Since finding her mentor on the MicroMentor platform three years ago, Nigerian entrepreneur, Cynthia Mene, has founded two successful social ventures and is currently launching her third, a business leadership program called Inspire Africa. With the continued assistance of her long-time MicroMentor and former UPS executive, Gary Mastro, Inspire Africa is poised to be Cynthia’s most impactful social venture yet.
At age 26, Cynthia’s ambitious start-up record includes EverGlow, a successful liquid soap company that filled the niche for a non-toxic, plant-derived and biodegradable dish soap in Nigeria, Kadosh Production Company, a cassava processing plant that has the potential to revolutionize, the cassava industry in Nigeria by yielding about 30 per cent more food per unit for human consumption, while improving the livelihood of women farmers through processing and packaging of cassava finished products, recycling the waste peels as a sustainable and inexpensive source of animal feed. She also studied business and entrepreneurship at Dartmouth and has received awards and accolades from an impressive list of international organizations, including her recognition as a Mandela Washington Fellow for Young African Leaders, United State African Development Awards, Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Award, LEAP Africa fellow and Global Good Fund Fellow.
Inspire Africa aims to inspire and empower young African men and women by giving them the proper tools to prepare them for the future and achieve their full potential by providing 3 distinct services: 1. training and workshops, 2. mentoring and internships, and 3. scholarships and investments.
By the end of 2016, Inspire Africa received over 125 applications from 15 countries across Africa and successfully selected 15 fellows from Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Liberia, and Morocco to attend the first Inspire Africa cohort, beginning in February of 2017. Through donations, Inspire Africa provides scholarships to those who cannot afford to pay the tuition fee, ensuring that they are supported and given the privilege to learn.
The upcoming intensive 2-week training period includes content such as: design thinking and entrepreneurship in collaboration with Dartmouth, leadership simulations in collaboration with Harvard, and other material from Cambridge Institute on Sustainability and Leadership.
Equally important to the curriculum are the lessons Cynthia has learned along the way, which she hopes will frame these innovative business development concepts to the socio-economic and cultural context of Africa. Cynthia says that most Africans are not aware of new methodologies such as design thinking, and she plans to expose African youth to innovative thinking processes.
Throughout the planning of Inspire Africa, Gary has continued to mentor and support Cynthia. Gary explains, “Inspire Africa manifests Cynthia’s desire to support the people from Africa by offering training programs and creating a center of excellence for entrepreneurs. My support is to work with Cynthia on curriculum, timelines and work through as much as I can the first few sessions and their delivery. I have been engaged in reviewing the process of developing Inspire Africa – where to get support, how to cast a net as wide as possible to bring entrepreneurs with talent into the center. We need to work on the communications and scholarship strategy to explore the possibilities of growing the program.”
Cynthia is grateful for the fresh perspective that Gary brings to her endeavors, “I would not have been thinking globally without Gary, he brings a wider experience and knowledge to what I am doing. We have been able to build this relationship; he is like a father to me. If other young people could have access to this service, start a relationship with a mentor, it will bring a lot of change to Nigeria. Although we come from different experiences, we are coming together across cultures.”
As a proponent of sustainability, Cynthia has designed a post-fellowship support program for participants of the 2-week training, where her students will have the opportunity to engage with a mentor on MicroMentor, connect to internships, access start-up capital and even share a collaborative work space. MicroMentor plans to provide support to the first Inspire Africa cohort, in the hopes of replicating the incredible impact that Cynthia and Gary are making together.
In 2017 Cynthia plans to pilot the program with 3 cohorts, train 50 students partner with 300 individuals in the Inspire Africa community. To donate and learn more about Inspire Africa, click here.