A year ago, the Covid-19 pandemic became official on our shores. The months that followed since, were uncertain, turbulent, and anxiety-raising. This week the initial vaccines came into the country but without a doubt, the coronavirus era has changed our lives forever.
It’s clear that as we tackle 2021, change-makers are needed now more than ever. As we mark International Women’s Day on 8th March, Saturday Magazine wanted to find out which young women hold the future. After all, the young are our hope for tomorrow.
How did we select? Back in January, we asked opinion shapers in various sectors to give us a list of trailblazing young women, who they think are acing it in their fields while making the world a better place. The names came in fast and furious. The list was long. While everyone in the initial list deserved an honour, we needed to narrow this to just a few. We put together a small panel who gave us a final cut. Just who did they choose?
Dr. Gladys Chepkirui Ngetich, 29, an aerospace engineer
From attending school in Lelaibei primary school, deep in the heart of Nakuru County to the University of Oxford in the UK, Chepkirui’s academic journey has been inspiring.
When the 29-year-old scored 298 out of 500 marks during the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in 2004, some quarters may not have expected her to go far, academically. She did.
Four years later, she emerged the best student in Kipkelion District, having scored an A- that earned her the James Finlay scholarship marking the beginning of her academic success. At JKUAT, where she pursued mechanical engineering, one of the only nine girls in her class of about 80 students, she continued to flourish. Chepkirui graduated with a first-class honours degree in 2015. She got another scholarship in the UK.
Besides her stellar strides in academics, Chepkirui is a motivational speaker, athlete, footballer, and passionate about woman empowerment. She is a co–founder of iluu, a social empowerment organisation. Detailing her journey in a quest to inspire other young people, Gladys has co-authored a book, The Bold Dream: Transcending the Impossible.
Betty King’ori, 27, Innovator and lead organizer at TEDxParklands
In 2017, Betty topped her class at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) with First Class Honours. In the same year, she also won the First Prize position for her innovation “The Fabrication of a Domestic Avocado Oil Extractor” in the 8th edition of JKUAT TECH EXPO 8.0. She was later selected as a participant in the first cohort of the Leaders in Innovation Fellowship – a joint partnership between the UK-Kenya governments facilitated through the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Newtown-Utafiti Fund, and the Kenya National Innovation Agency (KENIA). She attended training in London and received a grant to commercialise her domestic avocado oil extractor.
Betty who previously worked for KPMG East Africa, and was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Enda— the first company to produce Kenyan-made professional running shoes— is also the Licensee and Lead Organizer at TEDxParklands. The event is a local, self-organised event that brings people together to share experiences.
She grew up in Maziwa Estate, Nairobi County where after her KCSE in 2011, she received a government scholarship to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering at JKUAT.
Sarafina Mumbi, 25, Graffiti Artist
Walking to school every day, Mumbi who goes by the name “Tsara Arts” developed a fascination with the brightly coloured matatus that plied the Mathare route where she was brought up. However, she knew that getting into the matatu industry, a male-dominated field would be a tall order. In 2014, one of her friends, a matatu artist, agreed to take her on as an apprentice—teaching her everything from scrubbing to spray painting. Since then, she has designed countless matatus.
Elizabeth Wathuti, 25, Environment and Climate Activist
Commonly known as Liz Mazingiza, Elizabeth is the founder of the Green Generation Initiative and an award-winning environmental blogger.
At the age of seven, Elizabeth planted her first tree in Karima Hill Nyeri County, her home place, then went on to revive the environmental club at Kangubiri Secondary School. At Kenyatta University, where she pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and Community Development, she served in the leadership of the Kenyatta University Environmental Club (KUNEC) for three consecutive years.
Elizabeth envisions a world that people can live in harmony with nature and one that people take care of the environment.
Passy Amayo Ogolla, 28, Afro-optimist and eco-activist
Passy Amayo is a young committed leader, passionate about youth development and capacity building; environmental restoration, climate action, and sustainable energy futures in Africa. She has demonstrated this passion and commitment through her work as a Programme Manager at the Society for International Development (SID), leading to the implementation of the Sustainable Energy Futures (SEF) programmes in East Africa.
Over the past five years, she has organised and convened public and high-level forums about the implications of different energy choices and investments for the economy, social equity, and the environment. The publication, Energy for Whom? Scenarios for Eastern Africa is an output of the programme and is a tool to test energy and climate policies and investment choices on energy issues.
Passy is affiliated with the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY), where she serves as a Regional Focal Point for Eastand South Africa at the SDG 7 Youth Constituency.
She is working together with environmentalists to plant a fruit forest in her native town. Passy was recently appointed as an Africa Network Weaver for the Next Generation Foresight Practice under the London-based School of International Futures.
Nikita Kering, 19, Singer/ songwriter
Nikita is one of the youngest musical artistes that continue to shake up the entertainment industry. She shot to fame at 16 with her song “Tragedy” which was an infusion of raw emotions and a deep message addressing the violence between lovers.
Nadia Mukami, 24, Singer and songwriter
Nadia, born Mukami Mwendo, is one of the best female artistes not just in Kenya but also across the continent. Nadia took up music professionally in 2015 when she released her first single “Barua Ya Siri” while still at Maseno University where she was undertaking a BBA – Finance option. However, it was the song “kesi” that was her breakthrough and she got an opportunity to perform alongside Kenya’s biggest stars in concerts such as Blaze by Safaricom, Nile, and Luo festival.
Neema Nkatha, 26, Ohana Swimwear
Neema Nkatha founded Ohana Family Wear Limited with Ohana swimwear as the flagship product in 2017 out of a need. While shopping for a trip, she realised that African-themed swimwear was difficult to find.
And just like that, an idea was born. Working from scratch and looking to her friends with fashion technical skills for guidance, she developed her own designs and the concept into a business.
The USIU graduate, background in finance and International Business administration came in handy. Today, Ohana swimwear, which wears debuted at the London Fashion week is a household name and has sold over 2,000 pieces. Neema is part of the Creative DNA Programme, a British Council programme supported by the Foreign Commonwealth Office designed to support fashion businesses in Kenya.
Ann Wanjuhi Njoroge, 30, Founder of Nelig Group of companies
Brought up in a small village at the foot of Mount Kenya, Wanjuhi is passionate about people and the planet and has gained extensive experience working with rural communities particularly those living around forests as well as assisting government agencies and organisations incorporate sustainability into their businesses.
The University of Nairobi graduate who pursued a double major in Sociology and Communication, together with her business partner, Eva Njoki, have founded two companies; The Web Tekies Ltd—a media conglomerate that assists businesses and individuals to tell their stories— while RootEd Africa is a social enterprise she established out of her passion for ICT, mentorship and education. The organisation seeks to transform lives in rural and remote parts of Africa through ICT and sports and mentorship.
Wanjuhi is also the founder of Nelig Group, a conglomerate involved in Media and ICT, Sustainability, and Inclusive Development. She is also a Vital Voices Fellow 2015, a Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum, and the youngest member of the Nyeri County Affirmative Action Social Development Fund (AASDF) Committee.
Sharon Wendo, 29, Founder Epica Jewellery
From a receptionist, Sharon learnt her jewellery making skills online. A few months ago, Sharon released her first collection, and two weeks ago, she made a debut at the London Fashion Week. Her pieces have been featured in publications such as Harper’s Bazaar Italia and Vogue Italia.
Sharon draws her inspiration from African culture and modern fashion, and she aims to merge the two worlds in every piece of jewellery that she creates. In a recent interview with the Nation, Sharon said that she wants to equip others with the skills necessary to start their own businesses and to look for international partners.
Brigid Kosgei, 27, Athlete
On her way to school, Brigid would bump into athlete trainers and aspired to be like them. She was brought up together with her six siblings by a single mother in Elgeyo Marakwet, a county synonymous with producing top athletes in the country.
Upon realising that her mother was struggling to pay for her school fees, she dropped out and joined a running camp. Within months, she ran her first marathon, in November 2015 in Portugal, coming home in first place after beating the competition with more than four minutes.
Brigid has many wins on her sleeve. She won the 2018 and 2019 Chicago marathons and 2020 London marathons. She is the current marathon world record holder for women running in a mixed-sex race at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. She was recently nominated for world sportswoman of the year for 2020.
Last month, the mother of two was confirmed in the Kenyan marathon team for the rescheduled 2020 Summer Olympics.
Faith Ogalo, 27, Taekwondo practitioner
Faith is the only Kenyan to have qualified for the taekwondo competition which was slotted to take place in Tokyo (now postponed).
In 2018, Faith was playing basketball at Kibabii University where she was undertaking a bachelor’s degree in social work. One of the coaches identified her and encouraged her to join Taekwondo. Her determination saw her being selected to the university team that participates in the annual Kenya University Sports Association Games.
Since then, Faith has competed in various competitions for Kibabii University’s team including the Mombasa Chairman’s Cup, Korean Ambassador Cup, Tanzania’s Korean Cup, and Rwanda’s Genocide Memorial Tournament, excelling in all of them.
After a string of impressive performances, Faith received a request to join the Kenyan team. She is preparing to represent Kenya on the greatest stage of all when a new date for the Tokyo Olympic Games will be announced.
Ashura Michael, 27, Human Rights and Gender Advocate
Ashura is a young woman that represents “persistence” and determination. When she was four years old, she lost her hearing as a consequence of measles. However, that has not stopped her from setting the pace in leadership and other spheres in society.
She serves as one of the directors on the board of the Kenya National Council of Persons Living with Disabilities (NCPWD), co-chairperson of the Kenya Chapter of the Africa Charter on Democracy, Election, and Governance. Ashura is also the first elected deaf speaker of the EALA Vijana Assembly. She also served as Secretary-General of Kenya National Association of the Deaf-Youths Section.
Ashura holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Gender and Development from the University of Nairobi and is currently pursuing law in the same institution. Passionate about advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities, Ashura complements this desire with studies in governance, law, and development.
Banice Mbuki Mburu, 27, Public Policy and Youth Development Advocate
Banice Mbuki Mburu is a Public Policy and Youth Development Advocate with over five years’ experience in developing strategies, public policy, analysis, and social justice. She is a 2020 Laureate for Top 35 under 35 Change Makers in Africa under the Advocacy and Community Action Category.
Locally, she has co-founded youth initiatives, participated in technical committees by different state departments for purposes of developing and reviewing policies affecting young people, and championed Public Interest Litigation in favour of young people with the popular one being the un-procedural appointment of National Employment Authority Board Chair. Regionally, Banice was among the 15 young people selected across Africa to lead in the finalisation of the Model African Union Toolkit to enhance youth engagement with the African Union.
Because of her work on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights in Kenya and South Africa, the President of the United Nations General Assembly nominated her to speak at United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) during the commemoration of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD @25)
Banice advances her work through the Sauti Sasa Campaign, a bold, audacious, and youth-led campaign that seeks to address teenage pregnancies in Kenya. She is the campaign’s national and county coordinator at AMREF Health Africa, Board Member at Siasa Place, Convener of the Youth Serving Organisations Consortium, and Kenya Coordinator, Youth for Tax Justice Network.
Nadia Ahmed, 29, CAS, Ministry of ICT, Innovation & Youth Affairs, Republic of Kenya
Early last year, Nadia was nominated for the position of Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS).
Before then, Nadia, born and brought up in Marikiti, Oldtown, Mombasa, held events for youth and women on mental health and was a link between women going through domestic abuse and psychologists, after her Master’s degree in Berlin. In her new role, she helps create an enabling environment that amplifies development, participation, expansion for the use of ICT while supporting innovations by the Youth. Nadia is also the Co-Chair UNDP Kenya Youth Sounding Board, a product of consultations between UNDP and the Ministry of ICT which ensures the youth are included in decision making.
Jihan Abass, 26, Founder, Lami Insurance
Jihan founded Kenya’s first digital-only car insurance company, which lets customers pay in instalments and pause coverage if they travel abroad. The 26-year-old had a light bulb moment in 2016 when she learnt that the waiter who was serving her at the restaurant did not have health insurance. The Griffin Motor App is Lami’s flagship product and has shortened the purchase process of car insurance to less than two minutes. Before this, she worked as a sugar trader in the City of London, trading on the New York and London sugar markets. She has an MBA from the University of Oxford and an undergraduate degree in Finance from CASS Business School, London. Last year, Jihan was picked to represent Africa at the world InsureTech Connect (ITC) 2020.
Dorcas Owinoh, 29, Co- founder, LakeHub
Born and raised in Kibera where she had limited access to technology, Dorcas now works to give girls from similar backgrounds access to technology. In 2018, Dorcas co-founded LakeHub, a technology and social innovation hub in Kisumu that supports a community of creatives, programmers, hackers, designers, and entrepreneurs; a majority of whom are girls aged between 13 and 19. Many girls under the program have competed globally at hackathons.
One of the successful innovations as a result of the hub is iCut, an app that connects girls affected by female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) with legal and medical assistance.
Dorcas was in 2019 recognised by Forbes Africa 30 under 30 and runners-up of the Queens Young Leaders Awards, 2018.
Elsa Majimbo, 19, Comedian
In the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic, many people were introduced to Elsa Majimbo, an Instagram comedian who would create monologues with a signature style of infectious laughter and a pair of vintage glasses while munching on potato chips.
Although she started creating monologues in 2016, her biggest breakthrough came in 2020 when actress Lupita Nyong’o shared one of her posts. In less than 12 months, the star is shining and has more than 2 million followers on Instagram.
The former chess champion and Nairobi born journalism student is now a Fenty beauty (Rihanna’s cosmetic brand) ambassador, partnered with MAC, appeared on Comedy Central, made Anderson Cooper giggle on CNN, hobnobbed with celebrities, has been nominated for a Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award and won E! People’s Choice Awards in the African Social Star category. She also recently signed a deal with a top Italian fashion company, Valentino.
Majimbo was recently featured on the Netflix show, Strong Black Lead where she talked about her struggles of not getting worthy opportunities because of her dark skin.
She says she is inspired by her position on racism and her efforts to make everyone feel comfortable in their own skin.
Foi Wambui, 23, Actress
Foi is a TV and radio host, award-winning theatre and screen actor, and content creator who started acting while in secondary school and even won an award for the best actress during the drama festivals in 2014.
The broadcast journalism student at USIU has played several roles in her young acting career. In 2020, she played the funny friend and hype woman in Nick Mutuma’s coming-of-age romcom, Sincerely Daisy, a role that earned her a Kalasha win for Best Supporting Actress. She’s also starred in the Kalasha-winning short Morning After, as well as “Uhuru”, another short film which she also produced. Currently, she stars in Maisha Magic’s comedy Anda Kava, alongside Njugush and Abel Mutua. She is also one of the lead actors in Crime and Justice, a Showmax Original.
Dr. Njoki Chege, 30, Director, Innovation Centre and Projects, Aga Khan University, and columnist
At Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications, Njoki is at the centre of supporting the next generations of media innovators and leaders through training, mentorship, and start-up grants to innovators from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Njoki holds a Ph.D. degree in communication and media studies. Further, she has over nine years’ experience in the media as a journalist and editor. She has previously taught graduate courses at Daystar University.
Celestine Olilo, 30, Editor, MyNetwork and Sports Journalist
Celestine is the reigning sports journalist of the year, a title awarded by the Media Council of Kenya’s Annual Journalism Excellence Awards (AJEA). In 2018, she made the shortlist of AIPS Awards for the best colour story and as a women sports researcher, she has published three papers about leveraging the media to realise gender equality in sports. At My Network publication—a product of Daily Nation—she oversees stories that will impact young peoples’ career growth. She is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Nairobi.
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