Africa’s female startup founders are among the most underfunded and over-mentored groups of entrepreneurs. Yet they’re driving some of the most exciting and important changes on the continent.
We’re proud to introduce this year’s Africa Innovators List: a dynamic group of over two dozen women from 12 countries and 15 sectors whose work dispels the myth that women are primarily focused on social sectors as opposed to areas that drive economies.
This year’s list features innovators who are building robots in Cameroon for waste collection, tackling freight logistical challenges in Ghana, addressing low insurance penetration in Kenya, bringing indigenous pastoralist knowledge from the Sahel into global climate change discussions, training other women in tech, blending creative math design with fashion in Nigeria, addressing energy financing in Tunisia, and investing in pre-seed funding across the continent.
Once the coronavirus pandemic hit, innovation went from being a buzzword to becoming paramount to the survival of businesses and the safeguarding of jobs. The most resilient entrepreneurs proved to be those that could harness technological innovations to pivot operations. As economic growth stalled and unemployment soared, the continent’s institutions and funders began looking to digital entrepreneurs to drive its recovery.
Yet for the continent’s female business leaders, challenging conditions and near-insurmountable funding obstacles have always been a part of their startup journey. That’s part of the reason they are uniquely positioned to lead the continent on the path to recovery. And why Quartz Africa chose to focus on some of the most exciting female-led initiatives happening in Africa today.
This doesn’t just matter to young girls trying to envision the full scope of their future. It’s a great loss for Africa’s economies when we fail to honor women’s contributions to society, or restrict their access to opportunities. As an example, by one measure, African e-commerce is losing over $14.5 billion by not having the same number of women as men selling online.
These women are not only from the continent’s tech and innovation hubs of Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, and Egypt, but also from Somalia, Cameroon, Senegal, DRC, Chad, Tunisia, Uganda among other countries. Their innovations show the potential that can be unleashed when women with bold ideas and decisive actions take the lead.—Ciku Kimeria, Quartz Africa editor, and Jackie Bischof, Talent Lab editor
QUARTZ AFRICA INNOVATORS 2021
Jihan Abass • Miishe Addy • Diarra Boussou • Héla Cheikhrouhou • Amira Cheniour • Seynabou Dieng • Farah Emara • Maya Horgan Famodu • Regina Honu • Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim • Neema Iyer • Fara Ashiru Jituboh • Xaviera Kowo • Berita Khumalo • Tomilola Majekodunmi • Moky Makura • Cathye Moukoko • Catherine Nakalembe • Nanjala Nyabola • Marie-Alix De Putter • Mmamontsheng Dulcy Rakumakoe • Jasmine Samantar • Kalista Sy • Mariam Bintou Traoré • Indira Tsengiwe • Wanjiru Koinange and Angela Wacuka
ESSAYS & IDEAS
Founder and CEO, Lami Insurance Technology
Jihan Abass leads Lami Insurance Technology, an insurtech startup based in Nairobi. Lami builds tech infrastructure to help businesses design digital insurance products.
Africa’s insurance penetration rate was about 2.78% in 2019, significantly lower than the global average of 7.23%. “A lot of the time, people are relying on single sources of income, but they’re not insuring those sources of income so, if one thing goes wrong, they lose everything,” she tells Quartz Africa.
Abass believes the low penetration is because the traditional model insurance companies use—on the ground agents going to people to try to convince them to buy insurance products—cannot reach that many people. She also realized businesses such as banks and tech platforms may want to sell insurance products, but insurance companies don’t have the systems or capabilities to enable this.
Abass, a former commodity futures trader at a UK trading house, started Lami as an application programming interface, or API, that enables businesses to offer products such as vehicle and health insurance to customers. They can also use the API to manage risk by tailoring needs and digitizing their operations.
That’s the main vision for us—is really to create accessibility.
Many businesses have adopted Lami’s API since the company was launched last year. E-commerce platform Jumia uses it to power its insurance marketplace on its JumiaPay app. Stanbic Bank has used it to create a mobile insurance app and digitize its bancassurance—the selling of life assurance and other insurance products and services by banking institutions. Lami also operates Griffin, a car insurance app fully built on the startup’s API.
“How can we get insurance to as many people as possible, in the simplest and the easiest way?” Abass says. “That’s the main vision for us—is really to create accessibility.”
CEO/Co-founder, Jetstream Africa
Miishe Addy is using digital technology to tackle inefficiencies that make shipping difficult in Africa.
Jetstream Africa, which she co-founded in 2018, provides a supply chain management platform that quickly connects importers, exporters, and logistics providers with trade finance. The effect is that cargo spends less time at ports, ensuring that goods are cleared faster, and that trade is more predictable on the continent.
Jetstream is based in Ghana where Addy says more than 50% of the country’s registered freight forwarders are on-boarded on the tech platform. Its processes take “less than a third of the time than with traditional bank letters of credit,” Addy said. It has also started operations in Nigeria, and has agents in South Africa, the US, UK, and China. Addy has driven the company to grow recurring revenue six times year-over-year for the 2020 financial year, and is motivated to make the company the essential first-mover for logistics providers and entrepreneurs powering cross-border trade in Africa.
Founder & Chief Creative Mathematician at DIARRABLU
DIARRABLU is a brand that lies at the intersection of mathematics and fashion design. The brand’s design process is the result of innovative creative mathematics, using graphs and geometric transformations to create iconic prints. This innovation is inspired by the founder Diarra Boussou’s background as a mathematician.
The brand’s operational structure allows the company to generate thousands of print iterations with algorithms and only produce what’s needed based on customer polling and engagement prior to production. Through this process, it is able to produce what’s wanted and reduce textile waste by 60%.
Sustainable through their waste minimization policy, the brand’s design process is also characterized by colorful prints, and clean style lines. In 2020 the company was able to grow its revenues by 900%, and reach 10,000 customers in 40 countries. It also became a top 10 finalist out of 54,000 applicants for Jack Ma’s Africa Business Heroes competition.
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Nithio
Héla Cheikhrouhou has spent the last 25 years trying to make energy more affordable in Africa, first at Citibank, then at the World Bank, African Development Bank, the UN’s Green Climate Fund, and as Tunisia’s minister of energy.
It all comes down to the perception that there isn’t enough bankable demand.
The biggest reason clean energy startups on the continent struggle to raise money, she said, is that “it all comes down to the perception that there isn’t enough bankable demand” for solar power. The goal of Nithio, Cheikhrouhou’s first company, is to change that perception.
The company uses proprietary AI software to assess households’ likely ability to pay for solar hardware, then uses that data to help solar companies access capital from banks and other investors. Since launching in 2018, Nithio has raised more than $30 million and disbursed loans to several off-grid energy companies in Nigeria and Kenya.
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Seabex
Climate change is already disrupting rainfall patterns and drying out the African continent, creating hazardous conditions for hundreds of millions of farmers. Amira Cheniour’s mission is to help them use what little water is available more efficiently, with the help of machine learning.
The daughter of an apple and olive farmer, Cheniour studied engineering, and in 2015 helped her business partner Taher Mestiri design a low-cost, remote-controlled irrigation system that collects real-time data about weather conditions and crops’ water needs and directs water to each field accordingly.
So-called precision agriculture is the norm in the US and Europe, but is a rarity in Africa, where the vast majority of farming remains rain-fed. Starting with four farmers on a few dozen acres, the company reached a valuation of $2.3 million in 2020 and is now used on nearly 1,000 acres in Tunisia and France.
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, FreshSource
Farah Emara grew up immersed in Egypt’s agricultural supply chains. Her family owns one of the country’s largest cold-storage companies that hauls fruits and vegetables from rural areas into the supermarkets and restaurants of Cairo.
It’s a tedious process, she learned. Between farmers and end buyers, produce often changes hands between several middlemen, each one eroding a bit of the farmers’ profit margins and raising the odds that some produce will go bad. Overall, she says, 45% of Egypt’s produce rots in this way before it reaches a market. FreshSource is Emara’s solution: A digital marketplace that connects farmers directly to buyers. It’s web-based for now, with an app in the works.
Supply chain efficiency is critical for climate change adaptation, Emara says; with Egypt facing a water scarcity crisis, waste is unaffordable. On average, FreshSource users’ food waste has dropped to 5%, she says.
Maya Horgan Famodu
Managing Director, Ingressive Capital
Attracting investment to get ideas off the ground is not easy for African startups. And for the few lucky ones who do, the funds come overwhelmingly from abroad.
Maya Horgan Famodu is changing that, one investment at a time. Horgan Famodu is the founder and managing director at Ingressive Capital, a Lagos-based fund that exclusively backs African companies at the pre-seed stage. One of her earliest bets was Paystack, the Nigerian payments processor that was bought for more than $200 million by Stripe last year. It’s a bet that has handsomely paid off.
With $10 million in the bank, Horgan Famodu is uniquely placed to make more investments. Currently, her fund has made 34 investments in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and Egypt, with about 40% female-founded or co-founded. Horgan Famodu, who grew up in Minnesota and is Nigerian-American, started out working in mortgage banking at JPMorgan Chase and briefly worked in private equity research in New York.
CEO, Soronko Academy
Regina Honu leads Soronko Academy, a technology and digital skills development center based in Accra. Soronko equips talented young women with the technical and soft skills required to land jobs in technology as a means of reducing the gender gap in the industry. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the digital gender gap is more acute in Africa, where 37% of men have internet access compared to 20% of women.
Soronko has an interactive coding and human-centered design curriculum and works with UNICEF, and the Mastercard Foundation as part of a consortium of organizations in the Young Africa Works scheme in Ghana, aiming to help 2.1 million Ghanaian women find “fulfilling and dignified jobs.”
We are deliberate about making sure we connect the unconnected.
The Academy has expanded to work with children with disabilities, teaching kids with hearing and visual impairments how to code. A pilot program to introduce their curriculum to public schools in Ghana is in the works. And the Academy also takes women in the informal sector through an intensive six-week program of training to develop their skills.
Honu and her team have trained over 20,000 women and girls and connected 5,000 of the people trained to jobs or supported them to start their own businesses and expanded to Burkina Faso. “We are deliberate about making sure we connect the unconnected and run our skills training program in rural and urban poor areas across the country to ensure that no woman is left behind in upskilling themselves and taking advantage of our increasingly digital world,” Honu says.
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim
President of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT)
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is a member of Chad’s nomadic Mbororo people, and an environmental activist who believes that indigenous people’s knowledge is crucial for the conservation of our planet. The crux of her message is that climate change resilience can be achieved by combining science, technology, and tradition.
We can give the best of us to protect our people, to protect our planet.
At 16, she founded the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT). Through collaborative tools such as 3D participatory mapping, she has guided her pastoralist community in building sustainable ecosystems, while building the capacity of women through new income generating activities. Ibrahim’s work with indigenous communities at the local and global level has achieved broad recognition and support.
In her widely-viewed Dec. 2019 TED talk, she described how climate change is changing the social fabric of her community, with dwindling natural resources forcing men to migrate to cities, or flee to Europe, in a bid to try to make money. The women who are left behind to feed, support, and secure their families’ futures. “Those women, for me, are my heroes,” says Ibrahim. “They are innovators, they are solution makers, they are changing the little resources [they have] into big [ones] for the community. Those are my people.”
Ibrahim believes that combining ecological knowledge with this traditional knowledge and innovation, will help make communities resilient to climate change. “We can give the best of us to protect our people, to protect our planet.”
Founder/Executive Director, Pollicy
Neema Iyer started Pollicy to create evidence-based engagement between citizens and governments on issues like efficient public service delivery. To do this, Pollicy brings data scientists, creatives, academics, and private companies together to advance conversations on data governance and digital security.
In April this year, Pollicy hosted “DataFest Kampala,” a two-day in-person and virtual conference in the Ugandan capital that drew in different actors using data and technology in the east African country.
Ultimately we want to push the conversation and action on Africa’s digital and data future.
Pollicy also has a dedicated focus on the intersections of data and feminism, exemplified in a map of feminist movements in the continent. It has developed a game called Digital safe-tea that provides women with training to confront scenarios of online violence.
Iyer said Pollicy has trained over 5,000 people on vital data skills, working with communities to understand needs and challenges involved in using data for decision making. “Ultimately we want to push the conversation and action on Africa’s digital and data future,” she says.
Fara Ashiru Jituboh
Co-founder and CEO/CTO, Okra
When we use ride-hailing, food delivery, or banking services, each transaction generates specific data about us that can be used to create new, customized services. But these data are in each provider’s silo, which means innovators often lack reliable, secure access to them.
This is the problem Fara Ashiru Jituboh is solving with Okra, a financial data company that is moving beyond open banking (nudging banks to open their vaults of customer data) to pioneer open finance in Africa. Jituboh’s vision is that Okra becomes a single channel for any business to request customers’ data – wherever the data are, with the customers’ consent, and at the least possible cost. For customers, the reward is a larger pool of solutions based on their own data.
Less than two years in, and powered by $4.5 million in venture capital, Jituboh’s Okra is laying the foundation for the next boom in African tech innovation.
Seynabou Dieng Traore
After 10 years living in France and working mostly in marketing roles, Seynabou Dieng returned to Mali only to realize that most food products within reach were foreign goods. It inspired her to start Maya, a food processing company for products made with ingredients sourced from farmer associations.
Maya has processed 78 tons of vegetables and cereals since 2017, and has trained 250 farmers to make them potential partners that can supply produce. These farmers are more confident to invest in producing goods because there is now a market for what they harvest. It has the potential to increase agriculture’s contribution to Mali’s GDP which currently stands at 30%.
Dieng has been motivated by a cultural mission too: to ensure there is a connection between what Malians eat and what they produce. With a foothold in Mali, Maya now also operates in Senegal, where it could find a market with Dakar’s culturally diverse populace.
When 18-year-old programer Xaviera Kowo thought of what machine she would design for international robots competition First Global, her first thought was to program something that was “useful to society.” Her second thought was how to confront the ongoing issue of product pollution affecting the environment.
In response to these priorities, she developed a remote-controlled waste treatment robot capable of picking up and disposing of debris to a defined area, such as a garbage can or recycling center. The innovation saw her win the inaugural Margaret Junior Prize by JFD, a French women’s innovation network.
A quarter of the UN’s sustainable development goals are focused on sanitation, Kowo points out. “A sick environment implies sick people. This is a problem that needs real attention,” she says. “My robot will not solve this issue entirely, yet it will help to the wellbeing of our environment, for the benefit of all sectors of the society at large.”
Tomilola Majekodunmi started Bankly in 2019 out of a conviction that providing digital identity to over 60 million Nigerians was the surest route to sustainable poverty alleviation.
Think of Bankly as a digital technology service for suburban thrift savings setups, where unbanked users trust an agent who visits at certain periods (sometimes weekly) to record deposits in a paper register. But because this can be vulnerable to theft and fraud, Bankly’s 15,000 agents enable those users to digitize their cash daily, and build formal accounts that can create access to products like microloans and insurance.
After raising $2 million from institutional investors earlier in the year, the company wants to scale up to 50,000 agents, and increase its capacity to serve the digitization needs of small businesses. Bankly is one of many agent-based fintech companies in Nigeria, but Majekodunmi’s focus on thrift savings—a method typically used by women—attempts to solve a problem of exclusion that affects a significant portion of Nigeria’s population.
We’ve come a long way since Kenyan writer and activist Binyavaga Wainaina wrote his viral satirical essay “How to write about Africa,” poking fun at racist tropes about the continent. But there’s further yet to go, if you ask Moky Makura, the executive director of Africa NoFilter (ANF). The organization, which began as a project under the Ford Foundation and became its own entity in 2019, aims to “support the development of nuanced and contemporary stories that shift stereotypical and harmful narratives within and about Africa.”
The world is ready for lighter, uplifting stories that reflect this dynamic continent.
Since then, ANF has raised $6 million from mega funders like Ford and Bloomberg to support its work, and gives out $1 million a year in grants to storytellers, many of them first-time recipients. To help grantees make the most of their money, it has partnered with Western Union to enable rapid grant delivery, and has done a series or training sessions on budgeting and financial management for grantees, and application guidance.
The organization also funds innovative research on how to shift narratives, such as examining how the media covers the continent, and recently launched bird, Africa’s first digital story agency. You’ll spot some of those stories on Quartz Africa, including coverage of crypto trade and African space programs. “The world is ready for lighter, uplifting stories that reflect this dynamic continent,” says Makura. “It’s up to us, Africa’s media, to deliver them.”
Founder and CEO of The Shapers Investors
Cathye Moukoko is the founder and CEO of The Shapers Investors, an investment and advisory firm headquartered in Paris, and operating in the DRC, with plans to expand to Cameroon, Gabon, and Angola.
A third of businesses worldwide are owned by women, but female-led businesses struggle to raise capital and are underrepresented as investors. This fact prompted Moukoko to start The Sisters Invest, an international network of female business angels which she co-founded with Marie-Alix de Putter in 2017. “Women experience greater successes than their male counterparts. Yet traditional venture capital does not reflect this,” Moukoko says.
The entrepreneurs we follow are capable of growing under mentoring support…They are the true builders of the continent.
The Shapers Investors is an extension of that work, with a focus on helping female and young entrepreneurs working in sustainable development find consultants, mentors, and investors. So far, the firm has raised five startups from the seed stage to the fundraising level. This year they are supporting a dozen start-ups, half of them led by women, and all of them founded by youth under the age of 30. “The entrepreneurs we follow are capable of growing under mentoring support, and at some point gain investment for their business [and] expertise thanks to consulting missions,” Moukoko says. They can also “enter in our investors clubs to support in their turn upcoming new start ups. They are the true builders of the continent.”
Writer, researcher and political analyst
Nanjala Nyabola runs the Kiswahili Digital Rights Project, an initiative to translate and popularize key terms in digital rights and technology into the most spoken African language.
Nyabola realized that digital rights activists were having difficulty articulating digital matters to non-English speakers, since developments in the space were outpacing the translation of key words in the language. She decided to help Kiswahili-speaking communities understand the digital landscape and their rights.
Any effort to give communities a tool they can use to speak up for their own rights is important.
Her initiative is funded and supported by the Stanford Digital Civil Society Lab Fellowship, and has two parts. In one, the Kiswahili Language Translation Project, academics from different universities and organizations in east Africa provided translations for key digital terms, considering the histories and the linguistic contexts of the various words. The final translations are freely available for download as non-proprietary material in the form of Kiswahili vocabulary flashcards that are also designed to be used as playing cards. The Kiswahili Digital Rights Project also launched a literature prize with the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature to encourage people to use Kiswahili and to imagine digital futures for Kiswahili language communities. The competition received almost 300 submissions.
“English has a huge linguistic advantage in the digital age, and non-English first communities are basically playing catch up,” she told Quartz Africa. “The gap between those who build the technology and those who use the technology is growing at breakneck speed, particularly for those who don’t speak English first or primarily. Any effort to give communities a tool they can use to speak up for their own rights is important.”
Marie-Alix De Putter
Co-Creator at The Sisters Invest, chief storytelling offer at Hemley Productions
Marie-Alix de Putter is a serial founder, entrepreneur, and storyteller who believes in the great potential of African women. Born in Paris and raised in Cameroon, she is a co- creator of The Sisters Invest alongside Cathye Moukoko, an international network of female business angels, with a central mission to raise investments by women in female-led businesses across Africa.
In addition, De Putter is also the co-founder of organizations which support the destigmatization of mental health in Africa, as well as ethical leadership in Cameroon.
Lifelong learning is important to Marie-Alix de Putter, who holds three master’s degrees in political science, project management, and business communication. She also runs HEMLEY Productions, a content media company which aims to put “women of all walks of life and Africa at the center of every story.”
Mmamontsheng Dulcy Rakumakoe
Dr. Dulcy Rakumakoe did not have much of a choice over her career. Her grandmother, fed-up with standing in line to see a doctor in the South African township where she grew up, told her that she had to become a doctor so she no longer had to queue. Rakumakoe did one better: she qualified as a general practitioner and went on to launch Quadcare, a network of clinics which aim to provide affordable, empathetic, quality medical care for South Africans.
My grandmother’s story is the story of many people in our country in townships and rural areas.
Only 15% of South Africans have private medical insurance. The rest rely on government hospitals, which are often overcrowded. Vulnerable patients, such as members of the LGBTQ+ community, often experience harsh and discriminatory attitudes when being treated. So Quadcare aims to be both affordable (a complete medical checkup costs in the region of R350, or $25), and welcoming to patients of all types.
Quadcare now employs 40 people across ten clinics, each of which sees around 500 patients a month. It also provides corporate health solutions for workplaces, and is experimenting with virtual consultations (first by necessity as a result of South Africa’s recent riots and Covid-19 lcokdowns, now as a potential future income stream.) “My grandmother’s story is the story of many people in our country in townships and rural areas,” says Rakumakoe. “Our vision and purpose is to provide access to quality health services affordably to [those] communities.”
Wanjiru Koinange and Angela Wacuka
Co-founders, Book Bunk
Wanjiru Koinange and Angela Wacuka run Book Bunk, a social impact trust based in Nairobi.
Book Bunk is restoring some of the city’s public libraries, motivated by the belief that public libraries can be more than just repositories of literature, but also sites of knowledge production, shared experiences, cultural leadership, and information exchange.
In 2018, the trust entered a partnership with Nairobi’s administration to drive restoration efforts and resource mobilization for three libraries. Book Bunk sources and manages fiscal support, oversees architectural restoration, manages the libraries, and designs and delivers programming. It takes four approaches in restoring the facilities: experiential, social, architectural and digital, where it introduces technology to library aspects such as access control, collections management, creating online catalogs, and digital skills training for librarians and library users.
Book Bunk has digitized about 21,840 items identified as some of the rarest and most endangered items in the library at the McMillan Memorial Library. These include gazettes, ordinances and photographs that date back to the late 1800s and highlight significant moments in Kenya’s history during its colonial and postcolonial era. It has also launched an online public access archive of this material.
Founder, Women of Music Business
Berita Khumalo is a Zimbabwe-born musician. Looking to empower African women to build sustainable careers and businesses in music and make the music industry safe and conducive for women, she founded Women of Music Business last year.
Khumalo had seen that compared to men, women in music are more prone to exploitation, unfair deals and low compensation. In a partnership with Sony Music Africa, the Wits Business School, and the Southern Africa Trust, Women of Music Business is training female artists, creators and managers in financial management, philanthropy and social investment. It also gives them networking opportunities, all with the aim of developing skills to build sustainable careers and businesses in Africa within the context of social entrepreneurship. In the past year, the two-day masterclass has been attended by 60 women from 10 African countries.
Associate research professor
Catherine Nakalembe is the program director for NASA Harvest Africa, the space agency’s food security and agriculture program for Africa. She uses satellite remote sensing and machine learning to collect data to guide agricultural decision-making and improve the lives of smallholder farmers in Africa. She also provides support and coordination for NASA Harvest Africa’s activities in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Nakalembe’s work has led to the development of policies and programs to shield farmers against the impacts of food failure. It has led to the creation of food security and crop monitoring bulletins that incorporate satellite data in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. In addition, Nakalembe designed a mechanism for a disaster risk financing program in Uganda that has supported more than 300,000 households in the country.
Nakalembe is also an associate research professor at the University of Maryland and a member of the NASA SERVIR Applied Sciences Team, which promotes applications of earth observations to help developing countries assess the environment for better planning and action.
Kalista Sy is the creative force behind one of the most watched African shows on YouTube—Maitresse d’un homme marié (The mistress of a married man)—The show is produced by Marodi TV—Senegal’s first private TV channel—which started up in 2003, and has racked up millions of view.
Marodi TV is considered one of the best platforms for broadcasting Senegalese and French-speaking content in Africa. During the lockdown, it trended on French Twitter many times as a large Francophone community discovered its series and became attached.
It is important that women are at the origin of the scenarios, that they have a central place in the production.
“In my work, the place of women is rehabilitated, she is no longer confined to a secondary role or submissive woman, she is an actor of her destiny,” Sy tells Quartz Africa, adding that her characters are often strong and financially independent. “It is important that women are at the origin of the scenarios, that they have a central place in the production,” she adds. “This will help to empower and create role models of strong women to help little girls grow up and aspire to.”
Mariam Bintou Traoré
Radical Ivorian feminist, Founding Member Ivorian League for Women’s Rights
Bintou Mariam Traoré is an Ivorian born radical feminist and communications professional who currently lives in Senegal. She is also a founding member of the Ivorian League for Women’s Rights, an organization that fights against gender-based violence across Ivory Coast.
Over the last ten years, Traoré’s interest in feminism has grown, in particular the community which uses social networks for feminist activism, education and denouncing violence against women. To this end, she has taught classes on social networks for feminist activism and survival skills for digital spaces.
In 2020, she launched a discussion on these topics under the hashtag #vraiefemmeafricaine (the real African woman). It grew into a feminist initiative that has spread across the continent. The hashtag turns the stereotype of African women on its head, forcing people to confront societal expectations of women. Similar initiatives exist now in Benin, Chad, and Mali. Today, #vraiefemmeafricaine is a Pan-African radical feminist sisterhood call to end gender-based violence against women everywhere.
Indira Tsengiwe, previously a founder of a media production company, co-founded BlueAvo with Isaac Tshiteta, a software developer, after observing that opportunities in creative industries often seem to be restricted to the same circle of people.
BlueAvo is a marketplace platform that seeks to democratize opportunity in Africa’s creative industries by allowing brands, marketers, agencies and other content seekers to connect with content creators across the continent. It also gives them a digital workspace for collaboration and project development, therefore localizing content and making it relevant.
The pairing happens on BlueAvo’s web-based platform, with the site facilitating connections and payment with creatives in nine African countries. BlueAvo also handles the legal agreements between the parties as well as the IP transfer after the completion of the transfer process.
Our visions is a pipeline of commercial opportunities being available to creators across the continent—literally just a democratization of opportunity for all.
“The industry was primarily based on who you know, as opposed to what you know,” Indira tells Quartz Africa. Their vision “is to see a pipeline of commercial opportunities being available to creators across the continent despite who they know—literally just a democratization of opportunity for all.”
Founder, Samawat Energy
Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania
Like most people in Somalia, Jasmine Samantar grew up without access to an electrical grid. Reliable power was a luxury for the wealthy who could afford to tap networks of polluting diesel generators.
As a young Somali diplomat posted to the UN headquarters in New York, Samantar, now 28, came to see energy access as the linchpin to every other development goal. At first, she dabbled in microfinance for solar systems, but her clients, mostly small shop and restaurant owners, were asking for bespoke solar systems that could immediately boost their profits.
Raising capital for a women-led clean energy startup in Somalia has been challenging, she says—“People think we’re interns.” But she managed to put together a team of 38 engineers and marketing staff to design, build, and sell solar-powered mobile cooking kiosks, medical device backpacks, home lighting kits, and other ready-to-use solar-powered hardware. Her products have reached more than 9,000 people across east Africa and her customers report an average of 70% more disposable income.
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