Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Africa: Catalysts for Sustainable Transformation

Ndidi Nwuneli
M-RCBG Senior Fellow

UNICEF projects that by 2050, the African population is expected to grow to 2.4 billion people, with the vast majority under 35 years old. Catering for this population will require catalytic innovations in health, education, agriculture, transportation, water management, energy, sanitation, and housing. While there are emerging social innovators and entrepreneurs on the African Continent, they struggle with scaling and replicating their initiatives, sustaining them in the face of weak funding and intellectual property frameworks, fostering cross-sector partnerships, and measuring impact.

This study group will explore:
1) the landscape for social innovators and entrepreneurs on the African Continent
2) the challenges that confront them
3) opportunities for accelerating their impact
4) the role of the public, private sector, academic, and civil society in fostering the emergence of more social innovators and entrepreneurs
Ndidi Nwuneli, a Nigerian social entrepreneur, will lead the study group and will also invite social innovators and entrepreneurs who are active in Africa to share their perspectives on this important issue.

Spring 2015 sessions appear below.  All students, fellows, staff, and faculty welcome. Space is limited. To participate, please write to

Scaling Healthcare Innovations in Africa
Thursday, February 26
Perkins Room, R-415 (Rubenstein Building), HKS
Guest: Dr. Kelechi Ohiri, Special Adviser to the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance of Nigeria, and Visiting Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health 
Refreshments will be available

Scaling Innovation in the African Energy Sector
Tuesday, March 10
Fainsod, L-324 (Littauer Building), HKS
Guest:  Graham Smith, Off Grid Electric  (bio below)
Refreshments will be available

Graham Smith is part of the executive team at Off Grid Electric. His work focuses on financing, building partnerships, government relations, and developing the company’s expansion strategy for new markets. Off-Grid Electric is a Tanzania based venture which provides solar energy to emerging nations, and has been heralded as the "first massively scalable solar energy as a service company." They deliver fifty times more light than kerosene lamps for less money, and create wealth and jobs in the communities they operate in by helping tens of thousands of small businesses and local entrepreneurs help their communities go solar. Prior to Off Grid Electric, Graham previously held positions in consulting and finance, working with organizations across the private, public and social sectors. Additionally he spent several years with the Clinton Foundation, advising governments on strengthening healthcare systems and developing financing approaches to increase access to medicines for over 70 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Graham has studied at Stanford University, Oxford University and Queen’s University (Canada). He was a Skoll Associate Fellow at Oxford and was named an Ideas Scholar by Atlantic Magazine and the Aspen Institute.

Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli is the Founder of LEAP Africa, Co-Founder of AACE Food Processing & Distribution, an indigenous agroprocessing company, and a partner at Sahel Capital, an advisory and private equity firm focused on the agribusiness sector in West Africa. She has 19 years of experience in international development and has worked and lived in West Africa, North America, and the Middle East. She started her career as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company, working in their Chicago, New York and Johannesburg Offices. In 2000, she returned to Nigeria to serve as the pioneer executive director of the FATE Foundation, a leading entrepreneurship development organization. She established LEAP Africa and NIA in 2002 and 2003 respectively. LEAP is a respected leadership development organization that has worked across Nigeria providing leadership training, and coaching to thousands of entrepreneurs, youth, teachers and community organizers. LEAP has also pioneered curriculum and published ten books on succession, ethics, governance and management. NIA empowers female university students in the Southeastern Nigeria to achieve their highest potential. She holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School (Class of 1999) and an undergraduate degree with honors in Multinational and Strategic Management from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She was recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and received a National Honor – Member of the Federal Republic from the Nigerian Government. In 2011, she was listed as one of the 20 Youngest Power African Women by Forbes. In 2013, she was honored by the Global Fund for Women during their 25th Anniversary Celebration in San Francisco. She serves on numerous international and local boards including Nestle Nigeria Plc, Cornerstone Insurance Plc, and USAID's Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid. As a senior fellow, Nwuneli will explore the role of social innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa as catalysts for sustainable transformation. Her faculty sponsor is Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development.

Ndidi Nwuneli headshot

M-RCBG senior fellow Ndidi Nwuneli.