Top tips on human resources from two Sierra Leonean experts

The Sierra Leonean economy is in dire need of a streamlined and engaging workforce. Edleen B. Elba and Fullah Musu Conteh are two professionals in the Human Resource field helping to develop, recruit and retain talent in various sectors for the Sierra Leonean workforce. Edleen is a Chartered Human Resources Analyst who owns JobSearch, a human resources management company while Fullah is co-founder and managing human capital consultant at human capital solutions firm TV-PG.

In this article by Moiyattu Banya caught up with both ladies and got them to share some tips on building human capital for any business.


It is a known but sad fact that the average job seeker in Africa is a young person. Add to this the African Development Bank’s prediction of a youth bulge on the continent. This just begs the question, how will African countries cope with the increase of young people who will far outweigh available opportunities? In post-conflict countries like Sierra Leone, that rate is even higher. According to the 2013 Status of Youth Report released in Sierra Leone, over 70 percent of young people live under a dollar a day. The country’s unemployment rate is at 60 percent and is one of the highest in West Africa.

Ladies, how important is setting up an efficient team? What key attributes should young women possess for business?

Edleen: Your team is critical.

Hire employees with the right attitude. They may not be the most qualified or experienced but you can always train them.  People with integrity and those who care about their personal development and business growth are likely to be more committed and therefore, more productive.

Fullah: Be professional at all times with your team.

When it comes to your team and standards, be professional. Culturally in Sierra Leone, the lines tend to blur between professional and personal relationships. This situation, if not well-handled, can diminish one’s image as a leader. Case in point, as a start-up, you may have set systems in place and your policies may be top-notch. However, consistent adherence can be a challenge when clear-cut boundaries are not set. Evaluate your leadership style, and ensure your  team is in agreement with your expectations.  Always check for non-compliance to policies and structures, address the culprits and help them improve on compliance. However, if they still don’t fit in, let them go, irrespective of who they are.

What would you consider critical for a young woman setting up a business?

Fullah : Understand your business market.

Understand your competitors, know what the market needs, lacks or has in abundance – then strategically come in. To this end,  you can create a niche that caters to your passion and also the market. Use that knowledge to find mentors who can help you reach your goals and potential customers/clients. Know when to take a step back and when to aggressively push with a service or product. While at it, align with international best practices and contribute to Africa’s consistent growth. It’s best to do away with the standard TIA aka “This is Africa’s way” by ensuring that you adapt to best business practices for your clients’ sake and personal prestige. The bar should be raised, always.

Fullah Musu Conteh
Fullah Musu Conteh

Let’s talk about the dream team. How can one effectively manage a team without breaking it?

Edleen:  Share your vision!

I would say, share your vision with your employees and give them responsibilities. If they are actively involved in the decision-making process, they are more likely to believe they are a vital part of the business.

Also, it is important to have open communication channels. This is essential to any relationship.  Be fair, give regular and effective feedback.

How do we maintain personal control in the face of business expansion?

Fullah: Know and understand your strengths and weakness.

Once you do, find ways or people who can help close that gap. For example, I am a transformational person and monotony bores me to distraction. Owing to this, I  do not consider myself a sales person as I am terrible at selling my organization’s new products and services. To address this weakness, I have a strong team consisting of a competent operations person and a passionate business development individual. I design products and services while the operations person follows through with implementation. The role of the business development individual is to get clients while I work quietly behind the scenes to make us all happy.


Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.

 

“Be realistically audacious” : Teniola Adejuwon on the 500 StartUps accelerator experience

Teniola Adejuwon of Podozi at 500 Start Ups

Podozi.com is a beauty ecommerce platform that gives African women access to both local and international beauty brands. Co-founders, Teniola Adejuwon and Wale Babatunde, recently completed a 4-month accelerator programme with 500 StartUps, a leading venture capital fund in Silicon Valley. To date, 500 StartUps has invested in over 1,500 businesses across 50 countries worldwide. Every year, thousands of businesses apply either through a formal application or referral, and after passing 5 or 6 rounds of interviews are accepted onto the programme. Podozi was one of 50 startups accepted for the most recent cohort ‘Batch 16’. With the programme, Podozi worked in Silicon Valley, learned how to take their business to the next level and received a net investment of $100k.

In this interview, Teniola shares her experiences with 500 Startups and gives some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.


How did you get involved with 500 Startups?

It came as a total surprise. Last year, we were introduced to 500 Startups through an investor who was a personal contact. As my mentor Tara Fela-Durotoye always reminds me, your network is your networth. Previously, the investor had mentioned that although they typically focus on Series A funded businesses or higher, they really liked the Podozi business. So we agreed to keep in touch for when the business grew bigger. Applying to 500 Startups was an aspiration of ours, which we planned to pursue in the future. About a year later, we got an email introducing us to 500 Startups, and that was it.

How has being part of the 500 Startups programme helped develop Podozi?

We recently completed the programme, so it’s still very early to articulate the full benefits, but being part of the 500 network is like being part of a global family. It’s a lifetime thing, where you grow and evolve. We were exposed to people and ideas from across the world. While we have formally finished the programme, we continue to keep in touch with our batch and the other businesses in the community via a group email. We have a well of resources to draw from and access to mentors who we can reach out to for advice.

Throughout the programme, we had opportunities to pitch to hundreds of investors and peers in the startup ecosystem. One of our pinnacle moments was presenting Podozi during the closing ‘Demo Day’. Being able to articulate our brand raised our profile with international peers and investors, which also helped our profile in Nigeria. Also, to be eligible for the programme, we had to (re)incorporate as a U.S. company which gave us access to U.S. specific venture networks and investors.

Tell us more about your experience in Silicon Valley as part of 500 Startups Batch 16?

Living in California was an interesting experience. Given the 8-hour time difference, we were working from 9am to 7pm U.S. time, then worked after hours to service Nigeria alongside our colleagues back home. It was a demanding but authentic experience of what it means to run a truly international business. All businesses in our batch worked from the same office in San Francisco. This helped develop a spirit of camaraderie, collaboration and shared learning, which is not always a given in most accelerators.

We travelled to Los Angeles, New York and other cities across the U.S. which gave us exposure to international best practices and processes. Once you get established processes in place, you’re able to serve your customers better. I’ve always been an advocate of this and Podozi advocates this too. While it’s not always possible to please everyone, I remind my team to put themselves in the customer’s shoes. Empowering the customer is crucial, and something businesses on the continent tend to miss.

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What advice would you give to aspiring startups and entrepreneurs?

Cultivate an attitude of excellence. Being entrepreneurial isn’t about calling yourself the CEO, you need to have a long-term mindset. My first company, Beauty by Nature, ran the Beauty Business Masterclass series. We would teach attendees that no matter whether you’re a nail technician or a self-taught makeup artist, you need to develop your craft and put the right structures or systems in place to support it. That is the difference between a sustainable business and one that burns out quickly.

Also, it is not only about funding. Successful entrepreneurs are convinced beyond reasonable doubt about what they are doing. In the past I’ve seen African startups get deterred early on by investor questions about about basic things like their business model or business numbers. If you are not convinced about your product, it will be difficult to enter in, let alone survive in Silicon Valley. It can become quite distracting when your brand gets bigger and your profile increases, so you need to keep focused. As one of my mentors says, ‘the media, awards and accolades will come; just do your work’.

What tips would you recommend for making a successful application to an accelerator?

Firstly, do your homework. There are funds and accelerator programmes that may be targeted to your industry or geography. Be aware that while some of them are global, their funds might be localised to specific regions.

Then, develop a proof of concept. Ideas are a dime a dozen, so don’t just go about touting ideas. Don’t simply try to replicate an idea that works in another country, ensure that it’s relevant to your market. My mentor, Mrs Ibukun Awosika says, “Be the expert of your business – know your numbers and keep your books tidy”. Businesses sometimes rush to launch an app without considering the consumer behaviour in their locality or whether they have the capacity in-house to maintain such. In e-commerce the big question is traction! It’s all about your metrics.

Third, be humble enough to admit what you don’t know and be ready to learn quickly. Utilise your resources, prepare in advance and ask as many questions as possible, there’s a wealth of resources out there like Quora to keep you up to speed. Fourth, be realistically audacious. Investors are not looking for timid entrepreneurs, they are putting their own money in and they must get a return. In the back of their minds they are asking; “Can this idea generate $100m in revenue”?

Finally, get ready to put in the grind and work very hard. As Scandal’s Eli Pope said to Olivia, “You have to work twice as hard”. It might sound harsh, but it’s the truth of the world we live in. Listen to advice but ultimately stick to your own values. I know who I am and what I’m about, and that is what sustains me.

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What’s next for Podozi?

There’s a lot to look out for from Podozi, it’s a dream that is evolving everyday. We are a company that will be here for another 50 years; a company that started in Africa with a global mandate. We want to be the bridge between customers and the beauty brands that adequately meet their needs, educating and creating a wholesome experience of beauty for women of color everywhere.

Finally, what’s the one piece of makeup you can’t live without?

My lipstick! I always go for a red or pink shade, or sometimes mix it up. I wear it practically everyday.

Navigating cross-cultural relationships in the workplace

she hive nairobi

After years living in France and the United States, Aminatou, an experienced business development consultant, arrived in Abidjan to work for a local social enterprise. Despite the logistical hiccups of working on the continent, she didn’t think the transition would be that much of a problem. After all, she grew up in Saint-Louis, Senegal, and spoke fluent French. She’d worked across Africa for leading multinationals and smaller start-ups for the better part of a decade. But after a few months, she was struggling with her team and considering returning to her job in Paris. What was the problem?

Cross-cultural training isn’t just for the West. As many young African professionals contemplate moving back to the continent —to their home country or somewhere else in the region, they can suffer from the shock of navigating cross-cultural dynamics in the workplace. It’s no secret that business leaders need to understand the cultural nuances of the different regions where their business operates. Yet, aspiring Motherland Moguls returning home might underestimate the need to orient themselves to the minutiae of workplace dynamics across Africa, especially as the continent rapidly transforms. The Ghana, Kenya, or Zimbabwe of 2008 doesn’t look the same in 2016.

Avoid clichés

Clichés and stereotypes can lead to faulty assumptions. While generalizations can be useful, culture is complicated and can’t be measured by one or two factors. Individual people might not fit these generalizations. Even as we advocate for pan-Africanism, we should recognize that each country or region is unique.

For example, there is a prevailing stereotype that Africa is a sexist place and that men will be condescending to women in the workplace. This is not always the case. Assume best intent until proven otherwise, and ask questions to immediately clear up miscommunication. Overemphasizing stereotypes can have a real cost — misplaced fear of encountering workplace sexism may scare talented female professionals from taking positions in Africa.

As you enter the workplace, you might encounter differences along these four major areas:

1. Different Communication Styles

Across cultures, people communicate differently when it comes to verbal and non-verbal communication. Messages aren’t always explicit — more often than not, you’ll have to read between the lines.

Words and phrases that are common in one place might leave people looking at you in confusion in another. In some countries, there might be more of an emphasis on hierarchy than in others. In Francophone Africa, for example, there is more of an emphasis on formality than in Anglophone parts of the continent.

2. Different Conflict Resolution Styles

Not everyone always gets along. Some cultures approach conflict directly while in other cultures differences are worked out quietly. Feedback might be frank or more diplomatic.

3. Different Approaches to Time Management

Some countries, like Germany and Switzerland, are famous for their strict adherence to clocks. However, in most non-Western cultures, time is better viewed as a polite suggestion. Nevertheless, time management views can defer depending on the situation. People tend to have short-term or long-term orientation when comes to time. In parts of Southern Africa, for example, some people differentiate regarding the urgency of a project by saying “now” (sometime soon) vs. “now now” (right this minute).

4. Different Decision-Making Styles

A cultural frame of reference often shapes expectations about how to make a decision. Does what the boss says go? Is there room for dialogue? The roles individuals play in decision-making can depend on the egalitarian or hierarchical nature of a culture. This determines whether or not decisions are made unilaterally or by consensus.

To successfully navigate cultural differences, follow the three L’s:

  • Listen actively and empathetically to assume best intent,
  • Learn from generalizations, but supplement these with your own observations and,
  • Look at the situation from both the insider and outsider perspectives.

Arm yourself with these tools, and you’ll avoid misunderstandings and conflicts that can cost your team profits or productivity.

Tshepy Matloga: Recognition is the best motivator

tshepy matloga south africa malawi

South African journalist Tshepy Matloga started making frequent visits to Malawi in 2014 when she noticed the lack of business magazines with Malawian content. Tshepy jumped at the chance to address this gap by launching Inde, a business and lifestyle magazine aimed at Malawian women.

Here, Tshepy shares tips on setting up shop in another African country and speaks on being voted a top South African inspirational youth.


You’re South African, why did you decide to start a publication in Malawi?

More than a year ago I became a frequent visitor in Malawi. I was charmed by how serene and peaceful the country is compared to the hustle and bustle of South Africa. As a journalist by profession myself, some of the things I collect are magazines and it baffled me that I could not find a single publication that was about women and the business landscape in Malawi.

Yes, there are so many publications in Malawian shops but they are all South African publications coming here packaged with South African content. I also met my partner here who happened to be in the media too. When I ran the idea past him, we both decided to bring to life Inde magazine in March 2016. “Inde” is a Chewa word meaning “yes”, Inde Magazine is Malawi’s only business and lifestyle magazine.

What is the business climate/culture like in Malawi and how is it different compared to South Africa?

The business landscape in Malawi is extremely different than the one in South Africa. I am used to a fast paced business environment and I have found Malawians to be very relaxed, there’s no hurry here whereas in South Africa time is money.

With that said, I think my biggest challenge was having to slow down my normal work pace so that I didn’t become too overwhelming. I however like the Malawian walk-in policy, you can just rock up at a company with no appointment and request for a meeting and if the person is available they will make time to hear you out. That part has made things easier for me because I came here with no business contacts.

inde magazine

What tools do you use to extend the reach of Inde magazine?

Social media has been very helpful in this regard. Then, Malawians are generally friendly people and it being a small community, word of mouth also goes a long way. I have also been trying to partner with local events so that the brand is exposed even more

What other projects do you engage in outside Inde?

My public relations firm, Chronicles Media Group is present in both South Africa and Malawi. Outside Inde, Chronicles Media group also offers PR services such as corporate communications, social media management, brand management and events.

Besides PR and the magazine, I blog for a South African organization called Leadership2020 where I write about my life journey, from growing up in the village of Botlokwa in the northern part of South Africa to running my own company.

You recently made Youth Village’s list of the top most inspirational youth in South Africa, how does that feel?

Recognition is the best motivator. To be young and know that in the few years that you have been on this earth you have impacted lives is a sign that you are going into the right direction. Everyone who knows me well knows that I have struggled to get to where I am today.

From Botlokwa, packing my bags and going to university even though I knew very well my mother could not afford the fee; to struggling to find employment, and when I eventually did find one I did not like it; to starting my business with a few thousands I have saved from freelancing jobs. I have to admit it was a curvy road. So with that said, it is things like such recognition that remind me that the journey was and is worth it.

What advice will you give to young African women looking to start a business in another African country?

I’d say the beauty of venturing into another country is that you are new there so it makes it easier for you to identify gaps and thus fill them up. Africans are generally friendly people therefore making it easier for a new person to just get lost into the communities and be part of them.

But, I have to say markets are not the same. In another country you might find yourself having to adjust your prices and make them lower to make your services/products affordable to the locals.


If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Gain international development experience without becoming an unpaid intern

Tastemakers Africa

Working in the international development field is the best of many worlds. You have the opportunity to do good and well in life; travel around the world, live on stipends, get tuition reimbursement and student loan forgiveness. There are many incentives to working at places like Save the Children, the World Bank, or your country’s national development agency. This can be a very competitive sector to break into but with a plan of attack and a strategic mind, it’s definitely within your reach.

I’ve traveled throughout sub-Saharan Africa due to work, and trust me it’s been a long time coming. I’ve had to work throughout high school, college, and graduate school; I attended expensive private universities and the US Department of Education owns my first born. I didn’t have any hook-ups from parents who knew important people and I didn’t have any high profile professors vouching for me. I’ve had to consistently plan and re-plan every career move every step of the way.

Still, it’s possible to get that dream job, and this is what I think can help:

Never work for free

Seriously, this is a never ending cycle that you don’t want to get into. If you are a freshman or sophomore in college, fine maybe. You are only two years removed from high school and may not have a skillset to take to an employer. But, interning for free well into your 20s is absolutely unnecessary. You have to sell yourself and you can’t sell yourself cheap. By the time you graduate you have a skillset and should be able to express that in a convincing manner. Your language skills, your research abilities, your study abroad stint are all assets worth something!

If you think its okay to work for free just for the experience, you are beginning your career backwards. When you end up applying for a job and you need to tell them how much you were last paid, the fact that you worked for free at the UN will overshadow any work that you did there. It devalues your contribution to the organization you worked for, if you made a big enough impact they would have found a way to pay you. Just say no.

Begin learning a language

It’s so important, particularly if you are interested in working in sub-Saharan Africa. French is a vital tool that will propel your resume to the top of the pile even if you may not have that 3-5 year professional experience. Entering a language institute may even be more valuable than graduate school. Believe me, having a language is a shoe in for many international development agencies.

Find an actual niche/focus

It’s not good enough to say you want to work in international development, or in Africa. What do you want to change? Public health? Food security? Economic empowerment of women and girls? Reproductive health? There are dozens, if not hundreds of niches within international development, it is important you find yours. Graduate school allows you to learn the different sectors within international development and helps you figure out the hot topics, the institutions working on the ground and where in the world the issue is most pressing.

For example, I work in population and health, specifically in reproductive rights and access to contraception for young women. Pretty specific. When you’ve found your niche, do your research, write about it, read about it, tweet about it, enter dialogue online, attend events and listen to webinars. This will get you on the radar and start building you a mini portfolio before you even apply for the job.

Apply for work/travel grants

To work in international development you must have overseas, on the ground experience. So, you have graduated school, you have a basic understanding of a second language, you have found your niche! This isn’t enough to land your first position. You need real on the ground experience, whether in Southeast Asia, Africa or the Middle East. You need to get your butt over there for at least six months. You’ve got to get creative, start a go fund me campaign, work for a year at some desk job to save up and move overseas.

If you are like me and don’t have the money to move overseas for a year. Apply for travel grants ASAP. One of the best is the Christianson Grant, it awards young people under 30 with up to $10,000. All you need to do is find a place to work (and get accepted by the selection committee of course). One of my close friends was awarded the grant and spent a year working at an education NGO in Kigali, Rwanda. The $8,000 she received was enough to pay her housing, her monthly expenses, and her flights there and back. Other grants like Princeton in Africa place you at NGOs across sub-Saharan Africa, along with paying for flights and housing.

Take a (very temporary) pay cut

So you’ve been denied all the travel grants, and don’t have the money for an overseas stint. Don’t worry, there are other options to getting that overseas experience. Get on idealist.org, UNjobs.org, and devex.org, then study the jobs/paid internships available in developing countries. You’ll find many small local NGOs looking for program managers, site coordinators, capacity building managers, and so on. These jobs  pay close to nothing but they will pay for your flight, a small monthly stipend, and housing. These are golden opportunities to getting that experience while still being compensated.

For example, I found a job in rural Tanzania in 2013. It was working with women (check), it was based in Africa (check), and it paid $600 per month. Um not check! I was taken aback by the low salary, but knew I had to consider it for on the ground experience. The position also offered me housing, flights, and a “Program Manager” title (check). In the end, my time in rural Tanzania is how I ultimately got my international development career started.

I am a strong believer that you have got to be strategic in planning out your career. It’s not enough to have interest, you must have something to back it up. This list worked for me, and I hope it works for you too.

5 ways to start building your political career

black-women-politics-politicians-PF

Today more women are taking charge and running the show in different capacities as businesswomen, captains of industries, CEOs, academics, and professionals. Yasss! Salute to all the Motherland Moguls making it happen.

For the longest time, politics all around the world has been referred to as the big boys’ game. Well, hold the door fellas because more girls wanna come in and play too.

Why politics?

It’s simple. There are various issues that affect us African women such as those tendered in the Nigerian Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill which failed to pass for the second reading in the Nigerian Senate.

Some of these issues include access to education, divorce rights, ownership of property. To get the laws that will favour us, we need better representation in government.

An article in the West Africa Insight declares that women are usually found at the bottom of the political chain; organizing, supporting, and acting as spectators as opposed to leading and initiating. Traditionally, the woman is relegated to the background and as such this practice has found its way into political participation.

In the ECOWAS parliament, we have only a minute number of female parliamentarians. Nigeria has one of the lowest numbers of female senators and ECOWAS parliamentarians (6.7% of parliamentarians in Nigeria are female). Despite decades of self-governance, this country has produced only two female governors in its entire history.

Does this mean that women are uninterested in politics?

Of course not. While we recognize that the participation of women in politics has been an immense struggle with several factors working against us such as financial constraints and cultural inhibitions, we must rise to the occasion. We commend the efforts of countries like Rwanda, South Africa and Namibia for taking a feminist stance in political representation. However, several African countries are still lagging behind.

We need to rewrite the story of women in Africa and it starts with every single one of us. Politics is not confined to running for office either. Some of us will rise to become the most influential persons in the government’s cabinet as ministers, commissioners, advisers and administrators.

It’s not just about women issues. If we are qualified and passionate about good governance, then we should put ourselves out there. If you have a dream to create an impact in your constituency, by all means work towards it.

Where should you begin?

For those of us who would like to make our foray into politics, these are some of the steps we need to be taking:

Lindiwe-Mazibuko

1. Start young

It’s not too early to plot your map and begin making steps towards your political future. Now is as good a time as any.

Take a leaf from Lindiwe Mazibuko, former parliamentary leader for the Democratic Alliance in South Africa who made history as one of the youngest parliamentarians.

She decided to veer into politics after being intrigued by her future party’s dynamics making it the focus of her final year dissertation in university.

2. Get involved with a cause

You need to be known for something. This is the time to begin to carve a niche for yourself. What social issues are you most passionate about?

There are several campaigns that you can get involved with depending on where your passions lie. Volunteer within the community.

Propelled by crises in her own life, Joyce Banda, Former President of Malawi inspired and impacted the lives of women and children battling systemic abuse and poverty even before assuming public office.

She also fought to enact bills protecting women and children when she gained a seat in parliament.

3. Align with a mentor

Network with the people who can kick off your career and fund your aspirations. According to Political Parity, a platform aimed at helping women achieve their political aspirations, more women remain at the bottom tier because of lack of access to funding.

Mentors who are able to relay their experience as well as provide resources and connections play an invaluable role in an aspirant’s rise to success.

Hanna Tetteh

4. Develop the right skills to stay relevant

Hanna Tetteh became an indispensable member of her political party in Ghana after a worthy performance managing its communication strategy.

She has been described as an expert negotiator and it is no surprise that this skill has helped keep her at the top of the political ladder. What skills can you start to develop that will be useful when you begin building your political career?

5. Become an expert in your chosen field

As a young woman some people may already have their doubts about you so it is extremely important that you become a master in your field. Former Nigerian Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonji-Iweala had a long career as an economist rising to one of the top positions in the World Bank before entering government.

Despite controversies, she was a prized asset in President Jonathan’s government due to her level of expertise.

Thulisile MadonselaThulisile Madonsela became Public Protector of South Africa after receiving a 100 percent vote from parliament. She holds a BA in Law and an LLB, she was also awarded three honorary doctorates in law after an impressive record in public service.

She was involved in the drafting of South Africa’s constitution amongst other notable feats. No one can deny that she knows the law and would be an effective advocate for South Africans.

Begin to build a worthy resume by deciding what area you intend to become an authority in and by working diligently at it.

There you have it ladies, 5 steps that can help you ascend the political ladder. What moves will you be making?

Top 10 best black girl magic moments of getting ‘WANDA’ in formation

women entrepreneurship, leadership, international women's day

Earlier this month, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the launch of WANDA, a newly established nonprofit organization educating, empowering and advocating for women and girls of African decent to become leaders in the fields of nutrition, dietetics and agriculture.

WANDA Shea Yeleen
Tambra Raye Stevenson, WANDA founder, and Rahama Wright, founder and CEO of Shea Yeleen International

The launch, which took place on March 5th was held in honor of International Women’s Day and as such, featured a panel of innovative and groundbreaking social entrepreneurs in industries ranging from beauty and cosmetics, to television and entertainment. WANDA Founder, Tambra Raye Stevenson, groundbreaking in her own right as a National Geographic Traveler of the Year and founder of the DC-based NativSol Kitchen, describes WANDA (Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics, and Agriculture) as an initiative bringing together “sisters of the soil” to encourage all women, young and old, to lead in advancing the fields of nutrition and agriculture.

“Women and girls are at the heart of transforming our communities through preserving our foodways, building vibrant economies and healthy communities,” she said. WANDA will also be launched in Abuja, Nigeria in May.

As a Ghanaian-American woman just beginning her journey into the fields of agriculture and nutrition, I find WANDA’s mission intriguing. The organization promotes itself as a Pan-African initiative, which is hugely significant to me at this point in my career. Though most of my professional experience falls within the realm of international development, a heightened social awareness of racial injustice in the United States, underscored by the growth of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, has compelled me to offer whatever service I can to ensuring a healthy future for Africans AND African-Americans alike.

Having shared this passion with colleagues and advisors, I have been told that I cannot have a successful career straddling both sides of the Atlantic – I would have to choose. The launch of this organization confirmed that I am not alone in my desire to protect and promote health throughout the African Diaspora. And for me WANDA is blazing a trail where there had been none before.

If you missed the launch, check out my top 10 black girl magic moments that continue to resonate with me.

1. Getting in formation

Inspired by the song that launched many a think piece, WANDA flexed its impressive marketing and social media muscle by borrowing from Beyonce’s celebrated and controversial song, “Formation” for the title of their event. Dubbing the launch, “Black Women Getting in Formation: Power of Media and the Arts to Advance Nutrition and Agricultural Advocacy,” WANDA brought attention to the convening power of a song some have identified as a call to arms for black women.

In a recent interview with Black Enterprise, Stevenson shared that WANDA’s version of “getting in formation” means encouraging women and girls to pursue education and leadership roles in health and agriculture.

For me, gathering under the backdrop of “Formation” and a national conversation about self-love and unapologetic blackness brought a palpable sense of pride and purpose to the launch. It was an environment that allowed participants to celebrate each others accomplishments, relate to each others struggles and commit to partnerships moving forward.

A moment that stayed with me, however, was when panelist and WANDA honoree Rahama Wright, CEO of Shea Yeleen International reminded attendees that countless unnamed and unknown women have always and are still doing the work only recently championed by Beyonce. Way before the Super Bowl performance that stunned America, black women worked together to achieve success and independence. This moment from Wright reminded me that despite Beyonce’s undeniable contributions to the movement, the real heroes in the quest for justice and equality are in our midst and should not be overlooked.

2. Celebrating excellence in entrepreneurship

Speaking of celebrating the heroes in our midst, WANDA set a great example by honoring four WANDA women leading the way in promoting positive images of blackness and black women. Along with Ms. Wright, WANDA honored Julian Kiganda, CEO of Bold and Fearless, DeShuna Spencer, Founder and CEO of KweliTV, and Mukami Kinoti Kimotho, Founder and CEO of Joodj.

Julian Kiganda, CEO of Bold and Fearless, DeShuna Spencer, Founder and CEO of KweliTV, and Mukami Kinoti Kimotho, Founder and CEO of Joodj.
WANDA Honorees: Rahama Wright, Julian Kiganda, DeShuna Spencer, and Mukami Kinoti Kimotho (Left to Right)

During the panel discussion, each honoree offered a unique perspective on the realities of being a black female entrepreneur. The most memorable moment for me was the vulnerability each woman shared in explaining that their successes were not won overnight. The panelists openly discussed the tendency in the black community to erase struggles from one’s personal narrative. By openly discussing the blood, sweat and tears that goes into growing an organization from the ground up, the panelists believe that more women may be encouraged to continue chasing their dreams even when they face hardship. It was a message that resonated with the audience who clapped in support of these personal and uplifting statements.

3. The food

NativSol Kitchen provided the tasty, healthy and culturally relevant fare originating from different countries across the continent. Stevenson dazzled attendees with a Morroccan stew, West African rice dishes, savory black eyed peas, and my personal favorite from the event, bissap, or zobo as it is known in Nigeria. The drink is made from dried hibiscus leaves and is known for its tangy flavor and deep crimson color.

African heritage inspired food
NativSol Kitchen catered the event with its signature pan African menu.

NativSol spiced its version up with a touch of ginger, giving the beverage a kick that rounded out the meal. The message I took away from the impressive spread is that food from across the African continent and Diaspora is naturally delicious and healthy. Over time, departure from these foods and the uptake of the Western diet has left a staggering percentage of the Diaspora suffering from overweight, obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. In the United States, over 75% of African Americans are overweight or obese, while in Africa nutrition related non-communicable disease will account for 40% of the disease burden on the continent by 2030.

A part of WANDA’s mission is to reverse this trajectory and restore health to the Diaspora by embracing the heritage foods that characterize so many of its classic dishes. For more information about the link between culture, food and health check out Oldways African Heritage and Health, a wellness program developing resources and initiatives to promote the healthy foods and delicious eating traditions of African Heritage for good health and community.

4. The fashion

Sometimes being one of a few, if not the only black woman in the one’s work environment requires a precarious balancing act of trying to maintain one’s identity while not becoming a target of stereotypes or scrutiny.WANDA ShoesSometimes it can become pretty stressful. For black women, hair can be one of the most treacherous waters to navigate in the workplace. What I loved about the WANDA launch was seeing successful professional black women in all of their diverse glory.

From Kiganda’s waist length locs to Kimotho’s cropped and colored do, the women at the launch exuded class and professionalism no matter the texture, length or color of their hair. Not only did attendees’ hair make a statement, but their clothes did as well. Who says being a businesswoman only means blue, grey and black suits? The WANDA event was a feast for the eyes, with attendees rocking colorful Ankara print and eye catching jewelry from a range of African countries. This reinforced to me the necessity for all women of the Diaspora to rebel against the societal norms of the work place and refuse to forget just how beautiful every kind of black woman is.

5. Establishing a multigenerational connection

The number of mothers and daughters who came to the launch together pleasantly surprised me. So much of whom I am as a woman in terms of my confidence and self-esteem comes from my mother therefore it only makes sense that mother/daughter pairs would be interested in ensuring that their descendants yet to come are guaranteed equal access to the education and job opportunities they desire.

WANDA event

Beyond those with familial ties, women of all ages were able to connect at the WANDA launch. During the panel discussion, a lawyer with plenty of years of experience asked panelists if they ever seek to engage older women. All panelists highlighted the importance of engaging all generations, particularly elders, in their work.

Mothers, grandmothers and women leaders in general play the pivotal role of passing down cultural knowledge and eating habits, and promote economic growth in their communities. This traditional role fits well into WANDA’s model of empowerment through mentorship. It touched me to know that WANDA and its honorees saw it fitting to remind us that we all can influence the next generation. and we ‘have a duty to plant trees, so they can sit in the shade.’

6. Remembering the importance of self care

After the panel discussion concluded, I asked the panelists how they maintain their enthusiasm and confidence. I also asked how they care for themselves and maintain their sanity if they ever face backlash for their work. I asked this question because, as in the case of Beyoncé, black women who stand up for themselves and for their people can sometimes open themselves up to racist and sexist criticism.

Activists and public figures such as Melissa Harris-Perry have publicly discussed the self-care routines they adopted to protect themselves from their detractors. Though all panelists gave incredible answers, such as knowing one’s limits, never neglecting one’s health and feeling comfortable admitting failure, my favorite piece of advice came from Spencer who discussed the importance of having a team of friends and trusted advisers who you can go to for laughs, tough love, a shoulder to cry on and more.

Spencer noted that surrounding one’s self with like-minded individuals keeps one focused and inspired. I remember looking around the room in the moment and thinking, “We need each other. None of us can do this alone.” This sentiment was solidified by Stevenson who admitted that unlike past initiatives she tried to grown on her own, WANDA would be a child raised by the village – a community of women who want to see the child thrive. The grassroots nature of this organization encouraged me to address my own fears of failure and get involved with WANDA by working on my writing.

7. Reflecting on the pain that unites us (and how to overcome)

The moment that drew out the most thought and reflection came from a comment shared by a woman named Rose. Originally from Uganda, Rose had this to say during the question and answer portion of the panel: “Africans will never heal until African-Americans heal”. Having never heard such a statement, I stopped, as did many other participants, to seriously reflect on what this means.

WANDA Group Photo

Though I’m sure it can be interpreted in many different ways, I took what Rose said to mean that our destiny, as people of the Diaspora is interlinked. It has been interlinked since the first of us endured the Middle Passage. It was interlinked when the Civil Rights movement exploded during a time of widespread liberation on the continent and will continue to be interlinked as Africans and African-Americans battle the very similar challenges of hunger, malnutrition, unemployment, marginalization and limited access to resources. These feelings were hard to unpack, but were appreciated by the panelists who praised Rose for remembering the importance of communal healing and love within the African Diaspora. This was a thought provoking moment that will not be soon forgotten.

8. The unveiling of little Wanda

In a moment that drew a collective “Awwwwww!!!” from attendees and panelists alike, Stevenson unveiled an exciting and creative aspect of the WANDA initiative: Little Wanda of the upcoming “Where’s WANDA?” series, is a character inspired by Stevenson’s own journey to Africa and childhood goals of healing her family.

nativsol series_okra

In developing series, Little Wanda travels across the African continent meeting WANDA Women, or Big Wandas, that research, produce and promote African heritage foods to nourish their communities. “Where’s WANDA,” geared towards girls under ten years of age, will include educational enrichment resources inviting young girls to travel and learn with Little Wanda.

I believe this character, the Diaspora’s answer to “Dora the Explorer,” will open so many opportunities for little girls of African descent to learn about culture and heritage in a way they never have before. With her adorable afro and cute ankara skirt, Little Wanda is a character young girls can relate to and that sort of representation in the media is so important. Follow @NativSol and @IamWANDAorg to catch updates on where Little Wanda goes next!

9. ToluMiDE debuts “Mama Sunshine”

tolumideTolumiDE is a talented Nigerian-Canadian singer and songwriter whose music spans the genres of R&B, Afropop and Soul. Having never met her nor listened her music, I was struck by Tolu’s earthy voice and quirky adlibs. A WANDA honoree herself, TolumiDE graced attendees with a new song called, “Mama Sunshine”.

While listening to the catchy song filled with themes of growth, resilience and renewal, I felt the song was a perfect way to begin a new chapter for many of the women standing in the room. WANDA has provided an opportunity to connect and build a community with a common purpose and that is something I am very thankful for.

TolumiDE had a song for these feelings as well, offering an encore with her song of thanks and praise, “My Love”. Be sure to check out the video on YouTube!

10. Recognizing the strength in numbers

IamWANDAShot

 The WANDA launch was an awakening for me, drawing out feelings of affirmation, inspiration, solidarity and energy that come with finally feeling understood and identifying a direction. Following the close of the event, participants lingered for hours, laughing, sharing and embracing their newfound roles as students, mentors, leaders, advocates, and WANDA Women.

We closed by taking a final picture, which solidified for me that I have become apart of something bigger than myself. The sense of community offered by WANDA and its powerful women and male advocates fills a hole that many black women in the fields of nutrition, dietetics and agriculture often feel, being one of a few, if not the only black woman in their work place.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, people of African descent only make up roughly 2.6 percent of the registered nutritionists and dietitians. It is time to change this and WANDA is a big step forward in finding the solution. There is strength in community and strength in numbers, and I look forward to watching WANDA’s membership grow.

Join the movement and be sure to follow WANDA on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag, #IamWANDA.

 

Is the law keeping young African women safe from sexual violence?

Child Bride

It may be 2016, but young Nigerian girls are still being exploited by those who should be protecting them. I’m referring to the father figures, lawmakers, community leaders and even some parents. Only recently, the internet and media went into a frenzy over the notion that the age of consent had been lowered from 18 to 11.

The reason for this confusion? A bunch of subsections under Section 7 of the Sexual Offences Bill postulating penalties for sexual penetration in girls under the ages of 11, 15 and 18. We’re all still asking ourselves why the need to highlight these three ages rather than the relevant one which is 18. This is of major concern as concerns two main areas: child marriages and rape.

Child Brides in Africa

Source: BBC Africa

UNICEF reports that Nigeria is the country with the highest number of child brides across Africa. The number of child brides across Africa is expected to almost triple by the year 2050. It’s been almost 2 years now since the world has been fighting for the return of the Chibok girls following the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Sadly, at this time, we are still waiting and hoping that they are rescued.

Ese’s story

Most people have been following the story of 14-year-old Ese Oruru who was abducted from her base by a man who took her to the North to become his bride. Reports made by the Bayelsa State Police Command as captured in Punch Newspaper state that her recent kidnapping from her home in Bayelsa to faraway Kano is a case of eloping. It’s almost laughable except that it’s not.

This is a grave issue that affects every one of us regardless of gender. It thus becomes obvious that law enforcement and the rest of the community have failed to catch on that the law does not condone the violation of any woman especially one who is still a child. Ese’s predicament is our predicament and as such statements made by the very institution put in place to install law and order demonstrates our failure as a society.

How on earth does a teenager elope? The fact that such a statement can be made by the police public relations rep confirm to us that child marriages are still very much a thing in this part of the world. This is a practice prevalent in the northern part of the country where matured men take on child brides.

At this point of the century where societies are moving to expel inhumane practices, the reaction to Ese’s case is a prime example of the normalcy of such a practice. Whether or not Ese voluntarily left her base in Bayelsa for a faraway state or was kidnapped / coerced into doing so as certain assertions have been made, the baseline is she is still a minor.

Although it has taken six whole months, the good news is Ese has been handed over to the police for her return to her family in Bayelsa. Just as author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been quoted as saying, ‘culture does not make people, people make culture’.

Thus, the mere fact that something is a part of our culture is not a good enough reason to uphold it. There is certainly good culture and bad culture and as humans we are expected to evolve and be progressive.

What are some of the risks?

There are several risks that child brides are faced with including emotional and psychological trauma that may follow them way into adulthood and in fact for the rest of their lives

In addition, if the ‘marriage’ had been consummated underage, pregnancy, Vesicovaginal Fistula and STIs are all common occurrences for child brides.

As a society, where do we go from here?

  • We need to close the gap between the law and its practice through proper information dissemination and sensitization. The Nigerian police force must undertake reorientation programs with the passing of new laws.
  • The law should expressly state the age of consent for sexual intercourse by getting rid of the compounding subsections in the Sexual Offences Bill.
  • It is also not enough that the law prescribe a penalty of 5 years imprisonment or a fine of N500,000 for the perpetrators in child marriages! A part of her life is taken away from her as she is forced to grow up in the worst ways possible. The maximum penalty should be sought for such offenders.

What can we do as women?

As women, each of us has a responsibility to uplift other women especially those who do not have some of the privileges we do have.

  • Speak up about it! Challenge the status quo! Tweet about it, blog about it, discuss with peers, make your voice heard. You may be surprised how little people actually think about this issue.
  • Educate yourselves including other young girls and women. Females need to be aware of the dangers they face and to take extra precaution where necessary.
  • Counsel and encourage one another. As women we need to quit slut shaming and blaming the victim. The guilty party is the aggressor or manipulator. Skimpy clothing or a flirtatious nature do not equal a license to rape.
  • Parents and guardians also need to be receptive enough for their daughters to feel free enough to tell them about any funny business going on.
  • Raise your sons to respect women. Men have as much a part to play as women do in the promotion of gender rights.

How one company defied the odds and is grossing almost $1 billion in revenue… in Nigeria 

[Editors Note: This post was originally published on Medium and is republished here with the permission of the author.]

Nigeria in 1988 — Not a premier investment destination

In 1988, Nigeria was not a premier investment destination. Life expectancy for the country’s 91 million people was 46 years; gross domestic product (GDP) was about $23 billion; GDP per capita was about $256; 78% of people lived on less than $2 per day; about 37% of people had access to sanitation while roughly 58% had access to improved water source; Nigeria had experienced six coups in its short 28 years of existence as a republic. It was also under military rule so technically and literally anything could happen.

Then in 1993 Nigerians woke up to the news that General Sani Abacha, one of the most corrupt and brutal dictators Nigeria would ever know, had become the military Head of State. If you were an investor, Nigeria was just not the place to go.

Yet, executives at Tolaram Group paid little to no attention to those statistics. Tolaram began importing instant noodles into Nigeria in 1988. Since then the company has vertically integrated in-country and grown their Indomie Noodle® instant noodle sales to a staggering $700 million a year. A packet of noodles cost about 18 cents.

They sell more than 4.5 billion packets of noodles per year. In 1988, Nigeria did not have an instant noodle market. How was Tolaram able to set up and sustain operations in one of the most difficult countries to do business? After assessing Tolaram’s strategy, I cannot help but highlight the following attributes and impacts of their business — business model targeting non-consumption, interdependence, patient capital, and job creation and tax revenue.

Business Model Targeting Non-consumption

Tolaram entered Nigeria with a mission to target non-consumption. The company’s vision is to “bring affordability and quality to the lower socio-economic segments” in the country. In order to execute that vision, Tolaram developed a business model that allowed it sell its product profitably for as little as ten cents (due to inflation and currency depreciation, Indomie instant noodles now sell for 18 cents).

Tolaram developed the necessary distribution infrastructure and relationships to get its product to as many Nigerians in virtually every corner of the country as possible. To target non-consumption in a country without the necessary infrastructure — roads, reliable electricity and water supply, etc. — Tolaram had to integrate across multiple components in its value chain.It had to build an interdependent architecture.

Most innovative companies, especially in emerging markets, have to build interdependent architectures because most of the components they need are usually not available.

Interdependence

Whenever a product* or the delivery of that product is not good enough**, the company providing the product has to create an interdependent system. In other words, the company has to integrate across multiple components in the value chain. It does this so that it can manage the interfaces across the different components in the system. Consider Tolaram.

The poor state of infrastructure in Nigeria necessitated Tolaram to integrate multiple components in its value chain. The company has had to provide its own electricity; manage a fleet of more than 2,000 trucks for its logistics; and build a palm oil factory (palm oil is one of the products needed to make instant noodles).

Creating an interdependent system can be expensive, especially when compared to a modular system. In modular systems, there are other players (either the government or private enterprises) that provide the necessary components to build or deliver a product.

For example, if Tolaram were set up in the United States, the company could leverage electricity, water supply, and logistics from existing companies or government entities. This would greatly reduce its cost of doing business.

Interdependence, while typically more expensive, is not all bad. The fact that Tolaram has had to develop these components has enabled it offer those products to other companies in Nigeria.

Tolaram now has 17 manufacturing plants in Nigeria (including noodles, flour, palm oil, seasoning, etc.); a packaging company; and a logistics company. Building an interdependent system enables companies to offer products to other companies once they satisfy their demand.

Stay tuned for part 2 to learn about how Tolaram used patient capital to build their company.


* product here refers to product or service

** not good enough here refers to products that don’t yet meet the performance standards of most customers