African Entrepreneurs Experience an Inspiring, Innovative Summer of Growth
Muzalema Mwanza’s Safe Motherhood Alliance helps pregnant mothers in Zambia by providing low-cost baby delivery kits to promote a healthy process and save newborns’ lives. But, during the past six weeks in San Diego, she’s developed a technology solution to raise expectant mothers’ awareness of the kits that will help her organization be that much more effective.
"I feel my idea, even the project, has grown because I didn't know how to connect expectant women with these traditional birthing kits," said Mwanza, herself a new mother in the past year. "Should I do workshops? What can I do? Coming to San Diego, I see that everything is about the tech industry, everything is technology, everything is software. That's what gave birth to the idea of having an Uber app for pregnant mothers.”
Nicholas Kamanzi's business venture, Sula Pay, aims to help Ugandan businesses that lack access to banking services by creating a mobile and web application so they can create their own credit scoring on transactions. Shade Ladipo's company, She Invests, wants to help women in Nigeria bridge the financial gap that exists through a technology solution that can strengthen a woman’s financial skills and savings capabilities.
Each of these projects, among 25 presentations of business and entrepreneurial ventures by bright, young African leaders during the Mandela Washington Fellowship Challenge, took place at the University of San Diego on July 26.
Ideas that Mwanza, Kamanzi and Ladipo presented were chosen as the top three — in that order — by a panel of judges and the Challenge was the culmination of a six-week program hosted by the Kroc School's Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice since mid-June.
Life-Changing, Enhancing Time for Mandela Washington Fellows
In essence, though, all 25 Mandela Washington Fellows hosted by USD's Kroc School and its Institute for Peace and Justice were standouts.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, a flagship program for the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI), brought 1,000 African leaders, ages 25-35, to the United States. Sponsored by the Bureau of the Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State and IREX, the Mandela Washington Fellows were hosted nationally by 38 colleges and universities, including USD, which was the only Southern California institution selected. Each of the Mandela Washington Fellows were aspiring entrepreneurs and business professionals who had established a record of accomplishment in promoting innovation and positive change in their respective organizations and communities.
For those who participated at USD, these past six weeks were life-changing and enhancing for the innovative programs and ideas they brought with them.
One of the major obstacles for Mwanza's birthing kits was finding a way to make pregnant women in her country aware of these kits and how it can increase their knowledge and result in healthier deliveries.
"I realized that all of these moms have smartphones and they're on Facebook. Being here has really helped me refine my idea. I've made so many great connections and I found resources I needed. What could have taken a year or two or three years to get to where I am now has, instead, taken six weeks. It's amazing. I would have never thought it to this level had I not been here for the fellowship."
The training she and others received while at USD has continued to strengthen this week. The group reconvened with the full 1,000 leaders in Washington D.C. for a summit event. It was a chance to share what has been learned and to continue the conversation, building the skill set and important networking before the Mandela Washington Fellows return to their respective countries to advance their organizations and ideas.
Two of the USD-hosted Mandela Washington Fellows, Mwanza and Muhammad Kromah of Liberia, are among 100 of the 1,000 leaders who are extending their stay in the U.S. through mid-September. Mwanza in Minnesota and Kromah in Ohio, will gain additional knowledge, have access to companies who can help them work on further refinement of their ventures. Kromah's idea centers on giving Liberians access to pure and safe drinking water.
Rewarding, Powerful Experience
Hosting the Mandela Washington Fellows has certainly been a rewarding and powerful experience for everyone on the USD side, too. Andrew Blum, IPJ executive director for just about a year, said this program really helped him and staff and interns really experience what are the goals of the institute's purpose at USD.
"Our mission statement really focuses on learning with Changemakers and peacemakers from all over the world and for the past six weeks, we've had the unbelievable privilege of learning with 25 Mandela Washington Fellows from 19 African countries," he said. "We have fellows who are fish farmers and kite surfers, lawyers and journalists, school principals and artists, optometrists, carpenters and software developers and more. What unites them is a really deep desire to create positive change in their countries and do it on their terms, do it innovative ways and not follow the normal paths."
Indeed. The IPJ, along with USD partners such as the Center for Peace and Commerce, the School of Leadership and Education Sciences and locally, the San Diego Diplomacy Council, were all part of making this program a success.
It definitely showed during the day-long Challenge presentations. These are young leaders who want to improve the lives of people in their communities and countries through ideas that serve and empower women and youth, target sustainability improvements, help through mobile apps, improve education through tutoring, improve health and financial well-being, spotlight artistic talent, profile female athletes and support refugee orphans.
Being an entrepreneur often requires a spirit and passion that's rarely quenched. These past six weeks, between lectures, on-site visits, networking events and a lot of time spent together to learn from each other has provided so much for each person.
One of the most passionate members throughout her time at USD this summer, Shade Ladipo, summed up perfectly during a post-Mandela Fellowship Challenge reception the impact of the past six weeks.
"I have so much more confidence to know that I can do this."
— Ryan T. Blystone