With the support of the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, Cerberus, and ServiceNow, NationSwell is uplifting a second cohort of young leaders through skills-building workshops, mentorship, and access to an expanded network and resources. Over the course of 10 months, the NationSwell Fellows team works with these impressive leaders to co-design programming, develop and refine individual incubator projects, and make curated connections. 

This group of young social impact innovators is highly accomplished and working through intersectional strategies. As social impact innovators, they work on a variety of social issues including mental health access and awareness, climate justice, LGBTQIA+ rights, youth unhousedness, data for good, and Indigenous rights. In this series, NationSwell will be highlighting each outstanding fellow, showcasing their passions and endeavors, and giving you insight on how to support them.

To kickoff this series, we talk with Ericka Kamanou-Tenta, graduate of NYU who was nominated for a 2021-2022 NYU Global Engagement Symposium for her work in Ghana in which she co-founded a venture aimed at developing changemakers in impoverished communities through an entrepreneurship program. Her work is focused on advocating for a Pan-African movement and decolonization, to fight against the harms of racism and neocolonialism.

NationSwell: Tell us about your journey to social impact and social entrepreneurial work. What was the moment you knew you wanted to devote your professional life to what you’re doing now? 

Ericka Kamanou-Tenta: Coming from Cameroon, I’ve always been passionate about African Development. I pursued a minor in Social entrepreneurship at NYU where I learned about the importance of solving social challenges through sustainable and economically viable business ventures. Since then, I committed myself to helping tackle the poverty issues in my home country and other African countries through Social Entrepreneurship. I spent a semester in Accra, Ghana where a classmate and I built an entrepreneurship program and taught a group of young adults from one of poorest communities, Chorkor. We worked to not just teach them the skills to be entrepreneurs, but helped develop the mindset to see themselves as change-makers. Running this program showed me the potential of social entrepreneurship in decolonizing minds and business models, and the role this can play in advancing and uplifting local communities across Africa, specifically for the people in those communities. 

NationSwell: What are some of the ways this fellowship has been able to support your work? What have you gotten out of it, and has anything surprised you along the way? 

Ericka Kamanou-Tenta: First of all, the virtual setting has allowed me to connect with a diverse group of fellows from all corners of the United States. It’s enriching and exciting to get to be in a space with other young people working on different social issues. I’ve also learned so much from the workshops, specifically the one on succeeding as a young leader in social impact and the one on building narrative, storytelling, and pitching yourself and your theory of change. I’ve gained practical insights that I continue to apply like identifying my audience and the beneficiary group. 

I think the most valuable part of the program has been the connections facilitated by the NationSwell team. I’ve connected with Adam Schrager from The American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, and further refined my theory of change and how to effectively talk about it. I connected with Morgan Dixon from GirlTrek, who I’ve looked up to as someone who has successfully built a movement. I am so excited to get the chance to talk with her and I’m eager to discover the doors it will open. I’m also thrilled about my mentor, Baffour Osei, who immediately understood the intentions and purpose behind my project. He and I also share the same passion of helping young adults in Ghana believe that they can do difficult things.  

NationSwell: What’s the focus of your work right now? And what’s next for you? 

Ericka Kamanou-Tenta: Right now, for the incubator project phase of this fellowship, I am focused on refining my theory of change and the audience I want to speak to. My goal is to develop a campaign that will influence key stakeholders to address neocolonial economic and educational structures impacting underserved African communities – the overarching goal is to raise awareness and initiate meaningful conversations. I’m working through what the messaging is and who the specific stakeholders are, but I know I want to use a captivating video as my medium. My long-term goal is that this inspires a Pan-African movement that benefits local African communities who need it most.  

As a recent graduate, I am also currently looking for career opportunities in Social Entrepreneurship. My ultimate goal is to work in impact investing  and I know I need to build up my experience so I am applying for work in program management with nonprofit organizations and social impact initiatives. I’m currently interning with  2Scale, an incubator program within the Non-profit IFDC, for inclusive and sustainable agribusiness in Africa.. I’m working on action-research for the program, focusing on partnership theories of change and scaling activities. I’m also helping design and implement the Monitoring & Evaluation framework across West and East African countries.  

NationSwell: How can NationSwell’s ecosystem of social impact leaders and partners help you with your short term and/or long term goals? 

Ericka Kamanou-Tenta: NationSwell’s ecosystem of social impact leaders and partners can help me with my short term and long term goals by connecting me with purpose-oriented professionals with work opportunities in my field of interest. They can also help further my work through engagement, in order to help advance initiatives related to an entrepreneurial focused Pan-African movement.  I’m also happy to be a resource to the ecosystem by helping current and future fellows narrate their personal stories in social impact, and understand their why.  

To learn more about the NationSwell Fellows program, visit our fellowship hub.