Sitting before an audience of business and government leaders, including the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and heads of state from Senegal, Rwanda, and South Africa, and just a few feet away from the President of the United States, 21-year-old Takunda Chingonzo remained calm. Takunda, the youngest of 500 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellows, was tapped to engage President Barack Obama in a conversation earlier this month during the US-Africa Business Forum, a meeting to discuss investment opportunities between African nations and the States. 

During their 26-minute dialogue, the young entrepreneur stuck to his principles when it came to discussing key issues ranging from trade sanctions to “liberating the internet for [all] Zimbabweans.” The pair also conversed about the difficulties of being a young entrepreneur, something Takunda, the founder of three IT start-ups, is no stranger to. 

“[While] there have been a number of multi-billion dollar investments coming into [Africa], the funding is not trickling down to companies launched by up and coming entrepreneurs—companies that are disrupting industries with innovative products and services,” Takunda told President Obama. 

Takunda’s entrepreneurial skills were strengthened through his participation in Zimbabwe:Works, a program of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the International Youth Foundation, where he received training in entrepreneurship and life skills. The program offered Takunda access to financing and mentoring, serving as a springboard for the young man, who upon graduation went on to win “most outstanding startup venture” at the Boost Fellowship’s SME Awards, and mentor other beneficiaries.

In the past two years alone, Takunda founded Neolab Technology P/L, an award-winning startup working to bring free Internet access to the Zimbabwean public, and co-founded NeoEffect, a social venture aimed at empowering underprivileged youth in southern Zimbabwe through IT literacy. 

Upon completion of his YALI Mandela Washington Fellowship, Takunda will waste no time rolling out his third startup Saisai, a free WiFi network in Zimbabwe, and intends to continue studying for his bachelor’s degree in Quantity Surveying. Above all, Takunda will pursue his passion for IT proficiency and open Internet access for social good by expanding his initiatives to tertiary institutions throughout Zimbabwe and southern Africa.