Young Africans Mentor Business Hopefuls

Wemimo Abbey (photo by Melissa Noel for Voices of NY)

Wemimo Abbey (photo by Melissa Noel for Voices of NY)

Every seat was taken inside the Nelson Mandela conference room at the Mission of the African Union to the U.N. in New York. And, it seemed that even those who had to stand didn’t mind, because they made it into the sold-out master class featuring presentations from Face2Face Africa’s 2014 YACE honorees. 

YACE, which stands for Young Africans Committed to Excellence, is an initiative started by Face2Face, a pan-African media group, to highlight young Africans under the age of 30 who are already having a significant impact in African affairs.

From David Sengeh, 27, who designs comfortable prosthetics for amputees in the U.S. and his native Sierra Leone, to Jessica Matthews, 25, who co-founded Uncharted Play Inc., a company that makes electricity-generating soccer balls and jump ropes to combat the worldwide issue of reliable access to electricity and promote creativity through play, these young Africans are making a difference.

The YACE master class at the Mission of the African Union to the U.N. (Photo by Melissa Noel for Voices of NY)

The YACE master class at the Mission of the African Union to the U.N. (Photo by Melissa Noel for Voices of NY)

“Young Africans are no longer the future of Africa’s progress. They are the present,” African Union Ambassador Tete Antonio said during his opening remarks. In all, six inspiring young Africans shared their innovative work and support for the continent during the YACE Master Class, the first event of Face2Face Africa Weekend 2014.

Face2Face connects young people across the world who have a shared ancestry in Africa. The group confers awards annually and held its three-day event in late July “to highlight and celebrate the individuals who are transforming Africa in this century.”

Attendees included African nationals and Americans who have done or were interested in doing work on the continent. The honorees were from Ghana, Nigeria, Mali and Sierra Leone.

The master class gave young professionals a platform to not only share their innovative work, but also give substantial advice to audience members on how they too can turn their ideas into action.

Matthews says she was able to get State Farm Insurance to be a sponsor of her electricity-generating products because she was not afraid to take risks. “I didn’t have connections or the know how, but I went to State Farm and said, ‘what are you doing for your CSR (corporate social responsibility),’” said Matthews.

Matthews invited audience members to tell her their ideas, and encouraged them to try things out and have fun while working toward the greater good.

Jessica Matthews (Photo by Melissa Noel for Voices of NY)

Jessica Matthews (Photo by Melissa Noel for Voices of NY)

She gave attendees her email address and encouraged them to send their ideas to her for review. She assured them that they would receive her feedback and assistance where possible.

A willingness to take risks is what the youngest YACE honoree, Wemimo Abbey, believes got him to where he is today. “I’m not just someone who talks about stuff, I’m more of an action person. That’s how you get things done,” Abbey said. At just 22 years old he is the founder and CEO of Clean Water for Everyone, an organization that provides access to clean water and affordable water supply in developing nations. Abbey started the organization while still an undergrad at the University of Minnesota.

“This Clean Water for Everyone was sparked by the Haiti earthquake so that brought back memories and I said we need to do something about this.”

The memories Abbey is referring to are those of growing up in the slums of Lagos, Nigeria, without access to clean water. Not even attending a top school there made a difference, as the school’s students had no access to clean water either.

Since starting in 2010, the organization has provided access to clean water and sanitation to over 46,000 people in several countries including Ghana, Nepal, the Dominican Republic and Nigeria. The organization has also given 51 scholarships to students at schools they have served. Abbey summed up his advice to the audience like this: “Believe in your ideas, network, network, network and have evidence-based strategies. ”

Everyone in attendance at the master class had a chance to network with the YACE honorees after the event at the “I am a Professional African” mixer at the Carlton Hotel.

“Its really amazing to see all that they have done so far because I don’t think there’s enough highlight on the positive things that are being done on the continent,” attendee Isioma Orewa said.

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