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The Äänit Prize

2021 Äänit Prize winner announced · Explore below

Up to $80 000 dollars in funding is available annually to between one and four winners.

The Äänit Prize supports initiatives that can deliver positive social impact for Africa’s most marginalised populations. The competition is open to alumni of the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship and the Rhodes Scholarship.

We seek businesses or non-profit projects that will deliver social impact, that are feasible and sustainable prospects, and that are run by people with the capability to succeed.

Äänit means “common work” or “joint effort” in the language Koalib, a minority language spoken in Sudan. This name speaks to our belief in coming together to take collective responsibility for Africa’s future. It was also chosen to highlight our continent’s linguistic diversity.

“Nelson Mandela really believed in the potential of young people. He believed that if we invest in young people and their dreams and ideas, we will see an acceleration of the transformation of the continent. We are therefore so excited to be launching the Äänit Prize.”

— Judy Sikuza, CEO


The winner of the inaugural 2021 Äänit Prize is:

Esethu Cenga, Rewoven

Every second, the equivalent of a rubbish truck load of clothes is burnt or buried in landfill. The fast-fashion industry is one of the most polluting in the world. It generates 90 million tons of waste annually, of which only 1% is recycled. Rewoven diverts textile waste from landfill by collecting it from source and recycling it into new fabric. Rewoven's manufacturing process uses 99% less water and generates 50% less CO2 emissions than normal production processes. The fabric has the same look and quality as fabric made from virgin fibers. The labour-intensive textile recycling process provides much-needed jobs, particularly for women, who make up the majority of clothing industry workers. Rewoven’s vision is to create a socially and ecologically sustainable way to create clothing and to contribute to more socially and ecologically sustainable ways of living.

Read more in the announcement

Meet the finalists

Am I eligible?

For alumni

Entrants must be Mandela Rhodes Alumni (any year from 2005 onwards) or Rhodes Scholar Alumni (from 2005 onwards).

Demonstrable impact

Entrants must demonstrate that they are contributing (or will contribute) to one of the below impact areas in Africa.


Entrants must be founders, co-founders or members of the executive team of the business or organisation which they are entering.

Any model and stage

Non-Profit and For-Profit initiatives are both eligible. Initiatives at different stages of development can apply.

Successful candidates will be expected to stay with their projects for two years from the time of the award.

Which impact areas are included?

We are interested in 10 impact areas which support the Sustainable Development Goals and are particularly important in the African context.

Access to affordable housing

Agriculture and food security

Climate Change

Conflict and terrorism


Energy access

Financial services

Healthcare, water and sanitation


Technology and data

“It’s important to focus our minds on business being linked to society’s needs, instead of just being about profit regardless of whether the impact is positive or negative. We are moving to an era where business has to be part of the solution to our problems. That’s probably what Madiba would have told us to do.”

— Mo Ibrahim, Trustee

The jurors

A panel of distinguished judges with a depth of expertise and experience has been assembled to decide the winners.

Elliot Gerson

Executive Vice President of the Aspen Institute and US Secretary to the Rhodes Trust

Rethabile Melamu

General Manager of the Green Economy Unit at the Innovation Hub (RSA)

Sangu Delle

Managing Director of Africa Health Holdings and Chairman of Golden Palm Investments Corporation. Entrepreneur and investor

Ndidi Nwuneli

Co-founder and managing partner of Sahel Consulting. Founder of LEAP Africa

Salif Niang

Social entrepreneur and co-founder of Malô, a Mali-based social enterprise

Muitheri Wahome

Independent asset management and investment expert

“Our vision for entrepreneurship in Africa stems from our mandate to address inequality and contribute to the achievement of true equality. We know that innovative and creative individuals can make a significant difference to the lives of people across the continent.”

— Professor Njabulo S. Ndebele, Chairman of the Board of Trustees

How to apply

Applications are now closed.

Step 1: Indicate interest (1-11 July)

Submit a short motivation explaining why your project, business, or idea is socially impactful. Tell us how you plan to realise it and why you’re the perfect person/team that has what it takes to make it happen. Don’t self exclude — we’ve designed this part of the process to make applying quick, easy and approachable.

Step 2: Wait to be invited to apply

We will review all of the indications of interest and then invite 30 candidates to submit full applications. We will let you know if you are not successful.

Step 3: Submit your application (26 July - 16 August)

Submit your application. This will include a written project statement, a project /business plan (maximum of 12 pages) and relevant supporting documents. The 30 applications will be evaluated by reviewers with relevant experience and expertise.

Step 4: Prepare to pitch

The longlisted candidates will be invited to an interview, which will include a short pitch that builds on the value proposition of your written application.

Step 5: The final round

The committee will recommend a shortlist to an external panel of judges. They will make a final decision on how many winners to choose, and how to allocate the prize money.

The winners will be informed and then announced publicly at a celebration on the 18th of October 2021.


Do I have to be an African citizen to apply?

No. The project or initiative you are entering into the competition must be based in Africa.

Why are Rhodes scholars from before 2005 excluded?

The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship’s first Class was chosen in 2005. Limiting the number of Rhodes Scholars to those from 2005 onward contributes towards parity in the pool.

What if I haven’t started my business yet?

That’s ok! We accept entries from candidates at the ideation stage. Visit the “entry categories” section for more information.

Is the Aanit prize a once off cash injection or will the funds be released in phases?

The prize is a once-off award of up to $80 000.

Will I have to provide progress reports on the project?

Winners will be asked to identify monitoring and evaluation criteria for their projects and share them with the MRF bi-annually for a period of two years. The MRF can ask for an update on your project annually for up to five years.

Does the MRF/its partners have any claim to my business/project after I receive funds?

None, other than the reporting requirements outlined above.

“I am delighted to hear about the Äänit Prize because I know that there are many talented young people in the Mandela Rhodes and Rhodes Scholar Alumni communities with brilliant ideas, who can make those ideas come to fruition with the right funding and support.”

— Graça Machal


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