Flame Tree Initiative

Social Entrepreneurship for African Development

The Flame Tree Initiative partners with African universities to foster scalable, socially-minded businesses that accelerate regional change. We believe that training, mentoring and launching development enterprises -- businesses that confront global development challenges -- is a potent way to contribute to the new, innovative era in Africa.

Wayne Decker


Wayne is the President of Flame Tree Initiative. Now a Professor Emeritus in the University of Arizona's School of Geography and Development, he was previously Director of the Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) graduate program. 

He holds an M.A. in political economy and a Ph.D. in International Politics from Johns Hopkins University. In addition to teaching in multiple disciplines, he has held research appointments at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Harvard University’s Center For International Affairs, and Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

The central ideas of the Flame Tree Initiative emerged during long dusty drives through Malawi with Jon Saints. We have never looked back. Wayne and Betsy have been married since before you were born.

contact: wayne@flametreeinitiative.org

Jones Ntaukira

Jones is Flame Tree's Country Coordinator for Malawi. As a child, Jones wanted to be either a doctor or an economist, but at age 13 something happened that changed his trajectory. He burnt down his family's grass thatch kitchen while helping his mother prepare dinner over the open fire they used for lighting. It was a nightmare to see that little hut and everything inside that his parents had worked so hard for burn down right before his eyes.

That incident has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Now Jones is dedicated to bringing affordable electricity to his village and as many others as he can reach so that such accidents do not happen again.  He now works as a social entrepreneur and cofounder of Empower Malawi -- a not-for-profit social enterprise that enables rural entrepreneurs to have access to finance, sustainable technologies and transferrable skills. Jones graduated from Mzuzu University in 2009 with a Bachelors of Science in Forestry. He is currently working towards a Masters in Entrepreneurship at the Malawi University of Science and Technology. Jones is a professional blogger and his writings can be read at The Envirogentia and he is also a contributor at the International Political Forum.


contact: jones@flametreeinitiative.org


Patricia Repolda


An avid fan of organizing, brand management and to-do lists, Patricia Repolda enjoys her new role at Flame Tree Initiative (FTI) as the Lead Development and Administrative Strategist. Her responsibilities include promoting local support for FTI's work, building up its internal organizational processes and overseeing the development and implementation of FTI's communication plan. Additionally, she will help lead and instruct DELabs - FTI's six-day intensive program that provides the basics of customized, development-focused innovation to aspiring social entrepreneurs.

Patricia is an experienced grant writer, resource developer and content creator for non-profits. She looks forward utilizing these skills to help FTI increase its capacity to launch innovative development enterprises in Eastern Africa and introduce the work of social entrepreneurs to the rest of the world. 

 At her most recent role as Development Manager at the International Rescue Committee, Patricia raised over $1 million in private and federal grant contracts and managed volunteer projects that rendered over 41,000 hours of in-kind support. She led public relations and advocacy campaigns to raise awareness of the refugee crisis and the support needed for the resettlement of African and Middle-Eastern refugees in Arizona.

 Prior to her non-profit work, Patricia was a Loss Mitigation Specialist at Citi bank - developing CRM practices to best assist clients seeking mortgage default programs and financial services, and ensuring service compliance with Citi's investors and regulatory guidelines.

 Patricia was born and raised in Makati City, Philippines. She spent four formative years in England before moving to the United States with her family where she finished high school. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, with a focus on cross-cultural communications. She currently splits her time between Tucson and Makati.

Kiki Fornito

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Kiki Fornito is thrilled to be the newest member of the Flame Tree Initiative family. She comes to us with a background in non-profit fundraising, partnership development, and event planning. She studied International Affairs at the University of Georgia, where she developed an interest in non-profit work. Kiki spent time living internationally as a primary school teacher in Ghana and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, before she earned her Master's Degree in International Development from the University of Denver.

In her previous role with international organization Build Change, she worked as the Development Manager, overseeing all fundraising and marketing activities. Kiki’s responsibilities included developing corporate partnerships, securing grants from private foundations, building relationships with individual donors, communicating effectively with stakeholders, and collaborating with team members around the world.  

Kiki is the Lead, External Funding & Strategic Partnerships with Flame Tree Initiative. In this role, she is responsible for building relationships and securing funding from individuals, businesses, foundations, and institutions. Developing mutually beneficial partnerships that engage our partners will ensure the long-term sustainability and growth of Flame Tree’s programs. Kiki will also be a part of the Leadership Team for the DELabs and counsel DEStudio Fellows on funding opportunities.  

Although Kiki grew up in Georgia, she has been enjoying life in Colorado for the last seven years. When she's not working, you can find her outside trail running, mountain biking, rock climbing, snowboarding and generally trying to keep up with her partner, Jeff. 

Lauren Simonis

Lauren Simonis

Lauren is the Lead on Special Projects for Flame Tree Initiative. She holds a Master's degree in Development Practice from the University of Arizona and has experience working in Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, and Cambodia. She specializes in leadership development, social entrepreneurship, and the interrelated challenges of the global development field with particular interest in women and girls empowerment. 

She currently lives in Portugal with her partner and their dog, Molly. When not at work, Lauren can be found teaching aerial yoga or planning for her next cozy, rainy day. 

contact: lauren@flametreeinitiative.org

Angel Allen


Angel is FTI's Mentoring and Grants Lead. Her passion for the mental wellbeing of women and girls has led her to work within diverse populations and objectives; such as, with youth of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, nuns in Belgium, orphanages in Mexico, mental health centers in Morocco, high school students in Taiwan, and soccer clubs in North Carolina. Her academics at the University of Arizona and the University of Massachusetts combined International Studies, Psychology, and the Middle East to arm her with tools for community development and cross-cultural connections.

Through building and co-directing an elite soccer club, she designed training programs with a focus on the Holistic Athlete (mind – psychological and tactical; body – technical skills, physiological conditioning and nutrition; and soul – leadership and personal growth). She believes in the transformational versus transactional methods of leadership, teaching, and collaboration along with its essential role in proactive global development.

When she is not riding dirt bikes, she can be found writing novels with her Siberian Husky at her feet under the pen name Angel Allendale.


Contact: angel@flametreeinitiative.org

Josiah Chavula


Josiah holds a Masters degree in Networking and Internet Systems from Lancaster University (UK), and is currently a Computer Science PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town, where he is looking at technical solutions to enhance Internet-based collaboration among universities in Africa. Josiah has a strong technical appreciation of Internet systems, having worked as an Internet engineer in Malawi's telecommunications industry before joining Mzuzu University. Currently, he is on the faculty there, where apart from teaching in academic programs for the past six years, he has championed skills-based ICT training programs for local communities and entrepreneurs in Malawi. He strongly believes that information and communication technologies (ICTs) like the Internet, should be used to support innovative and sustainable local solutions that help local communities, to be economically self-reliant.

Josiah currently lives in Cape Town, South Africa with his beautiful wife, Catherine, and their two children.

Catherine Chavula

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Catherine Mpando-Chavula is a scholar in the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) . Her interests are in the use of technology to empower people in the developing world to improve their livelihoods. She is particularly interested in technologies that are relevant to the living conditions of rural people and how to use these technologies to build sustainable  business models. Catherine is also a lecturer in ICT at Mzuzu University, Malawi were she has worked since 2006. She holds a MSc in Computer Science from University of Essex and is currently pursuing doctoral studies in Computer Science at the University of Cape Town in South Africa where she is raising her two beautiful children with her husband, Josiah.

Melvin Kadewere


Melvin Kristofer Kadewere is a versatile, deeply driven management professional with visible achievements in territory management, sales and marketing development. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Communications and Biblical Studies from African Bible College in Lilongwe, and a Master's in International Management from Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. He is an ardent believer in servant leadership and a team player with a proven track record of performance in sales productivity, customer relationship management, market development and client account management. Melvin came to Flame Tree through a desire to volunteer his time to a cause that he deeply believed in. He has gifted Flame Tree with his commitment to building the kind of trust and personal relationships that are necessary to creating a thriving mentorship network in Malawi.

Melvin's equally brilliant wife, Tawonga Tembo, is a graduate of the 2015 DELab. Before Melvin got old he was really good at basketball.

Thandi Chisala Mbvundula


Thandi founded Malawi’s first Internet Service Provider, Epsilon & Omega, more than fifteen years ago. After extensive work with ICT for Development in South Africa, she has returned to Malawi to head NICO Technologies, Ltd. in Blantyre. Thandi has legendary experience in ICT4D and entrepreneurship. Thandi was the one who first influenced Wayne to come to Malawi back in 2000. It’s safe to say that Flame Tree would look very different without her.

Dr. Mavuto Tembo



Dr. Mavuto Tembo is the member of Flame Tree Initiative in Malawi. He is also a Deputy Dean for Mzuzu University’s Faculty of Environmental Sciences where he serves a variety of posts including directing post-graduate programs. He first became interested in FTI because he sees opportunities for business coaching in Malawians because they have all what it takes to be entrepreneurs but are lacking access to guidance. The central idea of the Flame Tree Initiative is in line with Mavuto’s aspirations of promoting entrepreneurship in University education. He believes that ‘his life should be a benefit to many lives’. We must all live for this. What are you doing to make meaning in somebody’s life?

Lila Burgos


Lila holds a Master's degree in Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA and received her Bachelor's in International Studies from the University of Arizona. She has extensive experience working as a researcher with diverse community development organizations to address issues such as the strengthening of public infrastructure, public health, education, and planning. Passionate about community-based work and capacity building, she contributes her strategic planning, business development, and facilitation skills to Flame Tree. Currently she works in social impact program evaluation and community engagement in Los Angeles, CA, USA. 

In her off time, Lila can be found trekking through mountains, riding her bike, and honing her shower opera singing skills. 

Wendy Scheder Black


Wendy has been teaching and developing programs at schools, universities and in the corporate sector for over 20 years. As an entrepreneur, she founded training centers in Indonesia and the US delivering ICT training aimed at local business development. She is currently a Program Developer at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona, building accelerated pathways to employment through education.  She holds a degree in International Relations from Syracuse University, and is working towards her MA in Education and International Development from the Institute of Education at the University of London, focusing on the wider impact of universities toward national development.

Teles Machibya


Originally from Mwanza, Tanzania, Teles did his graduate work at the University of Arizona in electrical engineering and he has expertise in alternative energy, notably solar systems.  While deeply involved with energy poverty issues, Teles also teaches courses in both Swahili and Africana Studies at the University of Arizona. He is the lead person on the University of Arizona’s prospective Rural Empowerment project in Mwanza, Tanzania.

Caitlin Decker

Caitlin is a writer and sustainable fashion consultant, currently living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She has a Masters in Public Health from NYU, and has focused mostly on women's health and empowerment in her career. She has worked on projects in South America, Africa, South East Asia, and North America for organizations like UNWomen and CHAI. She is the former Executive Director for the Chamber of Commerce in Phnom Penh. She plans to invade more regions soon. Be sure to check out her blog.

Pauline Mujawamariya


A native of Rwanda, Pauline graduated from The University of Arizona and won a Fulbright grant to study Poverty and Development at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), Sussex University, England. Her work there involved the interrelationships between the structural causes of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. She was also a Fulbright Fellow at UNESCO in Paris, working on issues related to Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace. Pauline was a Technical Officer for the World Health Organization in Geneva, addressing issues related to the neglected diseases of poverty. She has also worked for the Research Corporation in Tucson and is currently undertaking exciting new work as the project officer for the Africa Innovation Fund, a Zurich-based group that partners with the UN Economic Commission for Africa to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa.


Whitney Hollis


Whitney received her B.A. from the University of Arizona in International Studies. While on a field assignment in Mauritania, she realized the impact business could contribute to build a more sustainable world. She furthered her studies at the University of Edinburgh obtaining a M.Sc. in International Business and Emerging Markets. Since then she has been driving transformational change within business and society. She is passionate about entrepreneurship and has supported several entrepreneurial endeavors across the globe by providing pro bono consultancy and general support to start-ups. She specializes in strategy, project management, operational design, and impact measurement. Whitney brings to Flame Tree her corporate experience to bridge big business with social entrepreneurship. 

Currently, Whitney works in sustainability advisory at EY in London, United Kingdom.

In her spare time, Whitney is dedicated to colonizing Britain through softball. 

Jon Saints



A graduate of the University of Arizona in International Studies, Jon was a Fulbright scholar in Malawi where he taught programming and advanced Mzuzu University’s internet connectivity. He is a seasoned software engineer (14 years experience), proven innovator, and business leader. Jon has lead tech initiatives for startups as well as large tech companies.  He also co-founded the fair trade company Dsenyo.


When not working, Jon is loving life in Colorado with his wife Marissa and two sons. 

Marissa Perry Saints

Marissa Saints is founder of Dsenyo a social enterprise which she started in 2009. Dsenyo's mission is to empower a global tribe of artisans, entrepreneurs, and customers to enrich their lives through partnerships created around fair trade gifts and ethical fashion. As a triple-bottom-line business, Dsenyo is committed to social change, inspired design, fair trade principles, and responsible business practices.  She has a background in international development and graphic design. Dsenyo works with 120 women and artisans in Malawi, Zambia and Brazil with items sold by retail partners in the USA, Canada and Australia.  Marissa runs the daily operations of Dsenyo and leads product design for the company.  When not immersed in Dsenyo, you'll find Marissa playing soccer, out on a hike or hanging out with her husband and their little boy.

Colleen Whitaker


Colleen has a B.A. from the University of Arizona in International Studies with a focus on natural resource management and Geospatial Information Systems, and an M.S. in Environment and Development from the London School of Economics. From 2002-2003 she was a Fulbright scholar in Malawi, working with Mzuzu University and a local water development NGO to enhance local capacity for using geospatial technologies. Her work over the last 12 years has included using participatory mapping as a tool for community development for the third sector in London. She also works in the US as a consultant specializing in collaboration on public lands management and community development.