Africa’s Top 20 Young and Powerful Women
August 11, 2012
By Obed Boafo*
Women empowerment is an over flogged subject across Africa. It has travelled quiet a journey from the days when the continent’s female gender could barely compete with their male counterparts in any endeavour of life to a point where most women now call the shots, and are able to see their dreams come to life.
Various talk shops including the very famous Beijing Conference really defined the borderlines, and shaped what would later go on to become a reminder to most women that they matter.
Today, across Africa’s 50-something state, there is that general feeling of contentment amongst women that, dreams do come true. So sharp and piercing is the chord that it has defeated theories and projections of hard-lined chauvinists who seek to suppress women and pin them down to play second fiddle.
These days, it is hard to find an African woman who is not making it in one field or the other. The ratio of success is so high that ten out of eleven women are either heading a big corporation or running their own affairs.
Most important is the fact that the successes being chalked are products of young, lively and witty women, who went from nothing to something. And a finer aspect of their successes is that, they wield considerable influence that impacts society positively.
All under the age of 45, we take a look at 20 of Africa’s young and powerful women named by Forbes as shaping the fortunes of the continent in one way or the other.
Yolanda Cuba – South Africa
Arguably one of South Africa’s most respected and highly-revered business heads, Yolanda Cuba perfectly fits the description of a global corporate leader. From very humble beginnings she was able to make a name for herself at a time when most of her compatriots hadn’t thought of what to do with their lives.
An alumnus of the Universities of Cape Town and Kwazulu Natal, Yolanda became one of the youngest Chief Executives in South Africa when she headed the Mvelaphanda Group, a JSE-listed company in her late twenties. Still bubbling with energy, Yolanda continues to be a shining example to Africa’s youth.
Yolanda, who is a member of the Investment and Endowment Committee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, has and continue to serve on a lot of South African companies including SAB Limited, Reunert Limited, Steinhoff International Holdings, Absa Group Limited and Health Strategic Investment Limited.
Funmi Iyanda – Nigeria
Born Olufunmilola Aduke Iyanda, she is an Africa Leadership Institute Fellow and also a fellow of the ASPEN Institute’s African Leadership Initiative. Funmi is one of Nigeria’s most popular journalists. She is the CEO of Ignite Media, a content driven media organization.
The 41 year-old has won almost everything journalism in Nigeria and continues to bag in more. She is Hostess of the ever popular Talk with Funmi, a syndicated magazine programme of everyday life in Nigeria, and which engages artists, writers, celebrities and politicians among other members of the Nigerian social basket. She is seen as a powerful force in Nigeria, and wields a considerable amount of influence amongst opinion leaders and decision makers.
Her love for television started when she produced and presented “Good Morning Nigeria”.
With years of practice as a broadcaster, columnist and blogger, Funmi always bring her sense of purpose and direction to bear in her field of endeavour, and this has propelled her to heights other young Nigerians admire.
Elsie S. Kanza – Tanzania
Recently named by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a Young Global Leader, Kanza continues to shine in every sphere of life. Currently, she is Director, Head of Africa at the WEF.
Kanza worked with the Ministry of Finance from 2002 to 2006, where she served as Personal assistant to the Permanent Secretary.
She is credited for being instrumental in the successful preparation of Tanzania’s proposal for the Millennium Challenge Account, as well as in the development of government credit guarantee schemes.
She holds a BSC in international business administration from the U.S International University, a Master of Arts in Development Economics from the Center for Development Economics, Williams College, U.S.A. she also hold a University of Strathclyde MSC Finance certificate.
Kanza is a fellow of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Leadership Fellow and a member, Honorary Committee, 1x1Microcredit.org.
Magette Wade – Senegal
Wade was born in Senegal, spent her early years of education in Germany and France but later found herself on the streets of San Francisco in the United States of America, where the idea to start Adina World Beverages came up. Wade is a proud TED Fellow. In 2011, Forbes listed her as one of Africa’s most powerful young women.
Ignited by the success stories of some Silicon Valley start-ups, which led to the birth of Adina, Wade has seen her dreams come true. Today, Adina World Beverages’ products are sought after across the world.
She speaks the traditional Wollof language of Senegal as well as English and French.
Projections put her company’s value at USD 3.2 million dollars. She is said to be starting a new company, Tiossano, which would be “a contemporary lifestyle products brand that integrates the experiences of all three cultures,” she picked up during her stay in, Dakar, Paris, and San Francisco.
Ory Okolloh – Kenya
Always fighting for the general good of the Kenyan people, Okolloh makes open-government activism in the East African country an interesting case study for the generation yet to come.
She is a lawyer, blogger and writer of repute.
Okolloh co-founded the parliamentary watchdog site Mzalendo (Swahili: ‘Patriot’), in 2006, to increase government accountability by systematically recording bills, speeches, MPs, standing orders. Around the same time in 2006, she was recognized as one of the most influential women in technology, globally.
A graduate of the Havard Law School, Okolloh, is also the founder of Ushahidi, an open source platform for crowd sourcing crisis. She works as a consultant for NGOs and operates her personal blog KenyanPundit.
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu – Ethiopia
Famed worldwide for her dust to glory shoemaking story, Ethiopia’s Alemu was last year named a global leader by the World Economic Forum.
In what started as child’s play in the poor community of Zenabwork, in the outskirts of Addis Ababa where she was born, Alemu has become a giant in the shoemaking business.
Her SoleRebels brand, which would soon become the first fair trade green footwear firm fully licensed by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), is one of Ethiopia’s most successful business entities.
Currently, Alemu’s shoes sell in some 55 countries, mostly through retailers, who are helping her to shape what has become a dream well, lived.
The 32 year-old employs some 75 full time employees and also engages the services of over 200 local suppliers. This year Forbes listed her as one of Africa’s Most Successful Women.
She is also a recipient of the 2012 Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the World Economic Forum on Africa.
Dambisa Moyo – Zambia
Respected for her strong stance on “Foreign Aid” to Africa, Moyo is one of the continent’s most heard voices on the very controversial and touchy subject.
She’s been named by Time Magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World”. Moyo’s work regularly appears in publications such as the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.
She holds a doctorate in Economics from the Oxford University and a Masters degree from Harvard University. Moyo, who also sits on the boards of some well known global brands, has also completed an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and an MBA in Finance at the American University in Washington D.C.
Saran Kaba Jones – Liberia
Jones is founder of FACE Africa, a non-for-profit organization that provides access to clean, safe and portable drinking water for rural communities in Liberia, using an inventive social enterprise model to fund water projects.
Thousands of Liberians continue to benefit from this project.
Jones’s story is an uplifting one most young Liberians connect to. After fleeing Liberia just before what would later on become a 14-year civil war, she returned in 2008 to make life pretty comfortable for some of the faces she left behind for the United States.
Her first project was in Barnersville, located in a community of about 600 people in Liberia. Working with local organizations, FACE Africa helped to install handpumps and built wells. They also constructed latrines. Currently, the Barnersville project supplies some 20,000 liters of clean drinking water each day to hundreds of homes in the West African country.
Today, she is an inspiration to the Liberian people.
Juliet Ehimuan – Nigeria
Last year, in a much talked-about talked about corporate announcement, global online giant Google named her as Country Manager.
Heading what is widely known as the company’s largest internet community in Africa; Ehimuan represents Google at that level and also handles its business development projects and partnership opportunities.
Her experience in technology spans global markets, mainly in Europe, Middle East, (EMEA) Africa and United States.
She started her career at Shell Petroleum Development Company as Performance Monitoring and Quality Assurance Supervisor, and worked as Program Manager at Microsoft UK for six years, managing Strategic Projects for MSN EMEA.
She later became Business Process Manager for the MSN Global Sales and Marketing Organization.
She left Microsoft in 2005 to start SI Consulting Ltd UK, providing collaborative programs that connect African Business leaders with their global counterparts.
Prior to joining Google, Ehimuan worked as General Manager, Strategic Business Units at Chams Plc.
Ehimuan holds an Executive MBA from the London Business School, and a Bachelors degree in Computer Engineering from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and a Post Graduate degree in Computer Science from the University of Cambridge, UK. She is a recipient of the London Business School Global Women’s Scholarship, as well as two scholarly awards – Selwyn College Scholar and Malaysian commonwealth Scholar – Cambridge University. She is a Fellow of the Cambridge Commonwealth Society.
Khanyi Ndhlomo – South Africa
Call her the darling of South African media; Ndhlomo has made a name for herself.
Owner of Ndalo Media, publishers of the very popular Destiny Magazine and Destiny Man, she is what you would ask for in a successful young woman.
Prior to starting Ndalo, she worked as Editor for True Love Magazine for eight years. In 2003, she was named the Most Influential Woman in South African media by the Media Magazine.
Her success also dates back to age 20, when she made history as the first black newscaster for SABC.
Julie Gichuru – Kenya
Largely seen as the face of Kenyan television, Gichuru has almost built a following that is almost becoming religious.
She doubles as an anchor and executive of Citizen TV, one of Kenya’s most popular media establishments.
She is a fellow and trustee member of the African Leadership Initiative, which is part of the Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum. A recipient of the Martin Luther King Salute to Greatness Award, she’s participated in projects for UNICEF, the Aspen Global Leadership Network and Africa Global Leadership.
Chimamanda Adichie – Nigeria
One of Africa’s most celebrated writers, Adichie’s exploits at home and abroad has conspired to give literature a good standing in Africa.
At 45, she continues to excel in her chosen field. In 2006, her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun, named after the flag of the short-lived nation of Biafra, won the Orange Prize in 2007.
Adichie’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus, was released in 2003. It was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (2004) and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in 2005.
The Thing Around Your Neck, her third book, is a collection of short stories published in 2009. In 2010 she was listed among The New Yorkers “20 under 40” Fiction Issue; and her story, “Ceiling”, was included in the 2011 edition of The Best American Short Stories.
Olga Kimani-Arara – Kenya
Until recently Google’s local spokesperson in Kenya, Kimani-Arara is an astute corporate woman.
In his home country Kenya, she is well respected by her peers especially in the sectors she’s worked in before.
She left Google this year to pursue other interests. Prior to joining Google, she was a senior executive at Safaricom. “She has vast experience in engineering combined with strong commercial and marketing knowledge with several years experience in marketing and product management gained in the Telecommunications, Retail and IT industries,” its been suggested.
A Microsoft Certified System Engineer, Kimani-Arara holds an MBA in Engineering Business Management from Manchester Business School. She also holds a B.Sc. Electrical and Electronics Engineering.
Phuti Malabie – South Africa
CEO of the black-owned and managed Shanduka Group of South Africa, Malabie was in 2008 named by the Wall Street Journal as one of 50 women in the world to watch.
In 2007, the World Economic Forum chose her as a Global Young Leader, in a list that also saw her rub shoulders with other young achievers across the world.
Before joining the Shanduka Group, Malabie, 41, was head of the Project Finance South Africa unit at the Development Bank of Southern Africa.
In 2009, she was awarded the “Most Influential Woman in Government and Business by Financial Services”. She was Vice President of Fieldstone from 1997 to 2003.
Isis Nyongo – Kenya
The affable and lovely Nyongo is Vice President and Managing Director of the world’s largest independent mobile advertising network, InMobi.
She’s held senior management positions at MTV, Kenya’s leading Job site MyJobsEye, and Google. She is an alumnus of Harvard and Standford.
Ndidi Nwuneli – Nigeria
Founder of LEAP AFRICA, a “leadership training and coaching organization which is committed to empowering, inspiring and equipping a new cadre of leaders in Africa”, Nwuneli is one of Nigeria’s most successful entrepreneurs.
A pioneer executive director of FATE Foundation, a non-profit organization which promotes entrepreneurial development among Nigerian youth, she has received numerous honors and awards including one at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2003 and an Excellence Award from the Africa Business Club at Harvard Business School in 2007.
Stella Kilonzo – Kenya
Kilonzo is the immediate past Chief Executive of Capital Markets Authority, Kenya. After a four and a half year sojourn in the USA, Kilonzo returned to Kenya and worked at accounting giant Pricewaterhouse Coopers, as a Senior Associate in the Corporate Finance Advisory Services Department.
Jonitha Gugu Msibi – South Africa
Msibi’s corporate life at Ernst & Young coupled with her impressive leadership strengths, has earned her a lot of respect amongst her peers. She is considered one of South Africa’s most respected young and successful women. She is a Fellow of the Aspen Institute’s African Leadership Initiative
June Arunga – Kenya
Arunga is founder and Chief Executive of Open Quest Media LLC, a New York-based multimedia production company. She serves on the advisory boards of Moving Picture Institute and Global Envision as member, and is a fellow at the International Policy Network (London, UK), as well as the Istituto Bruno Leoni (Milan, Italy).
Lisa Kropman – South Africa
Prior to setting up her own firm, Kropman worked as an Associate at Werksmans Attorneys. Currently, she is founder of a group of business support centres that support start-ups operating in Johannesburg, Alexandra, Soweto, Cape Town, Philippi, King Williamstown and Botswana, Swaziland and Rustenburg.
The Business Place, as it is widely known across Southern Africa, is offering hope to new and ready-to-roll businesses.
Since 1997, she has held various positions in Investec Limited including Head, Employment Equity Forum; Head, Corporate Social Investment Division; and Catalyst for the Group developing CIDA City Campus.
She also assisted in operationalizing the black empowerment Entrepreneurship Development Trust.
She holds a Bachelor’s in Social Sciences from the University of Cape Town and a Bachelor’s in Law from the University of the Witwatersrand.
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