After attracting wide acclaim for their innovative approach to raising literacy rates in Sierra Leone, College seniors Fatmata and Mariama Kabia are ready to launch Memunatu Magazine to fulfill their mission of education and female empowerment.

Upon noticing the literacy discrepancy between young girls and boys in Sierra Leone, the twins decided to create a magazine to “introduce [girls] to subjects they might not initially gravitate toward,” Fatmata said, explaining that magazines “are creative, fun and educational, so the girls are interested.”

Memunatu will juxtapose stories about girls pursuing interesting projects with features on successful adult females who can serve as role models. Other sections will focus on health, trends, and math and science, and will include supplements to books in the school curriculum.

This summer, the twins traveled to Sierra Leone to conduct focus groups in Lunsar and the capitol Freetown. They also discussed their idea with Mass Communication professors and students from University of Sierra Leone in addition to recruiting staff members.

The twins first began to convert their idea into an international venture after receiving a small grant and mentorship from Weiss Tech House in the spring of 2010. With the help of several Penn connections, Fatmata and Mariama were able to visit the offices of Teen Vogue, Seventeen, Self and Glamour.

“We saw all the different steps that go into the making of a magazine,” Fatmata said. “[The editors] showed us how to keep a demographic hooked [and] what makes a magazine so attractive.”

Last April, Fatmata and Mariama presented Memunatu Magazine at the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference in San Diego, Calif. where they interacted with students pursuing similar projects and landed an interview at Sierra Leone’s national radio station for the following summer.

In the 2011 Dell Social Innovation Competition, Memunatu Magazine was also chosen as one of 15 semifinalists to receive year-long fellowships out of the 1,450 global social entrepreneurship projects submitted.

In addition to networking with and pitching the project to professionals, the twins have received educational and financial resources and business plan support. Mariama said the fellowship “was great to refine our idea and really pinpoint what we wanted and how we were going to execute.”

Most recently, Memunatu Magazine was selected for the Wharton Venture Initiation Program, which provides student projects at various stages of development with resources, networking opportunities and workshops such as legal boot camp. Students also meet with advisors to “discuss specifically what challenges they have, what they’re trying to accomplish and how to go about doing that,” Wharton VIP Advisor Jeffrey Babin said.

Babin, who is also a senior lecturer and associate director of Engineering Entrepreneurship Program, explained that prior to launching the magazine, the twins’ main focus is on advertising and distribution. “The next big step for them is getting it out and beginning to prove the concept,” he said.

Fatmata and Mariama plan to officially launch Memunatu Magazine in the beginning of 2012. While they have already prepared six issues, the twins are working to develop interest in Sierra Leone and execute the business aspects of their project.

“[In] Sierra Leone … there is a totally different economy and media culture — there is virtually no such thing as teenage magazines,” Mariama said. “We want to tailor the magazine toward [that demographic] so that it will help [them] but also be fun.”

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