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Using One’s Voice to Question, Empower and Inspire

My name is Elma Akob, I am a Masters in Strategic Business Management student on the Mastercard Foundation Scholar Program at the University of Pretoria where I double as the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Council Representative.

As a young girl born in Cameroon, I always dreamt of being a formidable businesswoman who would empower her continent to unleash its true potential. I was privileged to be born into a family of excellence where education was a priority and getting straight A’s was non-negotiable. I believe this played a pivotal role in developing the person I am today; a driven individual who makes use of every single opportunity in her reach and strives for excellence in all spheres of her life.

My parents described me as someone who could sell snow in winter and sand in the desert, this is because right from a young age, I have always used my voice to question, empower and inspire. After moving to South Africa at the tender age of 8 with new surroundings and new challenges, I was motivated to leave my footprint everywhere my feet could reach. I became the first black Head Girl in my primary school and Deputy Head Girl in High school and was consequently invited back to both schools to present a motivational keynote address and commencement speech.

At the age of 16, I was selected to represent the African continent at the Global Young Leaders Conference which took place at the United Nations Headquarters, New York. At the Global Young Leaders Conference, 169 young leaders from over 50 countries were present to discuss pivotal issues concerning the world and vote on resolutions we sought out to address those challenges. A key highlight for me at the conference was when I was elected by the attendees and the UN representative to be the Chairperson of the Youth UN Summit. I, a young, black, 16-year-old girl from a tiny town in Africa sat on the same seat as Ban Ki-moon (the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations) and Kofi Annan (seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations) presented a speech titled “Young People, Dare to Dream” which received a standing ovation.

With my passion of Business and sustainability I enrolled into a Bachelor of Commerce with Law undergraduate degree program at the tender age of 17. I also received a Barclays Africa scholarship for leadership potential and academic excellence for this degree. At age 18, I sat as the youngest adjudicator on the judging panel for South African National Public Speaking and Debating Championships. Being the youngest in so many spaces has instilled a level of confidence and responsibility in me, because if I am to represent the youth, then I ought to do it to the best of my ability.

At 19, I was listed as one of Gradstar’s Top Employable Graduates, and at age 20, I received a Mastercard Foundation Scholarship for my Honours degree in Communication Management. I chose to study this degree to formalise my gift of communicating for impact  and ensure that my ability to communicate would be capable of instilling hope and igniting passion. I also became an internationally recognised Keynote and motivational speaker on the prestigious WeSpeak platform and recently won my first international best speaker award for my speech titled “The Dangers of Western Feminism” at the Global S.H.E (Safety, Health and Empowerment) Conference held in Toronto, Canada. Not only was I the youngest speaker out of 60 at the conference, but also one of the only 2 from the African Continent. I believe that being the “first” is commendable, but real impact made when you ensure you are not the “last” by empowering others to come after you.

Now, as a young 21-year-old, I am a moderator and conversation strategist who has moderated panel discussions; TEDx talks, UN interviews as well as virtual discussions all over the continent. I am a qualified Voice Over Artist and in recent memory I have worked with media giants like Disney, Netflix, BBC, among others.

I also recently launched my own company Elevate Africa which is founded on my passion for public speaking and the belief in “Passing on the Gift”. As a communicator, I have seen a dire need for the development of public speaking skills especially at a young age and on the African continent. As we breed the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs and teachers, we ought to ensure that they have the ability to communicate their visions effectively. Public speaking is an essential skill used by everybody and Elevate Africa believes that this skill ought to be cultivated.

What motivates me to constantly aspire for greatness is the obligation of representation. I believe that I ought to be the representation to other young Africans who can look at my story and see the similarities and realise that their current situation does not dictate their final destination. I strive to use my voice for influence, change and have an underpinned belief in the power of using stories to share knowledge, offer mentorship and motivation. My lifelong dream is to be the Chairperson of the African Union and I believe anything is possible if you Dream.