Unoma Okorafor: Invest in self-development. I have never met a great leader who is not a reader.

unoma okorafor
Delete the words from your vocabulary that stop you from daring to take the next step Click To Tweet

Dr. Unoma Okorafor is the founder and CEO of Working to Advance STEM Education for African Women (WAAW) Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education for African women, and working to ensure that talent is engaged in technology and innovation on the African continent.

A serial and social entrepreneur, Dr. Okorafor is also founder and CEO of Herbal Papaya, a health and wellness company that manufactures organic health beverages and supplements. She is also co-founder of Radicube Technologies Inc, a Big Data Analytics company. Unoma has been a speaker and thought leader at several events including SXSW, WISE Conference, Women’s Forum and Ashoka Foundation Changemakers.

She was a recipient of the 2013 Anita Borg Social Change Agent Award and was the 2016 winner of the GEM Tech Awards from ITU and UN Women.


You founded Working to Advance African Women (WAAW) Foundation over a decade ago. What inspired you to take this bold step?

Several factors inspired me to found WAAW Foundation in 2007 while I was completing my Ph.D. degree in Computer Engineering at Texas A & M University.  At that time, I was the only woman of color in the program and my graduate education experience had been a very lonely one working mostly amongst men. I knew that I wanted to be an engineer and had the ability to be a great one, but I wished there were more women in STEM to support each other.

Additionally, I saw the huge impact technology could have in lifting entire communities out of poverty. I could see the rapid technological advances that were in the pipeline. For instance, I saw the advent of Google, PayPal and Amazon and some of my research was around the technologies that powered these huge companies and the impact they had on e-commerce, telecommunications, and the financial industry.

The images I saw in the media did not reflect the Africa I grew up in and the Africa I envisioned in the future and I realized at that point that if we could empower African women with education in Science and Technology and teach them to innovate and solve problems in their communities using technology, we could turn around the plight of our entire African continent.

It was a huge dream considering that at the time I was still a graduate student with two young children. However, I decided it was better to start and even if we could only impact one girl in Africa it was better than doing nothing. It has been inspiring to see how WAAW Foundation has grown.

In the last decade, what are some of the major milestones that WAAW has achieved? What impact would you say that WAAW has had on the way that STEM education is delivered in Nigeria and on the number of girls choosing to study STEM?

Like I mentioned WAAW started as a dream while I was a graduate student with no substantial resources to invest and no experience with running a fully-fledged organization. The first year we launched our website, we offered to sponsor one $500 scholarship for an African girl studying a STEM-related discipline at a University in Africa. It was all my husband and I could afford from our meager graduate student stipend. But this experience opened my eyes to the huge need and the relatively small amount of resources and funds needed to bridge this gap.

That first year we received over 400 applications. We were overwhelmed and I recruited my mother to assess the applications and select the one we felt was the most deserving. But there were so many who needed a small lift. Application after application, I shed tears as I read about AIDS orphans, child mothers, abandoned girls who were struggling to make it through school, doing well with excellent grades who just needed a little support. I was inspired to keep pushing.

To date, WAAW has provided over 30 Scholarships to university girls in STEM, reached over 500 girls through our STEM residential camps, trained over 200 university-to-secondary mentors in 17 university chapters across 10 African countries and we impact almost 20,000 youth each year.

In Nigeria, we have continued to engage with the community to push against societal norms that tell girls that a STEM education is not feminine. We have worked with government ministries, secondary school teachers, communities and especially parents of girls to educate them on the huge benefits of STEM education for girls. WAAW is looking to partner with Federal Ministries of Education, Science and Technology to re-invent what STEM education should be and retrain our teachers to incorporate hands on, locally available resources to promote innovation in the classrooms.

_DSF0383

For all the girls and young women currently on the fence about whether a career in STEM is the right choice for them, what advice would you give to them?

First of all, let me say that we are not necessarily promoting the idea that a career in STEM is the right choice for every girl. Our broad message is that we are in the middle of a technological revolution where technology is pervasive in every facet of our lives and will be even more so in the future.

Consider the recent research that states that 90% of jobs created in the next 20-30 years will require some sort of skill in STEM. That means that people who have STEM skills will have a huge advantage over those who don’t. Whether they are applying those skills in core technology or in healthcare, finance, agriculture, business, transportation. I think that girls should participate in creating those technologies so we can solve some of the critical issues facing us.

We're in the middle of a technological revolution, people with STEM skills have a huge advantage Click To Tweet

WAAW is currently partnering with African Women Engineering Leadership and Entrepreneurship (AWELE) Academy to launch the She Hacks Africa Initiative. Could you tell the readers more about this initiative, who the target audience is and what the objectives are?

We launched AWELE Academy in 2016 with the desire to empower our WAAW college fellows and provide them with employable skills in software programming. AWELE academy provides a safe environment for direct project based, hands-on tutoring through regular courses, weekly real-life project and market analysis, coding activities and introduction to computer software that will inspire African youths to view software programming as accessible, fun and doable.

She Hacks Africa coding boot camp is a 3-week coding workshop designed to provide fun and engaging software programming training. It will help build the self-confidence of African youths between the ages of 18-35 years as community change makers and technology innovators while giving them relevant skills to build technology enterprises. Our participants will gain globally relevant skills, build their capacity in technology and benefit from leadership, mentoring, and networking events.

We had our first She Hacks Africa boot camp cohort in January 2017 in Abuja, Nigeria. Our Lagos edition started on Monday, April 24th, 2017.  The training will also provide entrepreneurship sessions to enable the participants to identify potential areas of interest in Technology.

Outside of your professional work, you are also a successful entrepreneur and have several companies under your belt. The one that stood out most to me is Herbal Papaya, the health and wellness company you founded in 2010.

What sparked your interest in health and wellness? Where is Health Papaya active and how can our readers access your products and services?

Herbal Papaya is a US-based health and wellness company that manufactures herbal teas, supplements, smoothies, dried herbs and spices. It was founded in 2011 after I had quit my job as an Engineering Tech lead to stay home and have my third baby. I was focused on eating healthy for my baby and providing healthier meals for my family so I started researching healthy living. I learnt about the genetically modified foods that had flooded the food industry and their potential impact on our health.

It led me to organic papaya, which is a fruit that is hugely beneficial to healthy skin, digestion and immune system. I thought, if I am looking for this, perhaps someone else might be too. So, I did a quick market test and found there was quite an interest and that is how the company was founded.

Herbal papaya products are available to customers in the US, Canada and Europe via our website and on Amazon. We are also available in several independent retail stores and will keep expanding into stores over the next few years. We have also been discussing the possibility of expanding our brand into the African market but that is very preliminary.

tradeshow2015

You have been invited to speak at several high-profile events including SXSW, WISE Conference, Women’s Forum and Ashoka Foundation Changemakers.

Considering the target audience of She Leads Africa, which of the speeches you have given would you say is most relevant and inspiring for this group and why?

I would say that the recent speech i gave at the SXSW conference would be most relevant to the target audience of She Leads Africa and here is why. The speech focused on why women in tech matter and highlighted the fact that women need to be encouraged to stand up and lead in every facet of life and especially in technology which is very male dominated. When women lead in tech, in business and other areas, we give others the permission to step up and take up their place.

I particularly stressed the fact that encouraging more women to lead is not a zero-sum equation. It does not mean that we are taking the place of men. I encourage more men to get in on the agenda of supporting female empowerment agendas so that together we can elevate the human experience, solve the global challenges of our times and leave behind a better world for our children.

Kat and Lezita: Building a brand based on treating yourself

One of THEE most important tools of success is simply staying true to yourself Click To Tweet

Diving into the uncharted waters of starting a business is no easy task. But attempting to encourage women to treat themselves to self-love while you do it could be nearly impossible. However, the founders of the Unapologetically Single gift box, Kat and Lezita, managed to do so, and for that we needed to know how.

Both founders who have backgrounds in fashion and retail, play a role in carefully selecting the items in the boxes to ensure the products align with their mission to make women feel great about themselves whether they’re single or in relationships. After scrolling through the Unapologetically Single market, it’s clear that Kat and Lezita created these gift boxes for a market that most retailers sleep on, literally.


Give us an overview of Unapologeticallysingle.com.

Kat: We want it to feel like a lifestyle destination where women can come and talk about love, life, and everything in between. We also have a market where we feature items lovingly curated with single women in mind.

What drove you to create UnapologeticallySingle.com?

Lezita: It was the end of August in 2016 and I was on the way to buy my 3rd baby shower gift and my 1st bridal shower gift of the year.  As I was walking around the store looking at the gift registry, I immediately started to think, “I’m 29 years old and I’m not in a relationship nor am I interested in kids at the moment. What if no one ever celebrates me?” After I left the baby store, I immediately called Kat and we started to brainstorm. Six months later, Unapologetically Single was officially born.

Kat: I was tired of being judged and feeling less than just because of a status. We graduated from college, have great jobs, take care of ourselves and people still feel they can knock you down by saying things like: “You still aren’t married yet?” “That’s why you’re single.” “Pretty, successful and single! You must be crazy.”

Our site is not meant to bash men or relationships. We want to create a place to celebrate single women of color, and not continue to inundate them with tips on how to not be single or constantly tell them what they are doing wrong. We want to encourage them to live their lives unapologetically single and to enjoy the process.

Kat & Lezita push back against the pressure to 'settle down' with UnapologeticallySingle Click To Tweet

What do you feel are the most successful tools you used to build your brand?

Lezita: One of THEE most important tools of success to me is simply staying true to yourself and representing your brand how you want to. It’s so easy to look at what the next company or brand is doing and you may find yourself trying to compete. To me, that’s a losing battle and it’s exhausting.  When you stay true to who you are and what you want your brand to be, people will gravitate towards that authenticity.

Also, for the obvious reasons, never take rejection or negative opinions personal. A lot of times it’s so easy to feel slighted and hurt when someone doesn’t like your idea or they don’t necessarily want to work with you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared my ideas with someone and their reaction was LACKLUSTER or downright rude to say the least lol.  Everyone can’t see your vision and that’s ok. Rejection will never dictate your success AND/OR your worth.  Always keep pushing.

Dunk'd Donut Candle By Shea Shea Bakery
Dunk’d Donut Candle By Shea Shea Bakery

What resources would you recommend for Black woman who are self-employed?

Kat: Honestly, it has been a real learning experience for me. I just try to follow a lot of small business accounts and bloggers who have been where we are and who are not afraid to share their struggles and how they’ve overcome them. One of my current favorite resources is the page Brand, Build and Launch with Arsha Jones.
It’s a group with like-minded members that are supportive and freely share any tips that will help you build and grow a brand. It’s a really positive community and I’ve been inspired to keep pushing from the women there.

Lezita: NETWORK LOCALLY!  It’s so easy to want to reach out to your Instagram and Twitter favorites to network, however, always keep the local organizations in mind too.  Go to that alumni meeting that you’d never normally attend or get involved in city events! You’d be surprised the people that can inspire you or even invest in you just by participating in local events.

I’m a woman in my mid 20s who would love to create my own business but I have no idea where to start. What’s your best advice towards doing so?

Kat Like Nike says, “Just Do It.” Lezita and I have had so many great ideas but we could never seem to get started. Initially, it can be overwhelming and easier to just sink back into your normal routine or that cushy 9-5, but once you take that initial leap (create a website, buy product, etc.), it’ll be hard to turn around.

Lezita: Start out by writing down your goals in pencil (because they will change) and from there set a timeline. There is no right starting point for anyone, but having a timeline will help to keep you on track and in line. Also, be extremely open to change.  When Kat and I first started discussing what we thought our business should look like, it was nowhere near where it is today.

What is your target audience and what challenges have you faced that are unique to your market?

Lezita: Our target audience is women from the ages of 21 and up. The biggest challenge has been defining single.  When some people see the words “Unapologetically Single”, they’re automatically off-put because they “got a good man at home” or because they don’t want to identify as being “ the lonely, single girl.”

We’re constantly brainstorming ways to get the message across that “ Unapologetically Single” doesn’t mean you’re sitting at home alone eating cat food waiting to jump off the ledge. Nor does it mean you aren’t dating or enjoying your life.

You Slay Greeting Card
You Slay Greeting Card

What is the best lesson you’ve learned so far?

Kat: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to not rush the process. Of course, I want to make money doing what I love, but it’s not my motivating factor. I’m just enjoying the process of building the business and watching the company grow.

Also, I try not to get caught up with what other brands are doing, or compare their success to ours.  I just want to feel confident that we are doing our best and putting something out to the world that we are proud of. I feel confident that, if we do that and give it our all, success will come

Lezita: I wholeheartedly agree with Kat. Everyday I remind myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

What is your professional motto?

Kat: “The most they can do is say no”. It’s pretty cliché but I live by this motto, which really pushes me to take chances. In combination with that motto, I just really try not to be caught up in worrying about what others might think or say because someone will always have something negative to say.

Lezita: Breathe, let go, and “remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure. – Muva Oprah Winfrey. With so many outside forces affecting us everyday,  I don’t have the time, energy, or the space to waste worrying about what the things I cannot change. The best thing that I can do for myself and my business is to do my very best in the moment and continue to persevere every moment thereafter.


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

Chellie Clarkson-Brown: Designing for women of color and overcoming the #icebergsyndrome

Chellie Clarkson-Brown wants to make African-inspired apparel an everyday staple in Western Europe Click To Tweet

No one ever tells you about the amount of work that goes on underneath the surface of the water- #icebergsyndrome… but keep keeping on and eventually the tip of your iceberg will emerge.

Enter entrepreneur Chellie Clarkson-Brown the Founder and Creative Director of Afro Couture Designs LDN, a fashion brand focusing on sizes and designs for women of colour. With SLA contributor Neo Cheda, Chellie shares her entrepreneurship journey and what has pushed to her to success.


 

Tell us about you and how Afro Couture Designs come about?

I studied Pattern Cutting and Tailoring at London College of Fashion but left this to work within the retail industry. Well, it wasn’t for me so I returned to university at University College of the Arts. My time there was traumatic, to say the least. I was often denied the opportunity to express myself based on what I felt represented me. Everything I designed in reflection of my African heritage and life experiences, was, in my opinion, belittled and rubbished.

I lost so much confidence in my abilities and myself, that I became depressed. To add insult to injury, I wasn’t even able to get any real retail therapy without having to break the bank. Come on now, we all know that the only way to make a girl feel good about herself in circumstances like these, is a good old shopping trip. The only items I could get on the high street were ill fitting for my body shape. As almost any woman of colour will know, it may fit everywhere else, but it “sho’ ain’t gone fit” around your hips, rear and thighs. Or you would go up or down a size to alleviate the problem above and guess what, it would fit everywhere else, but not your waist #BlackGirlIssues.

So I did some extensive market research in order to collate a sizing criteria for women, particularly focusing on women of colour, as our primary target market. This has allowed us at Afro Couture Designs to create a more inclusive sizing range which is a better reflection of the modern day woman. Most importantly, it incorporates the proportions of women of colour too. As part of our initiative, we are committed to being environmentally friendly by being as sustainable as we are practical.

image2

Tell us about your vision for Western European Demographics.

At Afro Couture Designs LDN, we design and create on trend contemporary African-inspired apparel and products and our intention is to make these products an everyday design staple within the Western European demographic. Our products are not intended to exclude or to be divisive, rather our products are primarily intended to celebrate and embrace all things African and showcase the beauty within the continent and how it can compliment European fashion trends.

We use high end design techniques, pattern cutting, and production techniques and source the highest quality fabrics. At Afro Couture Designs LDN, we fuse and mix together an eclectic range of fabrics from the both the Western European and African Hemispheres to bring you our AfroEurocentric collections.

The collections within these ranges are African inspired with a contemporary twist and are intended for those who not only think outside of the box but actually go one step further and throw it away altogether. Afro Couture Designs LDN, provides a multi-faceted design and production service from fashion, products, and interior design to delivering fashion workshops and property development.

Afro Couture Designs LDN’s business objective, is to be the one-stop shop or boutique for all your design requirements. Akin to the likes of the Selfridges of London or Macy’s of New York- for all things Afrocentric.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Getting it all together again from being homeless after my home was repossessed and I lost my job. The struggle was harder as I was a single mother at the time.

But all things are possible through God. “Everything is possible for one who believes” Mark 9:23. #Ifyoucanconceiveit- #youcanachiveit

What challenges have you faced that are unique to your business?

Trying to blend Afrocentric influences harmoniously with the Eurocentric to create the AfroEurocentric brand.

Additionally, trying to secure financial support for such a new concept with the intention of making the brand available to the mass market.

Afro Couture Designs aims to give exposure to established & emerging African artisans Click To Tweet

Which 3 African women that inspire you and why?

My Grandmother, the late great Madam Margaret Ntiamoah

For her determination, her tenacity and most importantly how resourceful she was. I remember growing up in Ghana during the coup d’état of 1979. Food was rationed and money was tight. There were so many of us living in one room and my Nana, would create gourmet dishes for all of us from one tin of baked beans, or even crack 2 eggs in a spinach stew and manage to make that stretch around 6-8 of us, with some left over for the next day.

On the days we had money for coal, in the morning before school, Nana would set the coals in the coal pot (which I’d fan) to make the morning porridge, the smouldering coals would then be put into a cast iron, hence the name, to iron our uniforms.  After that, the hot cast iron would then be dipped into the cold bucket of water to warm it up for our morning baths. Talk about resourceful!

She got up at the crack of dawn every morning well into her later years to go set up her market stall at Mokola market without fail. Her work ethic has stuck with me till this day. God rest her beautiful soul.

Ghanaian designer, Christie Brown

For being self-taught and still managing to make it into the mainstream fashion world. I’m inspired by her style and the fact that she has slowly over the years managed to place herself firmly within the Western fashion demographic, paving the way for emerging African designers.

Whilst I know I’m supposed to select 3 African women, I do have to say that I am truly inspired by Edward Enninful, currently the new Ghanaian Editor in chief for British Vogue. He has inspired me even more with what’s described as his intention to end the “white-out that dominates the catwalks and magazines”- what a statement.

Lupita Nyong’o

For setting the tone and also breaking the mould. I love the fact that she embraces her beautiful dark chocolate skin tone and short Afro hair, with ease and pride.

Lupita elevates her beauty just as she is, despite the misconceptions of “light is right”, making it all the more beautiful and easier for other young black women to embrace the beauty within themselves along with the mainstream media too.

3

What advice would you give to start-up entrepreneurs?

• Think of every encounter as a potential opportunity.
• Never stop when you’re tired, only when the task is done.
Never lose sight of your vision, as that will be your instruction manual with which to guide you when you lose heart, and most importantly always pray, about everything.


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

Tabitha Tongoi: Authenticity matters

Write from personal experience has helped @CravingYellow remain consistent Click To Tweet

When a post on your blog clocks about 40,000 views in under 24 hours, I think it’s safe to call you a highly successful blogger. Tabitha Tongoi creator and owner of the Craving Yellow blog, still gets astounded to know that she reaches that many people with her effervescent nature and views on life’s ups and downs.

The 26-year-old Kenyan, natural hair enthusiast and lover of all things yellow has been blogging for over two years now. Tabitha touches on everything hair, beauty, lifestyle and of course, finding yellow i.e. finding joy in life’s simple pleasures. She has lived, worked and studied in four continents, her current home being Melbourne, Australia.

Tabitha is currently on holiday in Nairobi and SLA contributor Diana Odera caught up with her to get to know more about life as an African blogger in the diaspora.


Who is Tabitha outside of the craving yellow moniker?

Personally, I feel like I’m a thinker and I’m a writer. In my free time, I’m always thinking of new ideas, researching on creative projects etc. I love the mind space. I’m always engaging with my mind so I guess I’m a bit of an introvert; I spend a lot of time observing the world and people.

When it comes to my extended life – I’m the last born of 3, I have an older sister and an older brother who just got married last year.

Career wise – I am getting into the blogging space, I studied Political Science, which was never meant to bring me here but here I am.

I’m a bit of a nerd, I love to read and study, I‘ve always loved school. I also love to give and I love to encourage others and see them succeed.

How did the Craving Yellow movement begin?

It started when I was in my last year of uni. I had just come back from England, which was an amazing experience that made me grow into myself, learn how to formulate my own ideas and be confident in myself. Once I was back in the US with that mindset, I took a class on the power of documentary photography in telling new stories that are untold.

I had just finished reading Americanah and I was so inspired so I decided to turn the camera on myself and tell my story because I felt there weren’t enough women in the diaspora who’s stories were being told, if any. So I started off on that premise, I knew I loved hair and people would talk to me about hair so that was a constant conversation starter.

Hair was the hook but I also wanted to talk about other things e.g. who are you? When you go home what type of conversations are you having with yourself as a young African woman living abroad? It gradually took on a life of its own from there on. I saw a lot of my friends get into depression, addiction and just losing themselves so it was also about touching on these types of conversations and experiences that women face.

I was so inspired so I decided to turn the camera on myself and tell my story Click To Tweet

Your blog focuses on your natural hair journey as well as beauty and lifestyle topics. How do you go about creating great content that is relatable and consistent?

The premise has always been my hair because that is what I can teach people about as a skill I have. I haven’t been as regimented as I’d like to be because I have a full-time job and run the blog on the side.

On average I make sure to release 2-3 youtube videos, mostly on hair and hair reviews. On the blog, I put out two posts a month on hair and for lifestyle topics. I think that because I write from my own personal experience, the type of content stays consistent. I don’t write what everyone else is writing about so it just comes to me naturally. When I’m not able to write, I don’t force myself at all just to appear like I’m writing.

IMG_2492

At any point, have you felt the pressure from trolls online or any negative feedback that you may get on your blog – pressure to make you change from your premise?

In terms of hair care, in Kenya as compared to abroad, I have only felt pressured when I’m compared to fashion bloggers who have a very different production process and different content. Sometimes people blur the two.

By default, because the hair blogging field here is very small, it’s easy to be compared to others. But I think in terms of my own journey, one thing I really appreciate is having lived abroad and having had to be in my own mind space and create this blog with no outside interruptions. I admire what people do but I’m very clear in what my message is and what my premise is, I’ve never been threatened or intimidated.

Having lived in four continents, how have these diverse environments contributed to your personal growth, your professional and academic career?

I’ve really had to learn who I am and to be fine with that. I always stand out everywhere I go, so I’ve been forced to really look into myself and ask myself internally – who am I and what do I stand for, what are my passions, what drives me? etc.

As a whole, it’s allowed me to have a very clear vision of who I am as a young person, more than I would have if I had stayed in Kenya. I’ve learnt to be my own island. Adaptability has been another strength I’ve gained, great work ethic as well.

What keeps you motivated?

I think about young girls out there who are probably struggling with a lot and need just a bit to encourage them to push on and keep at it. A lot of women struggle with issues on love, lifestyle related issues, family, loneliness etc.

Whenever I feel lazy I remember that maybe someone is watching me and this is what’s keeping them motivated. That’s a privilege to be in a position like this. I put myself out there, not afraid of the risks or the negativity, I believe if my mission is true, people will see it.

When did you know it was time to monetize your site?

That actually just happened on its own to tell you the truth. When I set out to blog, I never really had a template, especially blogging internationally. Brands started reaching out to me about eight months after I began blogging and that was brand reviews.

In regards to monetization, that began a year and two months into blogging. It’s just happened gradually and sporadically. I’ve never approached a brand, they usually get in touch with me first because I do have a full-time job so I was never doing this for the money aspect. If it’s something that I know will be interesting content for my followers then I will consider it.

I’ve mostly just been testing the water, it’s not anything that was formalized, in fact, the job I‘m doing now, I got it because of my blog. I’ve never had a steady, livable amount of money come only from blogging. The thing people have to note with blogging is that it’s a journey and a step by step process.

So if you go out looking for money, people smell that on you and turn away and subscribers/followers get bored. You end up losing your personal touch. I’m still learning the ropes with this section but it’s looking more plausible as the blog grows.

I’ve never had a livable amount of money come only from blogging, it's a step by step process Click To Tweet

DSC_2537

What skills does one need to become a successful global blogger like yourself?

Blogging seems to be the in thing right now. I don’t think I’m as successful as you say but I think it starts with who you are. You have to really know what your purpose is and it has to be unshakeable. If you start blogging for Instagram likes, you’re going to die out real quick.

So for starters – know what story you want to tell and always write from where you want to write from. Don’t do things because it’s popular, don’t imitate other people – just do your own thing. By doing that, you establish your niche and your followers who will be reading other blogs as well will see why they should stick around with you and love you for who you are.

Authenticity matters and confidence in your message is very important. You’ll always find someone who’ll listen to your story.

Jennifer Onwumere: I never take on any project just for the money!

The most fulfilling aspect has been the dynamic nature of entrepreneurship Click To Tweet

A vibrant and exceptionally hardworking public relations expert, Nigerian-American, Jennifer Onwumere, is the brainchild behind the Dallas, Texas, based Jen-gerbread Marketing. A young woman who painstakingly proves that the business hustle starts and ends with hard work, Jennifer is graciously African, proudly wearing her Nigerian roots everywhere that she goes.

Jennifer courageously embraces the dynamic nature of entrepreneurship, which guarantees that every day looks different and that every client carries a unique set of needs and expectations. With her a heart for the community, Jennifer continues to invest countless hours into the lives of others, and well understands that hard work can offer you the opportunity to do more for your world.

Here, Jennifer shares her advice on what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur in the Diaspora. Thank you Jennifer for your wisdom and for your commitment to helping businesses grow!  


How would you describe what you do?

That is a great question. I have worked on a variety of projects ranging from non-profit and entertainment, to lifestyle and more. If I had to summarize what I do, I would say that I create the strategy and visibility/marketing plans for brands.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

I have always been excited about the idea of being able to forge my own future. Being an entrepreneur allows me creative freedom as well as the chance to be innovative.

What inspired you to start a business such as this?

I have always been fascinated with consumer marketing and entertainment. It is interesting how different brand messages can attract customers and convert prospects into patrons.

My business has allowed me the opportunity to work with some amazing brands and have some great experiences. It has also allowed me the opportunity to work on the type of projects that I want to work on, and has challenged me to take on new project goals.

ladiesroundtable

What do you love the most about being a marketing/ public relations expert?

I love the fact that I am able to create effective messaging and strategies for brands that I believe in. For example, I produce an annual event called Be a Blessing Day. For this event, we collect much needed toiletries for homeless and domestic violence survivors.

Working in my field as an entrepreneur has allowed me the opportunity to execute my vision and strategy in a creative way to achieve my project objectives. As a result, since its inception 5 years ago, over $10,000 worth in donated products, has been collected during Be a Blessing Day.

I am excited every time I have a success, it just reinforces the fact that the sky is truly the limit Click To Tweet

In the world of entrepreneurship, why is it important that brands like yours exist?

In my business, I have taken a primary focus on working with start-up businesses. I think that this allows me to serve a small business customer base that needs strategy and marketing support, but may not have the funds to hire a large corporate agency.

My niche allows me to focus on providing startups with the marketing assistance they need, at a rate that is conducive to their current financial resources.

What has been the most fulfilling aspect about your entrepreneurship venture?

The most fulfilling aspect has been the dynamic nature of entrepreneurship.

I never know what is going to happen next, but I am excited every time I have a success because it just reinforces the fact that the sky is truly the limit, and that I can do anything I put my mind to.

What have seen some of the challenges?

Being an entrepreneur definitely keeps you on your toes. You are never off the clock. You are always prospecting new clients, managing current clients, and managing any problems that may arise.

Despite the challenges, the joy comes in the fact that you are making your dreams come true, helping your clients achieve project objectives and educating consumers or prospects.

What would you say to a young woman who wanted to start a business like yours?

Don’t let fear stop you from achieving your dream.

If you have a business you want to start, launch it but be sure to launch with a plan. You must have a strategy for anything you want to achieve in life.

trendy

What do you think has been your greatest contribution to your work?

I never take on any project just for the money. I work on projects that I am truly passionate about and that causes me to go beyond my role to do everything that needs to be done for the project to be successful.

How do you ensure that your business remains relevant?

Never get comfortable. Continue to create, continue to network and build relationships, continue to invest back into other people.

As an African woman in the Diaspora, how do you maintain connections with other African peoples in the diaspora, and how do you make your work relevant to those living in the motherland?

I handle the PR and Strategy for AFRIMMA (African Muzik Magazine Awards). This project is special to me because it celebrates some of the most influential music and political figures in Africa.

As a Nigerian-American, this is very important to me because it allows me to play a role in an amazing event that celebrates the rich culture of not only Nigeria, but Africa as a whole.

afrimma

How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?

I always make time to do something fun, whether traveling, social events and more. It’s great to work hard, but we are also working hard to enjoy life. So I try to never forget that.

It’s great to work hard, but we are also working hard to enjoy life Click To Tweet

How do you de-stress and/or unwind from a long day?

I love music, so I listen to all kinds of music from Afrobeat to hip-hop, pop, old school R&B and more.

If you were not an entrepreneur, what else would you be doing?

I would still be working in marketing and public relations in some capacity for a brand, public figure etc.


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

Johanne Affricot: I have no memory of working on a project I didn’t feel passionate about

You will quit only when there is no more room for one last try - Johanne Affricot Click To Tweet

Johanne Affricot is a freelance consultant working in the field of communication and events. She was born in Italy to a Haitian mother and a Ghanaian-American father. Two years ago she founded GRIOT, an alternative hub celebrating an aesthetic, creative and cultural diversity through arts and style. With her team, Johanne also designs and develops projects for companies, brands and institutional organizations related to culture, art, music and fashion.

Johanne is proud of her team and isn’t shy to shout out to them. Celine Angbeletchy, the editor in large of GRIOT mag supervises the English version and she is an Italian-Ivorian based in London. There’s also Janine, who writes content, edits French texts and develops relations. Gaylor Mangumbu, is the only man on the team and he is Italian-Congolese, writing GRIOT mag articles.


johanne_affricot_italy

May you introduce Johanne Affricot to SLA readers.

Sure. I was born in Rome, the city where I live, to a Haitian mother and a Ghanaian-American father.

Once someone told me that I am an  activist. I prefer not to be associated to an activist. I would love to  but I am not. I know some activists in Italy, they put all their  energies on a cause. I do really admire them, so compared to what they  do I can’t say I’m an activist. If I had to define myself, I would say  that I’m a “culture activator” and a networker.  That’s the only definition I feel comfortable with, that makes me feel like I’m not stuck in a box. I can be a filmmaker, a writer, an entrepreneur, everything that is devoted to spreading culture.

I’ve been working in the field of communication and cultural-art events for almost ten years. I started with a short but important experience in the former Communication Department of the General Direction for Cooperation and  Development of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which I travelled to Mali for). Since then, I’ve always worked for communication and creative agencies. Four years ago, I decided to pursue a freelance path, working for artists such as William Kentridge (South African) and organizing exhibitions and music events. Beside this, I’m also running and trying to grow this project, GRIOT. The goal of GRIOT is to collect, recount and share stories that can inspire people and “activate” culture.

When you moved to NY what exactly did you expect? And can you say your expectations were met?

I haven’t moved to NY. I often travel to the Big Apple because I have many relatives there. Last summer I went to visit them and to shoot The Expats, a web documentary series (in Italian, English and French) that explores the lives of Italian creatives with African (and Caribbean) origins who chose to leave their motherland in the search of new opportunities, as their fellow white Italians do and as their parents did in the past, from Senegal, Haiti, Eritrea, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, etc.

The title of the series is meant to be provocative, seen that in the international community this term, expat, is often associated with white people who emigrate for work-related reasons and are privileged because of that, while Africans and other nationalities are called migrants or immigrants.

But above all, I wanted to encourage a reflection not only about the existence of black Italians in Italy and abroad (when I travel many people still find incredible that there are “black” Italians), but also Italians who do not know this “different” or “diverse” Italy. In two weeks I’m launching  two new episodes shot in London.

Let’s talk about GRIOT! Take us through the first 6 months.

The first six months were of discovery. I felt the need (I still do today) to see and spread a different image of everything related to Africa and its diaspora, without necessarily excluding other realities I’ve grown up with.

I created GRIOT for myself, for the people who feel the same as me and for my children (even if at the time I wasn’t a mother yet). GRIOT is for all those people who wanted to discover different stories or share their stories.

I grew up in a “white” country, and most of my family lives between Haiti and the US. While growing up, without giving the same importance I’m now paying to it, I always missed an aesthetic and cultural diversity, something that I’ve always enjoyed and experienced in my trips. But every time I got back to Italy, I missed it. And so I created GRIOT.

I’m a perfectionist when it comes to work and I had never written for a magazine before. Furthermore, I was afraid of ending up writing boring stuff, or experiencing a “cultural clash” with a world that was mine but truly not mine. You know what I mean…but in the end everything has become so familiar… maybe because it has never been something alien…it was just asleep somewhere at the back of my mind.

Four months after I launched GRIOT, I designed and developed the first Italian event for African-Caribbean-Italian creatives, and proposed it to the American Academy in Rome, which is the most important American art institution outside the States. The American Academy in Rome was organizing an exhibition called “Nero su Bianco – Black on White”. 27 artists (African, African Americans, and Italians) were invited to explore the radical shifts in perceptions of the Afro-Italian identity and subjectivity in contemporary Italy, from cultural, social and political points of view. So, on that occasion I organized “AfroItalians in the Arts Today”.

GRIOT_mag,_an_alternative_hub_celebrating_an_aestethic,_creative_and

How is it looking at the moment?

It is growing. After the first episodes of The Expats came out I was contacted by a media agency to develop content for some other projects. Same thing happened three weeks ago. Let’s see.

It’s not easy, because GRIOT is self-financed and everybody involved in GRIOT, I’m talking about the core members, is investing in it, in terms of time, which is something very precious today, and creativity. They see the potential of it.

What business priorities are you focusing on now?

The main priority is always producing content. I believe we cannot talk about business without talking about content. It means culture.

In terms of business, the main focus is producing music and art events, editorial and videos, and develop projects related to fashion.

Sometimes you have to put aside friendships and sacrifice for what you believe in Click To Tweet

Business development and project management are your strengths. Tell us how you do it.

It’s right. These are my strengths. The key skills I need for it are vision, determination, and perseverance. Vision, you must have a clear idea of what you want for yourself and for those surrounding you. Perseverance, you must try until you can to achieve a goal. You can quit only when you see that there’s no more room for trying. Determination, sometimes you have to put aside friendships and sacrifice the time you would commit to your family and invest it in what you believe.

Diplomacy, is another fundamental skill you need to develop businesses and manage projects. Passion is another important factor. I have no memory of working on a project I didn’t feel passionate about. And last, but not least, people skills. I am from Rome, so I’ve got a good balance of people skills.

johanne_affricot-workshop_of_kentridge_at_maxxi

 

What can you say is the experience that made a great impact on your life or one that made you to see things differently?

There’s not just one experience but many experiences that impacted on my life and made me see things differently. The more people you meet and have different experiences, the more you evolve and see the world differently.

What is your vision for your community or the world at large?

With regards to Italy and Italians with African origins, my vision for my community is to keep up what I’m doing, that is building a cultural, creative and artistic movement where people can meet, share their stories and arts.

My vision for the world at large, especially Africa and its Diaspora, is the same: narrating and sharing their stories.

If I hadn’t fantasized a lot I would not have been able to do many of the things I’ve done Click To Tweet

Are you a realist or a fantasist?

I am incredibly realist, sometimes too much, but there’s also room for imagination. When I was a teenager I always used to fantasize. Growing up I found the right balance.

I think that if I hadn’t fantasized a lot I would not have been able to do many of the things I’ve done. So I cannot stop fantasizing because it’s my fuel, I would not be able to create and do what I’m trying to do.


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

Lovette Appleton: An entrepreneur should have the courage to embrace failure

Lovette Appleton knows what it means to chase dreams and make use of opportunities. She did exactly that when she went from being an accounting executive in a manufacturing company to owning her own brand.

Lovette used her experiences in travelling across continents to create patent bags that are versatile and savvy. She believes that an entrepreneur should be able to adapt to situations and have the courage to embrace failure as a blessing in disguise.

Lovette wants to develop the passion for skills and empower Liberian women and the less fortunate by opening a factory and a training school that focuses on making accessories with an African twist, to empower women and young people who are less fortunate.


What inspired you to start your line of patent bags that make the ideal travelling companion?

I worked as a wholesale account executive at a company that designed and manufactured slippers shoes that had interchangeable straps and snaps. I thought it was a brilliant idea and I guess it just inspired me. Having lived on 3 continents and am always traveling to new countries so the need for functionality for the modern day jet setter came naturally to me.

The modern woman is so versatile, why not give her fashion accessories that can match her lifestyle!

What three words, can fully describe you and why?

Beatnik, Determined and Industrious!

Beatnik because I march to the beat of my own drum! I never follow or want to be like anyone else. I love being me and that’s ok!

Determined because I will never give up on myself! My faith depends on no one else but God and myself so no matter the circumstance, I keep pushing.

I am industrious because to come this far in life, you have to be! I remember when I graduated from university, I moved to New Jersey with less than $2000 in my account and we all know that’s not enough for one month in the New York metro area but I stayed with relatives, got a part time job and freelanced in addition to a full-time job, the hustle was real but I was able to pay the legal fees to get my patent this way. There is always a way.

The hustle is real but there's always a way, one lesson learnt from the inspiring Lovette Appleton Click To Tweet

What life-changing principles do you think every budding entrepreneur must cultivate?

To want to open one’s own business takes guts and defiance! Those qualities are admirable however; the most important principles that an entrepreneur should have are adaptability and the courage to embrace failure as a blessing in disguise.

I say this because one feels accomplished after setting up a business, doing the business plan, balancing the books etc. You feel like an adult, you are on your way and you hope that if you put in the work, the rewards will come. Unfortunately, I have been around the block for long enough time to know that we can’t control everything and whatever can go wrong, will!

The question isn’t will anything go wrong, it is what will you do to ensure it has little impact on your business and how will you learn and grow from the experience.

Lovette 2 final SLAHow do you intend to use your patent brand to inspire growth and development in Africa?

As a Liberian and most importantly, an African woman, my thoughts never stray from home. I constantly think about how my life abroad will translate and contribute to others back home.

Although my company is currently based in the US, I hope to use the opportunity it presents to open a factory as well as a training school in Liberia, to empower women and young people who are less fortunate.

Does your business do the production in Africa, If so how do you manage your team abstractly?

Since the business is still in start-up phase and the products so novel, It is necessary for me to keep production close to where I am. It’s like a baby, You have to carry it and keep it close until it starts to take its first steps then you step back and give it some free room.

Once the brand gets more established, I plan to start working with artisans back home to bring that African touch to my collections.

What advice would you give women who are about to launch their own start-ups?

Believe in yourself and never let any challenge keep you down.

The only person responsible for your success is yourself and you must be prepared to do whatever it takes to make your dreams a reality.

Lovette 1 SLA

If you were given the chance to re-launch your start-up, what would you do better and why?

I would focus more on my marketing plan. Having a great product and believing it will work is great but one always needs an extraordinary marketing strategy because today’s business environment is so full of options for consumers that an average marketing plan doesn’t do justice to a great product or message.

If I could go back in time I would have concentrated on my marketing plan as much as I concentrated on the product. I am not saying I would have had a bigger marketing budget but I think concentrating on free yet creative ways to let people know about the product and also giving them enough time to actually absorb the message of the brand before even driving the sales pitch.

The collection will launch in about a month so I am slowly building up the social media following through my Instagram and Facebook, cross promoting through Linkedin articles as well as my lifestyle website. To reach more people I will launch online ads but in general, marketing doesn’t have to be expensive but it takes time and creativity!

If I could go back in time I would have concentrated on my marketing plan - Lovette Appleton Click To Tweet

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

KudaRachel: The accidental entrepreneur proving age is no excuse to not venture into business

I used to be so focused on my competitors until I realised that everyone is different Click To Tweet

For Kuda, the 18-year-old founder of KudaRachel, failing to find a reasonably priced corsage for her high school prom proved to be a blessing in disguise; it birthed the idea of creating her own. The then 17-year-old learned through trial and error before finally perfecting the hand-made corsages and boutonnieres. After seeing her daughter’s creative invention, Kuda’s mother suggested that she sell them, which Kuda did. “I posted photos on facebook and 12 people bought from me! The fact that people wore the work of my hands on such a huge night of their life filled me with immense pride and happiness.”

Realising that corsages were only a seasonal thing, Kuda embarked on another great idea, extending to African print accessories. “African prints were the perfect choice because they can be worn in any season. The idea to venture into African accessories came at a perfect time my mother was preparing to go to Zimbabwe for the first time in 6 years. I happened to have $50AUD in my bank account which I gave to her to buy me African print fabrics. ’’

wIMG_9860 - copie

Product differentiation is an essential element in business and KR fashion’s specialty factor is that each product is customer oriented not just mass produced. As Kuda says, time and effort are spent on each KR piece and they pay attention to detail. “I used to be so focused on my competitors until I realised that everyone is different and that no idea under the sun is new. Everything is just a different version of the original! We may make the same things but we each have our own visions therefore, we’ll each have our own target markets. I really do believe in the saying, ‘There is space for everyone at the top.’”

Kuda also shares that she connects with other people in the same line of business as her to share ideas. She even sometimes provides fabrics from her suppliers to them. Obtaining fabrics is a major challenge in the business as she claims that the fabrics in Australia a super expensive hence outsourcing them is the better alternative even though large shipping costs are incurred in the process.

watermarked

Giving back where it counts

KudaRachel is not just concerned with making profits but fuses social entrepreneurship as well. The social enterprise is visionary and has three main aims which it is committed to. “KR aims to make a difference in people’s lives through fashion. I want fashion to be able to pay for someone’s education or put food on the table for someone in need! KR supports a charity each year.” Since its

Since its inception, KR has been supporting Act for Peace by donating 50% of profits from its KR merchandise collection. Kuda further adds on, “In 2016, I represented KudaRachel and did a ration challenge where I got sponsored to eat the same rations of food that a Syrian refugee would eat for a whole week. So far we have raised AUD$439 worth of donations and sales from the KR Merchandise.”

Marco and Michael

Concerned with youth development among its social aims, KR provides opportunities to upcoming talent. Having realised one the main difficulties young people face when looking for jobs is concerned with experience, KR gives them a chance to build their portfolio since most big corporations turn them out. Currently, the business team is made up of 2 main photographers; Feranmi Taiwo and Kelsey Grant, 2 seamstresses, and the models and make-up artists who rotate according to the type of shoot they are holding.

The KR website is also a wall of positivity filled with quotes and the blog journey of the KRfam. This is just one of the many platforms KR uses to interact with its clients. The evolution of marketing hasn’t been the same with the arrival of social media marketing. Kuda certainly lets in that it has had tremendous benefits on growing the business. “Social media plays a big role in bringing clients, we use Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram a lot (just type Kudarachel in all of them). Through them, we have managed to attract customers from countries such as USA and UK.

Hustling while being a full-time student

As a full-time nursing student, it is a wonder how Kuda manages to keep her business afloat, especially when the two industries; fashion business and nursing are so unrelated. She credits the success of the business to a lot of time invested in financial education. She has taken it upon herself to learn as much as she can about the business aspect.

“I read a lot of books and blog posts by people I look up to; Daymond John – “The Power of Broke”, Janine Allis – “The Juicy Bit”, Sophia Amoruso – “Girl Boss” and of course SheleadsAfrica blog..DUH ahahA. Everything I have learnt so far is through the internet, books, other people and trial and error. I’m excited to keep on learning. It also helps that I have a mentor Alyce Schlothauer who is helping me with my overall branding strategy while Shingai Manjengwa advises me on how to run my business.”

Kuda certainly credits the success of the venture to the entire KRFAM’s support which is made up of her customers, her mother, friends, and family. She had to sacrifice a lot of her time in order for KR to succeed, cut back on going out and invest instead on special events such as friends’ birthdays.

Everything I have learnt so far is through the internet, books, other people and trial and error Click To Tweet

watermarkerd

Embark on business for the right reasons

Her last tips for budding entrepreneurs, “It’s really hard work to be honest. Being your own boss means that when you are starting out, normally your funds are limited hence if you don’t do it yourself, no one else will. You will have to wear the hats of a cleaner, secretary, salesperson etc. When people look at KudaRachel, they see the beautiful models in gorgeous clothing with hair and make-up on fleek. What they don’t see is the sleepless nights I’ve had to think and create it all.

“They don’t see the long trips I take by bus to search things for clients or my mother sacrificing her precious time to drive me places because I am still working on getting my license or the struggle of working in a small bedroom.” Her advice to anyone starting out is to embark on a business for the right reasons not solely because they want to be their own boss or to make money. “Anyone can start a business can start a business but the real test is to see if you can be dedicated enough to continue working on it through the challenges even when the revenue doesn’t come to you immediately.”


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

Chinonye Akunne: My purpose is to help people and save lives

Chinonye Akunne
Chinonye Akunne had unknowingly been practicing the craft of making products for years Click To Tweet

Chinonye Akunne is a Nigerian, born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. In partnership with her sister, Chinonye owns personal care company ILERA Apothecary. The company utilizes mostly organic materials, educates on health with relation to the skin and focuses on reducing the environmental impact of the cosmetic industry.

Chinonye is also co-founder of educational platform Motor City STEAM, a program that aims to increase student literacy in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with art integration.


How did you come up with the name ILERA Apothecary?

ILERA means “health” in the Yoruba language of Nigeria and Apothecary is Grecian for a person who sold medicine and drugs.

Originally, ILERA Apothecary was called Delicate Serenity and Action Level, a women’s and men’s personal care line respectively. My family and friends gave me feedback on the company, leading to a name change and re-brand. I searched Google Translate for words such as ‘luxury’, ‘beauty’ and ‘health’.

Ilera Apothecary

As a family company, how is the responsibility shared? What role do you play in the running of the business?

My sister/business partner and I use our experience and educational backgrounds to run the business. Nneji has a Masters in Marketing, so she handles the brand of the business from social media design to marketing material. I have a Science and Manufacturing background so I handle the development process from sourcing ingredients, overseeing the batch processing up through final packaging.

Chinonye Akunne: I have always known that my purpose is to help people and save lives Click To Tweet

Since you have a degree in public health and come from a family of makers and healthcare professionals, had you always known this was what you were going to do?

I have always known that my purpose is to help people and save lives. Up until 3 years ago, I was on the path to medical school. A month prior to completing my Masters in Public Health I received admission to med school and a job offer. After much thought and planning, I took the job which eventually led me to where I am now.

It is interesting because I have unknowingly been practicing this craft of making products for years. As a child, I loved the DIY and beauty sections of magazines. It was from these magazines that I started experimenting with beauty.

In the 4th grade, I put eggs in my hair after reading about its great deep conditioning properties. Unfortunately, I did not read the part about rinsing with cold water. I rinsed with hot water and the eggs ended up cooking in my hair, it was gross. That day, I learned valuable lessons in following instructions, properties of a chemical reaction and trying again. Practices like this lead me to create hair products in grad school such as styling gel and almond hair milk, eventually developing into ILERA Apothecary.

Chinonye Akunne

How long did it take for the business to break even and yield profit?

We officially broke even with our first wholesale order which came 5 months after I launched the original lines (Delicate Serenity and Action Level). Breaking even is the easy part.

Sustaining and engaging old and new customers is the hard part and key to yielding high profits. As of today, we have not reached our target customer or profit goal. Honestly, it may be another 6 months to a year before we do.

However, every single day, we are getting closer with each customer engagement and sale. That sale may be online, at one of our stockist shops, via a wholesale order or at a vending event. As a company, we are constantly strategizing and finding new ways to reach future customers, many of which do not yet know we even exist. This takes time, forward thinking and persistence.

Yielding high profits in business takes time, forward thinking and persistence Click To Tweet

What does success mean to you?

To me, success is a combination of goals that ultimately leads to flexibility, peace, and growth towards being a better person.

Being flexible in what hours and what locations I work are important to me. Some days I am more creative at 9pm than at I am at 9am, or have the urge to work on my dining table versus in the office. I want to be able to visit my parents on a random Tuesday without having to request work off. That is the flexibility that I envision in success.

In terms of peace, it is being self-loving, mentally well and not owning debt (yes, you own not owe debt). Peace takes practice; you practice forgiveness; you practice stress management; you practice money management.

Though I often don’t see it, I am growing into the success I envision every day. I am increasing my global presence through platforms such as She Leads Africa, I discuss my issues with my therapist rather than holding it in, and my family and I are currently enrolled in the Financial Peace University. These simple steps are growing me into a better and more successful person.

Chinonye Akunne: Success is a combination of goals that leads to being a better person. Click To Tweet

What advice would you give to 16-year-old Chinonye?

“ChiChi (as I used to go by), Open your eyes. Listen to your mother when she blesses you with good wishes no matter how long and drawn out they may sound. Listen to your dad when he forewarns you about watching the company that you keep, ‘unsuccessful people are not friends with successful people…’

“Continue to speak your mind but make sure you finesse your words. Understand that in a few years you will forget the names of the people you are trying to impress so be yourself. The extra-curricular activities you partake in will lead you far so take note and never stop being inquisitive.”

Chinonye Akunne

Who would you take to lunch, Oprah or Michelle Obama?

Since I have to choose one, it would be Michelle. I love Oprah but at this point in my life, I relate more to Michelle Obama. As “unprogressive” as it may sound I want it all; the husband, children, and successful career. I will not feel as if I am living my full potential without the “trifecta”.

I am currently reading the book “Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor; The New Way to Fast- Track Your Career”. The book outlines the differences between a mentor and a sponsor. Mentors act as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on, offering advice as needed and support and guidance as requested; they expect very little in return. Sponsors, in contrast, are much more vested in their protégés, offering guidance and critical feedback because they believe in them.

In my life, Oprah would be a great mentor, the person who can guide me based on her holistic life experiences. On the other hand, Michelle is the sponsor. The person who is in a similar circle and can give direct guidance on navigating everything from climbing the corporate ladder and creating social-based programs to having a husband and children


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

Vivian Sonny-Nsirim: I have a passion to inspire and motivate young mothers

Vivian Sonny-Nsirim
YMF seeks to support & empower less privileged ‎mothers and children in African societies Click To Tweet

After working for a while in both the private and public sector, Vivian Sonny-Nsirim decided to follow her passion in supporting and inspiring young girls and women.

She founded Young Moms Forum, an online parenting social support networking group for mothers and soon to be mothers. With over 26,000 members the group is aimed at sharing topics, ideas, issues, and challenges surrounding parenting, motherhood, business, relationships, and so on.

As a wife and mother of three boys herself, Vivian is a coach and an award-winning inspirational/motivational speaker.


How long has Young Moms Forum been in existence and what made you start such forum?

Young Moms Forum (YMF) was founded in January 2016 out of my passion to inspire, motivate and educate mothers and soon-to-be mothers on parenting, motherhood, relationships, business, career and other matters of mutual interest.

‎It is a platform whereby women from all works of life come together to share ideas on issues and challenges facing them; provide advice, personal experience and suggestions on how to manage such challenges. The Young Moms Support Foundation (an offshoot of YMF) seeks to support and empower less privileged ‎mothers and children in the society, especially in Africa.

How do you manage the forum to ensure unity among members and that the purpose of the forum is maintained?

YMF has rules and regulations guiding the members. Any member that goes against the ground rules will be sanctioned. Depending on the severity of the indiscretion, they may be blocked from the group. This means that they will no longer have access to the group’s discussions and articles.

With an MBA, one would expect you to grab the next high paid job in the industry. Why choose to be a motivational speaker?

I have already done those “high paying” jobs both in Nigeria and the United Kingdom (including stints in the oil and gas industry and appointment in the public sector) but none has given me as much satisfaction as I derive from bringing succor to young mothers and mothers-to-be.

Therefore, the driver for my opting to do what I am doing now is the passion in inspiring and motivating young mothers rather than pecuniary benefits.

Vivian Sonny-Nsirim has worked high paying jobs but opted for inspiring young mothers Click To Tweet

Vivian Sonny-Nsirim

You have stayed in both UK and Nigeria, how would you compare the way women support each other in the different societies?

Women all over the world are the same and experience similar challenges. However, the difference lies in the level of education and literacy obtainable in each clime.

The level of literacy among women in the UK is alleged to be higher than that of Nigeria reducing such bottlenecks as superstition, myths, unwholesome traditional practices, discrimination and the rest. This makes it easier for women to trust and support one another easier than they do in Nigeria.

What are some of the mantras you live by?

I believe that,

  1. if you try and fail, try again,
  2. if you want to change the world, empower a girl-child and,
  3. with God all things are possible.
Vivian Sonny-Nsirim: If you want to change the world, empower a girl-child Click To Tweet

What is your take on being a stay-at-home mum versus a working mum? Which do you think is the better option?

It depends on each woman’s peculiar circumstances and agreement with her partner. The underpinning focus should be on her family’s harmony.

In your opinion, what are the four major keys to a long lasting marriage?

My four keys to a long lasting marraige will be; effective communication, faithfulness, respect and forgiveness.

Vivian Sonny-Nsirim

Tell us two things on your bucket list.

We want to build Young Moms Academy in at least 5 African countries where we can empower young mothers through skills acquisition.

Secondly, we plan to embark on an enlightenment program to refresh young moms’ knowledge on how to run their homes better. We intend to accomplish these, especially the former, between the next two to five years.


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