Ellen Chilemba ’17 “Africa’s 30 Under 30.”

Ellen Chilemba

By Emily Weir and Keely Savoie

Mount Holyoke College student Ellen Chilemba ’17 was honored as one of Forbes’ “Africa’s 30 under 30,” a list highlighting Africa’s most promising social entrepreneurs.

Chilemba was recognized as the founder of Tiwale, a community-based organization that gives microloans to women in Malawi, where girls are often forced to leave school and marry at age 12 or 13.

Chilemba was motivated to start Tiwale by the plight of one Malawian woman who was married with three children, unemployed, and living in extreme poverty—at the age of 17. Chilemba suggested she start a small business, but she replied that banks wouldn't give her a loan, and local village moneylenders charged exorbitant interest.

Out of that exchange, Chilemba envisioned Tiwale, which gives women the means to lift themselves from poverty. Tiwale, which means “let’s glow” in Chichewa, aims "to be the light to guide women toward realizing their purpose and goals," Chilemba explained. "Our main idea is to empower women."

The idea is working.

So far, the group has helped 40 women start small businesses and taught entrepreneurship skills to 150 people. Tiwale's newest project shows women how to design and dye-print material that is sold to Malawi's fabric-export traders and shipped worldwide from Chilemba's MHC dorm room.

“Chilemba is easing the difficult circumstances that women in Malawi face with Tiwale,” according to Forbes.

Although she has two more years at Mount Holyoke, Chilemba is already thinking ahead to a future in which Tiwale has grown independent of her. Again, she's thinking big, with ideas for improving the Malawian education system, and for drawing tourist dollars to her country.

"Growing up in Malawi, I was struck by the beauty of my own country, but we don't have all the facilities required for people to access it," she explained. "So I want to invest myself in the tourism industry and also work with education leaders."

"I am excited by social entrepreneurship and have many more ideas to pursue."

Read the Forbes article about Chilemba and Tiwale here.