IN SPOTLIGHT: Social entrepreneur Nneile Nkholise.
Distinguished by its art galleries, Thaba Nchu, at the heart of the central Free State province of South Africa, is not a place you would imagine meeting one of the continent’s next generation of top female technology innovators and entrepreneurs.

However, it is from those humble surroundings that social entrepreneur and mechanical engineer Nneile Nkholise (27) hails.

Her humility masks an individual who is among the most motivated and passionate entrepreneurs of her generation.

Nkholise was among the finalists in the South African Breweries Foundation Social Innovation awards 2015. She was nominated in the development category and people’s choice award.

She was then recognised as Africa’s top female innovator at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa held in Rwanda last year. This was in honour of her master’s degree research and work in additive manufacturing in the medical field, focusing on the manufacturing of breast prostheses.

Nkholise was selected as one of 100 entrepreneurs from outside the US to represent their countries at the Global Entrepreneurship summit last year.

Discovery, the financial services group, has recognised her as one of the top med-tech entrepreneurs in South Africa. She is also one of the 40 top innovators this year, recognised by the Pan continental Ventures Africa. And, she received the Presidential Award in Science, Innovation and Technology at the South African Youth Awards.

Ahead of the WEF Africa, Nkholise was upbeat, buoyed by the impact the previous edition held in East Africa had on her and her business, Likoebe Innovation Consultants – an enterprise that creates innovative products in the medical and educational sector.

She is also the founder of iMedTech Group, a company that uses additive manufacturing to design breast and facial prostheses for cancer patients and burn victims.

The holder of a bachelor of technology in mechanical engineering degree from the Central University of Technology, Nkholise is pursuing her Masters with a focus on applications of additive manufacturing in medicine.

At WEF Africa, she is speaking on factors hindering successful economic transformation of Africa. Nkholise expands on the theme of the conference, “Driving Economic Transformation in Africa through Inclusive Growth Models”.

“This year’s topic reminds me of a statement that the President of Rwanda (Paul Kagame) made during the previous year’s event in Kigali,” she said. “He said the biggest development to happen in the world will be in Africa.

“Our development story is unique because ours is human-centric. We need to develop our people first and give them opportunities to participate in broad development of our continent, particularly in agriculture, because we need to create food sustainability for our people so that they don’t become a society that is too dependent on handouts,” said Nkholise.

She believes inclusive growth models that benefit the continent’s growth are those promoting women, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. They must be empowered to play an active role in transformation.

“When women are empowered and given opportunities and support to enter, learn, grow and flourish within the growing African economies, generations to come will be transformed,” she said.

Nkholise highlighted the importance of involving youth in policy decision-making, particularly policies relating to economic transformation she believes is much needed in Africa.

“This generation of young people are the people that can fulfil the mission of ensuring that the sustainable development goals are achieved,” she said.

Meanwhile, building on the success of last year’s inaugural search that catapulted Nkholise into the spotlight, WEF had intensified the process to select the top female tech innovators in Africa ahead of the Durban forum.

They were invited to share their experience and engage with leaders at the organisation’s regional meeting. The submission deadline elapsed on April 17. A panel of experts selected the top five next-generation entrepreneurs to take part in the meeting.

Elsie Kanza, head of Africa at the WEF, said the continent’s best prospects for inclusive growth lay in its ability to tap into its vast pool of entrepreneurial talent.

“We want Africa’s top female tech entrepreneurs to join us so we can celebrate them as role models and so they can help governments and policymakers create conditions for others to flourish,” she said.

WEF Africa will provide insights on how Africa will be affected by the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, particularly in terms of safeguarding the region’s economies from negative disruption and exploiting opportunities for further growth and development. – CAJ News