Pushing the boundaries

In first grade, Hilja Eelu’s father encouraged her to ask questions and because of that she is today able to challenge the status quo and dare to be different, all of which are characteristics that have aided her in winning the young businesswoman of the year award.

22 October 2019 | Youth

Ester Kamati



“I enjoy coming up with ideas, often random, often impractical, but occasionally valuable,” says young businesswoman of the year Hilja Eelu.

Eelu is a firm believer that one’s degree or profession should not be a limitation and has proven that through winning the young businesswoman of the year award.

“My career is in science, yet I just won an award in business! In a world with a billion problems, we should all be working to tackle one or the other,” she says.

Eelu is an assistant lecturer at the University of Namibia, and also serves as the programme director of the African Pathfinder Leaders Initiative (APLI).

The keen absorber of information also heads research at Foster Digital Education, and is a member of the Global Shapers Windhoek Hub. She’s also an Allan Gray Orbis Fellow.

As an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Candidate Fellow, Eelu was on an entrepreneurial and personal leadership development journey for four years during her undergraduate studies. She was anxious to discover how she could contribute to Namibia’s development upon graduation and in 2015, she started Project Inspire to produce career advice videos for high school learners.

She put the project on hold and focused on building skills to be able to execute and familiarise herself with most of the resource-dependent components of the project. Eelu then began to self-teach videography as well as develop a hands-on approach to projects she led.

Since returning home she runs Project Inspire through her work at Foster Digital Education, a start-up producing animated content for learners and the public at large. In September, she gave a presentation on innovation in education at the Economics Association of Namibia’s annual conference in her capacity as the head of research and innovation.

“Beyond helping gifted youngsters acquire soft and hard skills, APLI aims to ensure that these newly acquired skills translate into successful ventures and projects that contribute to the development of Namibia,” says Eelu.

One of the highlights for her has been “getting to know young change-makers, running two successful residential programmes, receiving 116 applicants for our 2020 Fellowship Programme and piloting the Foundation Programme at Wennie du Plessis last weekend”.

Eelu would like to leave a legacy of her “consistent fight, willingness to be authentic and vulnerable but also strong and smart”. Her enthusiasm and energy to improve not only her own endeavours but also those of others are what makes Eelu remarkable leader.

An entrepreneur’s work is never done and Eelu uses her free time to catch up on other work. “Occasionally I play around with videography,” she says, adding that she also spends time maintaining relationships as she deems these extremely valuable.

“Fail fast, you are young, and have the rest of your life to try again,” she advises the youth. “Secondly, find community. Entrepreneurs across the country will tell you how hard it is, and it is even harder alone.”

She further instructs them to have a great team or simply a group of people who understand their journey and are aligned in their struggle and find rest in these people.

Lastly, she advocates curiosity and encourages young entrepreneurs to keep learning about themselves, their clients, business and industry.

“There is a wealth of knowledge in people,” she says, encouraging young people to seek help and ask questions. In addition, consistency in value is a key ingredient for entrepreneurial success according to Eelu.

“You never really figure it out.” That is one thing that Eelu learned from her mentor, Thandi Luzuka.

“It gave me perspective that there is no moment when the fog becomes clear, and that rather my life is an experiment for living.”

Factbox:

· Eelu loves Oshikundu

· She is very sociable

· She has two dogs

· She started school at the age of 5

· She did some Taekwondo a few years ago

· She once hitchhiked through Botswana alone

· She has a twin

· Waffles and zinger wings are foods that always cheer her up.

· Her favourite Anime character is Tohsaka Rin from Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works

· She has great vision

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