Nokwanda Ramatheko is a graduate of the African Leadership Academy; like many of its students, her younger years were filled with challenges, which she had to overcome in order to achieve her academic and professional ambitions. She was born and raised in Soweto; anyone who is familiar with South Africa, like Tunde Folawiyo, will probably know that this is an area where unemployment, crime and school dropout rates are extremely high. As such, the odds were against Nokwanda from the beginning.
However, in a blog post she wrote recently, she explained that as a young child, she consciously decided to become a better person, and to rebel against what was considered ‘normal’ in her local community. Instead of dropping out or becoming involved in criminal activities, as so many of her young peers had, she remained in school and focused on her studies.
Following her parents’ separation, it became even more difficult for Nokwanda to stay in education, as they could barely afford to pay her school fees. However, she persevered, and managed to graduate from high school. After this, she chose to postpone her university studies in order to attend the ALA. Despite her father’s reservations, Nokwanda was confident that she had made the right decision, and with the help of Cisco, from whom she received a scholarship, she was able to pay her fees and achieve her academic goals.
Her exceptionally high grades at the academy during her first year led to her being accepted into the Aspen Institute’s Bezos Scholars Program. This provided her with the opportunity to discuss the world’s most important issues with top entrepreneurs, writers and scholars. Nokwanda’s academic success even inspired her own mother to return and complete her secondary school education, and set up a small business.
Nokwanda’s time at the academy inspired her to continue focusing on social entrepreneurial projects. Now a student at Arizona State University, she is currently working on a way to address the problem of aid distribution in African countries. She and another student have set up a platform called ‘Awaken’, in order to connect international aid organisations with African start-ups and social groups, and have discussed their progress, and how they intend to expand the project, at the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative roundtable. Anyone with an interest in youth development, like Tunde Folawiyo, will understand what an honour it is to attend this prestigious event.