Too often, those seeking a Miss Universe title cease to actively support charitable causes after the competition is over. Not so for Ms. Mpule Kwelagobe of Botswana (Miss Universe 1999) or Ms. Menaye Donkor (Miss Universe, Ghana, 2004). More than a decade after winning their titles, these two African beauty queens remain devoted to making a positive difference in the lives of children and youths. Here are their stories:
Mpule Keneilwe Kwelagobe was born in Gaborone, Botswana, the third and youngest child of Justice Mothusi Kwelagobe and Dibelang Montshosi Kwelagobe. At age 17, while still in high school, Ms. Kwelagobe became the youngest woman to win the Miss Botswana pageant. In May 1999, at the age of 19, Ms. Kwelagobe was the first ever delegate for the Miss Universe pageant from Botswana. She made history by beating more than 80 other delegates to win the competition. She was the first African-born Black woman to be crowned Miss Universe and the third Black woman to be crowned in the pageant’s history.
Following her historic crowning, Ms. Kwelagobe, in collaboration with the Harvard AIDS Institute and traveled to more than 20 countries in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean representing the official cause of the Miss Universe Organization, HIV/AIDS. Thereafter, Ms. Kwelagobe was recognized for her effective work by being appointed as the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Youth and HIV/AIDS. This position enabled her to address the US Congress, the UN General Assembly, and speak at global summits and conferences on youth and development.
In November 2000, Ms. Kwelagobe launched the MPULE Foundation. She began touring Botswana to fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS by promoting positive behavioral changes among youths and championing access to sexual and reproductive rights for women and youths. Impressed with Ms. Kwelegobe’s ongoing good works, in 2002, the Government of Botswana offered her a full scholarship if she wished to obtain an advanced education. Ms. Kwelagobe was very interested and graduated in 2006 from Columbia University in New York City with a degree in International Political Economy. The same year, the World Economic Forum recognized Ms. Kwelagobe as a Young Global Leader.
Wanting to do even more good, in 2011, Ms. Kwelagobe founded the MPULE Institute for Endogenous Development, a New York City-based advocacy and public policy think tank. As President of the MPULE Institute, Ms. Kwelagobe heads the Network of Women Investing in Africa (NEW Africa) Leadership Program and the African Youth in Agriculture, Rural Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (Africa Youth ARISE) initiative. Both programs invest in the next generation of leaders in agricultural development and seek to advance gender equality and youth empowerment in Africa.
Ms. Kwelagobe is the recipient of The International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care’s (IAPAC’s) Jonathan Mann Health Human Rights Award and sits on the international board of the Agriculture and Food Security Center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
Menaye Donkor was born in 1981 in Toronto, Canada. She is the youngest of seven children. Ms. Donkor was raised in Ghana. She returned to Canada for her studies and graduated with honors from York University in Toronto with a marketing degree.
In 2004, she won the entry-level pageant to the international Miss Universe competition was named Miss Universe Ghana. She went on to represent Ghana at the 2004 Miss Universe pageant, which was held in Quito, Ecuador, and won by Jennifer Hawkins of Australia.
Ms. Donkor has been a model, an editor of magazines in several countries including South Africa, Italy and Canada, and is also a philanthropist. Shortly after winning her 2004 award in Ghana she created the Menaye Charity Foundation. Ms. Donkor’s foundation offers medical care and other support to hundreds of underprivileged Ghanaian children, including those that are HIV positive and who are orphans.
In 2004, Ms. Donkor also took over the Menaye School of Hope which was established by her parents in 2001. The Menaye School of Hope has provided a quality education to over 500 underprivileged students. The Menaye Charity Organization provides everything for the school from the buildings and equipment to teachers’ salaries, students’ uniforms, and books. In 2011, through Ms. Donkor’s charitable organization the school was provided with an IT suite and a library. Plans are underway to build additional classrooms, obtain a school bus, start a school breakfast program, and increase teachers’ salaries. In the future, Ms. Donkor hopes to build a second Menaye School of Hope, in Konongo, in Ghana’s Ashanti Region. Ms. Donkor has been recognized for her charitable work, which has also included support for the Somanya Orphanage in Eastern Ghana and Korle Bu hospital in Ghana’s capital of Accra.
Ms. Donkor has continued to give more than a decade after being named Miss Universe, Ghana, because the projects she supports mean a lot to her personally. Her giving to the Menaye School of Hope assists youths in the village of Agona Asafo, the hometown of her father (her mother is from Kumasi). Consequently her support has been long term and the leaders of Agona Asafo have taken notice. In September 2012, Ms. Donkor was chosen by the Chief and elders of Agona Asafo, located in Ghana’s Central Region, to receive the prestigious title “Nkosuohemaa” or “Development Queen” of the town, due to her contributions to society. In receiving the title, Ms. Donkor became the youngest women in the area ever to receive the honor.
Ms. Kwelagobe and Ms. Donkor are not only models, but model citizens. They are giving back to society long after securing their Miss Universe titles. To read stories of others inspiring female philanthropists from across the continent visit my African Development Successes blog.