Liz: On the flipside, what makes working in South Sudan special?
Nok: Being away now since the recent conflict broke out really makes me miss the families and parents around the school. Their support and desire to keep the school going is incredible. In December 2013 we closed the school for two months because of the conflict and the parents encouraged us. They said, “We are here. Open the doors and our children will come.” We did and sure enough they came back. The community really helps and supports us. Whenever we need anything, they are there.
Aprelle: Though South Sudan has its challenges, there is no other place where you could actually be a part of the development and really measure how much you were impacting a new country. Juba was a mixture of worlds in the sense that there were so many people passionate and excited about development from local South Sudanese, to those coming from the diaspora, and also expats who really wanted to be a part of something historic and special. That is a unique opportunity.
Liz: How can people who are interested to get assist TASOSS get involved?
Nok: The way I see it there are two routes to get involved. Of course we are always looking for funding and support to run our programs and build our dream school to reach more students. In addition, one of our greatest needs is finding creative and innovative teachers. We are very open to volunteers who are willing to spend a year or two in South Sudan to help build capacity within our teachers.
Aprelle: As Nok mentioned, we are always seeking opportunities to partner with businesses and individuals to provide financial support, which is a constant need. Additionally, we welcome teachers, advisors, and education professional to collaborate with us on key awareness and need-based events such as hosting book drives, volunteering, and supporting fundraising activities.
Liz: Aside from TASOSS what else are you working on?
Aprelle: One of my passions has always been design. As a matter of fact, I had just graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology right before we moved to South Sudan. Now, as I am based in Kenya, which is an emerging fashion hub, I am able to focus on building my African-inspired luxury brand, APRELLEDUANY.
The aim of the brand is to change the negative perceptions of Africa andrepresent consumers who do not fit the “normal” image of luxury. I wanted to have resources to make real change in the world concerning elements of impact. My areas of concern include lack of education and women’s empowerment. Though I am a young brand, I have received positive feedback and excitement including being invited to New York Fashion Week and other powerful platforms. I plan to use this exposure to not only build the brand, but also highlight the areas in which I want to impact marginalized communities, mainly girls and women.
Nok: I recently graduated from Harvard with a Masters in Public Administration. It has been an intense but exciting year in terms of personal development, leadership and skills building for me. The reason I came to the Kennedy School was that I have been an entrepreneur and in the private sector my whole life. I used to think “we” could do everything ourselves. But then I got jolted into the public sector with the school and saw the need for the private and public sector to work together. I saw the need for a bridge so that government is really able to meet the needs of society.
Now I am working on a civic engagement consultancy company with two fellow graduates from Libya and France. We want to help empower communities to develop their own social contracts – to help bridge the gap.
Liz: Very exciting! What advice would you have to women interested in starting their own businesses?
Nok: I have met a lot of young women with great ideas but they tend to keep them to themselves. When you do that, they can’t come to life. So I would encourage women to find other partners who are passionate and have skills different to your own to help make your ideas come to life. Working alone is a thing of the past. You need strong partners to push you. Aprelle and Sienna are both strong women in their own right. We all come from different backgrounds and that has made us gel.
Aprelle: My advice would be to follow your own path and be patient with the process. In many cases, what I have seen especially from an African context, is that many women want to start a “safe” business. Meaning, starting a business that either a relative has already started or a business model that already exists. For those businesses, it is very difficult to become competitive and thus drive sustainability. Opportunities lie in innovation, and with the ease of access to information and technology new entrepreneurs should focus on solving problems that are not being addressed.