• Heinrich Hafeni Nghidipaya was born 33 years ago in Swakopmund, just north of the city of Walvis Bay, Namibia. The first born of five children, he was raised by his single mother, a domestic worker, and his grandmother. As Heinrich grew up he became increasingly impressed and inspired by his mother. Although she had little formal education, she managed to create a side business at home through which her children sold sweets and sausages. The additional income was enough to keep all of the kids in school and give them a decent meal each day.

    Seeing how his mother sacrificed for her family Heinrich vowed that when he grew up he would earn enough so that his mother would not have to work anymore. While still in high school, Mr. Hafeni, as he is known socially, secured work as a dishwasher and waiter at a local hotel and began to give money to his mother. Dividing his time between his studies and his work, Mr. Hafeni’s grades were not high enough to gain acceptance to a university.

    He continued to work at the hotel until at the age of 23 he was hired by an international travel company as a tour leader. The job was much more exciting than his previous one and enabled Mr. Hafeni to travel throughout 14 countries in Southern and Eastern Africa. Mr. Hafeni interacted with people from all over the world through his work and came to realize that he wanted to pursue the dream of starting his own business.

    At the age of 28, he quit his job and founded Hafeni Tours and Travel, a company that specializes in cultural tours of Namibia. Mr. Hafeni helps groups of visitors experience the richness of Namibia’s culture. They interact with children at local schools and with men and women in clubs, restaurants, and markets in townships and Mr. Hafeni’s home town. There are also opportunities to visit sites of local people’s development projects, like Naftalina Mauha’s Tears of Hope orphanage.

    Through his business and travels in the townships, Mr. Hafeni came to recognize that many of Namibia’s youths were not the ones initiating development efforts to assist their communities. Many instead seemed focused on their own advancement and free time. Mr. Hafeni wanted to change this kind of thinking and together with three like-minded others he co-founded Swakopmund Youth with a Vision. The group seeks to encourage youths to be more actively engaged in their communities and to take on leadership positions. Mr. Hafeni also personally took on additional leadership roles and now represents his town in its Chamber of Commerce and sits on other community decision-making boards.

    In 2014, Mr. Hafeni and his friend Piet Carstens, one of the co-founders of Swakopmund Youth with a Vision, learned of a new opportunity through President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative or YALI. A brand new program was offering 500 Mandela Washington Fellowships for training and study in the USA for six weeks. Mr. Hafeni and Mr. Carstens were two of over 50,000 applicants for the 500 slots. Mr. Carstens was selected, Mr. Hafeni was not.

    Although Mr. Hafeni was disappointed that he was not selected, he recognized that he should not give up, but apply again. In 2015 Mr. Hafeni was one of only nine young leaders selected to represent Namibia as a 2015 Mandela Washington FellowHe and 24 other young leaders from 17 African countries were hosted by Clark Atlanta University in the US state of Georgia, where they completed an Entrepreneurship and Business program.

    Mr. Hafeni’s experience with the Mandela Washington Fellows program was transformative. He realized that he was not alone in his vision of peace, poverty eradication, job creation, and good governance. Mr. Hafeni also learned about how he could build his own company and structure it so that, like Coca Cola, UPS, or IBM, it would stand the test of time. Mr. Hafeni came to understand the importance servant leadership, gender equity, and having a philosophy and a mission that his workforce understands and buys into. He was moved by his opportunity at the end of his six-weeks of training to hear President Obama speak in Washington about how he believed in Africa’s young leaders. The Presidential Summit also helped Mr. Hafeni to see himself not only as a Namibian, but as an African with friends and connections to hundreds of like-minded others across the continent. On October 1, 2015, Mr. Hafeni was inducted into the Namibian Business Hall of Fame.

    Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why has Mr. Heinrich Hafeni Nghidipaya been so successful in his undertakings?

    Some key characteristics come to mind:

    Mr. Hafeni used ROLE MODELS to positively impact his actions. Early in life he saw what his mother was able to achieve with an entrepreneurial spirit, and later on Piet Carstens and other young leaders also showed him the value of making the most of every opportunity.

    Mr. Hafeni DID NOT ALLOW HIMSELF TO VIEW TEMPORARY SETBACKS AS FAILURES. When he did not get admitted to a university, he realized that there were other paths forward. When rejected initially by the Mandela Washington Fellows program, he determined to apply again, even though the odds of acceptance were about 100 to 1.

    Today Mr. Hafeni is not only a social entrepreneur, but also a motivational speaker. He seeks to inspire the continent’s youths and works to showcase to visitors the wealth of talent and entrepreneurial spirit in Namibia and across Africa.


    Heidi G. Frontani is a Professor of Geography  at Elon University in North Carolina in the USA and former Fulbright Scholar in Kenya. This story originally appeared on her blog on October 3, 2015. To read more of her stories, follow her blog: https://africandevelopmentsuccesses.wordpress.com/