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Youth key to African success

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Africa’s future lies in the hands of its youthful population. But, while the region’s start-up businesses are gaining confidence and scale with a growing number of innovations achieving recognition beyond the region’s borders, much more must be done to create an enabling environment that allows entrepreneurs to flourish.

This is especially the case for women entrepreneurs, whose potential is far from being optimised. This was the reason for a World Economic Forum challenge to find Africa’s top women Innovators.

The criteria for the challenge required entrants’ companies to be less than three years old, be earning revenue for at least a year and have proven innovation and positive social impact. A shortlist of winners was selected from a panel comprising experts from across Forum :

* Natalie Bitature, Musana Carts, Kampala, Uganda: Musana Carts has used frugal innovation to develop environmentally friendly, solar-powered vending carts. With a price point of $400, each Musana Cart saves 3 000 tons of carbon emissions and improves the health of cities by eliminating pollution from charcoal and kerosene stoves.

* Audrey Cheng, Moringa School, Nairobi, Kenya: Audrey Cheng established Moringa School to enable a whole generation to gain the skills they need to compete in the digital economy. Two years on, 100% of students have been placed in work, earning on average 350% more than before they completed the coursework.

* Lilian Makoi Rabi, bimaAFYA, Tanzania: bimaAFYA offers mobile micro-health insurance for the low income and informal sector, enabling healthcare services by drastically reducing costs with its completely mobile, paperless solution. bimaAFYA plans to expand to Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria and Ghana in 2017.

* Nneile Nkholise, iMED Tech Group, Bloemfontein, South Africa: iMED Tech Group uses additive manufacturing to design breast and facial prostheses for cancer and burn victims. The company only employs African women under the age of 30 with research backgrounds in mechanical engineering.

* Larissa Uwase, CARL GROUP, Kigali, Rwanda: CARL GROUP is improving the health of the nation by innovating new food products from a staple crop, the sweet potato. An agronomist by training, Larissa Uwase’s latest innovation, in partnership with the University of Rwanda, is to make spaghetti from the vegetable.

In addition to the five winners, the judges also wished to give special mention to the following five shortlisted entrants:

* Oyindola Honey Ogundeyi, FashPa Online, Nigeria: Vertically integrated online fashion retailer;

* Mercy Kitomari, Nelwa’s Gelato, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Fast-growing supplier of high-end ice creams and sorbets, employing only women;

* Louisa Ofusuah Obimpeh, Pooparazzi, Accra, Ghana: Pooparazzi harvests human waste to make methane gas, fire briquettes fertilizer and fuel;

* Evelyn Namara, !nnovate Uganda: Mobile vouchers that are used by farmers to redeem for seed from agro-dealers; and

* Elizabeth Nyeko, Mandulis Energy, Uganda: Develops, owns and operates biomass plants.

“I strongly believe that the 21st century will be Africa’s century, that its young population has the potential to build a world where they are not only materially better off, but also where things are fairer, more sustainable and more tolerant than at any other time in history. But this will not be achieved unless women are able to make a full contribution. This is why we are showcasing Africa’s best female entrepreneurs in Kigali this week,” says Elsie Kanza, head of Africa at the World Economic Forum.