Meet Agnes Bangali, the Power House Millennial and youth leader whose drive and passion exceeds her years. She graduated from the Connecticut College in the USA with a double major in Biology and Gender and Women’s Studies and now works for the United Nations Population Fund as the Programme Associate for Adolescents and Youth programme.
Agnes is currently the Acting Executive Director for STEM Women Sierra Leone, an organization geared towards increasing female representation in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. She is the founder of Women’s Empowerment Networking Association, a young organization seeking to increase women’s participation in politics and governance.
Also, Agnes is the founder and CEO of Poise Photography, one of the very few female-owned media enterprises in Sierra Leone. She is passionate about women’s health and empowerment.
How do you juggle working in a full-time position in one of the World’s most trusted Organizations and managing a start-up?
My work is very important to me, and I’m very passionate about it. I’ve often been asked if I will one day give up my job and take up photography full time, I always answer with a firm no.
I love my job; I believe in the work we do to empower women and save lives, and I believe we’re making a difference. So, my job is always paramount. The good thing is, my work broadens my horizons. I get the chance to do photography as part of my work, and I often get the opportunity to photograph people and places I would not otherwise have been able to outside of my work.
So how do I juggle the two? Well, I do most of my photography work on weekends, or in the evenings after work, or when I am on leave. I tell people that I work seven days a week: Monday to Friday at one job, and Friday to Sunday at the other. I love it though. It keeps me energized.
I also have two employees that work with me on a part-time basis. One is a professional photographer, and the other is an apprentice in training. Most times when I get a photography job that falls on a weekday, I send my assistant to cover the event. He takes great photos, but I always edit the pictures. Every photographer has their own style of editing that gives their work a distinct look, and I want to my style of photographs to be consistent with my brand, regardless of who took the photo. Hence every Poise photo has the “Mimi touch” even if I didn’t take the photo myself.I tell people that I work 7 days a week: Monday-Friday at one job, and Friday-Sunday at the other Click To Tweet
If you were given the opportunity what two things would you do to change the climate of women’s health in Africa?
I would give women a choice over their reproductive lives, and fight to end maternal mortality and morbidity. I’m passionate about women’s reproductive health. Many women do not have a choice over how many children they have, or when they get pregnant, or whether or not they should have a baby. Such choices have life-long and sometimes fatal consequences on a woman.
A 14-year-old falling pregnant accidentally might die during delivery or a botched abortion. Or she might end up with obstetric fistula, a debilitating injury that leaves women incontinent after childbirth. A 16-year-old not having a say over whether or not she wants to have a child might result in her dropping out of school, and not achieving her full potential.
As women, our reproductive choices have an immeasurably significant impact on everything else we do. Our standard of living, length, and quality of life all depend on these choices. Women should have the power to choose what they want for themselves, as they will be the ones bearing the consequences.
I will also work to reduce maternal death. It’s the 21st century and no woman should die giving life. The fact that this still occurs is a great injustice. Because of our biological makeup, pregnancy is something that most women cannot or will choose not to escape. Women should not die performing their biological function. Maternal mortality has severe economic, social, emotional and psychological consequences on communities, and I believe it is one of the factors hindering national growth.
In your view what must be done to reduce teenage pregnancy in your home country, Sierra Leone?
The root causes of teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone are numerous and interconnected. However, I believe the three main factors causing high rates of teen pregnancy are poverty, cultural norms and lack of knowledge on sexual and reproductive health issues.
Since poverty and the practice of female circumcision are both deeply entrenched in our society, addressing them requires long-term planning and significant resources. Hence to address teen pregnancy in Sierra Leone I believe we should start with some short-term goals, which include increasing knowledge on how to protect oneself from unwanted pregnancy.
It is unlikely that once sexually active, a girl will revert to celibacy. Therefore it is best to make SRH knowledge and services easily accessible so that her actions will not have life-long consequences and she can achieve her full potential. Teens should know where and how to access family planning, know about the dangers of unprotected sex and be able to withstand pressure to engage in sexual activity if they are not yet ready.
With regards to tackling poverty and child marriage, this will require joint efforts from government, the private sector, the national and international development partners and communities themselves. Any anti-poverty intervention is a strike against teenage pregnancy. Any action towards gender equality is a step towards eradicating child marriage and teen pregnancy. Communities need to be engaged and involved in such efforts, so they can take ownership of the processes rather than being only beneficiaries.
How will you describe a young African woman that is empowered?
An empowered African woman is one that has a voice and the freedom to make her own choices. She is not disadvantaged in her community because she is a woman; she can survive on her own and take care of her loved ones and is equipped to recognize and take advantage of opportunities that come her way.An empowered African woman is one that has a voice & the freedom to make her own choices Click To Tweet
How does your role in STEM influence young girls in deprived communities?
STEM Women reaches out to underserved communities by holding sessions with school-going children to talk about the benefits of science. We seek to inspire young girls to aspire to do great things, using science and technology as a tool to break the cycle of poverty in their communities.
I try to design activities that ensure that the most vulnerable girls are reached with our programmes. STEM Women is currently about to start a project that will involve talking to girls in several communities in all four regions of Sierra Leone about science, education, empowerment, and technology. Not only will we be inspiring these girls, we will also mentor them to ensure they continue their education and be role models in their communities.
What triggered your interest in opening a media company? Why Poise Photography?
I like to do things in the correct manner. I was taking pictures and getting paid for it, so I decided to register my photography venture as an official business. This inspired me to take it more seriously and push me to strive for growth. I envisioned having a business that provides employment for numerous young people, including women. I enjoy photography very much and I want to use that passion to bring happiness to my clients and employment to others.
The name Poise Photography conveys grace and elegance and describes both the photographer and the client. When you see me in action the name will make sense.
How do you plan on sustaining your brand to last for the next generation?
My growth in photography so far has been fueled by personal research and lots of practice. In order to make this a sustainable brand I intend to study photography formally, and develop a proper business strategy and growth trajectory for the enterprise. I intend to employ more staff, open several studios and make photography a part of everything I do.
Ideas survive because knowledge and passion are passed from one generation to another. The only way what I’m creating will survive is by passing on the passion and knowledge to those that come after me. One day I might even open a Photography and Media school in Sierra Leone.The only way what I’m creating will survive is by passing on the passion and knowledge Click To Tweet
Which women entrepreneurs inspire in you in your local country?
Young women like me who have been bold enough to step up to the challenge of entrepreneurship. It’s not an easy thing to run your own business, and I’m inspired by the many women that are stepping up to the challenge every day. Women like Marian Kaikai of Madam Wokie, Alitta Ansu -Katta of Eat Smart, Ariana Oluwole of Narnia Daycare, Melford Marah of iGro, Yakama Manty-Jones of Crystal Clear Water and much more.
How do you want to be remembered as and why?
I want to be remembered for the impact I make in the lives of women in Sierra Leone. Even with photography, it is a tool for telling the stories of women, giving a voice to them, helping us to see the world through their eyes. I want women in Africa to live better lives because I was born.
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.