Mphela Yelane: The agriculture sector should be the highest paying employer in the continent

mphele yelane
We don’t think just being natural is enough. Products should deliver results - Mphela Yelane Click To Tweet

“To me, it shifted from the mindset of being a policy maker to becoming an individual championing the comparative local development concept. Africa trades more in agriculture, the agriculture sector should be the highest paying employer in the continent I thought.”

These were the thoughts of a 31-year-old Mphele Yelane while in Italy on a student exchange program that exposed her to the real context of local development. Born and raised in the African Eden (Limpopo province), “in our backyards you find plants for food and healing remedies. It’s natural for me to take advantage of the wealth in our soil. In Tzaneen my hometown, we produce oranges, lemon, nuts, avocadoes, litchis etc. I know in June I get avocado and orange for consumption and also apply as a face mask”.

The cosmetic products started as a creative thing to do for Mphele, her sisters and friends started coming for more after trying her products. While doing her Masters it clicked to her that this should be a business, Mphele realised she could empower her neighbours by buying from them and producing organic products for profit. Hence Ezamazwe Skin Solution brand was conceived. Ezamazwe means “of the world” or “from the earth”.

Tell me more about Ezamazwe Skin Solution.

Ezamazwe Skin Solution is 100% organic skincare products. We source our ingredients from all over the African continent to ensure we only work with top quality products. A good example is our unrefined shea butter which comes from Ghana. Our passion is to source out pure products from local traders in order to produce products that are truly pure, environmentally friendly and have never been tested on animals for quality control.

The fact that we do all our own research and development and produce all our products from start to finish in one location, ensures high quality every step of the way. Ezamazwe Skin Solution is proud to guarantee that we use the recommended dosages for all our actives. We don’t think just being natural is enough. Products should deliver results.

Our product is completely organic, and healthy for the environment as it is for human skin. Starting its life as nuts, raw materials are carefully crafted into many useful products, including oil and butter. The beauty of shea butter is that it is infinitely recycled from plant to skin butter. Recycling nuts products therefore, contribute to the preservation of our planet. As a sustainable skin solution, it takes nothing away from the environment and leaves nothing behind.

How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

I am born in an entrepreneurial family, my parents own a tuck-shop, taxi business and are involved in community projects.

I know more about business management than being an employee. When people started making regular orders I knew this must be formalized.

productsWhat was your mission at the outset?

My dream is to have Ezamazwe Skin Solution become one of the very few local organic skincare manufacturers in the South African cosmetic industry.

When did you “charter” the business?

The business started officially in 2007, now to celebrate 10 years I decided to register a formal business in 2017. The brand has grown and the market is ready to receive the Ezamazwe Skin Solution brand.

Mphele Yelane ran Ezamazwe Skin Solution for 10 years before formally registering it as a business Click To Tweet

How do you advertise your business?

I advertise my business mainly through word of mouth. I also utilise social media and am now ready to sponsor TV programs and beauty pageants.

How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?

I have a solid support system from my parents, my sisters (Olgah, Sharon and Lerato) and my husband. I run my ideas with them, if they buy it, I start doing research and officialise it. If they say it’s not viable I leave it there.

Also, I never give up, I just postpone and re-focus my energy. Giving up is never an option if I am sold onto something.

Describe/outline your typical day?

I am still employed full-time and work on Ezamazwe Skin Solution as part-time. My husband is a hands-on father, a typical day starts with “morning ritual”; drop my son at school, off to work, during lunch I work on Ezamazwe Skin Solution.

After work, driving back home I start planning my day as MD of Ezamazwe Concepts. Once I get home, I do house chores, then from 9pm to 2am I work on Ezamazwe Skin Solution; processing orders, delivery arrangement, and manufacturing process.

logoHow has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?

It doesn’t, my husband is a businessman too and my mentor, we don’t know anything besides working smart as parents.

What motivates you?

I am motivated by the desire to be financially fit so that even if I don’t work for a year, my lifestyle don’t change.

How do you generate new ideas?

Ideas are not generated, they just come when one is content. When you are at peace with self, your mind starts working right and ideas start popping up.

Ideas are not generated, they just come when one is content - Mphele Yelane Click To Tweet

How far are you willing to go to succeed?

I won’t rest until Ezamazwe Skin Solution becomes a household brand and number one skincare solution in Africa.

What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

Changing people’s lives through employment is something that brings me joy as an entrepreneur. I also enjoy exploring new markets and take pride in producing Proundly SA brand.

To what do you most attribute your success? What would say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business?

Wow! If I had to limit it to five elements, they would be,

  • Know yourself in Christ
  • Commit and focus on your plan
  • Believe in yourself and stick to the plan
  • Do research
  • Analyse your market and always engage with it.

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


Maxima Nsimenta: How to build a successful cosmetic brand

maxima nsimenta
Maxima Nsimenta is proving to herself & the world that quality can be made in Uganda Click To Tweet

Ironically, some young people are spending countless hours drafting and sending job application letters in search of white color jobs, while those employed, are quitting pursuing their passions in businesses. What’s more, the latter are not only becoming regional brands but also going ahead to create employment.

With the ever eluding job opportunities and increasing cost of living, it is time young Africans started thinking of what “they can do to their countries” instead of the other way round. That said SLA contributor Maureen Murori caught up with a young entrepreneurial Ugandan lady, whose life’s motto is: “Why not?”

Maxima Nsimenta is the CEO and managing partner at Livara, a cosmetics company dealing with natural skin and beauty products. The Steve Jobs inspirational quote: “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me,” is what keeps Maxima awake striving to do something different but wonderful!

Maxima and Maureen spoke extensively about founding Livara and Maxima’s personal growth since the venture. Here is what Maxima shared:

For some young people, starting and running a business is a challenging task that they would rather not take up. What was/is the inspiration behind your venture?

While I was still employed as a Field Engineer at one of the world’s largest oil and gas service companies, I had the opportunity to travel vastly. During my travels, I noticed that some of the high-end cosmetics products used oils and ingredients from Africa. It is these oils that especially made the products that much more valuable.

Whenever I’d return home, I’d notice that we weren’t adding value to these oils locally. This seriously perplexed me. In addition to this, after about one and a half years of employment, I stopped getting the fulfillment I initially had with the job. I felt empty and purposeless. It started becoming more of a mechanical aspect of my daily life.

Yet, when I indulged myself in beauty and cosmetics, I felt content. I then proposed to build a company that would manufacture top quality natural and organic cosmetics that would compete with the international brands. However, I’d do it from my country, Uganda. I planned to prove to myself and the world that quality can be made in Uganda. It took me about a year to prepare for Livara; mentally, financially, structurally. Then when I had my minimums in place, I took the leap.

When people are starting out a business, there are several things that they learn on the job. What are some of the things (positive or negative) that you learned about your business or self since starting your venture?


Before I started out in business, I was used to getting what I wanted when I wanted and how I wanted it. In business, especially the manufacturing business, everything is based on processes and systems. Given that I’m building my company based on systems, it always hits me at home where it hurts. Not everything is instantaneous; perfection takes time and is worth the wait.

I have learnt to respect people’s time and competencies a lot more. I have also come to understand and learn the value of teamwork from a front row seat, I cannot do everything alone. Business has taught me to learn to trust and rely on people to do their job, a lot more than I used to before.

I have become addicted to knowledge acquisition. Nowadays, I read a lot more to be on top of my game. However, because of this, I realize that I have less time to build my other personal relationships -many of which have been affected. I hope it pays off eventually.

Most importantly, I have become more spiritual than before. I have put my hope and trust in God, to guide and help me with the things that are beyond my control. There are several things that could have gone wrong but suddenly and unexplainably did not. For me, that is my God at work; leading me through this journey.

Not everything is instantaneous; perfection takes time and is worth the wait Click To Tweet

What skills did you acquire either through practice, work placement or learning institution to improve business?

I’m not certain if research is a skill or a culture! But it is the most important thing that I picked up from my previous jobs. I only executed plans after more than adequate research had been carried out.

Before my business, I had three jobs that were all scientific and research based. I’d literally spend nights up learning about different things related to one particular aspect of a bigger picture. It was my job to adequately understand the pros and cons and have a comprehensive yet conclusive position on any decision I made. This research-based decision making has been a fundamental skill for my business today.

Presentation skills: Many may overlook this, but this is crucial. Although acquired and built over time since my university days, presentation skills have become a great acquisition that has helped me to negotiate better deals for myself and my business.

Report writing: This includes writing project studies and reports. This is a skill that helped me write my business plan that won me incubation space at the Uganda Industrial Research Institute where we are based. Had I not known how to write a business plan and adequately present it, I do not know how far I would have come by now!

Communication and interpersonal skills are other skills that keep on resurfacing and pushing me forward. The two keep evolving and changing with different circumstances. So, the basics molded me. And they continue to do so, even today. In the end, I’ve learned that it is always the relationships we have that help to either build us or break us in life.


What is the greatest challenge you have experienced so far and how did you, or are you handling it?

Opening my first store has been my greatest challenge since I started Livara. To open up a store required me to have a substantial amount of money in place, a good variety of products; an effective low-cost marketing strategy and it would also mean an increase in the number of employees.

Opening the store was imperative for growth. However, it meant that my costs would increase drastically. I had to study the company’s growth since the release of our first products on June 25, 2015. Then weigh the pros and cons of opening a store. In the end, I had to risk it and take the leap. I opened my first store on December 2, 2016.

My dream is to have 6,000 Livara stores around Africa. I also realize that this dream started with the first store, and for me to achieve my dream, I needed to stop procrastinating and open shop!
I continue to review the company’s growth financially and market wisely as we look for ways to expand at the least possible cost.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

My most rewarding experience is when someone sends me a message telling me how my products have improved their life. I started Livara to make a difference in Africa and to impact people’s lives positively. So, when a mother writes to me mentioning how her daughter’s skin is much healthier since she used Baby Opal; or how her daughter’s hair has grown and is more manageable since she started using the Livara hair care line; or when a young gentleman calls me to tell me that his formally receding hairline is back and his hair is thicker; or when a young lady sends me a picture of her smile while wearing one of the Livara lipsticks and thanks me for it; it makes me get up every day and work even harder.

The joy that people get after using my products is the greatest reward for me. Luckily, I live this experience almost daily, and this has helped me go through the challenging moments with more ease.

Maxima Nsimenta started @livara_beauty to make a difference & to impact people’s lives positively Click To Tweet

Rahama Wright: No is a pathway to yes, eventually

Rahama Wright she leads africa

Young African entrepreneurs have turned their sights to manufacturing on the continent with new fervor. Just as the world has come to know China for its manufacturing prowess through the Made in China brand, many young Africans look to do likewise with finished products from the continent.

To provide insights and effective strategies for aspiring young entrepreneurs and professionals, we’ve turned our gaze to African brands pioneering their Made in Africa products to the global market. Rahama Wright, Founder and CEO of beauty brand, Shea Yeleen, is one such mogul. Wright says what others see as ready baked success is a 10-year journey of persistence and openness to failure and learning.

Wright’s work is influenced by her mother’s story and those of women in Northern Ghana and Mali where she worked and volunteered right after college. In 2005, Rahama Wright founded Shea Yeleen International, a social enterprise with a mission to provide living wages to women shea butter producers in West Africa.

The enterprise’s profit arm, Shea Yeleen Health & Beauty LLC, was founded in 2012 and manufactures and distributes shea based products to international markets. Foot to the pedal and consistent hard work has brought Shea Yeleen to more than 100 Whole Foods Markets and independent stores. It is worth noting that Whole Foods is a Fortune 500 global supermarket chain.

Shea Yeleen Producers

In Part 1 of this feature, Wright unveiled the secrets of her marketing sauce that has landed her coveted product placements and press features. She shared how using one’s personal brand can position you for success. Wright told her story better than anyone could and it is her openness and commitment to sharing her insight with all aspiring entrepreneurs and marketers that left a lasting impression.

So to start, some questions on getting Shea Yeleen to market. How were you able to get your products into Whole Foods?

This is the advice I would give to someone who is just starting out and trying to get their products into retail: Be persistent! I pitched 3 times before I was able to get my items into Whole Foods. One thing I have learned is that NO can be a pathway to YES, eventually.

Of course, you should get feedback and understand why you are getting the NOs; don’t write it off as a rejection but as a way to improve for the next pitch. The primary reasons I was rejected 3 times was because I was talking to the wrong buyer and I needed better packaging.

I upgraded my packaging including putting the soaps in boxes instead of sleeves, and used the space on the packaging to share our community development story and the benefits of our ingredients. I also created packaging that would pop off shelves by comparing my packaging to brands that were already on the shelf. This helped me better position my products. In short, if you want to get into retail, first pitch, adjust your pitch and product based on feedback and keep pitching until you get a yes!

Also, if you are not getting traction in one area, move to another area to get in front of the right buyer. I wasn’t getting traction in one Whole Foods region and moved to another region. Getting in front of the right buyer required identifying someone who was looking for and thinking about products that Shea Yeleen was offering.

The [final] thing is start small. For some retailers, you have to pay thousands of dollars to get your products in and if you don’t do well, they kick you out, which will cost you more money. Understanding the differences between big box retailers is really important.

Shea Yeleen Product Images

In terms of strategy, did you employ different methods getting into the local retailers like the mom and pop shops than you did the larger retailers like Whole Foods?

They are almost the same but Whole Foods is a bit more corporate than the independent stores. A mom and pop shop is more accessible, because you can schedule a meeting with the owner or buyer and say, ‘would you give me a chance and bring my products in?’ and that’s literally what I did.

I’ve learned about working with sales brokers, and there is a whole industry around sales brokers and distributors that’s a part of retail, and I made the mistake of relying too much on sales brokers who just did not deliver. Early on in your business you are the sales person. I wasted thousands of dollars on the wrong sales brokers.

Even though it is hard and takes a lot of time to go door to door, you need to build your business initially until you get to the point where you can attract the right talent to manage that business. The region that is our best region, I opened all of those stores; I literally went door to door and was able to cultivate a really great relationship with the regional buyer.

Shea Yeleen Product Images

We also brought two of the shea producers from Tamale, Ghana here to the U.S. and they toured the stores with me, which was an incredible experience for the customers and the shea producers, who could now see where their shea butter ends up. This is an important part of the Shea Yeleen mission.

It is not just about getting an African product and selling it. It is really about opening the doors for women producers of that product to understand the global supply chain and what they are a part of. Although the women come from rural communities, they can still be global leaders in the marketplace.

What about other distribution channels? I know that you were recently in the subscription beauty box, Curlbox. Do you plan on doing more subscription boxes?

We’ve done 2 subscription boxes and the verdict is still out. I believe that these subscription boxes are geared towards brands that are more well-known than smaller companies.

My advice is don’t do a subscription box if it is just about getting a sample in a box. You should have an entire marketing strategy around getting into a box that employs social media, couponing, and driving traffic to your website. You have to be very strategic about giving away free product because it costs you money.

It is probably more valuable to give products to potential buyers than to do a box. If I am giving away 5000 free samples, I’d prefer to give them to buyers in stores so that they can give samples to their customers. This level of store support is much more beneficial than just giving free product to a box that may not convert to customers.

If you decide to do a box, try to get some analytics. Participation in a subscription box might not convert to customers but being able to get data on your potential customers may be beneficial for future marketing tactics.

You have received wonderful press, from Oprah to Black Enterprise to Women’s Health Magazine, how did you attract those press product features?

The Oprah feature happened because of a leadership program I applied to with the magazine and an organization called the White House Project. Even though I didn’t know if Oprah was going to be present, I made sure to be prepared. I came with 100 handmade gift boxes.

I brought enough for everyone who was attending, including beauty editors and writers. Since I was the only person who brought a product, I was able to stand out. A direct result of my preparation was a spotlight in the beauty section in Oprah Magazine a few months after the leadership program!

Is print press an important tool in your marketing strategy? Do you consistently reach out to press?

We do reach out. Print press won’t give you sales conversion but what it will do is give your brand credibility and help to open doors. Getting into Oprah Magazine was something that I could reference when I was pitching my products.

People tend to think if you get into a magazine feature, all of a sudden you are making millions of dollars. That is not necessarily the case. It is about creating brand presence and credibility that allows you to get access to other resources and tools.

Are there other tools or strategies that you have found allows you to connect Made-In-Africa narrative with local brands and retailers in the U.S.?

Doing speaking gigs has been an important tool to getting my story out. I have spoken at various events from the U.N., the U.S. State Department, and several universities. I’ve traveled to 6 embassies throughout Africa as a guest speaker on issues around women, entrepreneurship, youth development and these opportunities have opened doors and built credibility. Additionally, it’s a way to tell your brand story in your voice.


If you do nothing else for your business, you have to tell your story. I think this is lacking when it comes to African products. Either someone else is bringing our products to market or someone else is telling the story of that product. Although shea butter has been in the U.S. market for decades, in 2015 people still do not know where it comes from, or what the raw material looks like.

They think it comes from a calabash because that is how they see it sold at farmers markets. When we are talking about African branding and as we bring our products to market, it is all about sharing the true authentic story of where these products are coming from.

You just mentioned this in your last answer, but just to be clear, how has your own personal brand helped with your marketing strategy with Shea Yeleen? You mentioned speaking engagements, but are there any other ways your personal brand and work has helped with marketing the company?

The fact that I have direct ties has been really important. I think there has been a huge shift over the last few years around Africa in general. I definitely remember when people wanted to be very separate from the continent, when it wasn’t cool to be African or come from the continent. I believe that is changing and it is changing because Africans are beginning to tell our own story.

When I talk about our producers, I talk about Joanna and Gladys and Tene. They aren’t just vague numbers or statistics, they are people. I think this has been the difference when it comes to Africans creating our own companies and bringing products to market. We have a greater connection to our products and I think people want to be more open and connect to these stories and products.

I did Peace Corps because I genuinely wanted to learn more about the people that I have direct connection to. I’m African, I’m Ghanaian and this has been a huge part of why I created Shea Yeleen.

Would you recommend that founders establish or connect more directly with their companies? I know that the narrative has changed from founders being on the back-end to, with more recent brands and companies, hearing more about the personal narratives of the  founders. Would that be your perspective?

Absolutely. People don’t simply buy things; they buy from people. Founders shouldn’t become obsessed with themselves in anyway but it is important that people are able to connect with whoever is behind that brand or product, whether it’s the founders, the team members, or the producers.

I think more and more, especially with the millennial generation, people care about where their products are coming from, they are becoming more inquisitive and that’s why you see these large brands coming out with corporate social responsibility divisions 50 years after they have created the company.

Social responsibility should be the core of your company from the beginning. And I think that’s why more of us are creating companies that are impactful, and telling the story from day one, and that’s important.

Want more of Rahama Wright’s story? Stay tuned for Part II where Wright shares gems about social media and bringing her brand to African markets.