Washington — Sixty-two young Africans who are carving out names for themselves as innovators in a variety of ways are visiting the United States for three weeks to hone their skills to effect change in Africa.
The Innovation Summit and Mentoring Partnership with Young African Leaders, running from June 12 to July 1, is part of the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative and advances President Obama’s vision that the future of Africa lies in the hands of its youth.
A soft-spoken woman from Cameroon, Jacqueline Kamsu Souba, is an imaginative innovator whose work improves the environment as well as the finances of young single mothers. Souba collects used plastic bags, old newspapers, outdated calendars and cardboard boxes, then fashions them into colorful handbags, earrings, necklaces and rings. Her company, Beads Space — based in the northwest city of Bamenda — won first prize at a national exhibition in the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé for products made from recycled materials.
She employs 13 young women who are single mothers. Her goal is to train them to be independent producers. Her designs have caught the attention of many foreign buyers, but because her production is manual, she cannot produce in sufficient quantity to fill their orders. “They always ask how much we can make in a week. I hope to industrialize production so we can meet growing demand,” she said.
During her stay in the United States, she will spend two weeks at a bead manufacturing company in Denver where she wants to upgrade her management and production skills. “I dream in the future to build a training center. I’m hoping that my stay here will help prepare me for the great challenge,” she said.
Souba is the type of person that President Obama had in mind when he said at the first Young African Leaders conference in 2010, “It will be up to you, young people full of talent and imagination, to build the Africa of the next 50 years.”
Rija Andriamoria of Madagascar, is another example. Aged 27, Andriamoria is also an entrepreneur in the field of communication and digital marketing and an activist fighting for the free flow of information in the face of government censorship attempts. He is one of the founding members of the Malagasy i-Hub association, which runs a training center, a co-working space and an incubator to start-up new technologies related to Madagascar.
Andriamoria works closely with another young African leader from Madagascar, Saraha Ny Rasoambolanoro. Rasoambolanoro manages the Youth Civic Center in the capital, which is funded by the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar to promote democracy and civic engagement with youth. Rasoambolanoro said she recently worked on a project that promoted the importance of education and making educational opportunity equally available to all. “Sixty percent of our population is between 16 and 30 years old,” she said. “We need better education for everyone in order to improve our country.” Andriamoria, the Web activist, disseminates information that originates in the youth civic center, which Rasoambolanoro manages.
Other innovators are in the United States with commercial ambitions. Adon Madi, managing director of National Express Cleaning in Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo, wants to expand his company, which cleans office buildings and factories. “Many foreign companies have offices in Brazzaville. I want to make contact with them during my stay in the United States,” he said. He aims to increase the number of his employees from 40 to 500 during the coming year.