By: Mahika Halepete

Poverty , Believer

AYANA is a nonprofit initiative dedicated to transforming the futures of communities in developing countries by empowering youth to design innovative solutions to local issues they identify. Developing countries face issues from discrimination against girls to lack of knowledge about sanitation, and these issues affect us all as a global community. Youth understand problems in their communities very well and want their societies to move forward, but are often not involved in changemaking or decision making processes in their communities. Our impact is in both empowering youth and allowing them to realize their potential as entrepeneurs and changemakers, and also to directly transform communities with critical programs ending poverty, empowering women, and creating educational opportunities for all.

Often times, the problem with aid is the lack of subjectivity and sustainability. Additionally, aid projects must be able to integrate into communities; successful humanitarian projects do not happen in a vacuum. There is no better resource with knowledge of their communities and the issues faced than youth. Having experienced the plight of disadvantaged communities often times first hand, youth are equipped with the knowledge to identify the problems and come up with solutions that work. AYANA was founded with a desire to accomplish three things: (1) to allow youth to build their self-confidence as they realize their true potential to create change in the community and the world, (2) to further sustainable development and lift communities out of poverty, all at a grassroots level, and (3) to transform philanthropy & allow small donations to have a large impact. Our Youth Innovation Lab teaches students to understand the Sustainable Development Goals, identify problems in their communities, analyze them, and create effective solutions.

AYANA is a nonprofit initiative which uses an innovative model blending leadership skill development, introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the design thinking process to empower youth in developing countries to design and implement projects that solve problems affecting them and their communities. Our current programs are in Tanzania, Uganda, and South Africa, and we will be starting in Kenya and Rwanda in the near future. Our Youth Innovation Lab is a 5-hour-long research, innovation, idea development, and presentation curriculum that allows youth to identify problems in their communities and come up with solutions. We hold this program in developing countries to empower youth to identify issues in their communities and create solutions. Youth undergo an intensive idea incubation process, after which developed ideas will receive the necessary funding to be executed in the community.


Team Members

  • Mahika Halepete

    Founder and Executive Director

    ​Mahika, 15​, is the founder and Executive Director of AYANA International​ (www.ayanainternational.org)​, a nonprofit which she founded to harness the power of youth innovation to solve global problems. She is passionate about sustainable development, human rights, education equality, and empowering youth. At AYANA, she works on developing global initiatives - currently in South Africa, Uganda, and Tanzania - as well as local initiatives to educate and empower students in her local Bay Area, CA, community.



​Find an issue you care about. Look up the UN Sustainable Development Goals and find the ones with which you identify. Looking at all of the world’s problems can be overwhelming. It can be helpful to narrow your focus down to a certain area. Start small, and grow that. Try not to start or be involved in too many different projects to the point where you’re not able to fully commit to each one.

Take time to develop your ideas. Write down every idea, as you never know where it could lead. Build on the ideas by taking into account budgets, roles in a project, a scale of viability, other organizations working toward a similar mission, statistics, etc. Take time to develop your ideas. Ask the big questions. (Why is this the best option? How can I learn more? Whom can I talk to?)

Be informed. Stay on top of your city’s recent policy measures and stay updated with the news. Be a voice of truth. If you find a fact, double check it. “Fake news” may be used jokingly by friends, but it is more important than ever to know what’s out there and not distribute false information.

Get help. Seek out experts and mentors in your field of interest. Understand where the limits of your understanding are, and talk to professionals so that you are as well-versed as possible, but still understand your worth. Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Find a team. Reach out to people you find inspiring. When you have an idea, don’t be afraid to run it by a few people! Feedback is integral to making sure projects are as successful as possible. Be sure to speak with people whom your project will impact.

Believe in yourself. Some adults may be condescending about your age, but, once they see your capability, you will find they are pleasantly surprised and even more willing to support you. Your age is just a number. It does not prohibit you from creating big change!

Go for it! After you’ve done this, dive in and start working. Do so fearlessly. Do not be afraid of failure. Failures will happen, but these are learning experiences you can build on. Analyze the situation and determine what the best steps would be moving forward, as well as how you should act or plan differently in the future.


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