Nosipiwe Ngqwala, 30, could easily have given up before she even started.
Her Zulu mother was a domestic worker and not married to her Xhosa father. When she was young, Ngqwala was sometimes bewildered by their cultural differences, and, just as she was coming to grips with her identity, her mother died.
So, at the age of 17, she took three of her six younger siblings into her full-time care. Determined to become a doctor, she used her entrepreneurial initiative to invent jobs to earn money for herself and the children – including her own son, who was born when she was 21 years old.
Instead, she decided to study pharmacy and, at the age of 29, gained her PhD at Rhodes University. Her overarching objective is to contribute to the country’s intellectual pool and scientific capacity, but not just academically.
Through numerous leadership and science programmes she mentors future scientists, while at a grassroots level, through her non-profit organisation, Children of the Soil, she involves youth in environmental education and agricultural initiatives.
She also started a book club to encourage children to read African writers and write reviews on the club’s blog. Her aim is always to inspire young people to believe in their abilities to shape the future.