“Educating girls lifts entire families out of poverty and creates confident, empowered young women.”

International model and founder of Malaika, Noella Coursaris was born in Lubumbashi, DRC. The loss of her father at age 5, along with her mother’s lack of resources, led to her being sent to Switzerland to live with relatives. After achieving a degree in business management, she moved to London and began a career in modeling, where her first campaign was for Agent Provocateur. Her success brought her to New York where she has been featured in a myriad of publications, including Vanity Fair, Essence and GQ. Alongside her active modeling career, the wife and mother of two founded Malaika, a non-profit that believes in empowering Congolese communities.

Fiercely proud of her heritage, Noella’s determination to help improve the lives of Africa’s youth has made her an international advocate for them. She has been featured on BloombergTV, three different CNN programs and the BBC’s Focus Africa. She has addressed UNICEF and the Kinshasa Parliament and gave a TEDx talk in Paris. Noella has participated in many international panels and was invited to speak about the future of Africa alongside President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative’s Opening and Closing Plenaries in Morocco. In 2014, Noella was named one of the 100 most influential Africans by New African magazine.

What was the driving force behind starting Malaika?

Growing up in Switzerland I was fortunate to receive a good education so, when I returned to the DRC as an adult I was shocked to learn of the education crisis there. Seven million children do not attend school and there is a 46% literacy rate for women. These were the motivating factors behind creating Malaika, in order to have a positive impact on such an important issue.

What is Malaika’s mission?

Malaika’s mission is to empower Congolese girls and their communities through education and health initiatives. We view our role as providing the Congolese people with tools and opportunities that they can then use to bring about positive results for themselves. Our work takes three distinct paths. The Malaika School is a free, accredited school that is providing a quality education to 231 girls. We provide classes in French, English, math, science, health and civic education which are given daily. The goal is to build the leadership capacity of each student so that she gives back to her community and has a positive, long term impact on the future of the DRC.  We impact the surrounding Kalebuka village through our Community Center, built in partnership with FIFA, which provides education, health and sports programming to adults and children.  We also provide essential infrastructure development by building five wells that supply over 10,000 people with clean drinking water. This has directly reduced the number of water-related illnesses like cholera and diarrhoea.

Why is empowering girls through education important to you?

The education crisis in Congo disproportionately affects women and girls. If families can afford to send a few of their children to school then they choose the boys and the girls are left to do domestic work. In the village of Kalebuka, where we work, the literacy rate for girls is just 8%. Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty. Educated women are less likely to marry early or to die in childbirth and they are less vulnerable to diseases like HIV/AIDS. They also increase their income by 25% and reinvest 90% of it into their families and communities. Educating girls lifts entire families out of poverty and creates confident, empowered young women.

Click here to read the rest of the interview in our October 2015 Business ISSUE.