Historically, the spotlight has always been on men when it comes to business. Only a few women step out of the confines of tradition and societal limitations to pursue their passion be it in arts or entrepreneurship. The situation is worst in Africa where women are seen as domestic helpers and home builders while the bread-winning role is solely that of the man.
This in part is why many “low-income families” focus on preparing their daughters for marriage rather than sending them to school. But times are changing and with it a new dispensation of Africa innovators who are not only carving their own paths but changing the world one step at a time. These women are challenging the status quo by playing leading roles.
Quartz Africa is celebrating these courageous women in its 2021 selection of Africa innovators. Before we take a look at some of the women who made the list, here’s what you should know about Quartz Africa Innovators list.
Quartz Africa is Celebrating the Great Innovative Minds of the Continent
Every year, Quartz Africa publishes a list of innovators who are at the top of their games in Africa. These ambitious and result-driven individuals combine skill with imagination to solve some of the continent’s biggest challenges. This year, the spotlight is on women innovators.
These African women have broken through the paradigm of the African society concerning women to become tech investors, innovators, and serial entrepreneurs. That said, here are 15 Female Africa Innovators whose creativity, hard work, and determination won them a spot on the Quartz Africa Innovators list 2021.
#1. Miishe Addy – Ghana
Addy is the co-founder of Jetstream, a company that fast tracks logistic processes and cuts down cargo clearance time. To achieve this, Jetstream acts like a central hub that connects importers, exporters, and logistic providers. The platform was launched in 2018 and by 2020, the company’s revenue had grown six times over. Jetstream is presently based in Ghana, and already handling more than 50% of the country’s registered freight. Addy plans to make Jetstream the go-to cross-border platform for major players in the logistic business across Africa.
#2. Diarra Boussou – Senegal
It takes an uncommon mind to see the relationship between mathematics and design, Boussou is anything but common. Using her background in mathematics, Boussou found the fashion company DIARRABLU. If you’re wondering how mathematics fits into fashion, you are not alone. DIARRABLU is a cutting-edge fashion-tech company that applies mathematical algorithms to generate print designs for fabrics. The beauty of it is that the process saves time and cuts textile waste by 60%.
#3. Amira Cheniour – Tunisia
Seabex is an agro-tech firm that uses machine learning to improve the irrigation of farmlands. An engineer by profession, Amira’s parents were farmers and she must have seen first-hand the effect of climate change in Africa. This inspired her to find a system of irrigation that will help farmers efficiently manage the little supply of water available. Her technology analyzes weather conditions and crop water need to determine which field needs irrigation.
#4. Farah Emara – Egypt
FreshSource is another female-led company born out of necessity. The company connects buyers and sellers of agro produce together using its web application. Prior to its establishment, the lengthy supply chain and numerous middlemen often cut down the farmer’s profit. The wait time of produce made things worse and as a result, 45% of the produce rots before getting to the buyer. But with FreshSource, the situation is different since farmers have direct access to buyers. According to Farah, farmers who use FreshSource lose only 5% of their produce.
#5. Maya Horgan Famodu – Nigeria
One challenge all African start-ups have is funding their ideas. This is the problem that Maya’s company Ingressive Capital is trying to solve and the stakes are high. However, Maya’s experience working with financial giants like JP Morgan and Chase comes in handy when deciding on which start-up to back. At the moment, Ingressive Capital is investing in 34 African start-ups and one of their biggest bet is Paystack. Paystack is a Nigerian fintech start-up that was acquired by a foreign firm for $200 million.
#6. Xaviera Kowo – Cameroon
18-year-old Xaviera is a programmer from Cameroon and winner of the inaugural Margaret Junior Prize by JFD. Her inspiration stems from the desire to keep our environment clean by tackling product pollution. According to her, “a sick environment implies sick people”. With this conviction, Xaviera made a remote-controlled robot that is capable of picking and disposing waste at specific locations like garbage cans or recycling centers. Apart from this, she’s also actively training the next generation of African tech enthusiasts in her home country.
#7. Moky Makura – South Africa
There is an African proverb that says “until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”. This is true for Africa. But all this is about to change as many Africans now realize the power in their voice. As the executive director of Africa NoFilter, Moky Makura is empowering African storytellers to change the narrative of the continent using their words. Through its research and funding, Africa NoFilter hopes to transform the way Africa is being perceived around the world through stories.
#8. Catherine Nakalembe – Uganda
Catherine is using technology to improve the lives of farmers one good decision at a time. As the director of NASA Harvest Africa, Catherine uses satellite remote sensing and machine learning to collect weather data. This data comes in handy when making decisions that impact positively on small-scale farmers. The information also helps the government to make better policies and programs that protect the farmers. So far, the technology is being applied in Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda to create food security and better monitoring of crops.
#9. Nanjala Nyabola – Kenya
Africa embraces technology at a breathtaking speed. This isn’t a problem until the issue of digital rights comes up. Most digital rights are in English and the majority of non-English speaking African communities have trouble understanding it. Nanjala is attempting to solve this issue through her initiative, the Kiswahili Digital Rights. This involves translating key terms in digital rights and technology into Kiswahili, the most spoken African language. The goal is to make it easy for the Kiswahili-speaking communities to understand and catch up with communications revolving around digital rights and technology.
#10. Mmamontsheng Dulcy Rakumakoe – South Africa
Dr. Dulcy is a medical practitioner and founder of Quadcare, a network of clinics that provides quality and affordable medical care for South Africans. While growing up, Dulcy saw how difficult it was for her grandmother to get medical attention. Because of the large crowds in the government hospitals, her grandmother had to wait for long hours before getting medical attention. So Dulcy decided to do something to alleviate the suffering of those who are going through a similar ordeal as her grandmother. Apart from being affordable, Quadcare also welcomes members of the LGBTQ community and many other vulnerable patients who face discrimination when being treated.
#11. Jasmine Samantar – Somalia
Providing access to steady electricity remains a big hurdle for many African countries. Thus, the majority of businesses in Africa rely on diesel generators. Sadly, this inflates the cost of doing business and also pollutes the environment. Therefore, after coming to this realization, Jasmine hatched a plan that will help small business owners maximize their profit by cutting down on the cost of electricity. The plan is Samawat Energy, a company that designs, manufactures, and sells solar-powered devices for homes, shop owners, and even medical facilities. So far, Samawat Energy has 9000 clients who have realized 70% more income on average.
#12. Seynabou Dieng Traore – Mali
Dieng Traore is the founder of Maya, a food processing company that patronizes locally available ingredients. When she returned to her home country Mali, Dieng found out that most of the food products are foreign goods. This is alarming considering the fact that agriculture contributes over 30% to Mali’s GDP. So why were there fewer locally made food products? This was Dieng’s inspiration to start Maya. Maya trains farmers who eventually partner with the company to supply produce. Since there’s a market for their produce, the farmers are more than happy to tag along. The company has huge prospects and by increasing consumption of locally made food products, it is sure to drive up agricultural contributions to Mali’s GDP.
#13. Berita Khumalo – Zimbabwe
Women of Music Business is an initiative that empowers women in the music industry to build sustainable careers for themselves. Compared to men, women in the music industry have far less compensation and are easily exploited. Berita hopes to even the odds. To do this, Berita and her partners are training female artists, creators, and managers on financial management, social investment, and philanthropy. Along with building relevant skills, these women are equally given networking opportunities. This is an indispensable tool in the music industry.
#14. Fara Ashiru Jituboh – Nigeria
There is a saying “Data is the new oil” and this isn’t far from the truth. Despite the big talks that on user data, the fact remains that many technological innovations won’t be possible without data. The problem is not using the data but how it is collected. Okra, a financial data company founded by Fara plays the role of the middle man. The company collects data from the user after getting the user’s permission to do so. Consequently, the data is made available to companies that will use it to improve technology and user experience. So far, the company has about $4.5 million in venture capital.
#15. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim – Chad
Ibrahim is the president of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT) An environmentalist by profession, Ibrahim believes that traditional knowledge should not be overlooked in the battle against climate change. This is because she has seen firsthand, the impact of climate change in her community. Thus, she described in her Ted-talk how climate change forced the men to leave the community behind to cities in the hope of finding greener pastures. Her three-prong approach to combating environmental issues involves the use of science, technology, and tradition.
Despite having one of the most promising markets in the world, doing business in Africa comes with a peculiar set of challenges. Among these are lack of funds, inadequate government policies, climate change, and poor infrastructure. However, where many people see problems, these African innovators see opportunities. By sheer brilliance, wits, and creativity, these women are pushing the frontiers of innovation in the continent. Their courage and resilience in the face of overwhelming social stereotypes set them apart. Today, they are celebrated as heroes and true icons of Africa.