At an early age I decided I wasn’t going to be invisible. I promised myself that I would give a voice to marginalized girls everywhere. Now I seize every opportunity presented to share the perspective of girls and young women who remain unseen and unheard.
No matter the situations I find myself in, no matter how difficult it is, I keep fighting until I win.
Without this determination, my story could have been very different. Born in the Northern Region of Ghana, my start in life was a difficult one. My mother had been a child bride, married to a man many decades her senior. My father died an old man when I was only 11 years old, leaving me and my siblings in the care of a young mother with limited opportunities, struggling to support the family.
She had no option but to send me to live with foster parents in the Upper East Region, with the promise I could attend school. It was challenging for me to adjust to a new family and new routine. I had to wake up at 4am to do chores, before setting off on the one and a half hour walk to school. But my resolve never faded, and in spite of their harsh circumstances, the family tried to ensure my educational needs were met.
I was determined to stay in school. I knew that education was the only way to liberate myself.
At school, I was eager to learn and progress, both in and out of the classroom. I was made a prefect in Senior High School, and enjoyed the leadership role despite its demands. I also represented the school at Civic Education Class competitions around Ghana, and set up various clubs, including one for aspiring television presenters with Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, and a poetry society.
Here I am speaking at a Mastercard Foundation Leadership and Enrichment Camp. (Photo: Eliza Powell/CAMFED)
With support through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program and CAMFED Ghana, I went on to read Law at university, determined to use my knowledge as a weapon to fight against any discrimination. I became part of Central University Students’ Parliament House, and was appointed as a member of the Tribunal for the Law Students Union. Growing up I felt that I never had the opportunity to air my views. There are so many marginalized girls whose voices are not heard, and who keep being discriminated against.
I also became an active member of the CAMFED Association, the network of young women leaders educated with CAMFED support. In 2017, I was trained as a CAMFED Transition Guide, working to ensure girls continue to thrive after school by helping them seize opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship and higher education. In early 2019, I also started serving as a member of the Transition Advisory Group that supports the implementation and progress of the Transition Program at CAMFED Ghana, helping graduates on the journey to secure livelihoods.
Me delivering a life skills and wellbeing session for secondary students. (Photo: Eliza Powell/CAMFED)
I believe that, when you have knowledge of things, it impacts you and it empowers you.
I’m passionate about social justice and highlighting the issues that affect my peers. In May 2019, I was one of 14 CAMFED Association members who travelled to New York from 5 African countries to attend CAMFED’s 25th Anniversary Gala. In my address to supporters from around the globe, I spoke of my liberation through education:
Here I am speaking at CAMFED’s 25th Anniversary Gala in New York.
That same year, recognizing the untapped potential of many women in my rural community, I decided to found an agricultural enterprise with support from a new Scholars Entrepreneurship Fund offered by CAMFED Ghana in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation. Through Nayrion Agro Ventures, I employ two members of my community and have collaborated with cooperative members to grow crops including peanuts which are processed and marketed as high quality products. My mom, who was previously unemployed, now manages this side of the business, as well as our mushroom farm. I also create opportunities for women cultivating peanuts by purchasing directly from them and linking them to resources and grants.
My current focus with Nayrion Agro Ventures is supplying peanut butter to individuals and retailers within Ghana, and I have also been involved in the export of sesame, cashew and ginger to Europe through my work with another company. They offered me an exciting opportunity to work in Benin as acting Chief Administrative Officer for West African regions, where I contributed to their mission of further developing the agricultural potential of countries in West Africa.
I’ve also made the most of other platforms for growing my agricultural expertise. In November 2019, I attended the Youth Agriculture Summit hosted in Brazil, where I was able to share ideas and knowledge with delegates from around the world. I also connect with fellow CAMFED Association members who are climate-smart Agriculture Guides. Their on-going support and expertise have been invaluable in helping me to achieve my aim of building a profitable business that minimizes impact on the natural environment, as well as improving food security.
My plan for scaling my business includes setting up a pig farm with demonstration plots around it, creating an opportunity for farmers and other young people interested in agriculture and climate action to visit and learn sustainable farming techniques.
2020 was the year I decided to diversify and pursue my passion for baking. After completing an intensive bakery course, I set up my bakery business in October that year. I never had a birthday cake growing up because my parents didn’t know how to bake and they couldn’t afford to buy one. I wanted to change this by setting up an affordable bakery and providing training opportunities for others wanting to bake for their families or even to start their own businesses. My bakery currently provides employment for 10 people in my community, and offers free skills training to CAMFED Association members.
One of the challenges I have faced as a young entrepreneur who is passionate about climate action is sustainability. When researching the baking industry, I discovered that almost all bakeries use non-biodegradable plastic packaging, unaware that there are sustainable alternatives that are less costly. I decided to only use paper packaging, which is not only better for the environment but allows my products to be more affordable, inspiring other bakeries to follow in my footsteps. I have also built teams that share my passion and dedication for climate action, and employed individuals who specialize in sustainability.
Another major challenge has been gender bias. It took me two years to set up my business site due to landlords’ unwillingness to lease out their spaces to me as an unmarried woman. It was disappointing feeling I couldn’t pursue my business plans due to my gender.
I remained determined and engaged with the men in my community, educating them about the opportunities my business will create. With their backing, I finally had the land to set up my business and fulfill my potential as an entrepreneur. Most people assumed my business successes were down to financial support from men, but I got to where I am today through my own hard work and grants. I am a role model in my community, showing young women how you can gain support for viable business ideas and how being focused and determined can help you to achieve your goals.
Me (right) with my fellow CAMFED Association sisters. (Photo: Eliza Powell/CAMFED)
I am plowing back the profits from my businesses into more opportunities for women and girls, through my own non-profit organization, the Teen Swot Foundation. It provides vocational skills training – such as textile weaving and hair braiding – to young mothers, so that they can become financially independent. One young woman we support is now a master of weaving and started her own business after graduating from the apprenticeship training in 2021. Along with some of our other clients, she also benefited from the Mastercard Foundation’s Young Africa Works start-up and business growth funding and is now well accomplished in her business, supporting her two children with the profits. We are working with her to train new clients who are interested in weaving kente.
My passion for finding sustainable development solutions motivated me to pursue a Master’s degree in Sustainable International Development. With the support of CAMFED and my CAMFED Association sisters during the application process, I eventually received a tuition scholarship to study at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, US. I pay that support forward by helping other CAMFED Association members through their applications, assisting them on their entrepreneurial journeys, and acting as a mentor to those who seek my help in making career decisions.
During this course, I have become an expert at navigating tough conversations. I have developed my communication and listening skills, particularly through one of my classes, ‘Comparative Approaches to Global Injustice and Social Inequality,’ which involves interacting with others with different perspectives. I look forward to applying these skills in my non-profit venture and in helping my community. As part of the course I hope to work with an organization whose mission aligns with my vision, to help me become a better development practitioner.
Having witnessed the devastating impacts of climate change worsen year-on-year, I believe this course will deepen my understanding of what is happening around me so that I can actively contribute to policy-making for my community and the rest of the world. My dream is to work for the United Nations or another international development organization.
In 10 years time, I envision the CAMFED Association taking up space in national leadership positions and being part of major policy making in our countries. I see myself as being one of those leaders and will actively support my sisters who have also stepped up into leadership roles.
Rosalinda is one of the young women leaders of the CAMFED Association — mentors, role models and activists for girls’ education and women’s empowerment across sub-Saharan Africa. In this blog post, Rosalinda reflects on her education journey and looks to the future, pledging to continue using her voice not just for herself, but for all girls and women facing discrimination.
Emceed by nine-time Emmy award-winning journalist and news anchor Lori Stokes, CAMFED's first-ever New York Gala took place on May 9th at 583 Park Avenue. Co-hosted by 14 of the fearless female leaders in the CAMFED alumnae network, CAMA, the Gala featured speeches by CAMFED CEO Lucy Lake OBE, CAMA leader Rosalinda Agana, CAMFED Executive Director - Africa, Angeline Murimirwa, CAMFED Patron Julia Gillard, and multiple award-winning singer-songwriter, social activist and philanthropist Annie Lennox OBE, who was our honoree for the evening. This video cut features their rousing speeches and a call to action for all of us.