Welcome to the Ventures Woman blog of Venture Africa Magazine. Do we really need another women’s column? What more could this one offer? No, you’re right. We don’t need another column that does little more than waste your time with mild entertainment and little value. Yet as African women we need, dare I say, deserve, to be inspired by other African women who are out in the world making things happen, achieving their dreams and fulfilling others’ dreams. This is what Ventures Woman is about.

In a world of 7 billion, women represent over half the population, an impressive number. Yet they are disproportionately represented in terms of lower educational status, higher levels of poverty, higher disease burden and lower levels of professional achievement. The African women who have risen above significant social, cultural, physical, or material obstacles to national and international recognition deserve our applause. We need to be inspired with their stories of success.

But how can we group all women of African descent into one homogenous group? More importantly how can we accurately define a female African Ventures Woman? They are as diverse in background as their continent where over 2000 languages are spoken!

Inspirational African women span all age groups and ethnicities, differ greatly in their personalities and approach, and reach across all industries from music to ministry, finance to agriculture. Some women have received international recognition for their work, pushing the boundaries of women’s professional reach. Others have received comparatively little attention yet have stories that are just as rousing. The women of Ventures Africa will share their stories with you each week.

Success is a concept that is notoriously hard to define, differing greatly based on personal preference. The successful Ventures Woman is defined as a woman who breaks the mould, rises above expectations and impacts the lives of fellow Africans. Anyone can be a VW (not Volkswagen!).

Twenty-Seven years old Ann Kihengu of Tanzania may be relatively little known, but to the Tanzanians she has reached, her efforts to safely and sustainably light up their homes will never be forgotten.

As I sit here typing, my laptop and phone batteries are fully charged. Both room light and desk light are shining brightly and of least concern is not having electricity to work with. But having been born and raised in urban Nigeria, I can relate, somewhat, to the ‘no light’ experience of the people of rural Tanzania. In a country where only 11% of the population have access to electricity, the most common lighting option is a kerosene lamp. These lamps are dull, smoky and pose a fire hazard to their users. Kerosene fuel purchase also consumes a heavy proportion of already meagre incomes. In return, lamp users develop poor eyesight, respiratory problems and risk burns or even death. This has a profound impact on children’s school performance; and the general lack of electricity severely limits business opportunities. The poverty cycle, now well established, has been hard to break.

Ms Kihengu, the 2010 African Laureate for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, saw an opportunity to achieve her dream of entrepreneurship while meeting the needs of her community. After university, she spent 3 years working in the solar power sector and during this time, gained the knowledge about alternative energy sources and the market for it. Although her company provided a great product, she identified slowness and lack of penetration of the products into the areas that needed it most. Ann resigned in order to start up her business, PRIAN Limited, without the approval of close family, and in an innovative move, she utilised a Tanzanian social media platform to recruit interested, out-of-work youths to serve as distributors for her new business. She trained these young men and women in core marketing and entrepreneurial skills, enabling them to earn incomes of their own and support their families. She sold solar-powered lights and phone chargers to these youths who in turn went deep into villages and sold them for a small profit. Ann sold over 10,000 lights in the first year of PRIAN and now has a team of 18 entrepreneurs training and working under her leadership. Her vision is to grow to a network of over 500 youth distributors by 2015 and to provide safe lighting for 1 million residents of rural Tanzania. With one social enterprise, Ann is fighting poverty, improving health, aiding development and motivating young men and women to aspire for a better life. She has learned to listen to her inner voice and take responsibility for her own life; she  is bent on teaching others to do the same.

Ann Kihengu is also a member of the World Entrepreneurship Forum Think Tank. One woman inspiring many; the essence of a Ventures Woman.

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