Brightest Young Minds (BYM) is a 17-year old non-profit organisation, whose mission is to create a positive social impact by identifying, connecting and mobilising 100 high-impact leaders and go-getters between the ages of 20 and 35 from across the African continent.
This year the organisation received a total of 1 700 applicants. These 100 innovative and impactful young people are brought together to attend a week-long leadership summit in Johannesburg, which is hosted by the BYM Group and is sponsored by ABSA/Barclays Africa Group.
The summit, which took place from 24 to 29 September, was aptly themed: “VUCA: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity”. It featured leadership sessions and workshops delivered by guest speakers and key facilitators drawn from the political, academic, business and corporate sectors.
The hallmark event of the summit had delegates in groups of 10 brainstorming innovative, practical and sustainable solutions to some of the continent’s social, economic and human developmental challenges. The summit ended with a gala dinner that marked the formal induction of the delegates into the BYM alumni network.
The following students and alumni were selected this year, having demonstrated their commitment to positive social change through their actions:
Catherine Shaw graduated in 2016 as the top speech therapy student in all four years of study. Aside from being on committees for SHAWCO Health and UCT Archery, she partnered with the NGO Hands with Words to develop a South African Sign Language (SASL) manual. Currently in her community service year in Durban, she is working to establish a speech therapy department in the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital. In 2018 she aims to develop her speech therapy skills in the education sphere and to develop early literacy sign language resources.
Chikezie Uzuegbunam, a second-year PhD student in the Centre for Film and Media Studies, is passionate about youth demography in Africa. His research interests span young people’s engagement with digital technologies, popular culture and political communication. His PhD at UCT is focusing on access, use, engagement and outcomes of teenagers’ experiences with digital technologies in rural and urban spaces in Nigeria. He also runs a youth mentoring program in Nigeria that caters for the academic and financial needs of some Nigerian students. With over 15 journal articles and book chapters to his credit, his research outputs have been published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis, Intellect and Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Julia Norrish is passionate about increasing access to books for young children in Africa. She is currently the programme director for Book Dash, a non-profit publisher of open-licensed, local storybooks. She completed her honours in English studies, with a dissertation that flowed over into the educational field of early childhood literacy. While at UCT, she was president of SHAWCO Education, won the UCT Golden Key Best New Member Chapter Award, received the Ackerman Family Foundation Award for student leadership, was voted a LeadSA Hero and was chosen as one of Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans.
Chukwudi Nnaji is a Nigerian medical doctor who is completing his master’s in public health at the UCT School of Public Health and Family Medicine. As a passionate public health advocate, he has championed health missions to disadvantaged communities in both urban and rural Nigeria. He volunteers for SHAWCO Health as technical advisor on the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) portfolio, contributing to the re-development of the M&E framework for better health service delivery. He is also a research associate with UCT’s Lung Infection and Immunity Unit and part of a Western Cape provincial policy draft group developing a protocol on infection prevention and control of drug-resistant tuberculosis.
Lungelo Mnguni completed a BCom in management studies at UCT followed by a BCom(Hons) in economics at Wits. She recently joined McKinsey & Company as a junior research analyst where she is learning an incredible amount about various industries. In the spirit of learning, Brightest Young Minds was an incredible opportunity for her to engage with Africans of various backgrounds, an experience she recommends to any young African with a desire to learn and be challenged.
Zenzo Chakara is a Mandela Rhodes scholar who is reading for his master’s in audiology. An aspiring academic, he wishes “to promote the rapid generation of contextually relevant data and research in the health and rehabilitation sciences on the African continent”. Zenzo serves as the mentorship coordinator for the MH Foundation, a scholarship program aimed at empowering high school learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. He also serves as a graduate advisor for UCT’s Golden Key Honour Society.
Patrick Machekera is a final-year accounting student. His compelling sense of purpose comes from a desire to see a more empowered Africa. He is a co-founder of SBS Research – a qualitative data and consulting firm that provides insight into the informal market in Africa. SBS has since rebranded to iSpani, which combines research and technology to enable research, marketing and sales through a stepped, decentralised system. The startup was recently named South Africa’s next tech hero in the 1GIANTleap incubator. Patrick will be representing South Africa at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, in November.
Grace Mhlahleli-Moyo completed her LLM in dispute resolution in 2016 and is beginning her PhD in the Department of Public Law. Her research interest is on sexual violence on university campuses and she hopes to use her research to impact policy change in South Africa. Grace is also a director for the National Model United Nations New York conference – the largest university-level simulation of the UN in the world. With this organisation, Grace has published numerous research papers ranging in topic from sexual violence in conflict to children’s rights in a digital age, child marriage, and international drug policy.
Rowan Spazzoli was born in Harare, Zimbabwe. His work includes social entrepreneurship, development economics, strategy, community safety, management studies and finance. At the core of this lies his interest in developing solutions that positively impact society. He is currently completing his master’s in economic development while lecturing in applied management and strategy. He is a co-founder of AllSafe, a research startup that aims to improve community policing outcomes and reduce crime in South Africa. The AllSafe team recently placed in the top six at the Oxford Global Challenge.
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