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.

The AYANA Youth Innovation Lab is a weeklong program designed to empower young people (ages 12-25) in developing countries to create targeted solutions to issues facing their communities, using the design thinking process to better understand those affected and create a unique, sustainable solution. Nearly 100 youth have participated in 2017 alone, and the program has led to a diverse portfolio of innovations by young people to improve their communities.

(ABOVE) Students in Moshi, Tanzania build a WASH Center at their school. This project was designed at a Youth Innovation Lab program, by a 14-year-old to curb diseases transmitted as a lack of adequate hand-washing facilities.

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 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.


Team Members

  • Mahika

    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 as well as local initiatives to educate and empower students in her local Bay Area, CA, community.


Majengo School WASH Center | Moshi, Tanzania

Dec. 8, 2017

Almost half the Tanzanian population lacks clean water. So, it's no wonder that, during our Youth Innovation Lab workshops, with all participants under the age of 18, one participant decided to choose the issue of a lack of sanitation and water treatment facilities as their focus.

At the conclusion of our first two Youth Innovation Lab programs in Moshi, Tanzania, we had several incredible ideas, but a few in particular stood out. Bringing students' ideas to life means improving the lives of the community members while also changing stereotypes, particularly maintained in developing countries, of youth as helpless to create change.

Disney and YSA agreed with our methodology on harnessing youth innovation in developing countries to create sustainable, localized change. Through the Be Inspired grant, AYANA worked with our partner, Tanzania Rural Empowerment Organization, to fully fund a project that would support the principle of WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene): The Majengo School Hand-Washing Center.








In Tanzania, 38% of water points are not functional. Hygiene Behavior Change is critical to achieving the benefits of improved WASH system; moreover, sustainability depends upon proper planning, stakeholder involvement, and understanding of the need and processes for maintenance. So, how have we covered all those bases? This project was designed, implemented, and used by youth. This is the future of sustainable problem-solving!

This hand-washing center is an incredible improvement from the previously used system of the Tippy Tap (a stick laid on top of two other sticks, with gallons of water tipped by a pedal at the bottom), which. While effective in areas where more innovative, effective systems of hand washing would not be available, certainly had room for improvement.








We've been hard at work this past month to prepare materials to brand the center, prepare budget plans, create models prior to construction, and more! But this week, students at the school began using the purchased materials to begin construction of the center. Full completion of the building is expected within a few weeks. But it doesn't end with construction. Consistent with the philosophy of "Kuosha Mikono Ni Kwa Kila Mtu" ("Hand-Washing Is For Everyone"), young people will be instructing their peers and members of their communities on proper WASH practices.

These students are so excited about getting clean water (therefore avoiding illness that can keep them out of school) and they've helped in all stages of pushing for a project like this and building it. Therefore, we at AYANA know that this isn't just short-term. It's a model for a series of projects across the globe that involve real community members in the ideation, implementation, and maintenance processes. 


Oct. 9, 2017

​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.


Please log in to leave a comment.

Similar Projects