Three young women who are using entrepreneurship to solve problems in Africa

The search for this year’s top young African entrepreneurs is underway as The Anzisha Prize committee makes its way through 339 applications from across the continent.

Thato Kgatlhanye's business manufactures schoolbags from recycled material. The bags have built-in solar technology that charges during the day and transforms into a light for schoolchildren to study after dark.

Thato Kgatlhanye’s business manufactures schoolbags from recycled material. The bags have built-in solar technology that charges during the day and transforms into a light for schoolchildren to study after dark.

The competition recognises and celebrates African entrepreneurs between the ages of 15 and 22 who are using business to solve problems in their communities, and will be announcing this year’s 12 finalists in the upcoming months.

According to Chi Achebe, programme manager for The Anzisha Prize, less than a third of the applicants this year were women, adding that this reflects the lack of support and opportunities that exist on the continent for young women in entrepreneurship.

“In a lot of the countries women are persuaded from pursuing entrepreneurship. There really aren’t that many opportunities and avenues for young girls to really start their own business and a lot of the entrepreneurs who apply for The Anzisha Prize, usually they are entrepreneurs out of necessity and they typically end up being male because even in families where there are both men and women… the responsibility to look after the family falls on the man’s shoulders,” she told How we made it in Africa.

Young entrepreneurs who have started businesses due to their formal education or achievements in school are also typically men, noted Achebe. “It is often not considered decent for a young woman to be engaging in entrepreneurship. It is not something that is encouraged.”

While the committee are still evaluating entries, How we made it in Africa profiles three young women applicants who are using entrepreneurship to make a difference in their communities.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Finalists for The Anzisha Prize have not been announced. The entrepreneurs profiled below have been selected randomly and are not necessarily winners.

Making bicycles from bamboo – Winifred Selby, 19, Ghana

In 2010, Winifred Selby and two of her college classmates co-founded the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative. Selby was just 15 years old at the time.

With an abundance of bamboo forests in the country, the project employs and trains members of the community to convert bamboo into shock-resistant bicycles to address transportation and employment needs in rural areas.

“We empower and transfer the technology of bamboo bike making to rural local people to manufacture affordable multi-purpose bamboo bikes suitable for the high terrain in Ghana, and provide employment to people who otherwise would be out of a job or are below the poverty threshold,” explained Selby.

The company has also found a large export market and makes between US$16,000 to $20,000 in revenue a month.

At the age of 19, Selby is a 2014 Set Africa Fellow and a World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Shaper. In addition, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative has won a number of international accolades, including the GIZ Impact Business Award in 2011 and the World Business and Development Award in 2012.

Solar powered schoolbags – Thato Kgatlhanye, 21, South Africa

At the age of 18, Thato Kgatlhanye and two friends set up Rethaka, a company that aims to combine business with social good. Rethaka’s first business venture is an environmentally-friendly innovation called Repurpose Schoolbags.

The schoolbags are beautifully manufactured from recycled plastic shopping bags with built-in solar technology that charges during the day and transforms into a light for schoolchildren to study after dark in homes without electricity. They are also designed with reflective material to increase child visibility and pedestrian safety for children walking to and from school.

The company employs five women to produce the schoolbags and is looking to target companies with corporate social investment budgets.

“We aim to still appeal to corporate enterprise development funds and form part of their preferred suppliers list by registering with them, with regards to our product offerings,” said Kgatlhanye. “We will also be appealing to numerous corporate and individuals, to sponsor the production of the schoolbags to assist any local schools.”

She added that she would like to diversify her offering to cater for other needs of economically disadvantaged schoolchildren, such as developing raincoats.

Kgatlhanye holds a BA in brand management from The Vega School of Brand Leadership and was selected for an internship in New York with marketing guru and American best-selling author Seth Godin. She was also picked as one of 18 South African social entrepreneurs to attend the 10 day RedBull Amaphiko Academy this year.

Tropical food business – Benedict Mundele, 20, DRC

Benedict Mundele is the owner of Surprise Tropicale, a tropical food take-away and catering business that she runs from a suburb in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

She came up with the idea of developing tropical food products in high school, and started by offering breakfasts to members of the Kuvuna Foundation, a youth skills empowerment and leadership organisation. Today, Surprise Tropicale makes around $300 per month, and Mundele has plans to begin processing her food products and supply local supermarkets.

“The food poverty in my country inspired my project. In the DRC and tropical countries we have many sources of fresh food. However, you go to the supermarket and everything is imported from another country. They take the fruit and vegetables here and transform it into a product and then import it back to our country for more expensive prices,” Mundele explained in an interview on Kuvuna Foundation’s website.

“When you import products, you export jobs.”

Mundele is currently in her final year of studying social communication at the Catholic University of Congo in Kinshasa. She has been named one of the promising young WEF Global Shapers and was selected to attend the WEF on Africa held in Nigeria this year.

Follow the story of this year’s Anzisha Prize and what has become known as the #AnzishaEffect online and on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to the Anzisha Prize’s YouTube channel to get first access to their upcoming webisodes as they premiere.