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Neema Mgana, Social Entrepreneur

Educating & Healing Africa, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Neema Mgana

Nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, Neema Mgana is a true humanitarian. She grew up in Tanzania and has since dedicated her life to helping the people of Africa. She has Founded or Co-Founded five different non-profit groups aimed at providing health and education in different regions of Africa. More recently she started the African Women of Distinction project, a peace and justice project that highlights the leadership role of women in Africa. The project also works with over 180 men and women in Africa to build and nurture their leadership skills. Neema’s inspiration came from reading about people such as Gandhi, Grace Machel and Martin Luther King Jr. They dedicated their lives to others and so has she. To read more about the work Neema has done in Africa read on in this week’s Non-Profit spotlight.


Everyone’s Child
African Regional Youth Initiative (ARYI)
Forum for Global Action
The African Women of Distinction Project
Projects to improve health delivery in Africa
Global Council for Community Foundations






Neema Mgana
Social Entrepreneur


Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Current residence

New York, New York


Loma Linda University of Health Science Loma Linda, CA
Masters in International Health and Certificate in Humanitarian Assistance

Iowa State University of Science and Technology Ames, IA
Post Baccalaureate in Pre-Medicine

University of Victoria British Columbia, Canada
Bachelor of Science in Medical Informatics

John Abbot College Quebec, Canada
Diploma in Health Sciences and Certificate in International Peace Studies

Work Experience

Program Officer for a US-based organization

Program Coordinator for an internationally-based organization

Mutare Health Department in Zimbabwe

Institute for Finance Management in Tanzania

United Nations in New York

Muhimbili National Hospital in Tanzania

Santa Ana Healthcare Agency in California

Family Care International in New York



About the non-profit

Formed in December 2003, the African Regional Youth Initiative (ARYI) works with over 500 youth and community-based organizations across Africa addressing development issues outlined in the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. Namely, we address poverty and hunger, HIV/AIDS and malaria, primary education, gender equity, child mortality, maternal health, and environmental sustainability. The work of ARYI is based on action plans developed by over twenty ARYI country and regional teams.

The organization not only empowers individuals and communities, but also nurtures the exchange of knowledge and capacity between entities through programmatic partnerships with regional organizations and networks. Direct community engagement and support mechanisms ensuring both sustainability and quality programming set ARYI’s work apart.

ARYI was awarded the 2005 MTV Staying Alive Award for its innovative and community-approach to HIV/AIDS programming. Its founder, Ms. Neema Mgana of Tanzania, was also one of 1000 women jointly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

In an effort to expand its programs and philosophy globally, as well as address the last Millennium Development Goal of developing global partnerships for development, the ARYI team and supporters formed The Forum for Global Action (FGA). The FGA aims to foster innovative thinking on social, economic and political issues by bringing voices of marginalized people into global debates about public policy, and promoting alternative ways of consulting global civil society groups and movements. Overall, the Forum strives to improve the relationship between global civil society organizations and global institutions to discuss policy challenges and brainstorm new ways of thinking and acting on global issues. For more information about the FGA, visit www.forumforglobalaction.org.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

Mostly planning future programs and activities, fundraising and a lot of public speaking!

Most notable milestones

Meeting members of ARYI and hearing about the remarkable work they are doing in their countries. I am honored to work with many talented and dedicated people.

What’s the niche?

I believe that we all have more similar things in common then dissimilar. We all have basic needs, hopes and aspirations, and these are the things we need to focus on rather than the things that make us different.

What’s in store for the future?

Increased use of information and communication technology in the non-profit, plus more involvement in philanthropy.

Please go into more detail about your involvement in the non-profit community

In 2000, I co-founded a community-based organization originally called “Everyone’s Child” that works with communities in her native Tanzania to provide education, health and other services to children affected and/or infected by HIV/AIDS. Over 200 children receive these services on a daily basis in a community center that the organization built in 2003. The organization also works with community members to initiate and manage income-generating projects (i.e. animal-rearing, fishing, and agriculture). Former President Mkapa hailed the community model as “innovative and a leading example in the country”.

I then founded the African Regional Youth Initiative (ARYI) while a first-year graduate student in 2003. ARYI presently works directly with over 500 community and youth organizations to jointly develop, implement, and evaluate community, national and regional strategies focusing on development issues in Africa. To date, ARYI has established more than twenty national and regional programs as well as hosted forums in all regions of the continent.

In an effort to foster innovative thinking on international development, I co-founded the Forum for Global Action in 2006. A leading program within the Forum is on women’s leadership that is being implemented in Africa, Asia, and South America.

I recently started a project with a friend, Amanda Koster, called the African Women of Distinction project, a peace and justice project created in 2006 that highlights the leadership role of women in Africa. This project also works with over 180 young men and women in Africa to build and nurture their leadership skills through leadership trainings, mentorship and information and communication technology. The project has partnered with national and international organizations and plans are to develop a series of video documentaries, podcasts and a book in 2007. This project will be replicated in other geographic parts of the world.

Recently, I’m also coordinating projects to improve health delivery in Africa, including projects developing health and education facilities in rural Africa. The first of these projects is the building and operation of a medical center serving a population of 100,000 and a training facility to train health professionals in northern Tanzania. Both facilities are scheduled to open in 2007.

This year, I started the Global Council for Community Foundations that brokers and manages partnerships between development agencies and the private sector to fund community-based projects in Africa.

Best way to keep a competitive edge

Always find a way to learn something new.

Guiding principle in life

Treat everyone the same, regardless of their age, gender, religious affiliation, etc.

Yardstick of success


Goal yet to be achieved

I have many goals, both professionally and personally. Some have been achieved and others, not yet. The goals that I am striving to achieve have common points, including always being dedicated, passionate, and compassion about the work I do, and above all, to be of service to others.

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

My mother told me to never be afraid to share ideas with others. These words have helped me a lot.


Interestingly, someone asked me a similar question a few days ago. My mentors are my parents. What I recall almost each day is that if I was born one or two generations before, my life would be very different. My grandmother (on my father’s side) living in rural Tanzania had eight children and only three of them lived to their fifth birthday. Despite much tragedy and struggle, my grandmother was a pillar of strength and a true embodiment of power and resiliency. Although there was not much money for school, my father completed secondary school and went to Kenya for university, where he was trained in physics by a student of Einstein, and managed to later earn a Ph.D. in Aeronautical Engineering from Stanford University.

What motivated you to get started?

I was motivated by two things. One was reading about the lives of people like Gandhi, Mary Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, Graca Machel, and Martin Luther King Jr. The other was by meeting inspiring people from all over the world who showed me that through conviction, determination and belief in humanity, change is possible.

Like best about what you do

Meeting people.

Like least about what you do

There is not much that I don’t like about what I do. I don’t think that I would do any of this work if I didn’t enjoy it. However, sometimes the amount of work makes it difficult to find time for family and friends. Finding that balance between work and personal time is a learning process.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Like many children, I wanted to be a doctor.

What was your first job?

As a babysitter for local children in the neighborhood.

Biggest pastime outside of work

Being with friends and jogging.

Person most interested in meeting?

I’m interested to meet people of different backgrounds and skills. Of course, given the opportunity, I would like to meet Oprah Winfrey or Kofi Annan and hear about their experiences living in the public eye.

Leader in business most interested in meeting?

Bill Gates

Three interesting facts about yourself

  1. I love trains. I’ve taken trains across the US and Canada.
  2. I hope to run a marathon in 2007.
  3. I love to sing, but not in public!

Three characteristics that describe you

  1. Passionate
  2. A listener
  3. Calm

Three greatest passions

  1. Social justice
  2. Peace
  3. Children’s health

Favorite book

“The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas,” by Mahatma Gandhi

Favorite cause

The cause that I am most passionate about is children’s health. If a donor was to give me 10 billion USD for any development project, I would try to create a social health insurance scheme to cover health costs for children in developing countries. These costs often require out-of-pocket payments for a majority of people who are not employed in the formal sector, causing families to spend nearly half of their income on medical care. Health is a right. Children should not lose out on that basic right.

Who would you like to be contacted by?

I’m open to hearing from anyone!


Interview by Tunde Oyediji
Introduction by Sabine Alam
Edited by Valerie Enriquez

Article published on Nov 23rd, 2007 | Comment | Trackback | Categories »

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