Women take the front seat globally when it comes to making an impact. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word impact is to ‘have a strong effect on someone or something.’ For this publication, let’s define impact as influencing someone or something.
For most women, the art of influencing systems and culture comes naturally. Every society is comprised of people, the majority of whom women nurtured from birth. Thus, women have a significant impact on critical aspects of global society, directly and indirectly – through the men they groomed with basic life values from childhood.
Despite these, women are under-represented across all spectrums of life, particularly in emerging economies in Africa. While countries in Africa still grapple with gender inequality, places like Iceland have made over 90% progress in bridging the gender gap. The Nordic country has closed more than 90% of its gender gap and tops the 2022 Global Gender Gap Index ranking for the 12th year, in a row. Rwanda and Namibia are the only African countries in the top 10 of the index, ranking 6th and 8th, respectively.
Statistics like these reflect the depth of biases against women in developing countries in Africa. But the more systemic repression, the more African women rise to make an impact. Here is an inexhaustive list of the 20 most impactful women in Africa in 2022.
1# Mamokgethi Phakeng (South Africa)
Mamokgethi Phakeng is a Professor of Mathematics Education (the first black female South African to have earned the qualification) and Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT). Phakeng is a leading academic advocate in Africa that is passionate about educational inclusion for people in underserved/rural communities in South Africa.
Thus, she founded the Adopt-a-learner trust, a nonprofit that provides financial support to learners from the township and rural areas to get post-matric qualifications. In a trending video on social media, Phakeng was seen encouraging UTC students, who were reading for their exams at night, with chocolates. She is a recipient of numerous academic and leadership awards.
2#Mona Eltahawy (Egypt)
Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian-American freelance journalist, die-hard feminist and social commentator based in Cairo and New York City. Eltahawy is a leading voice against misogyny, patriarchy and its stranglehold on women and their sexualities in North Africa -and more recently, in the Middle East and Asia. The 55-year-old is helping these women in their fight against emotional and sexual harassment, discrimination, public shaming and persecution.
Social media platforms, especially Twitter and Substack, are some of her strongest tools. Eltahawy has written essays and op-eds for global publications on Egypt and the Islamic world. Her topics include women’s rights, patriarchy, and Muslim political and social affairs. She has also authored some books including, The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls and Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution.
3#Nakeeyat Dramani Sam (Ghana)
Nakeeyat Dramani Sam is a 10-year-old Ghanaian climate activist. She recently appealed to world leaders to ‘have a heart’ during a session at the United Nations Cop27 held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Sam joined Ghana’s delegation to lend her voice to the pressing consequences of the climate emergency in her country. She voiced the future fears of the younger generation, given the rising impact of climate change.
She was among the delegates from developing nations who insisted that rich countries, which have contributed most to climate change because of high greenhouse emissions, compensate them for the damage. That eventually led to the breakthrough agreement called the Loss and Damage Finance Fund, marking a new dawn for climate justice.
4#Blessing Abeng (Nigerian)
Blessing Abeng is Co-founder and Director of Communications at Ingressive for Good, an ed-tech nonprofit focused on technical talent and resources for the African startup ecosystems. The startup helps to equip young Africans with tech skills via micro-scholarships, technical training, and job placements. At Ingressive, Abeng helps to create and increase the earning power of millions of African youth through tech training and resources for the growth of the African startup ecosystems. Along with co-founders Maya Horgan Famodu and Sean Burrowes, Abeng harnesses her Branding and Communications expertise to foster the organisation’s growth.
5#Maya Horgan Famodu (Nigerian)
Horgan Famodu is the Founder and Managing Partner of Ingressive Capital, a $10 million VC Fund I and $50 million Fund II targeting early-stage African tech. Ingressive Capital seeded some of Africa’s fastest-growing businesses, including Paystack (sold for $200 million to Stripe); 54gene (Series A led by Adjuvant, an IFC fund); Tizeti (Series A led by 4DX). 33% of its portfolio is female-founded and 31% are Y Combinator alumni.
Famodu co-founded Ingressive for Good alongside Blessing Abeng and Sean Burrowes to build a pipeline of talent from an early stage all the way to when they can launch a profitable tech career/business. through the non-profit, she is cultivating technical talent and resources for the African startup ecosystems.
She also founded Ingressive Advisory, a market entry/market operation that served 50+ international companies to enter and operate across Africa and they have achieved a collective 50+ deals. She is a 2x Forbes 30under30 and UN MIPAD.
6# Ifrah Arab (Kenya)
Ifrah Arab is the Founder and CEO of SuperMom- a social enterprise that empowers unemployed and underemployed women from marginalized communities in Kenya with basic financial training to become sales agents for the distribution of fast-moving consumer goods within their communities. Supermom has contributed to bridging the last-mile distribution gap. Arab believes that those closest to the problem are the closest to the solution. Hence her drive to empower women in marginalised communities to earn a living for their families. She is a recipient of several global recognition and is also a Ye! Ambassador, a global platform for young entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs between 18 and 35 years old to connect with resources, mentors, opportunities and peers.
7#Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim (Chad)
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is a Chadian environmental activist and geographer. She is the Founder of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT). AFPAT is a community-based organization focused on promoting the rights of girls and women in the Mbororo community and inspiring leadership and advocacy in environmental protection. The Mbororo community is a Chadian semi-nomadic pastoralist minority community situated in the borderlands of Cameroon and neighbouring areas of the Central African Republic.
Ibrahim also uses 3D mapping tools to solve climate problems and prevent resource-based conflicts in her community. She is the co-director of the pavilion of the World Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative and Pavilion at COP21, COP22 and COP23.
8# Jaha Dukureh (The Gambia)
Jaha Dukureh is a renowned Gambian women’s rights activist and anti-female genital mutilation campaigner. She is the Founder and executive director of Safe Hands for Girls, an organization working to end FGM and child marriage in the Gambia. Like many African women born in the 80s, Dukureh was subjected to female genital mutilation when she was a little more than a week old- a practice still prevalent in many regions to date. She has helped to fight against the barbaric act in The Gambia and was appointed Regional UN Women Ambassador for Africa in February 2018.
9#Confidence Staveley (Nigeria)
Confidence Staveley is an award-winning cybersecurity professional, and digital development enthusiast. She is Africa’s most celebrated female cybersecurity leader, talent developer and member of the Forbes Technology Council, an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs, and technology executives.
Staveley is the Founder of CyberSafe Foundation a nonprofit in the digital development domain seeking to facilitate pockets of change to ensure inclusive and safe digital access in Africa. She believes that Africans, especially the most vulnerable, should have access to technology and be equipped with cyber risk and mitigation strategies. The nonprofit has had notable global collaborations with top governments, such as the UK government, to implement a cybersecurity intervention in response to the heightened cyber-attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has conducted over 20,000,000 cybersecurity awareness campaigns and upskilled over 4,426 SMEs.
Staveley is passionate about closing the gender gap in technology and has launched two initiatives, DigiGirls and CyberGirls, a 1-year fellowship program that aims at equipping girls aged 15-21 years old.
10#Olori Boye-Ajayi (Nigeria)
Olori Boye-Ajayi is one of Africa’s top trade, gender and development leaders on a mission to position African women to attract global economic empowerment opportunities. She is a trade export expert focused on creating access for African female entrepreneurs to global opportunities.
She is the Founder and President of Borderless Trade Network (BTN). BTN is a gender, trade empowerment and advocacy network which collaborates with key players in the trade and investment space to boost the participation of women in trade. Through partnerships with businesses, investors, financial institutions, associations and government agencies, the BTN accelerates systemic solutions to drive women’s participation in cross-border trade and achieve inclusive economic growth.
BTN has built a network of over 800 women across Africa’s multi-sectoral landscape and curated empowerment and trade facilitation programs for over 10,000 female entrepreneurs.
Boye-Ajayi has built high-impact collaborative partnerships with AfreximBank, Africa’s largest trade finance bank and other strategic alliances. She has also secured $500,ooo in funding to support women in export communities across the continent.
11 & 12 Yasmin Belo-Osagie & Afua Osei (Nigeria/ Ghana)
Yasmin and Afua are the Co-Founders of She Leads Africa, a platform that gives women the community, information and inspiration they need to live the lives of their dreams. She Leads Africa uses social media to provide women across more than 35 countries with business and career advice and has been featured in several international publications.
It also uses articles, newsletters, podcasts and videos to educate and empower women to start, grow and improve their businesses and careers. The platform which has a community of over 700,000 other women across Africa also organises some free training and events to empower women.
13# Elizabeth Wathuti (Kenya)
Elizabeth Wathuti is a Kenyan Climate Activist and Founder of the Green Generation Initiative. Her organisation is a youth-led initiative aimed at addressing environmental issues through education, tree growing for impact, advocacy, and activism. The non-profit nurtures young people to love nature as well as become environmentally conscious. In her quest to promote the reduction of greenhouse emissions, she has planted over 30,000 tree seedlings in Kenya. She is empowering communities, particularly children and young people, to find solutions to the climate and ecological crisis.
14#Ebele Imite-Uka (Nigeria)
Ebele Imite-Uka is the Co-Founder and CEO of Satlatena Nigeria Limited, an energy company focused on clean energy access across Africa. Imite-Uka is using Satlatena to solve climate problems such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and clean energy inclusion in rural communities in Africa.
Through the Climate Action and Carbon Offset projects, her company has provided clean energy access via the distribution of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and cookstoves to rural and peri-urban communities in Nigeria. The projects aim to mitigate climate change and reduce greenhouse emissions in households and communities. This has helped to reduce the high use of coal and firewood used for cooking and other activities within poor communities- thus, reducing Nigeria’s carbon footprint.
Through Satlatena Imite-Uka has championed the development and supply of clean energy (development of solar grids) for communities in Ghana and Senegal. She has also helped to identify and develop smart applications for energy consumers in Cote d’Ivoire.
Despite no public record of the company’s value, Imite-Uka is making a huge impact in communities across Africa through it.
15#Glanis Changachirere (Zimbabwe)
Glanis Changachirere is a globally recognised Zimbabwean women’s rights advocate. Her activism was conceived after she experienced significant barriers to receiving an education in the rural Mashonaland Central Province of Zimbabwe. She struggled to fund her education and experienced oppression by the state as a student leader.
Changachirere is the founder and director of the Institute for Young Women Development (IYWD). The organisation’s focus is to mobilise and strengthen the voice and power of young women for them to thrive. It also promotes their sustainable livelihoods and aims to enhance their participation in socio-economic and political justice issues. Changachirere is also the current Deputy Chairperson of the Board of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU).
16#Ijeoma Onah (Nigeria)
Ijeoma Onah is a leader in the Nigerian film industry, helping to better position the continent’s movie industry on the global stage. She is the Founder of the Nigerian International Film Summit (NIFS), an event that provides the needed platform to examine issues related to the business of film in Nigeria as it relates to Hollywood distribution in Nigeria and the Nollywood appeal for global distribution.
Through her work, Onah has pioneered major inroads into the African TV/ Film industry through various international events, nurturing investors’ confidence in the African movie industry. She has also worked on noteworthy international TV / Film markets and industry events in Europe, North America and Africa. Through those events, she secured quality business and revenue generation from licensing rights for African film and TV content, resulting in more African participation at international events.
17#Ife Durosinmi-Etti (Nigeria)
Ife Durosinmi-Etti is the Founder of Herconomy, a fintech startup tailored to empowering African women. Herconomy gives women access to special bank accounts to enable them to not only save and earn high interest but to save as they spend on the daily products and services they need to thrive.
Her passion for business and women and youth empowerment led to the launch of the AGS Tribe, a community that helps to connect women and business opportunities such as grants, loans, fellowships, jobs etc. She is an appointee of the Youth Advisory Group Member for Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE), a global coalition formed by the World Bank, aimed at providing catalytic support to employment and productive work for 150 million youth by 2030.
18#Ifrah Ahmed, (Somalia FGM)
Ifrah Ahmed is a Somali-Irish Female Gender Mutilation (FGM) and social activist. She is the founder of the United Youth of Ireland nonprofit and the Ifrah Foundation, which hopes to eradicate FGM in Somalia and beyond through sustained engagement with Government and strategic partners.
Ahmed was made to pass through female circumcision at the age of 8, a practice she thought was normal at the time until she migrated to Europe. With the help of medical professionals in Ireland, she became aware of the horror of FGM and eventually educated herself well to become a global voice on the barbaric act. Today, she is back in Somalia, as an adviser to the government as a Gender Advisor.
19#Glory Edozien (Nigeria)
Glory Edozien is a LinkedIn visibility expert and Founder of Inspired by Glory Academy, a company that teaches career women how to become visible in the workplace to get the recognition they deserve, earn more money and climb the corporate ladder. Through her academy, Edozien is helping more African women to position themselves smartly in a gender-biased corporate economy.
She is the Founder of the 9to5chick community, which provides women with the career tools they need to thrive, make powerful career moves, and connect with like-minded people. Edozien is a recipient of several international awards and an alumnus of the Global Shapers, an initiative of the World Economic Forum.
20#Mariam Dahir (Somaliland FGM)
Mariam Dahir is a Somali doctor, researcher, lecturer and anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) activist. She began an active campaign to convince people about the detrimental complications of FGM after witnessing the dangerous effects, during her medical training at the University of Hargeisa’s Medical School. Dahir is the Chairperson of Youth Anti-FGM Somaliland, a youth-led initiative to end FGM in Somaliland.
She is also a Gender Based Violence Consultant, for the World Health Organisation and has been named among 50 inspiring women (globally) by the European Union. She is part of the small team that drafted the proposed law against FGM in Somaliland, yet to be approved.