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Noëlla Coursaris Musunka The Trailblazer In The Congo

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The story of love, loss and triumph. The story of humanitarian, model and mother, Noëlla Coursaris Musunka.


This is a tale of generational loss. A tale about how, at the tender age of five, a child lost everything she held dear. She lost her mother, her father, familiar surroundings and was relocated from the country she’d come to know as her home. However, in losing so much, she seemed to have gained everything and insists on sharing it with others.

After the death of her father, when Noëlla Coursaris Musunka was five years old, her mother could not afford to keep her and was forced to give her only child (at the time) away in hopes that she would get better opportunities.

Musunka moved to Belgium, and later Switzerland, and was away for 13 years with very little communication with her mother back home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

READ MORE |Ravaged by Ebola and War, Congo Named Most Neglected Crisis of 2018

“It was a tough time… I received two or three letters from my mom and spoke to her only twice on the phone,” says Musunka. On her return, at 18 years, she was so struck by the abject poverty that she vowed to contribute to the education of her brothers and sisters, and would give back to her country.

And she has done so in spectacular fashion.

Musunka has since had a flourishing career as a model and has graced the pages of fashion magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, Marie Claire and Elle. The exposure propelled her to pursue her passion for humanitarian and philanthropic work.

When asked about what accolades, such as the one she received from the Nelson Mandela Foundation (in November 2018) and the Enhle Cares Foundation, mean to her, Musunka beams and says: “It’s very special. I’m a pan-Africanist. I love Patrick Lumumba, I love Mandela, I love Sankara. I love all these revolutionary people… who want the best for Africa… The spirit of Mandela is [his] legacy. When people remember Noëlla, I want them to remember my legacy. And my legacy and my message is to give back.”

The Malaika school. Picture: Supplied

“I’m very happy that the Mandela family contacted me and said ‘this is what our dad would want. You are a young woman investing in education and that’s the reason we want to honor you’. It’s very touching and I’m not into awards, but this one is very special.”

Since founding the non-profit organization Malaika in 2007, it has grown from a one-room school house to a world-class school that accommodates 314 students of all ages. As the school continues to operate, it plans on adding approximately 30 girls each year.

The Malaika Foundation, which is in the village of Kalebuka, in the southeastern region of the DRC, has also established a community learning center, recreational facilities, 17 water wells and farm land.

This is due to the tenacity and collaborative efforts of 31 Congolese staff members working on the ground in the DRC, and support from a team of 30 volunteers working in the US, Europe, the DRC and other locations.
In Kalebuka, the community plays an integral role in the daily running of the school.

“We have 30 parents a day who come to maintain the school. The whole community is driven. The village takes care of the program and protects it. The community center is good because it’s also important to teach the parents. We have the youth and the parents who come to the community center to learn to read, write, sew, and we have key messages. We also distribute malaria nets.

“So, we have 5,000 people who go there and all programs are free. The school is for free. The staff [members] give of their time, their skills and their money. We have a pro-bono lawyer, pro-bono auditing … [and] we teach the mothers to make the uniforms. We give the girls underwear, socks and shoes.”

The colloquail term ‘say it with your chest’, means to say something with determination, self-assurance and without fear. During her interview with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA at the Da Vinci Hotel in Sandton in Johannesburg in November, Musunka was wearing a t-shirt with the word ‘Revolution’ across it. The education revolution has swept the village of Kalebuka, in the form for Musunka and her team.

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Sport

Simidele Adeagbo: What I Learned From The Most Terrifying Winter Olympics Sport

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At the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, I became the first African and black woman to compete in the daring sport of Skeleton.


Skeleton, in which athletes hurl themselves on a sled, head first, down a frozen ice track at 80 miles per hour, is considered by some to be the most terrifying Winter Olympics sport. I never imagined I would find myself hurtling down an icy hill on a metal, carbon fiber tray of sorts with no brakes, safety belt or steering mechanism.

But when I discovered the sport about 100 days before the Olympics, I was motivated to take it up in hopes to inspire others, break barriers and shift the narrative around Africa on the world’s biggest stage. I ultimately changed the course of Olympic history and learned about the power of having a vision and pushing the limits to break into unknown spaces.

READ MORE | Bongi Msomi Is No Longer On The Sidelines

At the beginning of my journey, I asked myself two very simple questions. ‘Why Not Me? And Why Not Now?’ I knew that someone had to make history as the first African woman to compete in the sport of Skeleton at the Winter Olympics and I didn’t see any reason why it couldn’t be me and it couldn’t be right then. Despite coming from Nigeria, a place with no ice or snow and having no prior knowledge of Skeleton, I had a vision to become the first African woman to compete in Olympic Skeleton.

We often hesitate to establish a vision for the things we want to do thinking that someone else will do it, while also waiting for a perfect time for it to be done. As best-selling author Mel Robbins notes in The 5 Second Rule, “If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill it.” Through my unconventional path, I learned how to keep my vision alive by taking action instantly.

As I pushed to break barriers, I also learned the value of embracing chaos and how to keep moving forward. In the sport of Skeleton, you’re on the edge of danger and control at any given time. This taught me to expect and appreciate the chaos that comes with life.

READ MORE | Unequal Pay for Equal Play

Before every run, I take down the track, I have a game plan. But when navigating down massive twists and turns going at speeds faster than cars travel on the freeway, things don’t always go as planned.

Through my experiences on the Skeleton track, I’ve learned to embrace life’s chaotic, unplanned moments and adapt as needed along the way. In the same way, as I was beginning the sport, I would painfully bump into the walls on my way down the track. These are called “hits”. Hits slow you down and are to be avoided as much as possible. But in Skeleton, just as in life, hits are inevitable.

On this journey, I learned to take the hits, no matter how big or small and keep pushing forward.

READ MORE | Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent

Finally, in Skeleton, flying down the track at crazy speeds, you have to make decisions in split seconds and the natural reaction is to panic. However, panicking is counterproductive as it causes the body to tense up and actually slows the sled down. Remaining cool, calm and collected is the best thing a Skeleton athlete can do.

With more time in the sport, I ultimately learned to trust my instincts, relax and enjoy the ride. Perhaps this is the most important lesson of all as this has become my personal ethos for achieving success in life.

By taking action instantly, embracing chaos and relentlessly pushing forward and relaxing and trusting our instincts, we can all apply these winning strategies for high performance in business and life. Who knew you could learn so much from the most terrifying Winter Olympics sport?

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Arts

Naomi Campbell Has Big Plans For Africa

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The globally-popular Naomi Campbell was in Durban, in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal, for the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA 2019 Leading Women Summit, to talk about her abiding interest and investment in the African continent.


As a supermodel who  has scaled stratospheric heights in fashion, Naomi Campbell has graced global runways and magazine covers, so when she came calling in Durban for a FORBES WOMAN AFRICA event, the anticipation was bigger than any cover shoot we have ever done.

For the 2019 Leading Women Summit held in the coastal South African city for the first time on International Women’s Day, the British-born supermodel, activist, philanthropist and cultural innovator exuded her signature grace and glamor in a sea-blue Marianne Fassler dress.   

In 2017, Campbell was named contributing editor of British Vogue by its  Editor-in-Chief, Edward Enninful.

When I complimented her March 2019 cover for British Vogue, she said, considerately: “I wish I could have brought you one, I could have grabbed a copy for you from the airport [in London] yesterday.”

READ MORE | Naomi Campbell: Africa Is One Of The Leading Continents In The World

Campbell caught her break as a fashion model when she was just 15 years old, and has featured in advertising campaigns for luxury houses including Burberry, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino.

Beyond her work in fashion, she has used her celebrity for fundraising and non-profit initiatives across the globe. In 1997, South African President Nelson Mandela named Campbell an “honorary granddaughter” for her activism. She also now has a YouTube channel, Being Naomi.

Campbell aims to integrate African and international luxury markets “bringing storied retailers to countries such as Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco, as well as introducing African artists to global audiences”.

“The strongest woman I have met come from Africa,” she told an audience of 500 during an on-stage interview at the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit.

“There’s many great women. I was very blessed and lucky to meet Miriam Makeba when I came to South Africa. I didn’t know her story but it was just her presence. Then Winnie Mandela… I met many powerful and strong women with inner strength and I am very much attracted to women with strength. You learn from them, you take from them, you observe them and how they speak. I have always considered myself a work-in-progress.”

READ MORE | IN PICTURES | Leading Women Summit 2019

She added: “For me, modeling has been a blessing in my life. I am very grateful. It led me to meet the most amazing people. Where I am at in my life today, is to use the almost 33 years that I have been in this business to help make awareness, to open the minds to the brands that I work with and have worked with all these years.

“They need to come to this continent, not just come in and out and take, but [invest] in the infrastructure and make a commitment to the communities in Africa.”

A day before the event, when FORBES AFRICA caught up with Campbell, and before settling down for our brief interview, she began with a disarming: “What do you think is a good restaurant to go to in Durban?”

“I am tired but excited,” she had laughed. More from the exclusive interview:

You have said that you are investing in communities and infrastructure in Africa. Can you tell us more about your Africa plans?

My plans are to start serving my industry, brands and the continent. And seeing that we are such big consumers [of brands] in the rest of the world, yet we don’t have it ourselves on the continent… And it’s what works in all businesses, like fashion, architecture and technology. We are big influencers so why don’t we have these things? It’s mind-blowing, so now is the time.

READ MORE | Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent

You are working a lot with African designers?

I want to take them out into the western world and bring the western world in… so vice versa.

Are African designers in demand in the West?

Yes, because of the textiles. I don’t want to see that their textiles are copied and they don’t get credit for what they have done.

For me, the workmanship, the textiles, this is what we need to keep on the continent. We cannot allow other brands and designers from the West to come in and take your textiles.

What are some of your best memories of Nelson Mandela since your first meeting in 1993?

I have many great memories here in South Africa, and undoubtedly always with ‘grandad’, when he would send me out to the people, to different townships and villages and just put things in perspective for me.

Yes, I was coming from a fashion background, but I am a human being too and coming from a middleclass family, it’s something you feel to do, it’s not something anyone can push you to do. I am not sure what he saw in me and thought that I could do it, but I really love him and miss him.

Lending your celebrity to important causes, you have worked for global health, women’s rights etc… is there any passion project that you are working on right now?

My passion project is Africa. It is such a beautiful rich culture, with minerals and so many natural resources.

The narrative and perception also have to change. It is understood in the wrong way. 

All through your career, how have you managed to be so versatile across diverse industries?

There’s no plan to me, I just do what I feel. I [go with] gut instinct really of each thing I commit myself to doing, and I always follow through.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Hopefully, in the continent of Africa.

READ MORE | The material of life according to textile queen Nike Davies-Okundaye

What’s it like being a contributing editor on British Vogue?

It’s great working with Edward Enniful and fun to be an editor. I travel anyway but I get to travel and interview people from all walks of life.

It’s interesting to hear other people’s lives, their experiences, strengths and their hopes to get them on their journey. It’s not really like interviews but more conversational.

What is the best part of being an African woman in the 21st century?

African women have always been extremely strong. On the African continent, people are really smart… I have always had high respect for them.

They are so smart and educated, and yet what do they do with it once they have got it, and this is where it needs to change.

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Billionaires

In Defense Of Kylie Jenner: Are Any Of The World’s Billionaires Entirely Self-Made?

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Last month, after Forbes named Kylie Jenner the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, we unintentionally set off a heated debate on social media about the meaning of the word “self-made.”

The idea that a 21-year-old who grew up on a reality TV show (Keeping Up With the Kardashians), whose sister is Kim Kardashian, and whose rich and famous parents are Kris and Caitlyn Jenner could be considered self-made, sparked a very public backlash.

The debate was renewed once again on March 31 after the New York Times published a story in which Kylie admitted to having some help building her business. “I can’t say I’ve done it by myself,” the beauty mogul told the Times. “If they’re just talking finances, technically, yes, I don’t have any inherited money. But I have had a lot of help and a huge platform.”

READ MORE | At 21, Kylie Jenner Becomes The Youngest Self-Made Billionaire Ever

Well, yes, that’s exactly what we mean at Forbes when we say that Kylie—and 1,449 other billionaires—are “self-made.” And that’s perhaps the nub of the disagreement. At Forbes we’ve been using the term to describe the origin of someone’s fortune, rather than whether a billionaire got help to build a hugely successful company or not.

 Forbeshas been tracking the fortunes of America’s richest for more than 35 years and we’ve used three classifications for how people made their fortunes: self-made, inherited and inherited and growing; the latter category was reserved for people like Donald Trump, who built on his father’s real estate empire.

 Forbeshas been tracking the fortunes of America’s richest for more than 35 years and we’ve used three classifications for how people made their fortunes: self-made, inherited and inherited and growing; the latter category was reserved for people like Donald Trump, who built on his father’s real estate empire.

What many object to when Forbes calls Kylie self-made is that (1) she had lots of help (from people like her mom, Kris Jenner) building the company that turned her into a billionaire, and (2) she started out rich and famous. Both of those assertions are true. But Mark Zuckerberg, whom Forbes also classifies as self-made, didn’t build Facebook by himself and he started out well-off, though not as rich and not nearly as famous as Kylie. (Zuckerberg’s father is a dentist, his mother a psychologist).

READ MORE | The 10 Most Notable New Billionaires Of 2019

Plus there are seven other Facebook billionaires who, one could argue, rode alongside Zuckerberg in building the massive social network, including cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, Zuckeberg’s former roommate; cofounder Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s former classmate; Sean Parker, the social network’s first president; Jim Breyer and Peter Thiel, its early investors; and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer since 2008, four years after the company was founded. Forbesclassifies all of these billionaires as self-made—none of them inherited their fortunes. None of them built Facebook alone.

Five years ago, Forbes dug deeper into one defining characteristic of billionaires: How far did they climb to make their way to the top? That year, for the first time, we gave each member of The Forbes 400 list of richest Americans a self-made score on a scale from 1 to 10: A 1 means the fortune was completely inherited; a 10 is for a Horatio Alger-esque journey from the depths of poverty. At the most basic level, the scores denote who inherited some or all of their fortune (scores 1 through 5) and those who truly made it on their own (6 through 10).

We have continued to apply this self-made score to all American billionaires (and also now to self-made women). In Kylie’s case, we gave her a 7 out of 10, acknowledging that she had plenty of advantages from the start.

Donald Trump scores a 4 because he inherited a fortune from his father and then expanded it significantly, while the widow of Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs, gets a 2 because she inherited a fortune and has a role in managing it, having made investments in media (The Atlantic and Ozy Media) and professional sports (she owns a 20% stake the group behind the NBA’s Washington Wizards and NHL’s Washington Capitals).

READ MORE | More Than A Dozen European Billionaires—Linked To BMW, L’Oréal, Bosch—Have Families With Past Nazi Ties

While few billionaires have had the type of social media platform that Kylie Jenner had when she launched her business—with 120 million Instagram followers—(which we actually think further underscores her entrepreneurial savvy, not the help she got), every single self-made billionaire on Forbes’ list has had help building their fortune, be it from other employees at the company they founded, venture capitalists, mentors, friends or parents.

Steve Ballmer, for instance, had the good fortune to be one of Bill Gates’ classmates at Harvard, which led to a job at Microsoft. He eventually replaced Gates as chief executive, a job he held for 15 years. He is now the 19th-richest person in the world.   

Leon Black, whose father was the CEO of United Brands, got a $75,000 life insurance payout after his father died when he was in business school. He later cofounded private equity giant Apollo Global Management, which made him a billionaire. Hedge fund tycoon Chase Coleman is a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New York. Another hedge fund titan, Ken Griffin, started trading in his Harvard dorm room using $265,000, part of which came from his family.

And the nation’s richest real estate developer, Donald Bren, is the son of a real estate investor and Hollywood film producer. Phil Knight, in his autobiography Shoe Dog, spells out how the early days of Nike were a team effort by a core group of incredibly dedicated early employees. Even Oprah Winfrey, who grew up dirt poor and earns a number 10 rank on our self-made score, got help from smart producers and other employees to turn her daytime talk show from an also-ran into a huge hit, as the podcast Making Oprah details.

READ MORE | The World’s Most Generous Billionaires Outside Of The US

So why have people reacted so vehemently to Kylie? Is it that the Kardashians are people everyone loves to hate? Is it that Americans are fed up with the reality TV, social media culture that not only helped make a 21-year-old who posted on Instagram a billionaire but also helped get a president elected? Several people with whom we spoke wondered if it was because she was a woman. Would we have had the same discussions if it was her half-brother Robert who became a billionaire instead of Kylie?

No one will really ever know. But one thing is certain: Kylie Jenner figured out a simple, easy way to turn her family’s fame, her huge Instagram following and her passion for makeup into big, big bucks.

Luisa Kroll; Forbes Staff

Kerry A. Dolan; Forbes Staff

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