I’m inspired by a girl who goes by the name, Hyjiah Mariam Conde, as young as she is, she has learnt the art of self love. She was bullied in school for her ethnic background, skin color & unique body image, but instead she decided to do empower herself.
Hyjiah started her own nonprofit organization called SuperGirlzland. The purpose was for Hyjiah to be the voice to all the girls who have been emotionally and mentally bruised by being bullied. I had the opportunity to interview Hyjiah and this is what she had to share.
Hyjiah you are an inspiration, you have been bold enough to stand up and be the voice of the youth. Is there anything you are afraid of?
Thank you so much for your kind words. I would have to say the only thing that I’m afraid of would be GOD, as I feel that’s the only one I need to fear.
Is there a reason you chose South Africa in particular, to kick start your charity?
I actually kick started my charity in the USA where I’m from and expanded to South Africa and now West Africa, Guinea. I chose South Africa because I have a few connections there who are a part of my charity. Most importantly, I noticed that girls there were not allowing their confidence to shine through.
So Hyjiah you are all about making other girls happy and special. What makes you happy?
What makes me happy is being of service to others through my charity work. Seeing others filled with joy makes me happy.
I saw an interview of you and you were talking about how you have become popular. How has that popularity changed you as a person?
I don’t really see myself as popular. As a leader I believe that popularity isn’t important. Leadership and being compassionate are very important. I never changed. I’m the same person from 4 years ago when I started my vision.
Can you share with us how far you are with the other interests you want to pursue like choreography, singing and maybe writing.
I’m still working on recording my single which I wrote with my big brother. My dancing I do that mainly on the weekends. I love to dance it helps me to express myself. As for my writing I love to write. My book is set to launch soon and I’m already working on book number two.
Do you have a plan in place of how you are going to achieve all your goals?
My plan is to take it step- by- step. I keep notes on what’s next for me. So much of what I want to do is stored in my brain, so I have to keep notes of it all and GOD will help me achieve it all.
I am just stunned! Honestly, with all these activities going on you are also an Ambassador and a member of a couple of groups. How do you manage your time?
I prioritize really well, so I never burn myself out. I love staying busy, I’m very energetic and love to participate in so many things. I do take time for myself because I am still a kid. My mother, who is my manager, helps me prioritize things.
Can you give a brief pitch to potential sponsors telling them why they should assist Supergirlz Land.
Low self-esteem is not given enough attention. It’s a disease like any other sickness, which needs direct attention & support. Low self-esteem can be caused by bullying, poverty and lack of education; which at times result in suicide. Help me help them as we help one another to save our young girls, one at a time.
Fun question! Would you rather be able to whisper or only able to shout? Pick one.
I want to shout so that the whole world may hear my vision and voice!
Have you overcome a low self esteem? Share with us how you did it.
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.
Read how Nneka Obianuju Onubogu a Mechanical Engineer; and currently a research assistant at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman Malaysia, is unperturbed by gender stereotypes in the industry.
A Harvard Business Review article of 2016, was an answer to an inquiry of ” why do so many women who study engineering leave the field?” And one of the reasons given was “gender stereotypes”. So, if you are contemplating abandoning your career in one of the STEM fields due to gender stereotypes or any other reason, before you throw in the towel, wait!
Having a role model and following your passion makes it easy
Nneka’s motivation for pursuing a career in mechanical engineering were influenced by two things:
“First is my dad, who is a practicing Mechanical Engineer. I admired and still admire him so much that I wanted to be just like him. Secondly, I have a passion for fixing things. I am very inquisitive on the mechanics behind any machines’ motion. Right from childhood, I had a habit of unscrewing all my toys and fixing them back over and over again.”
When you are passionate about anything, it will be very hard for you to throw in the towel, especially when the going gets though.
Remember that you are a woman with talents and abilities
Being a ‘woman’ should not make you feel less than a human being when assigned to male dominated teams, you are as capable as your male colleagues!
Nneka says “Our research team actually consists of all men (Professors, Doctors and lecturers) and one lady (myself). We treat each other equally and there has never been a period when I felt inferior because of my gender”.
When you still feel overwhelmed,borrow a page from Nneka’s book,”sometimes I feel like ‘a woman in a man’s world’ hence, I give my best contribution to my team”.
Nneka is currently working on a project tagged ‘Wide acceptance angle optical fiber-based day- lighting system using two-stage non-imaging solar concentrator’. “This is a project sponsored by the Ministry of Energy, Malaysia”.
Whether you are in a local or global community, do not isolate yourself. Nneka, although from Africa, found herself working and studying in Asia. She quickly learned the language and befriended some locals.
“Even though my University is generally Chinese dominated, everyone speaks English and every lecture and research is conducted in English. Irrespective of that, students and my research team members still switch to Chinese language when they discuss within themselves.
This is not a problem for me as I have learned the Chinese language (conversational) and I can understand what they say. Right now, I am a professional at eating local foods with ease. I am also the only foreigner (African) in my office, but I still participate in every event weather Chinese, Malay or Indian”.
Conquer any inferiority complex by actively making a difference
Nneka’s slogan is ” Being different means making a difference anywhere you go and anywhere you find yourself”.
She adds that “the fact that you are in a career path where you are the only lady in a team of men is the key reason for you to stand out”. Some African people say, ‘Mechanical Engineering is not for ladies; a lady should be a teacher, a lawyer or even a house wife’. I can boldly say from experience that it is a blatant lie!
“I have met many African ladies like me who are in male dominated career paths, who also strive be the best and make a difference. This should inspire other women who have dropped out to get back on their feet and even do better” she says.
Making a difference includes contributing to the community you find yourself. Nneka does this by using one of her skills to make children smile.
“I have made an impact in the lives of the locals here, especially via my hair braiding skills. I was so surprised when I made it to the Chinese newspapers for just that little kind gesture “.
In addition, Nneka has many solar technology ideas that she intends to implement when she arrives in Nigeria.
You see why she just can’t turn her back? When you are full of dreams and know that the world is waiting to feel your impact, you wont turn back!
Networking is one the keys to staying motivated
Networking is today’s currency to getting up the success ladder and staying motivated. Nneka advises those in a global career and STEM fields to “try creating a network with people who are pioneers in that career path. In that way, they stay motivated and become significantly better”.
Growing up in a household rich in colour, born to parents of Nigerian heritage and a culture that inspired her artistic talents, it’s no surprise that Flo Awolaja grew to become an incredible burst of creativity. Flo is a fun loving and exuberant personality that exudes a quiet confidence and steely determination to succeed in all things.
She has been influenced by many of her mother’s collection of African fabrics, various painters, designers, textile artists, photographers and inspired by a plethora of contemporary Nigerian and African American artists in the likes of Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye, Abdoulaye Konaté, Peju Alatise, Victoria Udonian, Hayden Palmer, William H Johnson, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden et al.
Flo Awolaja represents a lot of things in one, as a writer, poet, and photographer, she continues to take delight in all visual pleasures which stimulate the senses. She also has a successful career as a graphic designer and lecturer and has combined her passion for art, design, and photography with teaching, working to raise achievement in her learners by encouraging them, raising their self-esteem, and aspiring confidence in them.
There is an expression that I have been carrying around with me for the best part of a year now. When I stumbled upon it, whilst surfing through social media, it was so profound that I have it permanently on my screen saver on the laptop to remind me to keep striving and designing, and how fortunate I am to be doing the things I like.
The quote is, “The things that are random, are not your calling, they are your passion”. This is what essentially guides me, and I really do try not to take my talent for granted. Like most things, the body of work that I am now exploring happened by accident, (the best things usually do) it occurred whilst I was at home looking after my son, who had been in the hospital and was now convalescing at home.
I had travelled to Ghana in 2013 and brought back a lot of batik fabrics. Not knowing what I wanted to do with them, they lay dormant, until 2015. Whilst looking after my son, I remembered that I had them, and had added to the collection by purchasing metre samples in all colours from friends who would travel to Nigeria and Ghana, gently asking them to bring me back whatever they could. In those moments as a designer, the light bulb goes on and you find yourself creating pieces, which is how the first few ideas transpired.
Gradually one became two, and the pieces began to materialise, to the extent that I had about 20 small pieces which I had framed. Enter my son, who saw me spread them out on the floor and was marvelled at how I had managed to hide them around the house, out of the eyes of my mother.
Quick as a flash he had photographed them and posted them onto his Instagram account, I still do not have one! From that moment the genie had been released and it was not going to go back into the bottle. It became a question of how to showcase the designs to a wider audience. Each opportunity has acted like a stepping stone, I have been most fortunate in the breaks that have come my way I tend to look at my work much in the way a painter starts with a blank canvas. No two pieces that I create will ever be the same. Whilst I am creating these textile paintings, I am only aware of the colours that I will use, but not the journey of the piece, each one has its own rhythm and story, that for me is what makes each one off piece unique.
Wow, that is a difficult question, but I can honestly say that I am inspired by many things, from listening to music, conversation, hearing and reading a line of poetry, along with photographs that just capture my imagination. I also think that being raised in a culture steeped in Yoruba tradition, has been instrumental in my journey as a designer.
My mother was a printer and my father was a draughtsman, so design and the love of design have been instilled in me from an early age. I am inspired by anything that delights and tickles my visual senses.
How would you compare the Western and African market in terms of values for art works?
Like most things we have been constantly conditioned through no fault of our own to have the idea that African works of art are somewhat in inferior; that is certainly not my view, and anyone who knows me will tell you I am the most ardent and fervent champion of our African Ancestry and Heritage.
The African market is far more exciting. The current resurgence and proliferation of African art is taking the art world by storm. Our trajectory of art has always been rising, however presently its stock has never been higher, why is this? Artists from Picasso to Hirst have made more than a passing reference to the art of Africa, even to the point of appropriating whole elements in the quest to claim works as their own. So why the sudden interest?
What many curators were happy to call ‘tribal’, that somehow adding the word ‘tribal’ made it somewhat less authentic and therefore was not really valued. Fast forward, the last few years have seen a sudden surge of interest as new kids on the block enter. From photographers and sculptors to painters and textile designers, old and new now sharing the platform. There really is space for us all.
As cultural houses and museums have watched this market grow so has the interest in all things African, fuelling and creating a demand. Contemporary artists such as Yinka Shonibare and El Anatsui share the space alongside Peju Alatise and Kehinde Andrews, all creating a rich mélange.
Modern art collectors are looking for something and presently African art is it. Major houses and museums are keen to reach the emerging markets of Ghana and Kenya, alongside the more established countries of Nigeria and Morocco. Having international events like the Venice Biennale, The Art Paris Fair, and the 1:54 London and Paris Fairs will continue to raise the profile of African art and artists, along with a growing number of galleries in London and Paris that find, develop and support African art, the value, and market of which will continue to grow.
Recently, you had the Making Stories, Telling Tales exhibition, tell us about it.
Again sometimes it is about being in the right place at the right time. There were two parts to this exhibition, it was never intended to be but fate and the universe have a lovely way of conspiring to tell you something different. As I alluded to earlier on in this interview, sometimes it is a case of banking ideas and then releasing them when the time is right…and so it was the case with the Making Stories, Telling Tales.
I was invited to exhibit to celebrate the work of a Black female artist for Black History Month. The body of work presented had been mulling around for some time titled ‘Ain’t no Jack’, based on the seminal work of Professor Paul Gilroy ‘Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack’. The stories of the flags bearing semblance to the work he has written, depicting Britain’s involvement in the Commonwealth, exploring the struggle of the African and Caribbean nations’ fight for their independence.
The original exhibition held in 2016 at the Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, North London was a body of work exploring the idea of fabrics telling stories and going back to explore the tradition of handcrafted work. Printed collaged textiles is like a painting, it is watching a print evolve. What was meant to be a 2-month exhibit, turned into a 6-month stint. Such was the success of this exhibition that I was asked to show case the exhibition in Bath, at the Tafari Gallery (the former home of the Emperor Haille Selaisse and his wife), where it remained for 4 months.
So I have been most fortunate in showing my work. The opportunity to exhibit in London was too good to miss, and I was looking for a space that was sympathetic to my work and artistic ideals, The GIDA Collective, in Brixton, South London was the perfect spot. A week long exhibition in April 2017 was followed by a very stimulating artist’s conversation. These new ‘Paintings’ continue to explore the theme of ‘Narrative’ within printmaking, with the use of African textiles. Employing material predominately native to Ghana, namely batik woven and dyed cloths which are collaged together.
My use of fabrics creates abstract compositions that hark back to West-African traditions of using textiles as a means of commemoration and communication, taking them and placing them in a contemporary setting. It is interesting how the idea of ‘Narrative’ can be explored through a range of media, techniques, and processes to tell a story that does not need words. Enthused with a rich sense of colour and rhythm, these works serve to remind us that the idea of narrative, of story telling, is not always verbal.
Tope Hassan, the “Disruptive Diasporan”, is the founder of ISOKO Africa. She is a multi-lingual young African entrepreneur specializing in marketing, compliance, and media to create multi-dimensional business systems where start-ups and multi-national companies can operate fairly in a corrupt free environment and standardized economy.
Tope is popularly known as an African Tourist, backpacking through African nations to discover African brands and entrepreneurs; a yoga teacher dedicated to health and well-being lifestyles of professionals and entrepreneurs; as an advocate for African brands helping them reach a wider market than their local communities; and a Media and Public Speaker sharing experiences of Africa, its brands, commerce and industry, healthy lifestyles, life lessons and inspiration. She also blogs at TopeHassan.com
What inspired your decision to start ISOKO Africa?
I am popularly known for my passion for Africa, which is not limited to Black girl magic, Ankara print, melanin skin and all the paraphernalia that comes with it. The commercial and inter-relations sectors of Africa pumps my passion from my lifestyle to my dreams so much that African brands in all sectors are my first option before seeking foreign brands.
People get shocked when I show them products/services/apps/companies that beat global standards and wonder why they never knew about it. This made me the go-to person to recommend best options for African brands.
So I decided that instead of responding to tons of calls and emails per day, how about if I created a platform for African brands to reach a global target market beyond their local communities? This platform would also to help them sell their brands globally thereby gaining the recognition and market they rightly deserve.
ISOKO Africa is born out of the urgent need to eradicate the popular misconceptions and stereotypes around African brands and exposing them globally. It is geared towards repositioning minds of African entrepreneurs to build their companies as brands and not just a shop/business. ISOKO Africa, a media, and marketing organization is simply “African market” in the Swahili Language.
How has social media been able to help increase your productivity?
When I started out last year, my focus was to inform the world that Africa has a lot to offer commercially. It’s disturbing how Africa is patronized simply for two things: its human resource and raw materials. The social media publicizes Africa as either Black girl magic and talent or famine and war zone. Our commercial brands hardly make headlines.
I started podcasting through iTunes, Soundcloud, Midas Radio and other media platforms and backpacked through African nations to discover and interview remarkable entrepreneurs and thought leaders. These podcasts were publicized through social media, reaching to a diverse audience beyond Africa. Not only that, it also encouraged more Africans to use and listen to podcasts.
We successfully created a diverse and a multi-networking hub for Africans to know about each other which led to trans-national sales for entrepreneurs. This ecosystem further fostered partnerships between entrepreneurs, service providers, and customers. Gradually, ISOKO Africa developed communities in several countries where we formed teams that have become voices of Africa quietly on the search for African Brands.
Our team functions entirely on social media through messaging and meeting apps that have helped us to build the vision together achieving pellets of the milestone at a time.
What major social media campaign helped to increase your online presence? Kindly give details of the plan and how it worked.
The campaigns that focused on community inclusion buffered our online presence. We advertised our tour of West African nations and this attracted a diverse audience and lots of entries. We asked our followers to recommend brands within their area for us to interview and received an overwhelming response.
The messages recommended amazing brands interested in joining the experience of new Africa by either documenting, making videos, inviting us for a talk or simply to enjoy the trip and meeting entrepreneurs.
It’s amazing to discover that Africans desire their friends and nations to be represented globally. This lead to our conclusion that the best way for us to build an influential online presence, is to foster communities. To achieve this, we
Invested in awesome and relatable HD graphics and images: One of the greatest assets on our team is the graphic design and photography fellow. People are intrigued by appealing and great images. It’s easy to attract attention when they can relate to what you say.
Defined our audience: Before publishing our posts, we ensure it would be appealing to our target audience. We also ensured to update our followers about each decision every step of the way.
Fostered partner communities: We connected our vision online by engaging with our audience offline to build communities around our goal. We did this by partnering with similar event campaigns, communities, and movements. This helped to build trust, inclusion, and network and convert talk into action. It also got us a lot of feedback.
I have had to learn how to build everything we used on our platform from the website to recording and uploading podcasts. Our platform started its content through podcasting which is relatively an untapped market in Africa. Unfortunately, social media platforms do not have the capacity to run podcasts and our listenership on the website was very poor.
We ran surveys to find out how best to reach our audience and discovered that majority of African youths prefer to listen or read media on their mobile phones. This meant hosting podcasts on the website would be less effective. We changed our methods and I quickly had to learn the tricks of uploading our podcasts on iTunes, podcasts for Android, Soundcloud, Stitcher and other podcasting platforms.
Gradually, our podcast experienced increasing growth in listenership, subscribers, and loyalty. Social media became our channel to build the movement, engagement, feedback, synergy, and sharing. This channel also helped us discover that we had followers who prefer reading and having reference to African content, hence the launch of our Stories feature on the website to paint a new picture of Africa’s Brand.
Apart from social media, how have you fostered growth for your brand?
There was a need to connect our passion for Africa’s brands on social media to the community around us. So we launched partnerships with similar communities online that share our vision. We joined to promote events, campaigns, debates, markets, and conversations about Africa.
We have participated in global events like Social Media Week and are connected with communities like Global Shapers, YALI, MEST Africa, Quintessential Group Africa, AIESEC, Women in Tech etc. The ISOKO Africa community is centered on Africa and as its gladiators; we are born ready to do everything in our power to lift it up.
What’s your perfect one-line statement for young women trying to build a brand via social media?
Build a brand that’s centered on your Personality, Community, and Authenticity & Global Credibility.
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.
“Miss Ile de France (region of Paris) was never my dream but it became one as I realized what it could mean for women of colour to represent beauty in a supposedly “white” region.” These were the words of Meggy Pyaneeandee when she spoke of her election as a representative for the region of Paris in Miss France 2017.
Meggy, who grew up in the hood of Paris (in the suburb of Paris) has always had one dream and that is to get into a prestigious university, excel and help educate other children in the hood as she believes education is the only way out for people who are not part of the elite. Born to Mauritian immigrants who moved to Paris when they were just 20, Meggy witnessed firsthand the hardships of living in the hood and as her parents never got the opportunity for higher education, their dream was to get Meggy the best education they could.
Meggy through ambition and positive action got into Sciences Po – one of the most prestigious universities in France which used to be restricted to the elite. This was the first step to reaching her goals as she got the opportunity to live and work in New York for a year which was on her dream board. With Meggy set on getting the best grades in the field of Marketing, she never thought of contesting for a beauty pageant.
That was until she chanced upon French journalist, Francois Durpaire who made her understand that her personality would make a great difference as no one has a story like hers. Then Meggy realized that representing beauty for the region of Paris as a woman of colour would not only empower women like her but it would also encourage the children in the hood to dream bigger.
How and why did you join Miss France 2017?
I walked for a fashion show in March 2016 for a friend who needed models at the last minute. I didn’t know how to walk or anything but I did it to help her and that’s where I met a French journalist called Francois Durpaire. We had the opportunity to talk at the after party and when I told him I was in Sciences Po, he told me he was going to come for a conference in a week.
I attended the conference and we talked again, that’s when he told me about being a member of the “Miss Ile de France” committee. I found it funny that a serious person like him would be a part of something superficial like a beauty pageant. When I shared this with him, he told me to just give it a try. I then spoke to my parents about this opportunity and my mom basically told me she wouldn’t speak to me if I don’t go for the casting. And so, it began.
The reason I agreed to join was because I knew from the beginning that my participation was going to be different as I was different. Most of the girls in the contest had dreamt of this day while I had never thought of it. I never even thought I had a chance to compete because I didn’t think I was “beautiful enough”. But when Francois told me that I had my chances and that my personality would also make a difference, I realized how big this could be.
There was something symbolic about representing beauty for the region of Paris because I am a woman of colour. Some would hardly call me black because I also look Indian but to me, my skin tone is dark, I am Mauritian and because of it I’m a mixed girl. I grew up with immigrants in the hood. I entered one of the most prestigious schools in France and I am still living in the hood. I knew there couldn’t be another girl like me in the contest with the same speech. From the beginning I knew my body would not be my chance to stand out. My speech would and I was right.
What did being elected as Miss Ile de France mean to you? What kind of responses did you receive after the election from the community and other contestants?
It was such an honor and a pride. I know I won thanks to my speech and it was empowering to people like me who come from the bottom and sometimes feel like it’s forbidden to dream. I just wanted to let everyone know that you can do whatever you want to do if you work and if you are well surrounded.
With regards to the responses, I received all sorts. To be honest I mostly saw, in the beginning, nice comments. People were very surprised that I would be elected. Unconsciously, no one expects a non-white girl to be elected. I remember when I posted my official photo on Twitter, I had a lot of retweets and most of them were black people.
But the show isn’t popular in my region so I wasn’t the girl everybody would hear about suddenly. The Mayor of my city got very excited and immediately asked to meet me and write about me on the journal. There were also the racist comments I would rather forget. I received very different responses from the contestants. We were 30 in number – some were indifferent, others adored me. I, however, got close to 3 girls during the entire month and we cheered each other.
What was the criteria for your election? What preparations/sacrifices did you make towards both Miss Ile de France and Miss France?
It was a beauty pageant contest so we needed to be at least 170cm tall, pretty, slim, mostly with a nice body and elegant. The show for the contest is made up of several dances, walks, and speech so they wanted cheerful and self-motivated women.
For my preparations towards Miss France, I had to gain 5kgs because I was always a little too skinny. I had to work out and eat way more to do so. I also learned how to catwalk; walk in heels and hold myself right. These were things I had planned to do at some point in my life so I was happy to finally do so.
I was lucky I didn’t have to sacrifice anything. It was my gap year and I was supposed to do internships. I told my school about my election and asked them to give me 5 months off and consider it as an internship. I was going to be away for a month during the Miss France contest so I knew no enterprise would seriously hire me for 3 months. I was lucky my school supported me.
What was your biggest challenge and achievement in the contests?
My biggest challenge was being on stage and looking confident in my body when I wasn’t. I’ve always been bullied about being too skinny so being in a “beauty pageant” was hard to believe. I also had to show my body with a smile in front of millions of people which was unnerving but I knew why I was doing it. I also knew that though I had been selected on physical aspects, I could tell people how I feel about beauty.
My biggest achievement was my speech. Also, that I remained myself the entire time. Even though people saw me differently, I was the same Meggy and I’m proud of that.
How has life been after the pageant personally and professionally? Will you say you have achieved your goal with this pageant?
Professionally nothing happened to me related to Miss France. I had to find an internship on LinkedIn. I worked for an audiovisual production company. But I met interesting people who are now a part of my network and can help me someday. Francois Durpaire is first on my list.
Personally, I’m still the same Meggy with a dream to excel in school but also a representative for my region as I am sometimes invited to events where I have to wear my sash. I am sometimes recognized on the streets and people take photos with me. It’s so weird because I feel like I’m nobody but it seems I’m ‘famous’ to the people who saw me on TV. When I have autographs sessions, it sometimes gets very emotional for those who relate to my story.
Have I achieved my goals? Yes and no. I achieved my goal of delivering my speech in front of millions of people (Miss France is the most watched show of the year on TV) but I feel like people didn’t get it because I was giving it at the wrong place. I was hoping a woman of colour being a contestant at Miss France would make a difference but obviously, it did not. I made it to the top 10 and that was it. I did not have many votes. And given the racist comments after my election, I felt like I did all of this for nothing (which is wrong of course). But imagine giving an empowering speech and all people can see is your skin colour, body size, and looks? I suppose I was expecting too much. I should have known that it is a beauty contest and people only care about physical beauty and that’s that!
Imagine working at Google and trailblazing your very own dance fitness sensation. That’s what founder of Bam Bam Boogie, Bami is doing.
In less than a year, this Google marketing specialist and fitness entrepreneur has run fitness classes in Brazil, London, Vegas, Texas, Toronto, and Dublin. Talk about major multi-tasking and creating a global operation from a ‘side hustle’.
SLA contributor Abiola caught up with Bami to find out just how the heck she has achieved all of this in such a short space of time, and how this is only just the beginning.
Tell us about Bam Bam Boogie (BBB) and how you got started
Bam Bam Boogie is an Afro-Caribbean-inspired dance workout that pairs traditional fitness movements with authentic Afro-Caribbean dance styles to the beat of contemporary afrobeats, dancehall, reggaeton, soca, and hip-hop. We foster an environment of diversity and inclusivity: anyone and everyone is welcome at Bam Bam Boogie.
It all started following a rough time I was going through at the end of 2015. I’d just returned to the UK after my first ever trip back to my ‘homeland’ Nigeria, and although it was an amazing experience, I had a strong sense of emptiness. While ‘going back’ helped me see where I came from, there was still something missing and I couldn’t work out what. Something felt like it just didn’t fit. So after some soul-searching, and that took the form of working out. But being at the gym was so mundane, and it felt like you needed to look a certain way to fit in.
And that’s how BBB was born. I wanted to create a space where people who may not feel 100% confident in the gym, can workout, be free and have fun while doing it. So that’s what I did, and very quickly, it became the most popular Googler-led class at my work gym. (Googler is Google-speak for someone who works at the firm!).
How did you get your firm to support the BBB movement, and keep supporting it even a year later?
We started as a diversity initiative to generate awareness, celebrate cultures and break down stereotypes in the workplace. That was our USP and it helped me to get buy-in and continued support from my firm. I only had to convince a handful of important people and from there the news spread like wildfire. There’s nothing like word of mouth. Very soon other teams and managers were asking for Bam Bam Boogie conferences and team events!
It’s a fun and easily accessible way to start an important conversation and I think that’s why the firm is so supportive. It strongly reflects their “bring your whole self to work” perspective.
What have been the highlights in taking BBB from some classes in Ireland to around the world?
It’s always amazing when I take BBB to other countries and people find out that I live in Ireland. They look puzzled, first they think, ‘where is that?’ and second, ‘there are African people there?’ It makes me proud to be able to represent the diaspora through BBB.
I loved taking the class to Toronto because that’s where I grew up and become heavily involved in Afro-Carribean culture. Everyone back home was super proud and supporting, and #TeamBoogie Toronto wish they could do classes weekly! I also loved doing it in Vegas because – it’s Vegas right? Everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas so I guess that’s all I can say about that workshop!
Finally, Sao Paulo was a major highlight because it was my first time in Brazil. The energy was amazing Brazilians can really move – they even taught me a move or two! I loved explaining the concept to Afro-Brazilians because they were so impressed to see someone who looked like them bringing their passions to the corporate world and thriving in both aspects. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
How do you get so many diverse collaborations and how have they helped your brand?
I’ve been able to do this mainly through my network and very open personality. Yes, BBB is a brand, but it is an extension of my personality. I have made this very clear from the start, so within the first 30 seconds of meeting someone, I have already told them about BBB. This helps a lot with word of mouth because it means I’ll always be top of mind. I also I seek out opportunities for myself using social media. I’ll search up relevant hashtags for example “#ukurbanwear” and I will slide into their DMs to see how we can add value to each other’s brands. I like to support brands I believe in especially if they have an ethos that supports Afro-Caribbean Culture.
These collaborations have helped add credibility to my brand as when people see these interviews, blogs, and videos they get to see the entrepreneurial side of BBB. The fact that it’s not just a dance fitness movement but a community used for empowerment and support.
How do you balance a high-powered corporate career with entrepreneurship?
Balancing the two is never easy, and some weeks it feels like a 50/50 split in dedication, other times it feels like 110/110 and I’m burning out at both ends. But if you’re passionate you just have to keep pushing. My top 3 tips would be:
Calculate how many hours you have in a day and break it up according to daily/weekly priorities. For example, I know that from the second I wake up I have 16 hours in my day (8 for work hours, 2 for travel time, 3 for eating). That leaves me with 3 hours so then I assign myself a 3 hour task of 3 x 1 hour blocks throughout my day to get it done.
Use your “spare time” to listen to relevant audiobooks. During my lunch and daily commutes I try my best to listen to an audiobook or podcast related to personal-development, whether it be the latest of #AskGaryVee Podcast or an Inspirational Audiobook. This gives you the drive and knowledge you need to get through the toughest of times.
Share your passion with your peers but don’t overshare. Let your colleagues know what you’re up to so they can support you in your endeavours. Bear in mind that they are a key part of your network and will be understand when you can’t make team events because you’re working on something. But be careful not to overshare, though, because not everyone has the same entrepreneurial passion and they could find it overbearing.
What’s most challenging about being an entrepreneur?
The most challenging thing and what most people won’t tell you about is the loneliness. Because social media is so carefully curated to only show the glamorous parts of our lives, it’s easy to forget the grit and elbow grease that it takes to make things a success.
There are periods of time where you need to isolate yourself from friends and family to get work done. I’ve missed out on countless social events and vacations in order to save money or work on a particular project that needed to be completed by the deadline. A wise woman once told me that “there is a price to pay for everything in life” and as an entrepreneur, you pay that price many times to make your vision a reality.
What would you say to someone who has an idea but isn’t sure where to start?
Do a bit of market research (but not too much that it demotivates you), the easiest way is to do this is to use your network to find someone who is in the industry you want to get into. Ask them relevant questions about their journey and any advice they would give their former self.
Listen attentively, take notes, set yourself one actionable goal from this meeting and achieve it within the next 7 days. It sounds cliche but “just do it”. Let go of what people may think of you, 9/10 times they are just projecting their own fears onto you. You’ve got this!
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.
When Ethel was 18 years old her father sent her to computer diploma class, so she would keep busy. There, one of the lecturers made a life-changing statement to Ethel, “the computer is dumb and the computer is only as smart as the one who writes its logic”.
That simple line led to Ethel choosing to do a degree in computer science and then a master’s degree in Distributed System on scholarship in the UK (the only female in her specialization).
Ethel made her first attempt at entrepreneurship with a software firm in her Ghana which failed. Because she was self-funded, Ethel lost her savings in the process. Not daunted, Ethel went back to full-time employment across Ghana, and Nigeria, Sierra Leone building innovative technology or managing teams that build innovative tech.
She eventually found her way back into entrepreneurship and is now an award-winning entrepreneur. Her software company EDEL Technology Consulting won the IT Consulting Firm of the Year, as adjudged by the Ghana Telecom and IT Industry. In the last few years, Ethel Cofie has gone from being named one of the top 5 women influencing technology by the Mail and Guardian (South Africa) to winning the Most Influential African Woman in Business and Government: ICT Category by CEO Global.
How did you get the idea/concept of EDEL Technology?
As I sat through my first programming class, I thought, the computer is only as smart as the one who writes its logic, and I’m smart so why can’t I? I had just signed up to my first computer training class after my secondary education.
It was all new and exciting for me –learning about computers. This first lesson revolutionalised my life and the way I felt about computers. It’s one of those aha! moments of my life. After 6 months of the computer training course, I decided that a career in computing was what I wanted; I, therefore, applied to Valley View University to pursue a BSc course in Computer science.
I have always loved the idea that technology can allow you to create and make drastic changes in industries in technology. So I knew I was always going to become an entrepreneur.
In my mind, I was going to build an organization around technology. I chose to focus on building an IT Strategy and Consulting company so I can strategically work with companies to build new revenue streams and make them more efficient.
What has been your biggest hurdle so far?
In business, there are challenges– times you feel like giving up. Times you feel you made a mistake. Like all entrepreneurs, the biggest challenge is the self-doubt, and also the negativity from people you think should support you.
Has there ever been a time when you thought of giving up? What kept you going?
I left my lucrative job and very comfortable life in London and returned to Ghana with the intention of starting a Software Business of my own (EDEL Technology Consulting). I told nobody about it. Not even my parents, because considering that they were the typical African parents, I knew they would object. They only got to know of my intentions after I had shipped all my belongings and arrived in Ghana.
Everybody thought I was insane. And guess what, I failed completely at my first attempt. A lot of my working life was spent in the United Kingdom, where people understood technology. However, I painfully came to understand what it meant to build technology in Ghana, where at the time most people did not understand what it meant. You can just imagine what my parents and people said at the time.
The blow was overwhelming because I had spent all my savings on this new adventure. But I didn’t let this deter my vision. I plodded on, mastered courage and took on a few jobs, did a lot of projects and started EDEL Technology consulting version 2 and I am glad to report that the second version has grown to the point where we have clients not only in Ghana but in the United Kingdom.
What is your favourite thing about the tech industry?
I love the ability to create and change industries and change how businesses use technology to solve business challenges.
This is why I love technology –we can change how the world works.
As one of the top 5 women influencing IT in Africa, to what do you attribute your success?
I’m always learning and sharing. I’ve found that nothing is more rewarding than learning new things, and this has always been my mantra. You cannot over-learn.
Another thing is also to share. Share your knowledge, inspire others, hence my fixation with getting more girls into tech. I also believe that to be successful, one must maximize their opportunities and believe in the purpose for which was born.
Which season is the toughest for your job? How do you overcome this?
We work with businesses so our seasons are based on general economic trends. We provide solutions to businesses so when business is booming, our services are also in high demand.
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.
Kalaria Ejindu is a value oriented, driven entrepreneur with years of experience in leadership and skill building training. She is the founder of Africaneurs Inc, a platform for African entrepreneurs to build their skills, expand their network and grow their businesses.
Through her engaging online contents and events, Kalaria hopes for Africaneurs to become the number one destination for African entrepreneurs. In this interview with SLA contributor Gracious, Kalaria talks to us about her growing business which aims to rid the degrading stories about Africa.
What problems do Africaneurs aim to solve?
Africaneurs provides African startups with the platform to build their skills, expand their network, get business tips and grow their business. We are an organization that motivates Africans to contribute to the development of a new Africa through our engaging online contents and events.
Because most of the stories out there about Africans are disturbing, insulting and ridiculous, Africaneurs Blog is dedicated to sharing stories and achievements of Africans. We also have an online shop that leads the way to allow every African entrepreneur and designer to present and sell his/her products to a cross-cultural market where all the profit made will go back to funding start-ups, Africaneurs events and projects.
How have you challenged yourself in the years since the start of your business?
In the past year till date, I have challenged myself by creating time from my busy work and school schedule in other to equip myself. I attended business related conferences, seminars and events. I was at the Harvard Business conference, Columbia conference and many more skill building events.
At these conferences, I learned new business skills and equipped myself for the work ahead of me. It is always good to learn from Moguls.
What kind of support is necessary for startup entrepreneurs?
For startups to be successful, they need support from family, friends, and the government. They need mentorship, funding, skill building and all the support they can get from the community at large.
What kind of investors do you need for your business and how do you tend to attract them?
A good team of investors can take our organization to the next level of success. At this time, we need angel investors, personal investors, and event sponsors. At Africaneurs, we exude confidence in the value and impact of our programs in hopes that we can attract investors.
How do you connect to your target startup and how easily do you reach out to African based start-up entrepreneurs from the diaspora?
Through our engaging online content, we are able to connect with thousands of African-based startups. We have also partnered with some organizations such as the Xperience Media Online and Abiriba Exhibition Fair to host events in Nigeria.
We are planning another pan-African event in Nigeria this year and will keep all our followers in the loop.
What support system and tools have helped you in the course of running Africaneurs?
I consider myself very blessed with a community of supporters. Just to name a few, I have my family, my friends -the founders of Dashiki Pride and the founder of Kajai Media. They have been very supportive of me and my entrepreneurial journey.
In terms of tools/resources that have helped me, I always fall back to books about entrepreneurship for example “The Power of Broke” by Draymond John and online contents from websites such as She Leads Africa.
What global concepts have greatly influenced your business strategy?
The concept “Africa to the world” has a great influence in my business strategy. At Africaneurs, we showcase the greatness embedded in Africa through our online contents, and Pan-African events.
Our mission to for the world to see how beautiful, creative and great Africans are.
Out of style, worn it too long, don’t feel it anymore…. I guess I just need a new one! These are some of the thoughts and reasons we give when we want to get rid of our clothing items. Very few times, if ever do we actually consider a Clothing DIY. It’s not always about upcycling items that are still in good condition, tattered clothes can be used as material to make other items as well. Thank goodness for Stephanie Uwalaka! In this interview, we gain insight on how she uses pre-loved clothing and off-cuts to make lovable tote bags.
Stephanie is a half-Nigerian student from London, who set up her business independently while living and teaching English with the British Council abroad in France. The 22 year old is a features writer and section editor for one of the biggest student papers in the UK, The Gryphon. She has worked freelance for publications both online and in print, such as The State of The Arts, French regional paper and Le Courrier Picard. Stephanie has also volunteered for several charities including Oxfam, Traid and Help Refugees UK in Calais, France
Better World Totes produces completely original hand-sewn tote bags made from recycled fabric off-cuts, aiming to combat the use of plastic bags and reduce the water wastage in the textile industry by upcycling fabrics to create tote bags people will use and love, with a 20% donation from each bag to going to environmental charities; including The Soil Association, Greenpeace, and WWF.
Introducing Stephanie Uwalaka …
A 22-year-old student from London, and set up her business while living and working abroad in France. Inspired by her love of sewing, protecting the environment and philanthropy, Better World Totes was born.
How easy/ difficult was it to start Better World Totes in a foreign land?
Well, aside from the hard work I put in, especially at the beginning, I would say it was easier for me to start up Better World Totes here in France rather than in London, purely because I had the time and space to finally invest in my own business.
In London, there is this sense that there is not enough time, money and all number of distractions that can make it harder for creatives to set up their own platforms or even businesses, but for me being out of a city and abroad gave me the space I needed to focus.
Also, living abroad changes your mindset in several ways I think, so it gave me the drive to go ahead and set up a business I have been thinking about for years pretty much. And although I am based in London, to start out abroad I think has given me great foundation to be able to continue in the UK.
Recycling fabric is such a cool idea; how do you get your supplies? Like do you receive off cuts from other tailors or do you use pre-loved clothing items?
This is one of the things I am constantly doing, looking for fabric! But I would have to say I use mostly off-cuts, I tend to find kind souls who either give me unwanted materials or from local markets for cheap. Sometimes even at car boot sales or craft fairs I come across an abundance of unwanted fabric that I can use given that its clean and there’s enough of it.
Although I did start up by using some of my own unwanted clothes. For instance, ‘The Paisley Tote’ was a sun dress I bought but never wore, even though I loved the pattern, so I ended turning it into one of my first products!
How will recyclables need to be prepared before they can be reused?
Before I take on any materials or fabrics, I make sure they are clean and something I can work with.
If needed I’ll wash fabrics on an eco-cycle using natural washing detergent, then iron lightly depending on the fabric.
One of your aims is to reduce water used in the textile industry. How do you plan on doing this?
Essentially, my intention is that by using fabrics that have already been produced and have seemingly no further use, can take on a new lease of life as a multi-use bag to prevent people paying 5 or 10p for a plastic bag or having to use paper bags when out and about.
According to WWF, it takes 2,700 litres to produce just one cotton t-shirt. I think that by recycling, or upcycling if you will, fabrics we can reduce the pressure on natural resources and the environment to keep up with consumerist societal habits.
The number of fabrics recycled each year in the UK is just at 25 percent, but 50 percent is recyclable, so I hope that by making original one-off tote bags that serve a purpose and please the eye is a little step in the right direction.
Not at all! I like to think that this is just the start, I am hoping to produce cushion covers, bunting, and maybe even yoga mat bags in the future!
Also, I will be getting in some Better World Totes logo bags for our launch later this summer so that will be something to look forward to.
Are there any negatives to your business or your industry at large?
I think in the growing ‘green fashion’ and beauty industries it is easy to, what is called, ‘green-wash’ a business or product. This means that products are either not as ethically, environmentally or ecologically friendly as they make out to be or advertised.
Recently, the Soil Association, a charity that Better World Totes makes donations to, had a campaign about the organic beauty industry and the mis-labelling of products that may mislead customers to think a product is ‘greener’ than it is. This I think sums up one of the greatest industry challenges.
In terms of the negatives to my business, aside from practically doing all the work myself and numerous other little things I’m working on, I think the hardest thing is getting my products out there and inciting sales.
Sometimes I think taking a break from social media is necessary but having a business means you need to be quite active online to make sure you’re putting your brand and idea out there. And although it has strengthened my self-promotion skills, something I was not previously that good at, I learnt that it is necessary to take a step back sometimes, acknowledge your own achievements and be proud of them too.
I also think that audience is a big challenge too, it’s quite easy for people to think bags are aimed solely at women, but I chose to make tote bags specifically because they are unisex and useful!
OK, so with that said. What gave you the confidence in the first place that your Tote bags will sell?
I have always loved bags, and tote bags in particular. I think I have a healthy collection of tote bags from artists, events or brands that I like or have been to! So, I think this where my belief that my bags will sell comes from. That is if there is someone out there who loves bags as much as me!
I also think that people like things that are unique yet useful, with a potential wider impact. As each tote is a one-off, there will be no other bag like it, which is attractive to buyers. Recently, I saw a video of a discussion with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
In it, she said Nigerians are brought up with a kind of ‘arrogance’, particularly of their own work, so I think there’s some truth in that too! At the heart of it though, I am confident and self-motivated, I think its these two qualities that allow me to believe in myself and my product, with the knowing that things take time and hard work.
Stephanie, what’s the best lesson you have learnt from SLA so far?
The best lesson I’ve learnt so far from SLA is to keep going! There are still times when I think to myself maybe it’s not worth doing but the articles I read on SLA inspire me to push through, with the reminder that it takes hard work to create what you want.
Also, just knowing there is a community of women that I can relate to, doing similar things in business, makes all the difference and encourages me to continue to put the work in. I think another is that you can succeed in doing what you love too.
You also write articles for The State of the Arts. What inspires your writing?
I wrote a couple of articles last year for The State of The Arts and have written for other publications too. I chose to write for them because I find culture and art of all kinds very interesting and highly important. Creative expression is something special and that not everyone is in touch with.
So for me, writing is a creative outlet. Albeit via reviews for events like AFROPUNK London, it was my subjective experience of the event but I had to write in such a way for others to experience it through my review. What inspires me to write is an exploration or a search for truth, joy and even beauty and to express that as much as possible through words.
If you were to write a book what would it be all about?
I thought of this recently, as I do enjoy writing. I would write a recipe book because I love cooking! Or maybe something more of a biography because everyone’s life experience is different and unique. Yet it is not always something everyone knows about, only you know all the things you have experienced and the value that they may or may not hold for you.
So, having said this, I think to share that with others, may inspire, enlighten or encourage people on their own life paths.
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.
Ral Obioha holds several degrees; a Juris Doctorate degree from Howard University School of Law, a Masters of Law Summa Cum Laude from American University Washington College of Law and a dual Bachelor’s degree in History and Psychology Magna Cum Laude from Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia.
Eager to offer her legal expertise, Ral served as a Student Attorney in the Fair Housing Clinic, where she represented impoverished D.C. residents. She expanded her body of work in the legal field by becoming a member of the International Moot Court Team; participating in the D.M. Harish International Moot Court Competition in Mumbai, India, where her team won the Best Advocates Award. As a law student,
As a law student, Ral interned with several law firms in Washington D.C., gaining experience in Immigration Law and Civil Litigation. Prior to moving to Houston, Texas, Ms. Obioha worked at an esteemed boutique law firm in Washington, D.C. where she represented clients in Personal Injury, Immigration, Business Law, Real Estate Transactions, Criminal Appeals, as well as International legal matters. Before starting her own firm,
Before starting her own firm, Ral worked in one of the largest plaintiff’s Personal Injury firms in Texas representing clients in high profile auto and 18-wheeler trucking accident cases, as well as, premises liability and product liability cases. When she’s not working, Ral runs her inspirational blog, NwaVic and enjoys fine dining.
What are three things you gained and lost in the process of setting up your law firm?
I gained the quest for constant self-improvement, patience in service, and a stronger work ethic.
I lost time, care and concern for things and people who do not add positive value to my life or life path. Now, I surround myself with “good vibes” only.
Do you volunteer? If so, can you share any advice on volunteering as a way to build a career?
Yes, I volunteer at least once a month. Volunteering is an important avenue to not only contribute to your community, but to personally connect with the people in it. This gives you a gateway to free knowledge about the needs of your community and how you can meet them through the services you provide in your business or career.
By volunteering, you can get experience, gain/expand your skills, learn more about yourself and your potential to grow and develop, and build your confidence. It is also the definitely the purest way of networking and expanding your networking. I have made some lifelong connections through volunteering.
Tell us more about participating in the D.M. Harish International Moot Court Competition? How did you successfully lead your team to win an award?
D.M. Harish International Moot Court Competition is an annual competition that is hosted the Government Law College, Mumbai, India, in association with the DM Harish Foundation. The competition presents a unique International legal issue and invites law students from various parts of the world to come and compete. In 2011, I attended the competition with two esteemed class mates. We were asked to research and debate the legal issues surrounding international surrogacy.
I served as the researcher for my group and provided all the groundwork legal research we used to navigate the competition, and ultimately win an award. The experience was incredible. It took a lot of hardwork, dedication and late hours to win but it was an invaluable experience. I met law students (now lawyers) from all over the world, including Russia, Brazil, India and France with whom I still stay in touch.
What are your current career goals? How are you taking the steps to reach them?
My current goal is to continue to grow my law practice into a leading avenue through which my clients can reach their dreams, achieve their goals, and protect their estates. My goal is to use my expertise and knowledge to improve the lives of my clients.
I am taking various steps to achieve my goals by networking, volunteering, and most importantly, providing each client with quality legal solutions and specialized attention.
Can you tell us more about your inspirational blogging?
I have always had a passion for inspiring others. In 2011, I started a blog NwaVic. The purpose of the blog is to inspire and empower others “to aspire, to love and to live a life of purpose”. There I share inspirational thoughts, stories, and experiences through the lens of my own life experiences and journey. I blog about my spirituality, my experience in marriage, friendships, and courage.
The blog also has a section “Dear NwaVic” where my readers can send me any question or issue they need a neutral opinion on. I blog about my spirituality, my experience in marriage, friendships, and courage. The blog also has a section “Dear NwaVic” where my readers can send me any question or issue they need a neutral opinion on.
The name “NwaVic” means “Daughter of Vic” and is inspired by my late dad whose name is Victor. I’m also on Instagram and Facebook.
What has been your best fine dining experience to date?
Ohh, my favorite experience was at this restaurant in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2015. The restaurant literally sits on a tree with a view of the city of Rio. The service was amazing and the food was impeccable. The experience as a whole was so memorable, I think about it sometimes.
What three skills do you think every young woman lawyer needs to be successful?