‘We Are Subjects Of Excellence’: 21-Year-Old Pan-African Activist Who Has Met With 30 World Leaders

Published 1 month ago
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Zuriel Oduwole after winning the 2024 FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Young Achiever Award (Source: LWS2024 IMAGE Archives)

Leading the way in youth empowerment and change is Zuriel Oduwole. She shares the story of her humble beginnings and the lessons since.

Over a decade ago, at 10 years old, Zuriel Oduwole already proved to the world that age is just a number. That statement still rings true for the 21-year-old who calls herself a filmmaker, global education advocate, presidential advisor, and peace envoy. 

“Actually, everything that I’ve done now, it started with filmmaking,” Oduwole says to FORBES AFRICA, after leaving the stage following her panel discussion at the 2024 FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit on March 8 in Johannesburg.  


She reveals more about a competition she took part in when she was nine, to create a documentary focusing on the “revolutionaries in history”. While all her peers focused on the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and various European ones, Oduwole opted for something different. 

“I’ve always wanted to be different; I don’t want to follow the mold,” she says.

Oduwole, born to parents who are from Nigeria and Mauritius, decided to focus on Ghana, which resulted in her flying to the West African country from her home in Los Angeles in the United States. While collecting all the necessary footage for her documentary, it bothered her that children, particularly girls, were out on the streets during school hours.

“I found out that it’s a big challenge – girls are out of school, not just in Ghana but across the African continent. That’s how my film started. But from that, after seeing what was happening on the ground, I went back home and thought about what I wanted to do; to try and do my small part; to try to make a difference.” 


Since then, she has sat down with over 30 world leaders to address global social development and education challenges that children and teenagers face, from former Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to billionaire Aliko Dangote. Oduwole says she has also spoken to around 52,730 youth in over 21 countries. 

“When I sit down with all these presidents and prime ministers, first of all, it’s such an honor,” says the 2024 FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Young Achiever Awardee.

“But the biggest thing I try to do is to show myself as an example of what girls in their country can do. The biggest thing I try to talk about is education and how there are not enough girls in schools… I try to show myself as an example through excellence.”

According to a 2024 Statista report which explores the out-of-school population among primary school children, between 2000 and 2018, over the past two decades, there has been a decrease globally in the number of girls of primary school age who are out of school.


However, the progress in reducing the number of out-of-school children has generally “stagnated since 2007” and there is still a higher number of girls than boys who are not in primary school, worldwide, today.

Furthermore, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest out-of-school population in the world – 22% of girls and 17% of boys from this region are not in primary school. 

“As of 2022, 22.3% of female and 25.9% of male South African learners aged seven to 18 stated that poor academic performance was the main reason for dropping out and not attending educational institutions. The rate of learners not attending educational institutions due to family commitments was significantly higher among females at 12.1% than among males at 0.2%,” the report read. 

“Whenever I go and meet with these heads of state or am asked to speak at schools and speak on platforms, it’s not intimidation I feel, it’s a sense of responsibility,” Oduwole adds.


The change that she would like to see, is the way women are viewed. Oduwole would also like for young people to seize every opportunity and dare to dream. 

“…If your dreams don’t scare you, then they’re not big enough. And so, as youth, we have the whole world at our fingertips. We need to dream big dreams,” Oduwole says.

“I have a different take about what we are about, as women. First of all, we have to decide if we are objects or subjects… I say that because I don’t think women came together and decided to dress in a certain way and show off half their bodies in front of the cameras, just so a group of four to five people could tell us who the most beautiful is. I think we need to decide that we are subjects of excellence as opposed to objects to be defined by others.”