Nigeria’s Simi Nwogugu, CEO of Junior Achievement (JA) Africa ,has been named the winner of this year’s Africa Education Medal, Africa’s most prestigious education accolade which was founded last year by T4 Education and HP in collaboration with Microsoft.
The Africa Education Medal was founded to recognize the tireless work of those changemakers who are transforming African education.
UNESCO data show that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion in the world. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 are out of school, with girls particularly disadvantaged. However, tireless international efforts have seen Africa make great strides in boosting enrolment in the decades leading up to the pandemic. By celebrating the stories of those working every day to expand upon these vital gains, the Africa Education Medal aims to inspire others to follow in their footsteps and bring lasting change in African education.
Simi Nwogugu is CEO of JA Africa, part of the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated JA Worldwide, one of the world’s largest youth-serving NGOs that prepares young people for the future of work. She was first introduced to JA while working at Goldman Sachs in New York City.
Impressed by the organization, she quit her lucrative job at age 24 to bring JA to Nigeria, where it now reaches more than 100,000 young people annually, before going on to head up JA’s operations across the continent.
The vital importance of Nwogugu’s work is highlighted by the fact that 60% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa and about 37% of its workforce are under the age of 25.
By 2025, Africa will be home to 25% of the world’s youth population. Through the delivery of hands-on, blended learning in financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship, her organization empowers young people to grow their entrepreneurial ideas, hone their work readiness skills, manage their earnings and secure better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities.
For 25 years, Nwogugu has been leading JA’s efforts in various capacities as it embarked on a mission to help young people to generate and effectively manage wealth, create jobs for their communities, as well as apply entrepreneurial thinking to the workplace and skills that will secure their financial future. Her passion for strategy and innovation led to the development of many impactful programs that ensure young Africans have the skillset and mindset to succeed.
She is a passionate advocate for girls’ education and one of her unique initiatives includes the Leadership, Empowerment Achievement & Development (LEAD) Camp for Girls, which has inspired and empowered over 1,200 young girls to become high-achieving women leaders in society.
Another initiative she has championed is the Venture in Management Program (ViMP), which is designed to empower young people in the different facets of managing a business, making crucial business decisions and developing skills for General Management and social responsibility.
Graduates of the program have gone on to become founders of Nigeria’s leading businesses as well as leaders of the most impactful non-profit organizations on the continent. She also built digital and out-of-school youth programs that enabled her organization to reach underserved populations in the North of Nigeria, even during the Boko Haram crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to becoming JA Africa CEO in 2020, she led JA Nigeria to impact the lives of over 1 million Nigerians in 5,000 schools. Among the many JA alumni who have gone on to become job creators and social entrepreneurs is Iyin Aboyeji, the founder of two unicorns, Andela and Flutterwave, who said, “JA gave me my first taste of entrepreneurship when I participated in the Company Program in secondary school. I’m grateful to Simi for bringing this program to Nigeria.”
Nwogugu also serves as President of the governing board of the Harvard Business School Alumni Association of Nigeria (HBSAN) and has been recognized by the school with numerous awards including the Bert King Award for Social Impact presented by the Harvard Business School African-American Alumni Association.
She is currently a fellow of the Aspen Institute’s Africa Leadership Initiative for West Africa (ALIWA) where she is pursuing her passion to empower and equip 10 million African girls to build thriving communities by 2050.
Mayank Dhingra, Senior Education Business Leader, Southern Europe, Middle East and Africa, at HP said:“Congratulations to Simi Nwogugu on the fantastic achievement of winning the Africa Education Medal 2023. Her work at JA Africa is truly empowering the continent’s next generation to face the future with confidence.
“She is an inspiration to all of us at HP, where we have a bold goal to accelerate digital equity for 150 million people globally by 2030. Only by joining forces and aligning with NGOs, government, educators and businesses can we truly improve the education environment. The Africa Education Medal brings together all those who are changing the face of African education, whose vital work deserves to be celebrated.”
Simi Nwogugu said:“I am so honoured to receive this accolade, but it is not just about me. This award is for all the fantastic staff at JA Africa, and for all the inspirational young people they have worked with, helping to pave the way to a brighter future for our continent’s young. I want to thank T4 Education, HP and Microsoft for giving these people hope that together we can make a difference.”
Asheesh Advani, CEO of JA Worldwide, said:“Simi Nwogugu is a role model for changemakers. From leading JA Nigeria to leading JA Africa and serving on the senior leadership team of JA Worldwide, she has been a passionate advocate for Africa’s youth throughout her life and career. On behalf of the JA network, I congratulate Simi on winning the Africa Education Medal 2023.”
Nominations for the Africa Education Medal opened in February 2023 for individuals working to improve pre-kindergarten, K-12, vocational and university education who are either educators, school administrators, civil society leaders, public servants, government officials, political leaders, technologists, or innovators.