10 Women Impacting Change in Africa

10 Women Impacting Change in Africa

While headlines frequently highlight prominent figures, it’s essential to recognize the unsung heroes shaping our world. We’re eager to introduce a list of 10 exceptional women who, despite not being based in Africa, are making significant social and economic impacts on the continent.

These women hail from diverse backgrounds and professions, united by a shared objective: to catalyze positive change across the continent.

Their contributions encompass a wide array of endeavors, including advocating for women’s rights and educational access, leading initiatives for environmental sustainability, and driving technological innovation. Each woman’s journey serves as a testament to how dedication, passion, and a vision for a brighter future can transcend geographical and cultural boundaries.

  1. Ertharin Cousin (USA)
  2. Joanne Rowling (UK)\
  3. Mila Smart Semeshkina (UAE)
  4. Sheryl Sandberg (USA)
  5. Ann Cotton (UK)
  6. Kristine Pearson (USA)
  7. Brita Fernandez Schmidt (Germany/UK)
  8. Amanda Nguyen (USA)
  9. Jessica Jackley (USA)
  10. Sonia Guajajara (Brazil)

Ertharin Cousin (USA)

Ertharin Cousin, a lawyer and former Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), has made substantial strides in the fight against global hunger, particularly in African nations. Through the WFP, she spearheaded efforts that provided crucial food aid to millions, with a significant focus on Africa, where the program annually fed over 80 million individuals across various countries. Cousin’s unwavering commitment and adept strategies in tackling food insecurity and malnutrition have been instrumental in advancing health outcomes and fortifying the resilience of communities throughout the African continent.


Joanne Rowling (UK)

Joanne Rowling, the acclaimed author and philanthropist, is renowned as the founder of the Lumos Foundation, dedicated to eradicating the institutionalization of children globally, including in Africa. Through Lumos, Rowling’s initiatives have played a pivotal role in diminishing the number of children residing in institutions, advocating for family and community-based care alternatives. With a vision to end child institutionalization worldwide by 2050, Rowling’s advocacy and Lumos’ work have left a profound mark, enhancing the lives and prospects of numerous children across African nations and beyond.


Mila Smart Semeshkina (UAE)

Mila Smart Semeshkina is an innovator and entrepreneur dedicated to advancing accessible education in Africa. With a focus on integrating advanced learning methods to enrich career opportunities, she serves as the CEO of Lectera.com. This educational platform facilitates rapid upskilling and delivers cutting-edge skills training to over 1 million African students continent-wide. Additionally, Mila Smart is the founder of the Women’s Empowerment Convention, a global initiative committed to supporting women, and she organizes one of the largest women’s conferences, the WE Convention.


Sheryl Sandberg (USA)

Sheryl Sandberg has played a significant role in enhancing digital literacy and fostering business growth in Africa through Facebook. As a driving force behind empowering small businesses and promoting digital skills, Sandberg has facilitated expanded internet access and enhanced digital literacy, effectively linking millions of Africans to the global community. Moreover, her initiatives have provided crucial support to numerous small businesses throughout the continent, equipping entrepreneurs with essential digital tools and training. Consequently, her efforts have contributed to stimulating economic growth and fostering innovation within African markets.


Ann Cotton (UK)

Ann Cotton, a distinguished British educator and philanthropist, is celebrated for establishing the Campaign for Female Education. This initiative has transformed girls’ education in Africa, facilitating access to schooling for over 3.3 million students across Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania, and Malawi. Through her innovative community-based approach, Cotton has achieved notable successes, including a marked decrease in dropout rates and a considerable rise in literacy levels and employment prospects for women in these areas.


Kristine Pearson (USA)

Kristine Pearson, CEO of Lifeline Energy, has been instrumental in tackling energy poverty and improving information access in Africa. Through her organization, over 500,000 solar and wind-up radios have been distributed, reaching an estimated 20 million listeners predominantly in rural communities across the continent. These radios serve as indispensable tools for education, women’s empowerment, and accessing vital information, thereby enriching the quality of life and knowledge base in regions with limited access to electricity and traditional media.


Brita Fernandez Schmidt (Germany/UK)

Brita Fernandez Schmidt is a staunch advocate for women’s rights in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Her endeavors focus on empowering women through education, training, and social enterprise initiatives. Serving as a senior Vice President of Women for Women International, she has played a pivotal role in positively impacting women in war-torn regions, including various African nations, by offering essential support, education, and resources. Through her efforts, over 500,000 women have directly benefited, gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to rebuild their lives, promote economic stability, and cultivate resilient communities.


Amanda Nguyen (USA)

Amanda Nguyen, a civil rights activist and the founder of Rise, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for the rights of sexual violence survivors, has expanded her impact to African countries. Through her influential efforts, including her pivotal role in the passage of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act in the U.S., Nguyen has inspired similar legal reforms in Africa. These reforms aim to protect and empower survivors of sexual violence, reflecting Nguyen’s commitment to advancing justice and dignity for survivors globally.


Jessica Jackley (USA)

Jessica Jackley, an entrepreneur and co-founder of Kiva, a groundbreaking micro-lending platform, has significantly contributed to alleviating global poverty, including in African nations. Kiva’s innovative microfinance model has facilitated over $1.3 billion in loans, empowering countless African entrepreneurs, especially women, to establish or expand their businesses, thus enhancing their economic security. Jackley’s efforts have played a pivotal role in democratizing access to capital, catalyzing a ripple effect that fosters improved socioeconomic conditions and sustains development throughout the continent.


Sonia Guajajara (Brazil)

Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous leader and environmentalist, has expanded her influence to African countries through her global advocacy for environmental protection and indigenous rights. Her activism plays a pivotal role in international dialogues on climate change and biodiversity, directly shaping policies and initiatives in Africa aimed at environmental conservation. Guajajara’s endeavors have been instrumental in raising awareness about the interdependence of indigenous rights and environmental stewardship, influencing the adoption of sustainable practices and the preservation of natural resources in African nations and beyond.

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