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Four  Äänit Prize winners are sharply focused on society’s most marginalised

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Four Äänit Prize winners are sharply focused on society’s most marginalised

Published 19 September 2022

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Atherton Mutombwera, Jessica Ronaasen, Koaile Monaheng and Shantel Marekera are winners of the 2022 Äänit Prize, The Mandela Rhodes Foundation’s award for social impact. The young leaders are from three African countries – South Africa, Lesotho and Zimbabwe - and will each receive $19 500, or R343 400, towards their ventures.

Elliot Gerson, Executive Vice President of the Aspen Institute and Chairperson of the panel of expert judges, provided a citation on behalf of the judges. According to the judges’ citation, “in this group of extraordinary finalists, we were impressed by a sharp focus on reaching marginalised and vulnerable populations, namely children in their early years, rural populations being left behind without energy access, and people without ready access to high quality and life-saving medical care,”he said.

“Although the ventures are very different in their theories of change, stage of development and capitalisation, they share approaches that are deeply imaginative and animated by a tenacious and resourceful spirit. Across different geographies and contexts, we were deeply moved by a shared passion to advance the interests of those most in need,” Gerson added.

The Mandela Rhodes Foundation’s communications and alumni manager, Abigail McDougall says, “Atherton, Jessica, Koaile and Shantel demonstrate leadership by working actively to resist inequitable development on the African continent and by shifting the narrative of inclusion through their ventures. The MRF celebrates your leadership, the tangible impact you are making, and your tenacity. You embody a good kind of stubbornness, a defiance in the face of unfairness that is truly in the spirit of our founding patron Nelson Mandela.”

She also thanked David Cohen, whose Ezrah Charitable Trust funds the Prize.

The awards were co-hosted in Cape Town by Ayanda Radebe, communications officer at the MRF and Sina Moyane, Trek4Mandela project manager at the Imbumba Foundation, and streamed to a live audience in several countries. The hosts made a surprise announcement that unsuccessful finalists would each receive $,1000 to offset the considerable effort it takes to enter the competition and acknowledge the quality of the candidates. In 2022 this will go to unsuccessful finalist Erich Midigo, the founder of Ndalo Heritage Trust, which works to improve health and nutrition outcomes for rural women and children in Kenya. Ndalo also won the $1k audience choice award.

Atherton Mutombwera, 32, is the founder and CEO of Hutano Diagnostics. Hutano aims to save lives by developing better, faster testing technology for diagnosing dangerous diseases in resource-poor contexts. “I first read about the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship when I was a first-year student at the then NMMU computer labs. Every year after that I would look out for the advert and get inspired. As an alumnus, I am more inspired and grateful for the Foundation’s support. The funds will be used to increase our team with a principal scientist to support our rockstar chief scientific officer, allowing us to reach our milestones. The Aanit Prize helps us bring our tests closer to the community,” he said. Atherton is a 2014 Mandela Rhodes Scholar from Zimbabwe.

Dr Jessica Ronaasen, 32, is the National Programmes Lead at the Do More Foundation, which brings the public and private sectors together to improve early childhood development outcomes. “I am honoured to be a winner of this prestigious award. The financial contribution will support The Do More Foundation’s National Programmes, which includes our newly created parent education programme called EAT LOVE PLAY TALK. Empowerment of parents and young children in under-resourced communities is an investment with exponential social benefits. As a Mandela Rhodes Scholar and now Äänit Prize winner, I wave my flag high while standing for young children and excellent leadership in Africa.” Jessica is a 2013 Mandela Rhodes Scholar from South Africa.

Koaile Monaheng, 28, is a Director of Khantša Energy, which aims to “light up Lesotho” by bringing renewable energy to remote, impoverished areas. “Through this journey, I have witnessed the spirit of collective responsibility that not only resonates with the meaning of “common work” or “joint effort,” but also with the aspirational values that Madiba wanted us to embody as Mandela Rhodes Scholars: leadership, reconciliation, education and entrepreneurship. The prize will allow us to begin to deliver our vision to “light up the future.” We plan to extend basic services through renewable energy to between 2000 and 3000 people. We will also be able to build our momentum to attract investments and strategic partnerships that are aligned with our values. This recognition speaks truth to power in confronting the inequality of energy poverty that continues to plague Basotho and Africans on the margins of society.” Koaile is a 2020 Mandela Rhodes Scholar from Lesotho.

Shantel Marekera, 25, is the founder of Little Dreamers Foundation, which runs an affordable preschool in the under-serviced neighbourhoods of Budidiro Cabs, Zimbabwe. “It all feels so surreal,” Shantel said. “I am filled with gratitude to my Rhodes community, my team at Little Dreamers Foundation, the Budiriro Cabs and Glenview community and all the organisations that have partnered with Little Dreamers. I didn’t do this alone.” She added that Little Dreamers would use the funds to purchase land to build a junior school, which will give our students will afford Little Dreamers students access to affordable and high-standard educational resources from preschool all the way to primary school,” she said. Shantel is a 2019 Rhodes Scholar from Zimbabwe.

More information about the winners and their projects is available here. For further information, interview or image requests contact Abigail McDougall (MRF Communications Manager) on [email protected].

More about the Prize

The Äänit Prize is a complementary offering to the Foundation's flagship programme, the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, and is available to alumni of the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship and Rhodes Scholarship. The prize supports both for-profit and non-profit initiatives, increasing the impact of leaders in both alumni communities by supporting their efforts to reduce inequality and deliver positive social impact in Africa. The Prize is funded by Ezrah Charitable Trust.

More about The Mandela Rhodes Foundation

The Mandela Rhodes Foundation offers young leaders from across the African continent a chance to become part of Nelson Mandela’s legacy of transformative impact. We offer a life-changing opportunity for personal growth via a prestigious postgraduate scholarship and Leadership Development Programme for those who want to use their talents to serve Africa. Since our inception in 2003, we have selected 585 Mandela Rhodes Scholars from 32 African countries. The Mandela Rhodes Foundation was founded in 2003 by Mr Mandela in partnership with the Rhodes Trust, the home of the Rhodes Scholarship based at the University of Oxford.

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