March 29, 2024

Michelle Nagawa, a 25 year old Aspire Leaders Program alum from 2022, studied Surveying Land Information Systems and received a grant from Aspire Institute for a community project within the Katanga slum area in 2023. A first-generation university graduate and the first-born in her family, she has always strived to be an inspiration to her siblings and other young people. 

“As the first born, you have nothing to fall back on. That has always hit me hard, it still does,” Nagawa admitted. “But the dynamic has always been that I did what had to be done to take the shock away, run through it myself, and then set an example for my siblings. I’m positive so that my siblings know to stay positive too.”

Early Life and Education: Setting the Foundation for Leadership

Embracing her responsibility, Nagawa worked hard in school in order to secure scholarships and make it to university.

While studying at Gayaza High school — the oldest girls-only boarding secondary school in Uganda, Nagawa took advantage of opportunities that opened her mind to the importance of community development through youth involvement. One of these activities was Adobe Youth Voices.

“I was trained in utilization of media concepts to create content that aired dire issues in our community — such as early marriages [and] domestic violence,” Nagawa explained. “I was given a platform to exercise my creativity [and] understand the importance of research and finding solutions that can help people around me.”

Nagawa and her fellow students would also visit community primary schools to teach young students Math and English. They would provide scholastic materials as well as clean water, and hygiene support.

“This kind of work really made clear what ‘purpose’ means to me,” she shared. “And it gave me leadership experience.”

Building Communities Across the Globe

After graduating, Nagawa became involved in many community engagement and leadership opportunities. She worked with the The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and identified and completed an entrepreneurship bootcamp, leading to her involvement with Millennium Campus Network (MCN), a global non-profit dedicated to convening and training 21st-century social impact leaders.

“I was always looking for programs that would help me meet other fellow young leaders,” she said. “I know that alone I can’t do much; but in a group, everyone is good at something.” 

These beliefs led Nagawa to the Aspire Leaders Program and a continual journey of mentorship.

In 2022, she completed the Aspire Leaders program and received a Community Action Award for her Cities Youth Initiative project.

Life as a Social Entrepreneur and Professional

Michelle Nagawa now continues to pursue her Aspire-funded project and excel in her career. 

She has witnessed first-hand the challenges that come with rapid urbanization — from inadequate housing to limited access to basic services. These experiences fueled her commitment to addressing the complex issues faced by youth in urban areas. Her project works to increase youth involvement in urban participatory planning while capitalizing on local youth ambassadors.

“If you make a team of people that can train others to bring your work to their community, you can make a big impact without reaching those people yourself,” she explained.

They hope to create an innovative digital platform that helps researchers find simplified spatial data on housing in underserved communities.

The Aspire Leaders Program gave Nagawa the chance to initiate this work and meet a global network. Nagawa admires her community of peers that she met during the Aspire Leaders Program and continues to network with them, collaborating on projects and research proposals.

“There are so many young people doing incredible work in their community, and I wouldn’t even have known about this if it weren’t for programs like Aspire,” she said. “People from the U.S., Asia, Africa — everyone has an interesting story to share. And, many of their ideas are easy to replicate in our own communities.” 

Currently, Nagawa works as a Geospatial Analyst with Uganda Revenue Authority, the government body in charge of revenue collection. She is responsible for integrating geospatial technologies into departmental systems in order to track revenue collection. Alongside this work, she is a mentor, researcher, youth leader, and author.

Balancing Mentorship, Motherhood, and Professional Pursuits

Nagawa continues to go above and beyond to support others through her work and personal life. 

She recently started her own family and is mom to an almost one year old baby girl. She also remains closely connected to and supportive of her younger siblings — now aged 22, 14, and 11.

“My daughter is now my constant, and she goes everywhere with me — even during field work,” Nagawa said. “She already has a CV with work experience!”

When she isn’t working or spending time with family or in her community, Nagawa writes about her life. In 2021, she published her first book, Master of Your Future: a blueprint for young people living in the 21st Century. She wanted other youth activists and aspiring leaders to remember that whatever they want, need, or aspire to pursue is entirely up to them. 

“This is a book of hope, hard work, and optimism,” she explained. “You will be challenged to go back to the beginning and understand what your vision is and what you stand for. It is a stepping stone for all of us that have found most aspects of life complex.” 

When asked what she wanted other young people to take away from her book and her work, she mentioned teamwork and believing in yourself regardless of age. 

“You don’t have to be 30 or 40 to make an impact,” Nagawa emphasized. “You can do it now. But, you can’t do it alone, because we do not know everything.”

Advice for Young Aspiring Leaders

She explained from the heart some other advice for young leaders.

“Engage in programs where you get to meet like-minded leaders,” she encouraged. “You may be a leader in your own shell, but you can always learn from someone else’s technique and skill. This will amplify you and your work and you’ll get a little bit better every day.” 


Coming Soon!

Join Our Newsletter

Check Boxes that Apply:(Required)