in governance, peace and security at Africa Nazarene University.
Brenda Wambui is the CEO and co-founder of Brainstorm Africa, an online media organization whose mission is to address the need for critical thought in Kenya and Africa at large. Brainstorm Africa runs an award-winning weekly journal, Brainstorm, as well as a quarterly topical e-book. Brainstorm has had over 70,000 unique readers since its inception and its books have been downloaded over 5,000 times. Brenda holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Hons) in Marketing and is an Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Affiliate.
Lydia Hakizimana is a social entrepreneur with a vision for improving children’s literacy in Rwanda and, in doing so, providing them with a chance in life to fulfil their potential. Through her company Drakkar Ltd, Lydie has made an avowed commitment to building up the reading culture in Rwanda, which still remains undeveloped. She hopes to develop libraries in schools and hospitals providing children with free access to books. Drakkar Ltd is also involved in other activities, such as teacher training. She is on a mission to make real change happen through literacy, ensuring the next generation can fulfill its potential. Read more.
Janet Shaw is a South African social entrepreneur who recognised the incredible talent of the country’s craftswomen and created a Zulu beadwork collaboration that would empower, uplift and celebrate these women, positively changing lives in the process. The Zulu Beadwork Project is a fair trade initiative that aims to link accomplished crafters with the global market. The range of beaded jewellery produced is a blend of contemporary aesthetics and traditional skills, showcasing a rich cultural heritage. Each collection is made entirely by hand, using glass beads and materials of the highest quality. The project generates sustainable income for fifteen women. Read more.
Victoria Kisyombe is a Tanzanian social entrepreneur who has made a huge impact in her country through her microfinance organisation, SELFINA, founded in 2002. Through her efforts, she has provided 25,000 leases to Tanzanian women, USD $22 million in credit, positively impacted the lives of more than 440,000 people and helped over 200,000 Tanzanians out of poverty. SELFINA has been a real catalyst for women’s entrepreneurship in Tanzania, and through its efforts, has been responsible for a substantial number of small women-owned businesses and enterprises. Today, the company leases everything from livestock, farm equipment, office equipment, catering kit, water pumps, sewing machines, milling machines, oil extraction machines, and bicycles, creating in the process women entrepreneurs in all fields of business, from florists and farmers, to caterers and designers. Victoria has designed a business and a financial model that not only meets the needs of her country’s communities, but also has been recognized globally by the World Economic Forum and the World Bank. Read more.
Dr Jennifer Riria, Group CEO of Kenya Women Holding is one woman that is proof positive of the power of individual entrepreneurs to make a difference. She has singlehandedly transformed the microfinance industry in Kenya in order to tangibly improve the lives of women. Because of her efforts, hundreds of thousands of Kenyan women now have access to finance, previously not available to them, and as a result, are today empowered to live their lives and fulfill their own potential and dreams. Read more.
Winnifred Selby is one young entrepreneur with a vision and an innovative approach to solving some of her country’s socio-economic problems. She was just 15 when she co-founded Afrocentric Bamboo with Bernice Dapaah, a company that manufactures and markets bicycles made from, of all things, bamboo. Two years later, she is heading what has become a growing brand and one that is struggling to keep up with demand. Designed in-house, Afrocentric Bamboo bikes are sturdy, affordable — US$100 for the local market — and made to tackle the high terrain and rough roads of rural Ghana. The frames are built in one piece, making them stronger and more economically viable. This innovative approach to solving the combined problems of affordable transport, poverty and unemployment, is a wonderful example for other young people in Africa to follow.
Katherine Lucey is the CEO of Solar Sister, a network of women entrepreneurs bringing clean energy to rural Africa. According to the World Bank, 1.6 billion people live without electricity, which is 25 percent of the world’s population. Seventy percent of that number are women and girls living in the developing world who often use dangerous and expensive fuels for cooking and lighting their homes. To address this humanitarian crisis in Africa, Solar Sister has developed a unique market-based solution leveraging the talent and networks of women. It is actively recruiting, training and maintaining a growing sales force, which is comprised of women from rural African communities that are most in need of safe and affordable solar energy. By selling portable lamps, mobile phone chargers and clean cookstoves, Solar Sister combines the breakthrough potential of clean energy technologies with a grassroots network of businesswomen. With more than 1,250 entrepreneurs, Solar Sister is making a big impact.
With a three decade long career in agriculture and livestock research and development, Christie Peacock has turned to increasing the productivity of poor livestock farmers through her own social entrepreneurship initiative, Sidai Africa. Christie recognised that about 80% of Africans are farmers and most remain in deep poverty. Livestock play critical and multiple roles in supporting rural families in Africa. They serve as the family’s main asset, source of high protein food, and importantly, source of income. However, livestock keepers lack access to knowledge of how to improve the productivity of their livestock and the vaccines, drugs and feeds they need, therefore not fulfilling the livestock potential to lift people out of poverty. As a solution, Sidai is creating a network of branded, quality-assured, livestock service centres owned and managed by qualified livestock professionals operating under a franchise agreement. These outlets stock quality products and offer quality services to farmers, providing them with a genuine choice in the market.
Sharanjeet Shan is the Executive Director of Maths Centre South Africa, a non-profit organisation that strives to improve Maths, Science and Technology Education in South Africa. Spread across all provinces, the primary objective is to equip teachers, learners and parents with learning materials and programmes that will further develop their competency and performance in these curriculums for Grades R — 12 in South Africa. Sharanjeet Shan and her organisation have a vision to enable world-class performance of both teachers and learners in Maths, Science and Technology education in South Africa. To help achieve this vision, Maths Centre aims to provide high impact support to the South African education system using proven methods and resources to develop effective teachers and promote measurable improvement of learner performance in Maths, Science and Technology.
Amina Slaoui was recognised in 2015 for her assistance to disabled people in Morocco through her high social impact enterprise, Groupe AMH. Amina, a mother of four, was a successful communications executive when a tragic accident left her wheelchair bound. Due to her financial means, she was able to seek excellent care and physiotherapy abroad, but when she returned to Morocco she was distraught by the lack of care for Moroccans who suffered similar circumstances but did not have comparable means. This inspired her to create the Groupe AMH, for which she has received many awards including the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 2006. Today, Groupe AMH provides care for 1,400 patients, including physiotherapy, speech, occupational therapy and psychotherapy. It also fits prostheses and wheelchairs at up to an 80% discount for low-income patients. Groupe AMH now runs six ongoing projects and companies, with 200 employees and 25,000 beneficiaries. They provide an invaluable service in Morocco where there is very little government assistance for people living with disabilities.
The challenge of inspiring young, underprivileged and orphaned children in South Africa to learn to read and develop a love of books and learning, is one that social edupreneur Matilda Sekoakoa, together with her business partner, Lerato Kadiaka, has embraced. Together, they are not just actively working to provide solutions, but their inspirational Help A Child Grow Foundation is positively and tangibly changing the lives of these children each day. The Help A Child Grow Foundation aims to encourage a love of learning, education, career development, and provide basic necessities to children who are in need. The focus is on the reinforcement of basic human rights for orphaned underprivileged children and the youth of Ekurhuleni and Gauteng in South Africa. The initiative was founded after identifying the need for these vulnerable children to learn to read at a young age, and be educated with a focus on encouraged learning and understanding the importance and value of education to build positive young futures. Read more.
The challenge of addressing poverty and empowering women in emerging markets through entrepreneurship empowerment, is one that the Sote Tunaweza Initiative has risen to. Co-founders Daniela Barajas and Priscilla Makundi, together with their inspirational team, are on a mission to foster a global network of strong female leaders who will have the skills, confidence, and creativity to address some of the most pressing issues in their communities. The Sote Tunaweza Initiative seeks to prevent poverty and promote women’s innovation in emerging markets by empowering them through entrepreneurship and leadership institutes. At their institutes, they facilitate workshops on leadership, social entrepreneurship, financial accounting, strategic business planning, marketing and more. By helping women in emerging markets to gain skills to become successful leaders and entrepreneurs, the Sote Tunaweza Initiative team hopes to help women achieve financial independence and create a shift in women’s agency in the household and in society at large, increasing women’s involvement and impact in social, economic, and political issues in their countries. Ultimately, the vision is to foster a global network of strong female leaders who will have the skills, confidence, and creativity to address some of the most pressing issues in their communities. Read more.
Little Green Number is the brainchild of a passionate young social entrepreneur, Juanita van der Merwe, who is aiming to change the world for the better by not only creating unique, really funky handmade bags from up cycled advertising billboard posters thereby helping the environment, but also creating much-needed local jobs for young people in her community. Little Green Number is an award winning social business focused on sustainable job creation, via community based micro manufacturing franchise ownership, producing a quality handbag product that is both funky and unique, yet also saves the environment — one advertising billboard at a time! Its products are 100% handmade, durable and weather resistant and the company is proud to be a South African business with an upcycled, innovative product that creates sustainable jobs. Read more.
Africa has some truly dedicated and inspirational social entrepreneurs who want to make a real and positive difference to the lives of others. Jacqueline Kiage is doing just that in rural Kenya by starting a world-class social enterprise eye clinic, Innovation Eye Centre, to provide life-enhancing eye surgery and specialist eye care to patients that is affordable and accessible. Jacqueline is an MBA Alumni of the Universita’ Cattolica Del Sacro Cuore Altis Graduate School of Business and Society in Milan, Italy. Learn more about this programme at www.e4impact.org. Read more.
Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana co-founded Gahaya Links Cooperatives shortly after the Rwandan genocide ended in 1994. These inspiring sisters had a vision to turn ancient basket weaving skills into a source of livelihood for thousands of rural women. Many of the women, like Janet and Joy themselves, were returning refugees or survivors of the genocide. The women started weaving baskets in exchange for food. Initially bringing together about twenty women, the sisters taught them how to weave and how to enhance their weaving skills with new design techniques. Today, Gahaya Links manages a network of over 4,000 weavers across the country, organised into around 72 cooperatives that help provide much needed income and stability. Today, Gahaya Links “Peace Baskets” are sold and admired the world over. Read more.
South Africa is a country with its fair share of challenges, and particularly amongst its youth, but the way to address those challenges is to empower a new generation of proactive citizens to lead a new way of thinking and to find the much needed solutions for change. Social entrepreneur Amanda Blankfield-Koseff and her Empowervate Trust has a vision to help these new young citizens to be the changemakers of tomorrow. Empowervate is a youth development non-profit organisation that aims to empower and motivate a new generation of proactive and positive citizens. Its flagship programme is the Youth Citizens Action Programme (YCAP), which was founded in 2009 and operates in every province of South Africa in Primary and Secondary Schools to teach active citizenship experientially. The other programmes include social entrepreneurship for youth. Read more.
There are some people you meet in life that really embody the idea of being a Changemaker and who genuinely understand the power of giving and positively touching the lives of others. Penny Mpanza is just that person, an inspirational social entrepreneur who passionately believes that real and lasting change will be driven by a new generation of young people who are well educated and have the tools to find the solutions to the challenges facing Africa today. She is the founder of Let’s Build Our Country Fund NPC (LBOC Fund) an innovative Non-Profit Company aimed at addressing the issue of inequality in South Africa by creating 1000 educational and career opportunities for South African youth every year. The fund is underpinned by a cutting edge Holistic Learner Development Programme that focuses on academic excellence, as well as critical care areas outside of the class room. Read more.
The DreamGirls International Outreach and Mentoring Programme in South Africa is a response to the lack of education for young underprivileged girls in the country. Through mentoring and support, DreamGirls International looks to empower these girls to positively impact their personal circumstances and break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy in their communities. Co-founders, Lebogang George, is passionate about providing young teen girls with the necessary tools and access to educational information so they are eligible to study in any institution of higher education they wish to. The organisation provides support and mentoring to assist the girls to plan for their future and ensure that they are empowered enough to not allow their current circumstances to limit their potential. One of the main objectives is to ensure that these young ladies are empowered and are able to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy in their community. Read more.
Shona McDonald is the founder of Shonaquip, a social enterprise that develops mobility devices to improve physical access and quality of life for people living with disabilities in under-resourced and rural regions in Africa. The company designs, manufactures and supplies posture support wheelchairs, mobility equipment and other positioning devices. Founded in 1992, Shonaquip is the first woman run wheelchair business of its kind in Africa and is considered a model for many social enterprises all over the world. Read more.
Lucy Kapkirwok is a social entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Sanpad Products in Kenya. SANPAD is a sanitary pad-pant business, an innovative low cost initiative aimed at manufacturing affordable and accessible sanitary pads cum pants to address the needs of women and girls in resource poor settings. Lucy is committed to improving the lives of women and young girls in Africa, especially those from poor communities. Read more.
There is a lot of talk right now about the need for more high-impact entrepreneurs in Africa, those people who can make a difference on a large scale and find effective and affordable solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing the continent. Sarah Collins, founder of Natural Balance Global, better known as Wonderbag, is one such high-impact social entrepreneur who has created an empowering solution to affordable and safe cooking practices for women, particularly in rural communities, whilst at the same time creating income generation opportunities for them too. Sarah is a South African adventurer, entrepreneur, and lifelong social activist. She thrives on challenges and has worked tirelessly over the past two decades to inspire change in the realms of gender-equality and environmental sustainability. Read more.
Reading these amazing stories, we hope you are inspired and motivated to also make a difference. So, why not share your own social entrepreneurship story, or tell us about a social entrepreneurship venture which has inspired you and we will feature it as part of this month’s key focus at Lionesses of Africa.
Originally published at www.lionessesofafrica.com on January 11, 2016.