Cynthia Jones: From Banker to Baker

Cynthia Jones born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She worked as a banker at some of the most reputable banks in Zimbabwe, some of which are Banc Abc and Nedbank, until she found her passion in 2006, which is baking.

She never took qualifications in baking or culinary art, rather, she studied Marketing at the University of South Africa. Cynthia is a mother of 2 boys, and she holds 2 awards with Megafest Business Awards held in Zimbabwe.

In this article, she shares her experience switching careers and learning to manage a diverse team.


How you did manage to switch careers?

It was hard moving from full-time employment as it meant without fail I had to succeed or my family wouldn’t eat.

I started off with part-time baking after work and weekends, and because I love baking, I wanted to do give my all, and I gave myself 5 years to make it work and if it didn’t I would go back to full-time employment.

It’s 6 years to the day I left employment and I am happy I did. Now I do what I am passionate about and get paid for it too. I bake for all occasions and have also started teaching baking as well and specialize in cake art.

What are the Dos and Donts’ of transitioning

To do: 

  • Do what you are passionate about and give it your all.
  • Do a SWAT analysis of the business you want to do first.

I knew baking was for me because it calms me. I can wake up a 3 am and still enjoy doing what I do

Not to do:

  • Don’t just jump into a business because it worked for someone else
  • Don’t expect someone to do it for you. You have to be there 24/7 for the business to work. Not just delegating.

How did your prior work experience help in building your brand?

My experience as an employee helped me understand and appreciate the team that I have. Also, working in a bank was definitely an advantage as it has helped me understand my business and be able to manage and multi-task.

I am where I am because of the experience I got from there.

How have you managed to work with diverse teams?

I have grown up in a diverse community learning with people from all walks of life so it has been easy for me to deal with diverse culture.

My husband is Welsh (England). Which made me appreciate people from all over which helps me to able to deal with my clients and their cultural differences by doing so they appreciate my efforts.

Having worked in different sectors and finally finding passion in baking, what are your major tips to managing a diverse team?

Managing a diverse team is all about understanding the unique attributes that individuals respectively possess.

It is about taking note and recognizing contributions made by different people and understanding the different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs, once a leader understands this, the work environment becomes conducive.

Here are some steps you can take to managing a diverse team: 

1. Make sure that your employees feel valued and included in planning which in turn leads to more contributions from them.

2. Getting to know each of your employees as an individual. Recognize each person’s unique talents and abilities.

3. Communicate with each employee and always giving back feedback.

4. Treat each of your employees fairly and equally.

5. Make sure that each person is participating equally on the team.


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Erika Atienza: From solo backpacking through Africa to becoming a Digital Entrepreneur

This is not a success story of a freelance solo backpacker who became a digital entrepreneur. Not a story of someone who went from nobody to become somebody.

This is a story of someone who used to live life passively, without a purpose other than to make it through the day okay, until finally realizing a dream, then realizing she can fulfill that dream, and eventually going after it.

This is a story of how I finally came to understand a lesson I’ve heard many times over – That there is nothing in this world we cannot accomplish if we really put our heart’s desire into it.

And it all started in Africa.

Erika shares how she became a digital entrepreneur and founded @whileinafrica by moving from the Philippines to backpack and volunteer through Africa. Read more... Click To Tweet

First, the Travel Bug…

I had a typical life with an 8-5 job and everything about my life was “okay”. It’s not bad at all. I was fortunate but I was definitely not living life on the edge.

But after being able to travel to a foreign country alone for the first time,  I had an epiphany that I wanted to see the world. Since that trip, it was just never the same for me. That night, I finally understood what passion meant. And mine was to see the world.

And so after 2 yrs of over-planning and some modest savings that were definitely not enough, off I went. I left despite the doubts because if I waited for the “right time”, I was afraid it wouldn’t come.

Buying my 1st and only backpack

Why Africa?…

I was choosing between South America and Africa and somewhere along my research, I found cheaper flights to Tanzania. And that was really the main reason why Africa ended up becoming my first solo backpacking destination.

Also, I thought it was exotic and I wanted to prove to myself that I can pull it off. Indeed, I was able to visit other African countries as well for the next few months.

Budget Problem. No Problem…

A few months before my flight, I looked for volunteering opportunities and ways to travel cheaply. I searched workaway for hosts but there’s really nothing in there that I found interesting.

Couch surfing community in the cities I wanted to visit seemed dodgy and everywhere else, there was only voluntourism.  A little deeper into my research and I had an “AHA” moment. I learned that safari tourism is big in Tanzania. In fact, all over East and Southern Africa.

I did marketing in my previous job so I’m familiar with the whole concept of “Ex-Deal”. Hence, I emailed every one of them in a personalized manner, introduced myself like a pro, and offered to help in their marketing in exchange for food and accommodation.

A few days later, I received another milestone in my backpacking career, someone actually replied and took me in.

And so, with my heart full, I went to Tanzania and for the next few weeks, I was staying at their office helping them out with marketing while combining it with tours here and there.

It was the perfect way to get to know the culture and experience the local life, just my kind of travel! I worked with Gosheni Safaris in Tanzania and experienced the local life

From Freelancer to a business owner…

After I left, my “boss” kept emailing and texting me about the things I have started while working for him. I carried on to politely help them and after some time of consistent demands, I had another “AHA” moment.

I presented the best opportunity they can ever imagine… that I work for them remotely.

They were thrilled with the idea and we came up with a fair price that later on increased to a modest amount that funded most of my travels. This idea fired me up and I basically traveled for the next 2 months in Africa, either looking for volunteering opportunities or trading off my skills.  

I continued to travel for a couple of years more doing the same thing until I finally decided to slow down a bit. As I had a lot of free time now that I wasn’t all over everywhere, I decided to take it up a notch and find a few more clients by emailing them and advertising myself.

Eventually, in 2018, I took another major step and built my own website, made everything official, and registered my humble digital marketing service.  

It’s worth mentioning that until this time, the same company in Africa where I first volunteered is still a client and they have passed on a lot of referrals to me ever since.

Looking back, I think the thing that made all the difference is that I always did my best while serving my volunteering time.

Even though I was not getting paid, even though I know I wasn’t going to work-volunteer for that company for long, I gave it my best shot and I always try to have fun. And it paid off in better ways I can imagine.

So always, always do your best. This is how you make impressions and build connections. A lot of opportunities can open by simply putting your best foot forward at all times.

Good times and shots with friends in Nairobi, Kenya.

Here are some lessons you can learn from my experience…

1. There’s no one right way to do things

You don’t need to have a big capital to start your own business. Especially in this day and age, even a kid can become an entrepreneur, all you need is creativity and courage.

In my case, the right dose of luck and creativity allowed me to build a modest lifestyle of being able to work from anywhere in the world and where I was able to combine my skills and passion.

But there is no one way right way to do things.

The first things to ask yourself are:

  • What am I passionate about?
  • What am I good at?
  • What are my potentials?

Then try to think if there is a way where you can combine the two. The possibilities are endless!

If like me, you’re a born traveler but stuck at a job you semi-hate, set aside some time to find clients through Upwork or another online network, and save up until such time that you can quit your job and plan a life of travel around it.

If you travel first and then just find anything to earn money from, not capitalizing on your skills… It will be really difficult for you to sustain it.

Doing what you love will allow you to meet new friends and make your life even more colorful.

There’s no such thing as bad luck, only excuses - @whileinafrica Click To Tweet

2. Don’t be greedy, but know your Value

If you follow your passion and build skill around it, income will follow naturally. When I volunteered, it didn’t matter that I was not getting paid at all.

Had I been greedy and negotiated for compensation on top of the free meal and accommodation, the turn out of things may have been different.

After seeing how I worked, they understood my worth and that gave me more than enough leverage to negotiate for what I thought I deserved.

At the same time, they trusted me even more, which added to their confidence in trusting my business not only in terms of skills but attitude as well.

If you follow your passion and build skill around it, income will follow naturally - Erika @whileinafrica Click To Tweet

3. Just go for it and the universe will conspire to help you

I first came across this statement in Paulo Coelho’s book, “The Alchemist”, years ago, and it stuck with me since. It sounds so cheesy but even after evolving as a person and having a change of perspective many times. I have always believed this because IT IS SO TRUE.

If you put your energy and focus into something you are passionate about, you can indeed move mountains.

4. There will always be doubts. Welcome them with open arms

No one is born a master of anything. Sometimes we doubt ourselves and fail so we can stand up and learn new things every day. That is simply the nature of life.

Without those, there is no life to live.  I still get insecure if I’m fit to deliver the service I’m selling and then I talk to potential clients who have no clue what to do with their marketing and I realize that I actually have a lot of things to share and they find it very helpful.

We were born in a society where success is defined in comparison to others, an unfortunate recipe of society. But it shouldn’t be that way.

Don’t let it be that way. We are successful if we achieve peace, content, and happiness in the things we love to do. Even more successful if we can feel the same joy for others too, regardless of gender, race, or religion.

Me and my husband, Martin, on a weekend trip while living in our previous home in Cyprus, with our friends from Russia, and our favorite all-purpose cloth (shuka) from Kenya

 I’m Asian and I’m married to a European, yet we put up a business for African tourism and blog about our travels because we fell in love with this continent and now consider it as our 3rd home.

Who knows how long I can carry on being a digital entrepreneur, maybe in a few years time I’ll decide to become a musician, perhaps a painter, or maybe I’d prefer to settle down as a housewife, and that is okay.

But for now, I’m still a backpacker, I still travel cheap, and definitely not rich (financially). But I found my purpose and I’m living my dream. And that’s more than I can ever ask for.

So ladies, do yourself a favor and get out of the box and let the world see what you’re capable of.

Find and live your passion and tell us your story.


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Dear employee, what’s your leadership distinction?

 Every year for the last few years I’ve called a year a particular name. 2016 was called the year of outstanding distinction. 2017 the year of creative distinction, the year 2018 was the year of cutting edge distinction and 2019 I’ve called the year of global distinction.

There’s an unprecedented political, economic, socio-cultural and technological shift which involves easy access to fake news, fear news and forward-thinking news.

But, through it all, I truly believe we are in one of the most exciting times which I’ve called the era of creative distinction.

As an employee, know that the global market is now local, and the local market has gone global. And with the emergence of artificial intelligence, now is the time to lead with your distinction.

The first question is what actually is leadership?

In 2015 from my message of Cutting Edge Distinction, I penned the following quote,

“Leadership isn't about age but rather, leadership is about influence, impact, and inspiration - @Onyianyado777 Click To Tweet

As you see from my quote, it’s not about how old you are, how young you are, how long you’ve been in your job or industry, the essence of cutting edge leadership is simply the 3 I’s, influence, impact, and inspiration.

Question number 2, before you can serve and lead with your influence, impact, and inspiration, who is the first person you have to influence, impact, and inspire? That’s right, you got it, it’s you.

In this era of creative distinction, finding, developing and leveraging your distinction as an employee is key to your development and that of your department and organization as a whole.

So how should the 21st-century employee channel their leadership skills?

Lead with excellence

We’ve already established what the essence of cutting edge leadership is and from my message of cutting edge distinction, I’ve combined excellence and branding and created the 3 V’s of branding. Your vision, your values, and your voice.

The key to employee distinction is to be fully emerged with the vision, value, and voice of your organization, why?

If you’re not seeing, believing and saying what your organization is seeing, believing and saying, no distinction can be created in regards the prosperity, progress, and purpose of your organization.

 

Be a trailblazer and pioneer

On the image below I developed the 3 C’s of employee distinction. To lead with distinction in your chosen career, the 3 C’s have to be your way of life.

You’ve heard of thinking outside the box but in this era of creative distinction, using the ‘box’ as a stepping stone to save money, improve output and increase productivity is a key to leadership distinction.

Creativity is the new currency so regularly reading articles and watching TED Talks will, in my opinion, increase your creative awareness.

Once you achieved a task in work, actively look for other tasks to complete. If you find them hard, ask team members for assistance knowing not only does teamwork make the dream work, teamwork also makes you write, work and win with your leadership skills enhanced.

Bring constant change to your organization

With your understanding of what cutting edge leadership is all about, taking the lead to be known as a solution provider in your organization is a vital key to employee distinction.  

Spending quality time to serve, showcase and speak your distinction will mean you sometimes being misunderstood but because you’ve integrated the 3 V’s of your organizations brand, any misunderstanding will mean you’ll eventually be understood as a leader who is a critical thinker and a problem solver.

For the next seven days spend time observing the challenges you face at work and how quickly you use critical thinking to gain a quicker result. It doesn’t matter if you are a junior staff or you’ve been in your organization for less than say 6 months.

Your leadership distinction will come from constantly applying the 3 M’s of time management which can be viewed on the quote below and also asking questions, looking for quicker solutions, working in the team to see and understand the future goal and understanding, applying and really celebrating your leadership distinction.

So there you have it, you’ve been given the essence of cutting edge leadership and who the 21st-century employee is. With organizations desperately looking for employees who are thought leaders in nature and results, now is the time for you as an employee to lead with your distinction.


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Yanoh Jalloh: Fixing severe disparities and health inequities in Sierra Leone

From developing reproductive health programs for young girls in Kabala Sierra Leone, to managing high level projects funded by the center for Disease Control.

Yanoh Jalloh is well equipped to provide high quality research, programmatic and training expertise to organisations focused on health and development in African countries and the United States.

Born to Sierra Leonean parents in the United States, Yanoh’s passion to contributing to healthy sustainable societies by providing evidence based research driven programs, tools and resources has always been evident.

Over the last decade, she has garnered the necessary experience from working with local and international Non-Governmental organisations in Africa, to high level university research institutes in the United States. 

In this  interview, Yanoh Jalloh shares her career journey with young women in Sierra Leone, and her hopes to inspire and encourage them along their own journeys.


Women interested in public health - do not get into this industry for the money. It is a field that can be riveting, emotional, draining, but very fulfilling - @YKayJ Click To Tweet 

Describe yourself in one sentence?

I am a motivated, skilled and experienced international development specialist with close to a decade of’ experience of working with hard to reach populations of youth and on projects in Sierra Leone.

What motivates you to develop healthier societies in Africa?

Though I was born in the states, my family is originally from Sierra Leone and I have always felt a compelling call to respond to the severe disparities and health inequities in Sub- Saharan Africa.

Tell us about your public health background and how it relates to your Sierra Leonean heritage?

I obtained my Masters’ in Public Health with a concentration in Global Health in 2012, in 2011 during my practicum experience, I started working on the ground in Sierra Leone with the NGO Helen Keller International.

It was during this experience that I was able to hone in on my research and evaluation skills as I worked on a project which aimed to redesign the national child health card.

I also evaluated a multi-faceted nutrition intervention that was being implemented in several clinics throughout Freetown, Sierra Leone. Since then, I have been working both domestically on abroad on both short-term and long-term projects that mainly aim to improve health outcomes.

I have also worked with organisations in providing evaluation support and planning.

What are some career challenges you face?

I am in my early 30’s but I started working in this field in my mid 20’s. Age has often been a barrier and a challenge.

When you are young, you often lose opportunities to candidates who may have more years of experience, but are not necessarily as seasoned as you in a particular skill. I am also told I look a bit younger than I am, so this has also been a barrier.

Trying to balance a family and a young daughter has been so fulfilling but has also been a challenge. I have had to turn down opportunities as it conflicted with my family life, though I do not regret it, other opportunities that were more appropriate came along.

What are 3 things you have achieved in your field that you are proud of?

  1. Designing, leading, and teaching the first online Health Policy Course to MPH students at the College of Medical and Allied Health Sciences in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
  2. Developing health and sanitation courses for 300 youth in Kabala, Sierra Leone
  3. Leading alongside my amazing colleagues an adult immunisation campaign across New York City, during this campaign we partnered with 100 organisations and educated the providers about the importance of adult vaccines.

What advise can you provide to other women who want to go into health consultancy?

You will receive a lot of no’s before you receive a yes.

I would also advise to be very flexible, early on I had to take on unpaid or very low paying opportunities to build my portfolio, you must use these opportunities to advance your experience and to build contacts as well as to network.

Finally, do not get in this field for the money, it is a field that can be riveting, emotional, draining, but very fulfilling, you must get in this field because you want to see change.

For the Women|Change|Africa Bosschiques Build Program in Collaboration with WCA Creatives & Nadia Marie &Co


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7 Ways to Inspire your Team this Year

As a Boss Lady, I happen to have a lot of mentees and team members look up to me. And by all means, I want to inspire my team and bring out the best in them.

For one, I want to inspire them to keep putting out great work, and secondly, I want to remember that they are not tools for work but human beings. I have to be sensitive to them.

In my Boss Lady life, I have taken a few notes that I will like to share with other Boss Ladies to help them serve their team better. Here are seven ways to inspire your team this year. 😘😘

Don’t Talk Down On Your Team

So, remember we are raising leaders – people who can stand tall with us. The word superior mustn’t necessarily be taken literally in a way that it makes those who work with us feel the exact opposite of that word.

You always want to make your team feel respected as humans with differences. Don’t display any character that puts down people.

For example; Don’t make a joke about a team member’s religion. Everything is about inspiring confidence. Language tops it.

Always be polite even when you are giving criticism. Ever heard of commend and recommend? (Ask a Toastmaster 😉).

Christine Porath in her TEDx presentation on incivility in the workplace says,

“How you show up and treat people means everything. Either you lift people up by respecting them, making them feel valued, appreciated, and heard or you hold people down by making them feel small, insulted, disregarded or excluded. And who you choose to mean everything”.

Show That You Want Them To Succeed

I know we say professionally, “don’t refer to yourselves in the workplace as a family” but to get people to grow an organization with you. You have to be all about the people who are all about your work.

The CEO of House of Tara – Tara Durotoye said she learned very early as an entrepreneur, that for the people who leave their homes every day to come to a workplace there has to be more.

She learned to stop referring to the company as ‘my company’ but ‘our company’.

You have to make people see a greater reason for coming to work. Make them buy into the vision, and show them that you care about their personal affairs.

Ever heard of Linkedin’s Tour of Duty? Where employees are moved up the ranks periodically depending on their career goals.  That’s a way to identify with the needs of the team. Learn more in The Startup of You by Reid Hoffman.

Sir Richard Branson says, “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to”.

Always find ways to add value to your team.

Constantly Give Kudos For A Job Well Done

I read the One-minute Manager many years ago, about effective people management. How the one-minute-manager was able to, in one minute dish out praises, and just in the same vein dish out reprimands, – an intentional leadership style.

Team Leaders have to praise team members as a habit, not only reprimand them. It creates conditioning – that they are appreciated and valued, and reinforces learning.

Many times I have realized I hold the keys to many team members happiness and self-esteem, and the worst thing to do is abuse that privilege.

Many people are going through stuff or trying to believe in themselves. Realize they could use some hope from you.

The toastmaster’s sandwich method of ‘Commend and Recommend’ is the recommended feedback standard, especially when there’s a reprimand coming.

You have to always find the good in a team member’s work first, and commend it before reprimanding. Commend their good intentions, or make reference to their usual good works.

There has to be something to commend. Then move unto how they can do better. Notice I said ‘how they can do better’ not necessarily focusing on what they did wrong. Remember they have to feel good about themselves at all times.

Set High Standards For People Experience

I worked with a friend last year and was so impressed by her high standard of people experience. It inspires loyalty, as even I look forward to working with her again and again.

I like it that House of Tara refers to her HR Department as the People Experience Team because this aptly puts their job.

In fact, I was so impressed by this that at a Managers’ Training on Empathy and Emotional Intelligence I used HOT as a case study.

Now that we have established that incivility is a no-no! And that this whole article is about inspiring team members. We are well on our way to implementing a culture.

  • How do you mark the workers’ special days?
  • What are the benefits put in place?
  • Do you show interest in their work process or just the end result?
  • How do you react at a failed expectation?
  • Do they feel anxiety or inspiration towards work?
  • Do they feel treated better by other work teams/workplaces?
  • Do you deliberately paint them in a bad light before people?

It is when we can genuinely answer these questions as boss ladies, and take action to get our people to experience right, then we will be doing right by the people who work with us.

Don’t Set Unreasonable Goals

Ahan! So, there’s this impossibility fairy who told us doing the impossible means setting unreasonable goals.

The truth is being Miranda Priestly is no longer cool.

Of course, it turned Emily into a go-getter but wasn’t Miranda only trying to get Emily fired at first by driving her nuts with unbearable tasks?

Oh! look at me talking to only those who have seen ‘The Devil Wears Prada’

While we want to keep team members challenged, there is a difference between being motivated and being anxious. You want people to go out of their way but within reason.

Don’t push people.

Don’t set unrealistic timelines, or be overly ambitious, or set unbearable standards. We are all trying to do the impossible, however, let it be reasonably so.

If you put people on their toe all the time, definitely a burnout or rebellion is coming soon.

Teach Them To See Responsibility As Growth

So, we are still talking about inspiration, and growing people through responsibility is part of it.

While work must go on, let there be a growth consciousness. Does the work build capacity? Does it drive them to study and research? Embracing work as a challenge rather than ‘work’ serves as inspiration.

I was so pleased to hear one of my team members say that work means personal development for her. She said “I told myself I have not still attained my goals, so this year my goal for being here is personal development’.

Go for creating a work environment that is inspiring, and learn-by-doing. Don’t ever make people feel that it is all about ticking boxes on the to-do list.

See this Instagram post by Harvard Business Review.

Empower The Team

Speaking of a work environment ‘empowered’ is a good word to think of. Here are some more questions for you to think of.

  • How are you empowering those who work with you?
  • Are you showing trust and not micromanaging?
  • Do you promote them and the work they do?
  • Do they have all the resources to work with? Do you support them to acquire skills or build the capacity needed for the work?
  • Do you inspire confidence?
  • Do you encourage openness?
  • Do you show empathy? 

If you said yes to most or all of the questions then you have an empowered team already. Keep up the good work.

Here is to building people and inspirational leadership in 2019.

Can we go over the list again?

Don’t talk down to the team, show that you mean well for them, constantly dish out praises, set a high standard of people experiences, don’t set unreasonable goals, teach them to see responsibility as growth, and empower them.

This is reinforced learning for me too. I want to look at this list at the end of the year and it is all checked!


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Asia Sultan: Trailblazing the Design Thinking and Innovation Industry

We are always looking for women who are constantly changing the game and that’s why Asia Sultan’s story was so inspiring to us at SLA.

Asia is a young trailblazer in the industry of Design Thinking and Innovation. She uses her experiences as a woman to apply the human approach that is needed to excel in the Design Thinking industry.

During this interview, Asia chats with us about why more women should be in Design Thinking, the power of innovation, and how we can uplift each other in the career space.


 On starting out In Design Thinking…

Curiosity into the field of innovation is what led me to explore this discipline in 2016 when the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking opened their first school in Africa.

I was pursuing a Masters in Property Studies at the University of Cape Town at the time. I immediately fell in love with Design Thinking because the human-centered approach truly resonated with my personal philosophy.

After spending 6 months at the institute I felt that the final piece of the puzzle had been put in place. Design thinking has allowed me to experience problem-solving in areas that I hadn’t ventured into before.

I’m very grateful to be living my purpose which is to use my experiences, education, and design thinking practice to create innovative solutions that make our world a better place.

Being a woman is actually my greatest strength in the innovation industry - Asia Sultan Click To Tweet

About Switch Innovation and what they do…

Switch innovation is an innovation management company that specializes in corporate innovation. We are a balance between technology and advisory as we help large companies with legacy issues to deliver disruptive products to market and build new businesses.

We use design thinking and lean startup methodologies to drive innovation strategy and process for our clients who span across various industries.

Challenges women in the design thinking industry face…

Being a woman is actually my greatest strength in the innovation industry. Design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem-solving.

It starts with the people you are designing for and ends with solutions that are tailor-made to suit their needs. It requires building deep empathy with the people you’re designing for and this comes very naturally to women.

Because of this, I am able to create solutions that are not just technically powerful, but also have an emotional value proposition for end-users. In a world where consumers are spoiled for choice, an emotional value proposition is a massive competitive advantage.

 Women that I look up to…

My late mother, Hanifa, is the best woman I’ve ever known. I’m an unapologetic feminist because of my mother.

Growing up, both the girls and boys in my household participated equally in doing house chores.

She instilled in me from a young age the importance of education hard work, perseverance, equality and believing in myself.

Most importantly, my mother taught me to love and care for others. This has contributed to strengthening my approach to empathy, an attribute that is crucial in my work.

As a designer, I spend a lot of time understanding people, putting myself in their shoes and owning their problems in order to best design solutions that are relevant to their lives.

 

As a designer, I spend a lot of time understanding people and owning their problems in order to best design solutions that are relevant to their lives. Click To Tweet

Professionally I look up to Oprah Winfrey, a longtime advocate of female education. I am inspired by her story, especially how she overcame hardships in order to become one of the most influential women on this earth.

I admire that she uses her platform to break gender barriers on a global scale and even uses her resources to invest in education and improving the lives of women.

Lastly and similarly to Oprah Winfrey, I truly admire Rebeca Gyumi, Founder of the Msichana Initiative. She pursued and won a landmark case on child marriages through the petition she filed at the High Court of Tanzania to challenge the Tanzania Marriage Act, 1971, which allowed girls as young as 14 to get married.

The law was amended and raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both boys and girls.

My advice to anyone trying to jump-start their career in the Design Thinking space…

I would advise anyone starting in the design thinking and innovation space to try to learn as much as possible.

  • Read books
  • Subscribe to newsletters
  • Engage with other designers through platforms like IDEO and LinkedIn.

A lot of changes are happening in the world of innovation and every day there is a new technology, tool or method designed.

Design thinking entails working with clients across different industries, therefore you need to understand different industry trends so you can use methods, material, and approaches that are relevant to them.

Join design thinking groups on professional networks, subscribe to newsletters, attend design thinking meetups in your area, keep learning and you will be unstoppable.

Why I think uplifting women is so important in the workspace…

 

Empowerment is created when the strengths that women already bring to the company are recognized and utilized.

If you build organizations of high trust, respect, transparency, engagement, open participation and empowerment your employees will respond accordingly.

When people find meaning and happiness at work, wonderful things happen to the organization; culture and moral changes, staff turnover reduces, employees are more creative, innovative, confident, open-minded and generally more motivated.

As a leader, isn’t that the environment to work and operate in? I champion efforts to uplift women in the workplace because women have so much to offer the world and often times they don’t get equal opportunity to be heard or showcase their gifts.

 

The importance of empowering women in the workplace is documented in “The Business of Empowering Women”, a survey of 2,300 business executives.

The survey found that the companies who focused their efforts on empowering women reported significant business benefits.

A third of the businesses surveyed reported that their investments in women resulted in increased profits; another third reported their investments were expected to grow in the short-term.

In summary, to quote the late Kofi Anan,

“There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”


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CHARLENE MACHARIA: As Africans in the diaspora, we’re shaped by our experiences on the motherland

In the last two decades, there has been an increase in the number of platforms that are providing opportunities for women to develop their leadership skills.

Platforms like TEDx, for example, create a space where women can present their ideas and thoughts freely using slideshows and speeches that have gone on to inspire other women around the world.

More specifically, platforms that provide a space for African women in and out of the diaspora have begun to increase as well.

I recently had the chance to interview Kenyan-born, Charlene Macharia who is the Program Coordinator at UCSB Academic Initiatives to discuss the importance of such platforms.

We also spoke about her experience with the Women’s Economic Forum as the All Ladies League (ALL) -a women’s empowerment non-profit based in India with chapters around the world.

Being the chairperson in Santa Barbara, she also highlights the reasons why there should be more platforms that give African Women a voice. 


How did you get involved with the All Ladies League and become a member?

All Ladies League (ALL) is a women’s empowerment non-profit based in India with chapters around the world. ALL hosts a conference which takes place annually in India. 

I am a Gates Millennium Scholar and I found out about this conference and organization through a fellow scholar, Kaity Yang.

She had posted on our Facebook group that she was in India doing her own research when she got the opportunity to meet the founder and global chairperson of ALL, Dr. Harbeen Arora and her partner Dr. Vinay Rai. They were impressed to hear about the Gates Millennium scholarship program and they extended the invitation for 10 gates scholars to attend the very first Conference.

They generously waived our conference registration and lodging fee so all we needed to pay was for our flights. When I heard about this incredible opportunity I was very interested in attending. I didn’t know how I would come up with the funds for the round trip flight but Kaity Yang was helpful by giving me ideas for fundraising like using GoFundMe and also requesting a travel grant from my school.

Ms. Kaity also connected me with Dr. Harbeen Arora who answered my questions about the organization and encouraged me to join my local chapter. Since there was no chapter in Santa Barbara, where I currently live, she challenged me to start one. She actually appointed me as the chapter chair right then and even sent me business cards and gave me a social media platform. Just like that!

I was really humbled and honored that she would entrust me with leading a local chapter so I accepted and this motivated me to make it out to the conference to find out what I was really getting myself into.

As Africans in the diaspora, we must rise and share our stories, paint a picture of the world we would like to see and let our light shine by all means, and on our own terms. Click To Tweet

How has the platform impacted you as a woman and as a young African in the diaspora?

Participating in this has been really impactful to me by validating my voice and my experiences as a young African woman in the diaspora. It does this by providing the space for anyone to lead a workshop, give a talk, or participate in a panel discussion.

My first time attending the conference I just decided to attend as a delegate since I mostly wanted to listen and observe but in my second and third time attending the conference I decided to participate as a speaker.

This allowed me to share my perspectives on topics I am passionate about such as education and spirituality, and to also share my personal experiences. This is such good practice for public speaking and communicating clearly.

I have challenged myself each of those times to attend as a speaker not because I’m a pro but because even as a young woman I have something to share, and this is an opportunity for growth.

Do you think there should be more platforms that give a voice to African women in the diaspora specifically?

YES! I definitely think that there should be more platforms that amplify the voices of African women in the diaspora.

But I think it’s up to us to be proactive in creating them or in utilizing the platforms that already exist. We can’t afford to wait around for the rest of the world to put the spotlight on us -that rarely happens.

So we must rise and share our stories, paint a picture of the world we would like to see, and just let our light shine by all means, and on our own terms.

What is the significance of platforms that allow you to share ideas and create a space for women to develop their leadership skills?

Organizations such as ALL are so significant since just by creating a platform for women to connect, share resources, and develop their leadership skills, they are literally changing the world.

There is a leadership imbalance in most sectors of our society and there’s an underlying narrative out there that women are inferior and weak.

But now is the time for the empowering of women to fix this imbalance so that together we can create lasting change in our world.

What could we learn from the voice of an African diaspora woman?

I think that the voice of an African woman in the diaspora is quite unique. We have a unique perspective of life shaped by our experiences on the motherland (for those of us who had that privilege) in comparison or in contrast to our experiences living abroad.

These experiences have forced us to grapple with our complex identities, propelled us to create inclusive communities, and to come up with creative ways of problem-solving. 

I am grateful to have met amazing African women leaders from various African countries and within the diaspora - Charlene Macharia Click To Tweet

What do you enjoy the most about being active in the conferences?

I love that the conference is hosted in India since it provides an opportunity to travel and experience new cultures. 

What I enjoyed most about participating in the conference are all the wonderful women I have been able to meet from around the world. I am especially grateful to have met amazing African women leaders from various African countries and within the diaspora.

It was awesome to network and fellowship with them. We were able to bond and stay connected through social media. 

When I attended the first conference I met Tia Walker, an African American woman from Santa Barbara! It was surprising that we never met while we both lived in Santa Barbara (which is a small town) but we just so happened to meet at this conference in India. It was truly a divine connection!

After the event, we kept in touch and met up when we got back to Santa Barbara. Tia was such a wonderful connection to have made, not only because of her kind nature – she is truly a genuine, dynamic and compassionate person- but also because she is a respected leader in the Santa Barbara community.

She helped me launch the Santa Barbara chapter which was such a blessing and lots of fun. I am grateful for all the soul-sister connections I get to make at these conferences.

Tell us about your recent recognition at the conference

I was one of the awardees for the “Iconic Women Leaders Creating Better World for All” which was graciously extended to me for my participation as a chapter chair for the Santa Barbara chapter.

I’m thankful to Dr. Harbeen Arora for seeing the potential in me and calling it out.

 What advice would you give to young African women who want to be leaders in their community both at home and abroad? 

I would advice young African women not to be afraid to be themselves. We were created just the way we are – with our personalities, passions, and strengths. We have our big hearts and brains for a reason. And we have so much to offer the world, so nothing, including ourselves, should hold us back.

At the same time, we need to prioritize our own healing before we can go out there trying to change the world. We need to take the time to know our worth, to feed our minds and our spirits with the truth. We have to erase all the lies that have been projected onto us and embracing our real God-given identities, in order to live full lives and to fulfill our destinies. 

I would also like to encourage us not to be too hard on ourselves when we make mistakes and live small, to forgive ourselves quickly, and to be patient with our growth and restoration.

There is grace in the journey so just take joy in the process. 

Charlene’s story is just an example of how significant these platforms are especially for young women in the African Diaspora. We can learn a lot and share ideas that are changing the world.


 

Oluwatoyin Egedi: From Stay at Home Mom to Piloting Women Empowerment

Oluwatoyin Egedi is a Civil Engineer by training but an entrepreneur by decision. She currently sits as the CEO of Rullion Capacity Builders Foundation – a social enterprise that seeks to empower women with skills to start profitable businesses right from home.

The vision for her is to use the vehicle of skill acquisition to ameliorate women’s capacity and enhance their chances for economic enrichment.

 Why did you start a women empowerment center?

 

I started Rullion Capacity in 2014 – a women empowerment center from a personal encounter and insight into the need for women to be skilled and have the capacity to generate income as stay at home moms.

 

This center was born at a time when I also needed to be empowered – I had just had my third baby and the few job interviews I attended didn’t expressly say, but once they learned I was married and had children, the odds tilted away from me.
Later, I realized that in an employers’ eyes, a married woman with children meant more off days, more sick leaves, the bottom line, fewer work hours. Without getting any offers, I decided that rather than just sit at home idle, I would learn a skill. I settled for small chops and cocktails.

 

The program was very affordable as it was subsidized by the church and I was amazed at the number of women who attended the skill empowerment. With the knowledge, I garnered from working in the advertising industry before being a stay at home mum, in no time I was selling my finger foods at events and was making some income even though I was working from home.

 

Soon, I discovered that a lot of the other women who attended that program with me were not grounded in basic business skills and were waiting to get funds to rent a space before they start a business. Instantly, I knew this was an error, and thought about how I could change this.

 

I gathered a group of friends and with further discussions, we saw there was a need to change the mindset of so many women who think being a stay at home moms meant being without avenues to generate income.

 

We launched a skill acquisition program laced with business skills in financial literacy, customer service, brand management, legal aspects of business, marketing and sales.

 

Our first program was a flop as we were still quite unknown but we persisted and created more awareness. Using social media as a very strong marketing tool, we had more attendees.

 

So far, we have trained over 400 women who have largely gone on to start their small businesses and some who do not have the financial capacity to start, are currently employed until they can.

 

Our first skill acquisition program was a flop as we were still quite unknown but we persisted and created more awareness using Social Media Click To Tweet

There are quite a number of women empowerment organizations, what makes yours stand out?

In striving for excellence in a sector where there are so many mushroom operators, in 2016, we became an accredited vocational center for Trade Test 1, 2 and 3 and NABTEB (National Business and Technical Examinations Board) exams which further qualifies our trainees to work anywhere in the world.

Last year, we observed that a critical challenge our trainees had was having access to capital to purchase equipment. This led us to seek and partner with MISS – Micro Investment Support Services (an equipment leasing company led by Mrs. Elizabeth Ehigiamusoe).

With this, our trainees can purchase equipment on loan of up to N500,000 over a tenor of 12 months with a very affordable interest rate.

Furthermore, we observed that though our students now had the equipment and technical know-how for business and already had products, a bigger challenge was getting ready buyers. The answer to this was The Women’s Entrepreneurship Fair (WEF) with the vision to connect our women to customers, investors and the government.

 

We had 2 editions last year with women-focused brands such as Access Bank Women banking, Molfix Diapers, Guardian Life, Nobel Carpet and rugs (Lush Hair), Cake World, Orijin Zero, Bella Naija, Fero Mobile, De-united Foods Limited, Cadbury, United Capital Limited, LSETF, among others throwing their weight behind the massively successful event.

A lot of our women are still reaping the dividends of those shopping exhibitions and we are looking forward to having more in the near future

Without getting any offers, I decided that rather than just sit at home idle, I would learn a skill - Oluwatoyin Egedi Click To Tweet

What Challenges have you encountered on this journey?

 

Remember I mentioned I was thrown into this journey not of my own will but because of circumstances around me at the time. So it has not been a smooth journey but I’ve been determined as I currently enjoy what I do. Below are some challenges I faced:

1. Wrong Structure:  We are a registered social enterprise with the CAC but without any formal educational background in the team, we struggled with the structure a bit before we found our footing.

Working with the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity’s trade test modules and syllabus likewise NABTEB’s has helped us put a proper structure in place

2. Getting skilled workers:  This was difficult for the courses we offer at Rullion but we had to overcome. Courses such as Cosmetology ( hairdressing, nail fixing, makeup and gele tying, Fashion design and accessories, catering and hotel works, and so forth) but as trainers, we have embraced the importance of training and re-training.

 

Some people are of the opinion that if you train your staff, they’ll leave you and become competition. But what if you don’t train them and they stay? It comes back to hurt your brand and what you aim to achieve. Besides, collaboration is a new competition.

 

We can’t do all the work, so if our ex-staff leaves and sets up hers, that’s great as we then have a branch in that other location where we can refer willing  trainees
3. Inadequate Funding: We initially set out to offer our training programs at no fee at all but without a fund base, we couldn’t keep up with the standards we seek to deliver.

 

Therefore, we asked our trainees to pay a small fee which we use to cover the overheads of running our programs but even with that we still require help to bolster the training programs we deliver and further enrich our capacity as learning is quite dynamic.

 

We also offer small short-term loans to the women we train. We want to include an internship program to our curriculum which we believe will further help deepen the knowledge of our students. A deterrent for an internship is funding – employers are willing to take on interns but are not willing and/or ready to give them an allowance to cover even their transportation.

 

If we could access funds, we can do this and much more

 

4. Online access:  We are based in Lagos, Nigeria. Though we’ve held training programs at Ogun State, Edo state and Rivers state, there is still a lot of work to do. With the explosion in the use of technology, it’s necessary and import to now migrate some of our training programs to online learning platforms and offer a Blended Learning curriculum.

 

If we can do this, we will have more reach. Funds have been the deterrent to properly execute this as we have inquiries from all over Nigeria which we cannot cover.
5.  Partnerships: If only a lot of us embraced collaboration rather than competition, we can all do the work better and faster.

 

We have approached a number of organizations who are doing similar work in the women empowerment space to partner with us especially outside Lagos state so that more women are economically empowered and in the process, mitigate and eventually eradicate poverty but the response has not been so encouraging as financial gratification is a key factor for a lot of them.

 

Do you think Government involvement can help with the challenges?

 
Yes, of course. There is almost no business that does not depend on infrastructure from the government – power, water, roads, etc.

 

At the moment, there is no room for growth in the micro business space because the cost of setting up even such a business is so high. You consider things like accommodation (there’s no regulation – the landlords are the alpha and omega and decide whatever rent they want), power.

 

You have to purchase your own power generating plant because you can’t rely on government’s supply, transporting yourself from one location to the other to offer service to customers eventually becomes a chore with bad roads and many man-hours lost due to traffic gridlock!

 

If all the government can provide for us is an enabling work environment with a stable economy, I tell you, we aren’t a lazy bunch – we will really go far.

 

Do you think there’s room for more women empowerment centers?

 

 

Of course! It is not enough! Women are quite pivotal to the transformation of any nation’s economy- history has a lot to say about this. We at Rullion have carved a niche for ourselves by targeting women, who have a minimum education of O’Levels, are somewhat computer literate and can communicate in Basic English.

 

What about illiterate women who only speak pidgin or just their local dialect? How about younger girls in secondary school who need to embrace the culture of entrepreneurship even before they go on to higher institutions to study?

 

The jobs they target are all the top corporations like Dangote, Nestle, OandO which were all started by entrepreneurs.

 

We also have to think about those outside Lagos and in other states of the Federation. So, the answer is Yes! We need a lot more women empowerment centers.

 

The challenge I see however is how to ensure the quality of what is taught at these centers. Because we wanted a certain standard, we had to push ourselves to put in some structure and we keep updating that as we go along.

 

A lot of these centers have just one facilitator teaching 100 people per time and then you wonder what exactly the people are learning because they don’t go further to carry out any practical sessions and the next thing is a graphic designer/printer issues them certificates.

 

There needs to be a body that ensures that centers comply with a certain minimum standard.

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I’ve Got Bills To Pay & You’re Talking About Brand Building?

Not every single marketing activity will translate to direct sales! Can someone please scream this from the rooftops?

If you’ve worked in a marketing capacity, you know this. And you also know a lot of clients straight up refuse to accept it. It’s easy to want to connect all marketing activity directly to ROI.

Some of these activities, such as social media, may be viewed as extras and add-ons because they do not translate to direct revenue, but do they help in solidifying the overall brand picture?

You bet!

It’s imperative to place brand building and sales activities in separate categories. Although they might occasionally overlap, they must be treated as different actions, with different strategies that generate different results.

if consumers feel your brand is wack, they won’t be willing to pay much for it - Oluwaseyi Bank-Oni Click To Tweet

It is easy to overlook the importance of building a solid brand before diving straight into selling. Especially after investing funds into a business. Granted, in the beginning stages of running your business, you might command profits left, right & center.

But what keeps your clients coming back? What prevents them from switching to a competitor selling the exact same product or services for slightly less?

Your brand – that’s what!

 

Big brands invest millions of dollars in building and maintaining a certain brand image with no direct translation to sales. This is not just for fun or because they feel like splurging. It’s because they understand the value and the equity that comes with a solid brand name.

Even the good book says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches. To be esteemed is better than silver or gold”.

Hallelujah, somebody?

Take Coca-Cola, for example, this brand participates in different types of brand building activities designed to trigger emotions, nostalgia, and certain positive feelings associated with the brand.

Amidst these activities, Coca-Cola products are not explicitly sold. Why? The brand understands the value of building brand equity with their current and potential consumers. What is this brand equity, you ask?

It is simply the value placed on a particular brand, based on the experience, feeling, or perception a consumer attaches to it. Simply put, if consumers feel your brand is wack, they won’t be willing to pay much for it.

If they view your brand as the best thing since sliced bread, they will be willing to pay more for it compared to similar brands. Thus it has a higher equity and commands a price premium in the market.

The problem with focusing on sales before boosting brand awareness and equity is that you may attract a slew of one-time clients. They buy and use your product,  but have no connection to keep them coming back, so they keep it moving!

A competitor product pops up the next time and they switch. Sounds familiar? Yeah, we’re all guilty of doing this. We’re also guilty of being extremely loyal to certain brands based on the value we have placed on them.

For some mothers, only a certain brand of diapers will do for their babies, for others, such as myself, we buy fuel from only a certain brand of petrol stations. That’s the beauty of building a strong and trusted brand.

There are many angles to this “brand equity” business, including consumer-based brand equity as discussed previously, employee-based brand equity, and more. As your business grows, employee-based brand equity cannot be neglected.

In growing brand loyalty and equity, employees can be your most cost-effective brand evangelists. The people who will love and promote your brand from the mountaintops – for free.

Let’s use Heineken as an example, I have a couple of friends who work for the brand, and as we say in Nigeria, they “carry it on their head”. Sometimes I think to myself, “Na your papa own this place?”-(Does your father own Heineken?) but guess what? The last time I was in Amsterdam, where the HQ is located — What was I most excited to see & do? To tour the Heineken brewery!

The passion their employees have for the brand and the sincere love and joy that emanates when they speak about it, in turn, gave me the “ginger” and excitement to go see things for myself. When your employees truly believe in your brand and become loyalists (not just because you pay them a salary), something truly magical happens.

They become one of your greatest and cheapest marketing assets. The word begins to spread organically and the positive brand equity transcends from employees to consumers.

When your employees truly believe in your brand and become loyalists (not just because you pay them a salary), something truly magical happens - Oluwaseyi Bank-Oni Click To Tweet

It’s understandable, you put money in, you want money out, and quick! Unfortunately return on investment is not always immediate or that simple.  

Recognizing the need for brand building activities which may not necessarily translate to sales in the short-term is the first step. Understanding the need to cultivate long-term meaningful relationships with your target is the next.

While creating a distinction between brand building and selling activities, always remember to look at the big picture and think long-term.

As Gary Vaynerchuk once said, “Brand is not transactional. Brand is forever”.


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Overpowering Gender Discrimination in Male Dominated Fields

Gender discrimination has been a major issue in Africa, and the world at large. Although, it’s reduced in the past years since we live in the 21st century and in the most real modernity. Unfortunately, it’s still an issue women battle.

This happens in most industries, and especially in male-dominated fields like construction industries, politics, entertainment and so on. Most times, I wonder why or where the male superiority emerged from and I still don’t get it.

Why?. Because I’ve heard of women’s success stories that men can’t even dream of attaining by going through the phases women do.

As we live in an evolving world and in a modern time, gender equality should be essential in every society and economy. Although the past discrimination women faced has been changing, there are still a variety of challenges that women face, low-key and high key.

Women that jump into positions predominantly held by men don’t have it easy. They seek support from colleagues, friends, and families and so on as they face challenges like mistreatment, incompetency, unheard voices, or bad comparison.

African women have so little influence over resources which restricts befitting jobs and limits their earnings, hence the dependency status. That makes the voices of women remain limited and unfortunately, African attitudes, vibes, and customs extends many of these inequalities across many generations present and ones to come.

As we live in an evolving world and in a modern time, gender equality should be essential in every society and economy Click To Tweet

Let’s take a look at the agricultural sector which requires a strong manpower, so technically, we can tag it a male-dominated field. Research shows us that women contribute 60% plus, of labor into food production for household consumption and for sale.

Yet they get no credit for their hard work. They are not recognized, visible, complimented, or rewarded for all the energy and passion they put into the work they do. In politics also, it was regarded as a man’s job to make decisions or make a difference.

But from the 1990s, women started gaining freedom, the freedom to do whatever. The freedom to have a voice and stand up for what they want.

Now, women have gained over 30% of the seats in the government and are making a difference and history. How sweet!

In dealing with gender discrimination in male-dominated fields, what options do women have? Do they become a man overnight or take advantage of their natural qualities like nurturing and oozing empathy?

I think not because psychologically, women can face a comeback for playing the feminine gender role stereotype, which isn’t cute, one bit.

Here are some practical strategies that can be adopted to help women overpower gender discrimination in male-dominated fields: Click To Tweet

Appreciate the feminine advantage

This may mean relying on appearance to gain acceptance and it works to the advantage of women in male-dominated fields. When one looks smart and nice and works smart and nice, acceptance is just a second away.

Embrace some male characteristics

This may not accord to some personalities and it may also be a copying tactic, but when one embraces the male characteristics and monitor oneself, being self-conscious, opportunities present itself

Mentorship

Having a female mentor, in or outside the industry is a wonderful way to build knowledge and skills. One gets to align personalities and their reputation can help reinforce one’s reputation.

Dwelling in the positive and ignoring the negative

 To succeed in spite of adversity says a lot about a person’s character and determination. This is in regard to focus. By dedicating oneself to the job at hand and getting accustomed to the role by focusing on the engaging and challenging nature of the job, one tends to overlook whatever politics is being played and in turn, recognition and success will be birthed.

This would make a huge difference to women’s work satisfaction and effectiveness.

Changing workplace culture

 It is very much possible to succeed in industries not typically associated with women such as mining or construction.

Attitude adjustments can make a woman brave enough to fight the status quo. Also, one can influence the hiring policies or implement recruitment platforms that support fellow women in the industry. By this, workplace culture has evolved and shifted.

 

With this, African women and women, in general, will be able to overpower gender discrimination in male-dominated fields. They can create a place for themselves and generation to come, and make history. Let’s make our voices heard and make a huge difference!


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