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Social entrepreneur uses innovation to push economic growth

Washington Fellowship
Social entrepreneur Irene Chikumbo is using technological innovation to accelerate economic growth and social development in Zimbabwe.

Social entrepreneur Irene Chikumbo is using technological innovation to accelerate economic growth and social development in Zimbabwe.

30_Irene Chikumbo The young tech enthusiast and women’s empowerment activist is among the 30 Zimbabweans selected for the Washington Fellowship, part of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. She says this “life-changing opportunity that only comes once in your life” will help her accumulate enough knowledge to “become an improved version” of herself.

“Using the tools of emerging and new technologies, I think Zimbabwe can spur its own growth,” says Irene, who is co-founder and Community Manager of Hypercube Technology Hub.

The hub, which launched in September 2013, is an innovation space that aims to stimulate and support tech-based youth entrepreneurship.

In the past months, Hypercube has organized and hosted new and innovative programs, such as Startup Weekend, Startup Bus Africa and the Technovation Challenge, all of which help young entrepreneurs conceptualize and launch tech-based business ideas.

“With the way the world is moving, there is a need for continuous improvement and innovation, especially through technology,” she says.

During her time as a Washington Fellow, Irene will spend six weeks at Northwestern University in Evanston, Chicago, where she hopes “to learn a tremendous amount from the Farley Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Innovation and New Ventures Office.”

She sees herself “getting a better understanding of the innovation process” as well as gaining “insight into how innovation, research, academic institutions and entrepreneurship come together to drive growth in a country.”

After completing her academic coursework, Irene will spend an additional eight weeks as an intern at the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) in Washington, D.C. USADF is a U.S. government agency that supports African-led development that grows community enterprises by providing seed capital and technical support. This empowers those who are least served by existing markets or assistance programs to become part of Africa’s growth story.

Irene looks forward to learning from both her Washington Fellow peers from across Africa and from the Americans she will meet in Chicago and D.C. “This will give me a better understanding and appreciation of the world, and Africa in particular, in relation to business and building partnerships,” she says.

On her return to Zimbabwe, she will continue her work with Hypercube Hub and wants to “help create an environment that fosters the adoption and adaption of technology into our daily lives.” She says her desire is to “help foster the growth of a technology ecosystem that brings together different pieces of the puzzle, an ecosystem where technology can be adopted; adapted and created locally to solve and address the challenges we face in Zimbabwe.”

Irene earned a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences from the University of Cape Town in South Africa. She continued her education in Sweden, where she studied innovation and sustainability at the Blekinge Institute of Technology.

She has a Master’s of Science in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability and a Masters in Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Business Development. Her work experience includes time at Ericsson, OK Zimbabwe and Empire Seedlings Nursery.

You can follow Irene on Twitter via the handle @irenegreeno