Delivering the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on Tuesday, Obama warned that the world had plunged into "strange and uncertain times", in a speech containing a series of apparent veiled attacks on US President Donald Trump.
Mr Obama's speech highlighted how the Nobel Peace Prize victor, who was imprisoned for 27 years, kept up his campaign against what appeared to be insurmountable odds to end apartheid, South Africa's harsh system of white minority rule.
Although Wakoli may not be a household name, Obama distinguished her to be "among the 200 people from the African continent who are striving to make changes in their communities and reflecting Mandela's values and are poised to lead the way". Mandela showed us what it means to spend a life in service to those ideals.
Barack Obama's trip to South Africa for the centenary celebration of Nelson Mandela's birthday has been very worthwhile and historic. In the photo, a much younger version of Aishwarya can be seen greeting Nelson Mandela at an event.
"Look around - strongman politics are ascendant, suddenly, whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained, the form of it, where those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning".
Since leaving the White House, Mr Obama has largely avoided direct involvement in United States politics and has refrained from criticising Mr Trump.
"You have to believe in facts", Obama said.
Obama met Mandela only briefly in 2005 but gave a eulogy at his funeral saying Mandela "makes me want to be a better man" and hailing him as "the last great liberator of the 20th century".
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.
Mandela, who died in December 2013, would have turned 100 years today.
Obama said: "Madiba's light shone so brightly ... that in the late seventies he could inspire a young college student on the other side of the world to re-examine my own priorities - to reconsider the small role that I might play in bending the arc towards justice".
Charity initiatives included blanket campaigns for the homeless, garbage collection and the construction of housing for low income citizens, with the Mandela Foundation announcing on Twitter that its staff would be "building 100 homes to mark #Mandela100 and packing food parcels".