Lessons from one of Africa’s youngest social entrepreneurs

Ellen Chilemba is something of a powerhouse. Recently named by Forbes as one of Africa’s most promising entrepreneurs under the age of 30, this young Malawian’s vision is to help women escape poverty and break cycles of child marriage and squandered potential.

Chilemba founded Tiwale, a for-profit social enterprise, in Malawi when she was just 17. In the past three years, the organisation has supported 150 women with business and vocational training, and helped 40 women start businesses or find employment. Recently, Tiwale secured its first dedicated office space. It now has room for a classroom and workshop for a new fabric design initiative that generates income for the programme’s participants and helps sustain the organisation at the same time.

But Chilemba isn’t stopping there. Tiwale wants to truly empower its female participants. That means taking a deeper look at assumptions, listening closely to the women and evolving the organisation’s approach as it goes. Chilemba explains what she has learned so far, and how this will spur Tiwale’s next phase.

“Sometimes, what you think is the problem isn’t what the actual challenge is,” says Chilemba. “I’ve learned to play the role of listener more and more.”

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