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Misan Rewane—2019 Social Innovator of the Year

The Ballard Center’s Social Innovator of the Year Award recognizes an exceptional individual who is committed to finding and participating in innovative solutions to social problems. This year, Misan Rewane received this honor for her work with unemployed youth in West Africa.

Misane Rewane
Misane Rewane

Change often comes in waves—waves of thought, courage, faith, and determination. As a woman seeking change, Misan Rewane learned to fight the issue of youth unemployment in her home country by creating waves of her own.

Rewane is more than familiar with the struggles that accompany education and social mobility. Growing up in Nigeria, she witnessed firsthand a broken educational system, a system that has created vast unemployment throughout the nation. “Forty million young people in West Africa alone, ages eighteen to thirty-five, do not have a postsecondary education and [as a result] are blocked out of the formal economy,” Rewane says.

Beyond that, thousands more students aren’t able to receive entry-level work, even with diplomas. Were it not for her parents’ perseverance in sending her to the United States to receive a higher education, Rewane could have been one of those 40 million.

After earning distinguished degrees from both Stanford (a bachelor's degree in economics in 2007) and Harvard (an MBA degree in 2013), Rewane turned her focus back to her home country. She continued to see the problem of unemployment and felt a strong desire to help fix it. In searching for solutions, Rewane questioned, “Why is this? That our résumés—the first and sometimes only representations of ourselves to our employers—tend to focus on the academic achievements and not what we have gone through in the school of life?”

As a result of this question, Rewane recognized that youth with or without postsecondary schooling needed two things: one, a way to home in on what they already had acquired, and two, intensive training. As a result, West Africa Vocational Education (WAVE) was born.

WAVE is an organization focused on providing unemployed youth with tools that transform their mindsets and abilities to seek entry-level jobs. The program empowers these youth to tap into their life experiences that have already taught them to work hard, persevere, and become reliable assets to whatever institution they join. Rewane constantly reaches out to employers, gaining an understanding of what they want in employees. These insights lead to a dynamic and impactful curriculum that Rewane hopes will change the way young employees in Nigeria are hired.

One of WAVE’s several success stories involves Andyson Uzor, a young man who was unable to find a job, even though he had a college degree. Due to the confines of a poor education, Uzor left college unequipped with many of the skills employers wanted in a new hire. He found himself without income even thought he’d spent years toiling over textbooks and taking tests. With a dire need for help, Uzor came to WAVE and enrolled in its three-week intensive program. He now works at a successful hotel chain and loves meeting new people every day as he finds fulfillment and joy in succeeding.

The statistics of WAVE are impressive. According to the organization, seventy-five percent of students who graduate from the program connect with an entry-level job in about five weeks. This is a significant improvement in comparison to the average five years that youth spend in Nigeria trying to find entry-level work that fits.

“I look forward to a day when no young person is blocked out of economic opportunity because of what academic hand was dealt out to them or what financial circumstances gave them access to in terms of education and work experience,” says Rewane. “Instead, they were given access to opportunities to change their potential, ride their own wave to the future, because of what they have gone through in the school of life, right before their eyes, in plain sight.”


Writer: Ballard Center