Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli

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Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli
Ndidi Nwuneli.jpg
Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli
Born (1975-03-22) March 22, 1975 (age 45)
NationalityNigerian, American
OccupationSocial Entrepreneur
Years active22
Known forLEAP Africa, Sahel Capital & Partners, AACE Food Processing & Distribution Ltd.

Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, MFR is a Co-Founder of Sahel Consulting and serves as its managing partner. She has 23 years of experience in international development, and through her work with Sahel has shaped agriculture strategy and policy in West Africa for a range of clients in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

She is also the co-founder of AACE Foods, a social enterprise which processes nutritious food made from the best of West Africa’s cereals, herbs, pulses and spices. She is the founder of LEAP Africa which works across Africa inspiring, empowering and equipping the next generation of dynamic, principled and innovative young leaders.

Early life[edit]

Ndidi Okonkwo was born on March 22, 1975 at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu, Nigeria to a Nigerian professor of Pharmacology—Paul Obuekwe Okonkwo[1] and an American professor of History—Rina Okonkwo.[2]

Her father, who is from Awka, Anambra and her mother who is originally from New York, met at Cornell University in 1965.[3] Her parents were educators by profession. They taught and mentored students with the goal of improving the Nigerian Education System. In an interview with the National Mirror Nwuneli explains, “I was born the third of five children. My parents[....]exposed my siblings and I to the concept of patriotism and service from very young ages....during the dark years of the late General Sani Abacha years, when many professors fled outside the country, my parents stuck it out, going for many months without salaries. Even with these challenges, holidays in our home were devoted to giving to others; trips to orphanages and other charity organizations formed a critical part of our socialization".[4]

She grew up in Enugu, where she attended primary school at University Primary School. She attended secondary school at the Federal Government College Enugu from 1986-1991. From 1991-1992, she completed a bridging program, combining her final year of high school and freshmen year of college at the Clarkson School in Potsdam, New York.


Nwuneli attended The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania in 1992, where she concentrated in strategic management and multinational management. She is a recipient of the Albert A. Berg Scholarship and was also selected to become a member of the Friars and the Onyx Senior Societies for her outstanding leadership efforts. In addition, she was the president of the Penn African Students Association, and a member of several societies including the Penn Gospel Choir and the Black Students Union. She was also an intern at Mitchell & Titus and Arthur Andersen. In May 1995, at 20 years old, Nwuneli graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Economics.

By 1997, she was enrolled at Harvard Business School (HBS). While there, she received both the Harvey Fellowship[5] and the National Black MBA Association Graduate Scholarship, both recognizing her academic accomplishments. Her extracurricular activities at Harvard include founding and Co-chairing the Annual African Business Conference;[6][7] Vice President of Faculty and Student Affairs for the Africa Business Club;[8] International Liaison for the African American Student Union;[9] and Publicity Chair for the Christian Association. She graduated with her MBA at 24 in 1999.[10]


Nwuneli's career began in her junior year at The University of Pennsylvania when she held a Summer Business Analyst position with McKinsey & Company in New York. In 1995, she was offered a full-time position at McKinsey as a Business Analyst working out of Chicago, Illinois. She also worked for McKinsey in their office in Johannesburg, South Africa.[11] Her work with McKinsey in 1997 led to the management and training of police officers across 25 South African Police Service Stations, as well as an increase in criminal convictions and a reduction in crime rates.[12]

In 1998, she accepted a position as the Lead Consultant with a non-profit founded by Professor Michael Porter called The Center for Middle East Competitive Strategy. She consulted with Palestinian and Israeli businesses and made recommendations for decreasing transaction costs and increasing trade across the region.

Work in Nigeria[edit]

In 1999, Nwuneli worked as the Lead Consultant for The Ford Foundation on a project focusing on Nigeria's largest microcredit institutions, COWAN and FADU.[13] That year, she rejoined McKinsey and served on client service teams, consulting for consumer goods companies and large American retailers. In 2000, she resigned from her position at McKinsey and returned to Nigeria to serve as the Executive Director for the FATE Foundation (founded by Nigerian Businessman, Fola Adeola).[14] In an interview with HBS African America Alumni Association about engaging female entrepreneurs, she explains: "Nigeria has some of the most entrepreneurial people in the world but access to financing, networks, and growth remain a challenge[...]I believe empowering women to start and grow their businesses is critical to Nigeria's development, but educating women is the real silver bullet."[15]

In 2002, Nwuneli founded two nonprofits, LEAP (Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability, Professionalism) Africa and Ndu Ike Akunuba (NIA), Igbo words which translate in English to Life, Strength, and Wealth.[16] NIA's focus is on female empowerment—inspiring university students in Southeastern Nigeria to live full and meaningful lives.[17] LEAP Africa is a youth-focused leadership development nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire, empower and equip a new cadre of leaders with skills and tools for personal, organization and community transformation. Its interventions for youth, bridges gaps in effective leadership, education, employability, entrepreneurship and awakens civic participation in citizens to demand good governance or creatively address social issues.[18] LEAP provides training on leadership, ethics and civics. In discussing LEAP's impact on her community to Good News Nigeria, Nwuneli explains, "The most fulfilling part of my work is seeing changes take place in the attitudes, character, behaviour and actions of our participants. Sometimes this transformation is quick, but more often it is slow, but enduring".[19] As the founder of the organization, she has been invited to speak at the UN Commission for Social Development, the World Economic Forum and the Clinton Global Initiative.

LEAP has worked in partnership with the Ford Foundation, Citi Foundation,[20] World Bank, United States Government, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, ALI (Aspen Institute's Africa Leadership Initiative),[21] Nokia, and the International Youth Foundation.[22] Nwuneli served as LEAP Africa's Founder and Chief Executive Officer from 2002-2007 and is still an active Board Member in the organization.[23]

Entrepreneurial Pursuits[edit]

In 2010, Nwuneli and her husband Mezuo Nwuneli, Co-Founded Sahel Capital and AACE Foods. Sahel Capital is a consulting and advisory firm specializing in the agriculture and manufacturing industries. Sahel was selected as the fund manager for Fund for Agricultural Finance in Nigeria (FAFIN), a $100m Fund focused on SME's. The firm completed its first close of $33 million in 2014.[24] Sahel has also provided advisory and consulting services to clients in Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, and Liberia.[25] It has also supported international agencies such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,[26] USAID/ Africa LEAD, ECOWAS, DFID, Oxfam International, TechnoServe/ Humanity United, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, IFDC,[27] and the Ford Foundation.[28] AACE Foods' is focused on processing spices, complementary food and spreads sourced from smallholder farmers across Nigeria.[29] AACE’s work in promoting nutrition, supporting smallholder farmers and displacing imports have been recognized by the Africa Diaspora Marketplace,[30] IAP[31] and AECF.[32] Both firms have served as catalysts in the Nigerian and West African agribusiness landscape.

Governance & Boards[edit]

Nwuneli is on the Board of LEAP Africa, AACE Foods, Fairfax Africa Fund, Sahel Capital, Godrej Group,[33] DSM Sustainability Advisory Board,[34] Nestle Nigeria Plc,[35] and Nigerian Breweries Plc. Previously, she participated in the World Economic Forum as a committee member on the Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership from 2011-2014.[36]

Awards & recognition[edit]

  • Honoree of the Global Fund for Women during their 25th Anniversary Celebration in San Francisco - 2013[37]
  • Winner of the Harvard Business School Nigeria Business Club 2013 Leading Social Entrepreneur Award[38]
  • Forbes: 20 Youngest Power Women In Africa, 2011[39]
  • Excellence Award from Anambra State, 2011[40]
  • Selected for Harvard Business School’s Africa Business Club’s Excellence Award, 2007[41]
  • Selected as Young Manager of the Year by THISDAY Newspapers (Nigeria’s leading newspaper), 2005[42]
  • Received a National Honor – Member of the Federal Republic – from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on December 16, 2004[43]
  • Selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, Davos; 2004[44]
  • Selected as a Global Leader of Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland; 2002[45]


  • Senior Fellow at the MRC-BG at the Harvard Kennedy School, currently working on a book on "scaling social innovation in Africa"[46]
  • Author, Working for God in the Marketplace, 2005[47]


  • Author, Social Innovation in Africa; 2016 [48]
  • Editor, Passing the Baton, LEAP Africa; 2011[49]
  • Lead Author, Building a Culture of Ethics: A Practical Guide for African Leaders in the Public, Private and Nonprofits Sectors, LEAP Africa; 2009[50]
  • Editor, Rage for Change: A Practical Guide for African youth who Desire to Make a Difference, LEAP Africa; 2008[51]
  • Editor/Co-Author, Get on Board: A Practical Guide to Establishing & Sustaining High-Impact Boards of Directors, Farafina; 2007[52]
  • Lead Author, Defying the Odds: Case Studies of Nigerian Companies that have Survived Generations, LEAP Africa, 2006[53]
  • Articles on leadership, management and ethics: Under the Tree of Talking (Funded by the British Council), Journal of Convergence, Farafina, Business Day, the Guardian and Business in Africa Magazine; 2003-2007


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  50. ^ "Building a Culture of Ethics". Archived from the original on 20 February 2015. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  51. ^ "Rage for Change". Archived from the original on 20 February 2015. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  52. ^ "Get on Board". Archived from the original on 20 February 2015. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  53. ^ "Defying the Odds". Archived from the original on 20 February 2015. Retrieved 28 February 2015.