2021 was such a year of hope.
We had just exited the worst of a global pandemic and, for Africans living on the continent, an additional uncertainty heightened by protests and economic instability. We daresay almost everyone approached the new year with some level of positivity, as to do otherwise would have been near-fatal.
It is against this that we decided to launch a special feature, the ASPIRE Ones to Watch. We had hoped that by highlighting the fantastic achievements of the young men and women on whose shoulders lie the future of Africa, we all can look forward with some assurance that indeed, tomorrow is brighter than today.
And it appears you shared our sentiments going by the feedback we received. For 2022, we have once again put together a list of young people whose work, businesses and achievements are an inspiration to everyone.
To kick off this feature, allow us introduce you to the 26-year-old powerhouse whose innovative approach to the management and eradication of cancer has seen her save thousands of lives. This she has done on a continent where the disease can often be a death sentence, due to a lack of awareness, inefficient government health policies, equipment, specialists and more importantly, a lack of health insurance adoption needed to see treatments to the end.
In her second year in medical school and barely in her 20s, Shamim developed pains in her breast. A medical check revealed she had cancer and tuberculosis, a result made more terrifying by the fact that she had lost her mother to cervical cancer about 7 years prior to her diagnosis.
Thankfully, Shamim survived, although she lost a breast to the painful disease. Following this experience, she founded Community Dental and Reproductive Health Ltd which later evolved into Community Healthcare Innovation Lab or CHIL AI.
In the beginning, CHIL AI offered mobile cancer screening to women in rural Uganda as well as mobile dental services to school children in Uganda. Today, through its mobile app, Keti AI, the technology-driven medical company offers related services like consultation, test results interpretation, referrals, radiology reports, and, automated drug ordering to more than 700,000 women from over 10 countries including South Sudan and the DRC.
Shamim is looking to expand her reach within the continent and beyond – she hopes to offer her services in Asia and Latin America. With everything she has achieved so far at such a young age and in such a short time, it is safe to say that we have not heard the last of Ms Shamim Nabuuma Kaliisa or CHIL AI.
When it comes to art, there is usually no general definition of what is good or bad, since art appreciation can be rather subjective. However, if you have ever encountered the work of Ivorian artist, Laetitia Ky, it is hard not to immediately appreciate what you see. Laetitia’s art is unique.
Rather than working exclusively on typical surfaces like cardboard, wood or canvas, she often uses her hair to create elaborate sculptural pieces. And not just any kind: more often than not, her creations tell a story about the kind of women Laetitia sees and knows – their struggles, dreams, fears and the challenges society burdens them with.
Laetitia’s work stands out for several reasons. First, she isn’t just beautifying hair or making aesthetically-pleasing styles. Every hairdo is a creative and visual representation of the socio-economic challenges women (mostly African women) undergo.
Secondly, she works with afro-textured hair that has received a lot of bad press over the years. Using it the way she does not only proves the versatility of our hair, it also showcases its literal and metaphorical beauty.
As an artist, Laetitia is constantly growing. Only recently, she added the title ‘author’ to her name. Her body of work is so niche, yet rich and robust that we believe it is only a matter of time before she becomes a truly global force to be reckoned with.
At a time when the world is beginning to notice African fashion, Aristide Loua’s Kente Gentlemen is yet another example of how rich and multifaceted this aspect of our culture really is.
For Loua, Kente Gentlemen is not just another fashion brand: it is a sartorial ode to traditional African fashion that he feels compelled to tell after his travels all over the world.
“In such an interconnected world, Kente Gentlemen is a means to discover, value, celebrate, and foster our diverse socio-cultural heritage and identities through fashion, aesthetics, photography and other visual arts,” he says of his brand.
Aristide aims to keep traditional practices alive while celebrating his love for art, social good and fashion. Working with local handweavers, tailors and other artisans, he creates mostly modern suits and shirts for men and women based on intricate stories and concepts that reveal some of our innermost emotions.
The fashion label was part of the Birimian x IFM accelerator program and has been featured in different publications and on different global platforms. African fashion is beginning to take its rightful place on the global stage, and Aristide Loua’s Kente Gentlemen is sure to be one of the key players driving worldwide adoption.
Heba El Dessouky
Sustainability is more than a buzzword, and Heba El Dessouky understands this all too well.
Shortly before the 2020 lockdown, when the fashion industry was beginning to contend with its high levels of waste and its contribution to the climate change crisis, the Egyptian actress and model, Hébà El Dessouky launched AGAN. (As Good As New)
AGAN is a response to a global challenge with a straightforward idea: get people who have unspoiled luxury items they no longer use or have never used to advertise on a trusted platform where there are eager, interested, paying customers.
Sustainable practices are not as strange to Africans as most people think, even though the concept in itself is relatively new. However, it is almost unheard of to find someone like Heba actively running a business for pre-loved luxury fashion items. She has definitely set a standard for other celebrities to follow, and, whether or not they do, her name is sure to make the list of personalities on the continent that made a substantial impact in sustainability at a time when it mattered the most.
There are many e-commerce brands dedicated to fashion retail in Africa, but not many offer the same services as Setsabile Mkhabela.
Like Heba, Setsabile launched her business in 2020, but unlike AGAN, Boast-ID focuses on emerging fashion and lifestyle brands, not just from Africa, but from all over the world that put sustainability at the heart of their operations.
Boast-ID currently features over 20 brands from Africa, Asia and North America. But for Setsabile, there is still a lot more to be done for emerging fashion and lifestyle brands. Her goal is to create a thriving community of retail fashion businesses in the luxury space that live and breathe sustainability. If her track record is anything to go by, we will be hearing much more from the E-Swatini entrepreneur very soon.
Do you remember what you said you would be when you grow up?
Chances are that your current reality does not match any part of your childhood fantasy. This is not necessarily because, as a child, you had no idea what you wanted, but because you may have gotten confused along the line and had to switch to a career path that felt safe and looked like something you could live with for the rest of your life.
This is exactly why Platform Excel, founded by South African Noxolo Fani, exists.
Using gamification and robotic process automation, Noxolo guides students from grades 8-12 on their career paths. “I lived through not having the right advice at the right time as a young woman. As I grew in my own profession I embarked on a journey to help those living through the same experience,” she explains of her decision to found Platform Excel.
Noxolo Fani continues to seek out opportunities to assist young people discover who they are meant to be, whilst opening doors for them by helping them secure scholarships, internships and positions in different companies.
Like Setsabile, Sisqo Ndombe has developed a thriving online platform for creatives, only this time, the e-commerce site is for artists and art lovers looking to invest in works from the African continent.
As an artist living in the DRC, Sisqo Ndombe quickly realised how difficult it was for upcoming African artists to sell their work. He decided to do something about it, and after saving money from a side hustle, Bandombe Galerie was born in 2018.
His first sale happened 8 months after the online art gallery went live but today, it boasts 800 registered artists from 30 African countries and more than 3,000 artworks in its catalogue.
Like other entrepreneurs, Ndombe dreams of more growth, even though he knows that this means more work. He is committed to growing his client base while pushing for the adoption, appreciation and acquisition of African art by Africans and not just the global community. With all he has achieved in the last four years, we dare say he is on the right path to achieving his dream.