Liz Grossman: Lessons learned from the 2018 Impact!Africa Summit Johannesburg

In order to change things, I had to show people visible role models - Regina Honu @ragyare Click To Tweet

In June 2018, Johannesburg was brimming with over 400 social entrepreneurs who traveled from all over the continent for the Impact! Africa Summit. This inaugural gathering was hosted by Ashoka Africa and the British Council. It was an event with an aim to drive solutions to empower African women and reduce barriers.

These two organizations are the renowned powerhouses when it comes to social entrepreneurship. Joining forces, they truly made waves in promoting collaboration across contexts to solve Africa’s most pressing challenges.

Tibagu Bruktawit of Whiz Kids Workshop in Ethiopia said, “If we want to bring change, involve more young women, make it easier for them to be here.”

And Ashoka Africa and British Council did just that. According to Pape Samb, Executive Director of Ashoka Africa, “[their] mandate is to make sure everyone is a changemaker around the world,” and that cannot be done without empowering women.

Impact! Africa drew some of Africa’s most successful female changemakers. This gave them several platforms to share their stories and inspire the next generation of leaders.

Furthermore, Ashoka and the Open Societies Foundation launched the Women’s Challenge by the Challenging Norms, Powering Economics Initiative by Ashoka, Open Societies Foundation, and UN Women.

At the Summit, twelve finalists gathered to discuss empowering individual women and removing systemic barriers they face. Solutions included taking an intergenerational approach to ending harmful practices, increasing retention rates for girls in school, and increasing gender inclusivity in economic opportunities.

Here are some of the lessons I learned from some of Africa’s brightest female champions:


“In order to change things, I had to show them visible role models – Regina Honu, Founder of Soronko Solutions, Ghana.  

Having someone to look up to and model your path after is critical to developing as a leader. Surround yourself with those who inspire you, study their successes and failures, and strive for greatness.

Sit with someone you don’t know from somewhere else so that you learn something new.” Sylvia Banda, a serial entrepreneur from Zambia.

It is easy to remain with people you are comfortable with, those who know you, your community, and your solution. Take opportunities to learn from different perspectives to broaden your mindset about your projects.  

“There is no end to the supply of people driven by social innovation.” Amma Sefa Dedeh Lartey, Founder of Reach for Change, Ghana.

As social entrepreneurs, we must remember that you are not alone. While sometimes it may feel like an uphill battle trying to change mindsets and think creatively to transform our communities, we have a whole community at our fingertips to lean on.

Sit with someone you don’t know from somewhere else so that you learn something new - Sylvia Banda Click To Tweet

“Don’t underestimate the power of an individual!” Parminder Vir, CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Nigeria.

Sometimes the challenges we are facing may seem insurmountable. They are too massive to tackle and we may feel that our own contributions can only do so much. But all it takes is one voice to stand out and break the mold. And remember, one mosquito in your bedroom can ruin your entire next day’s productivity.

“Imagine if we work together, the impact we will have on the continent.” Vivian Onano, Global Youth Advocate from Kenya

Collaboration is key, and female changemakers must learn to leave their silos, build a strong network and support fellow women.  But we must also consider our male partners, and work alongside men to ensure they are also part of the solution.

Watch out for the next edition of Impact!Africa, which will take place in June 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya. 

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Vivian Onano: Where you come from does not determine your power

vivian onano

One year ago, in front of the entire UN General Assembly, the then 24-year-old Vivian Onano gave her first keynote speech. Not many 24 year olds can claim such an achievement, neither can they say they dined with FLOTUS, hung out with Bill Clinton or met all living American presidents, Jimmy Carter excluded.

Coming from a small village in Nyanza province, Kenya, Vivian has grown into one of Africa’s most passionate youth advocates with credentials that have earned her a seat at the table with the greats of the world.

Diana Odero, our SLA contributor, had a candid chat with the young powerhouse about how her life has changed significantly since then and why she will not stop fighting for the rights the youth deserve.

Tell us, who is Vivian really? Minus all the accolades, jet setting and changing the world, tell us about the girl -Vivian Onano?

Well, Vivian the girl is a very shy person believe it or not. I’m very shy and I think it’s my demeanor that makes people think I’m not. I consider myself an introvert because as much as I’m out there doing all these things, I always feel drained after an event or two. I always need some space and time to myself just to re-energize for the next day or the next thing I need to do.

I’m very down to earth and that’s something else that is also wrongly perceived by those on the outside looking in. I love dancing and being around happy people who are also very focused.

I keep my circle very small, around people who give me the positive energy I need to get things done. It’s really helpful to have such focused and enthusiastic people around you.

That aside, I’d like to add that I’m very approachable guys! There’s been incidences when some journalists have been scared to approach me just based on the straight-faced look I usually have —please don’t judge me by my face, I’m always willing and happy to talk to people.  

How did you get started on this activism journey?

My mum and my grandmother raised me, and my grandmother is a woman with a very giving heart. I grew up on so little but even with the little we had she would call all the neighbours and their kids to share with them when they didn’t have much.

So, it all started from my family who taught me the importance of giving despite having so little. I remember I used to help my classmates with homework back in primary school and I was always that kid who would stand up for others, particularly my fellow girls.

I’ve been a student leader from kindergarten all the way to college and I think that’s where all the self-confidence came from as well. It’s part and parcel of my DNA.

Vivian, who has been a major part of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, is seen here in NYC protesting in solidarity with fellow women the kidnapping of the young Nigerian girls by Boko Haram.

The field you are in currently must bring lots of challenges and difficult tasks to take on. How do you handle such situations? How do you deal with conflict?

It’s true that my field is a very difficult space to be in and I think it’s even more difficult being as young as I am. I always find myself in spaces with people of the older generation and mostly just men.

It’s great exposure and it’s helped me build great networks but I always have to rise up to the challenge of knowing I’m still a young person who has to be an adult at the same time. I’m representing the voices of African youth and I want to be taken seriously but the kid in me still wants to be a kid. Juggling both worlds is quite the task.

Whenever I go to conferences, people are always like ‘When I read your bio I thought you would be much older…’ Others expect to see a 40 year old woman so it forces me to rise up to the maturity level of a 40 year old woman while giving a presentation/talk yet I’m only 25.

I still keep it very authentic and stay true to myself but I always hope my presentation matches what they are expecting to see. Whenever I’m speaking on a panel for example, I never want my age to be used as an excuse for the type of contribution I give to the topic at hand.

I always want to deliver it the same way an accomplished older person would as well and attain the same respect, that way making room for future young people like me to get the same opportunity.

As for dealing with conflicts, it’s always best to be diplomatic i.e. be very honest but also very respectful at the same time. I’ve come to realize that people think some spaces should only be for the older generation. Being mindful of that, I try and remain as authentic as I can be but respectful of where they’re coming from so as to avoid anything escalating out of proportion.

Vivian at the Women Deliver Global Conference earlier this year. Photo by Birgitta Lund

You are a self-proclaimed feminist. What does the word feminist mean to you and why do you think it is still frowned upon today?

Being a feminist in my opinion is giving everybody an equal opportunity to maximize on his or her God-given human abilities. The reason why it’s still frowned upon is because it’s seen as a sort of label for angry women.

As a feminist, I don’t look at it that way. I engage with men just the same way I engage with women when it comes to feminism, gender equality, women’s empowerment etc.

I actually think I’m much tougher on men as I try to make them understand the importance of gender equality, the importance of everyone having equal rights and opportunities and maximize on their talents.

You have sat in the same room with some of the most prominent people in the world including President Obama and first lady Michelle. If you were to have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

I’m going to be very honest with you and say my grandmother. I love her so much and it saddens me that I don’t really get much time to spend with her. My grandmother is such a big-hearted person and I think I’ve really taken after her.

Her confidence, her generosity, her humility, her openness and candidness… all that is she and I in a nutshell. I last saw her in May and I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who knows me better than she does.

I know people expect me to run for the big names and what have you but truly, if there were anyone I could have dinner with right now, it would definitely be her.