A highly diversified workplace comprises of people from different culture and backgrounds.
This gives room for increased exposure as employees learn from each other.
Inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market. You can never run out of ideas when you have a diverse team.
Why? This is b Juditecause they all bring something to the table. Having different cultural backgrounds means the way they think differ; the beliefs that shape their thoughts are not the same.
This vast difference, even between gender breeds innovation.
Creative concepts are born out of each one offering a solution or suggestion. People from different backgrounds have different experiences and perspectives. This leads to creativity.
3. Grows the organization’s talent pool
Embracing diversity means you’ll attract a large number of candidates from all walks of life. These are people well versed in different diverse skills set and knowledge.
As the number of candidates increases, the chances of finding a suitable candidate will increase too.
4. Employee retention
Who doesn’t want to work for a company that embraces diversity? They don’t discriminate but accept employees from all backgrounds. In the long run, this promotes quality and boosts the morale of the employee.
5. Employee performance
The chances of being happy in an environment that is open and inclusive are higher than one which isn’t.
Employees are more likely to feel comfortable, happy and safe in an organization that embraces diversity. This boosts the confidence of the employee as they feel confident in putting their best.
The higher your employee’s morale, the more productive he or she is.
Organizations who have a range of employees enjoy the benefits of having a broad skill set and experience. All of these gives the company an advantage over others.
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This is not a success story of a freelance solo backpacker who became a digital entrepreneur. Not a story of someone who went from nobody to become somebody.
This is a story of someone who used to live life passively, without a purpose other than to make it through the day okay, until finally realizing a dream, then realizing she can fulfill that dream, and eventually going after it.
This is a story of how I finally came to understand a lesson I’ve heard many times over – That there is nothing in this world we cannot accomplish if we really put our heart’s desire into it.
I had a typical life with an 8-5 job and everything about my life was “okay”. It’s not bad at all. I was fortunate but I was definitely not living life on the edge.
But after being able to travel to a foreign country alone for the first time, I had an epiphany that I wanted to see the world. Since that trip, it was just never the same for me. That night, I finally understood what passion meant. And mine was to see the world.
And so after 2 yrs of over-planning and some modest savings that were definitely not enough, off I went. I left despite the doubts because if I waited for the “right time”, I was afraid it wouldn’t come.
I was choosing between South America and Africa and somewhere along my research, I found cheaper flights to Tanzania. And that was really the main reason why Africa ended up becoming my first solo backpacking destination.
Also, I thought it was exotic and I wanted to prove to myself that I can pull it off. Indeed, I was able to visit other African countries as well for the next few months.
Budget Problem. No Problem…
A few months before my flight, I looked for volunteering opportunities and ways to travel cheaply. I searched workaway for hosts but there’s really nothing in there that I found interesting.
Couch surfing community in the cities I wanted to visit seemed dodgy and everywhere else, there was only voluntourism. A little deeper into my research and I had an “AHA” moment. I learned that safari tourism is big in Tanzania. In fact, all over East and Southern Africa.
I did marketing in my previous job so I’m familiar with the whole concept of “Ex-Deal”. Hence, I emailed every one of them in a personalized manner, introduced myself like a pro, and offered to help in their marketing in exchange for food and accommodation.
A few days later, I received another milestone in my backpacking career, someone actually replied and took me in.
And so, with my heart full, I went to Tanzania and for the next few weeks, I was staying at their office helping them out with marketing while combining it with tours here and there.
It was the perfect way to get to know the culture and experience the local life, just my kind of travel! I worked with Gosheni Safaris in Tanzania and experienced the local life
From Freelancer to a business owner…
After I left,my “boss” kept emailing and texting me about the things I have started while working for him. I carried on to politely help them and after some time of consistent demands, I had another “AHA” moment.
I presented the best opportunity they can ever imagine… that I work for them remotely.
They were thrilled with the idea and we came up with a fair price that later on increased to a modest amount that funded most of my travels. This idea fired me up and I basically traveled for the next 2 months in Africa, either looking for volunteering opportunities or trading off my skills.
I continued to travel for a couple of years more doing the same thing until I finally decided to slow down a bit. As I had a lot of free time now that I wasn’t all over everywhere, I decided to take it up a notch and find a few more clients by emailing them and advertising myself.
Eventually, in 2018, I took another major step and built my own website, made everything official, and registered my humble digital marketing service.
It’s worth mentioning that until this time, the same company in Africa where I first volunteered is still a client and they have passed on a lot of referrals to me ever since.
Looking back, I think the thing that made all the difference is that I always did my best while serving my volunteering time.
Even though I was not getting paid, even though I know I wasn’t going to work-volunteer for that company for long, I gave it my best shot and I always try to have fun. And it paid off in better ways I can imagine.
So always, always do your best. This is how you make impressions and build connections. A lot of opportunities can open by simply putting your best foot forward at all times.
Here are some lessons you can learn from my experience…
1. There’s no one right way to do things
You don’t need to have a big capital to start your own business. Especially in this day and age, even a kid can become an entrepreneur, all you need is creativity and courage.
In my case, the right dose of luck and creativity allowed me to build a modest lifestyle of being able to work from anywhere in the world and where I was able to combine my skills and passion.
But there is no one way right way to do things.
The first things to ask yourself are:
What am I passionate about?
What am I good at?
What are my potentials?
Then try to think if there is a way where you can combine the two. The possibilities are endless!
If like me, you’re a born traveler but stuck at a job you semi-hate, set aside some time to find clients through Upwork or another online network, and save up until such time that you can quit your job and plan a life of travel around it.
If you travel first and then just find anything to earn money from, not capitalizing on your skills… It will be really difficult for you to sustain it.
Doing what you love will allow you to meet new friends and make your life even more colorful.
3. Just go for it and the universe will conspire to help you
I first came across this statement in Paulo Coelho’s book, “The Alchemist”, years ago, and it stuck with me since. It sounds so cheesy but even after evolving as a person and having a change of perspective many times. I have always believed this because IT IS SO TRUE.
If you put your energy and focus into something you are passionate about, you can indeed move mountains.
4. There will always be doubts. Welcome them with open arms
No one is born a master of anything. Sometimes we doubt ourselves and fail so we can stand up and learn new things every day. That is simply the nature of life.
Without those, there is no life to live. I still get insecure if I’m fit to deliver the service I’m selling and then I talk to potential clients who have no clue what to do with their marketing and I realize that I actually have a lot of things to share and they find it very helpful.
We were born in a society where success is defined in comparison to others, an unfortunate recipe of society. But it shouldn’t be that way.
Don’t let it be that way. We are successful if we achieve peace, content, and happiness in the things we love to do. Even more successful if we can feel the same joy for others too, regardless of gender, race, or religion.
I’m Asian and I’m married to a European, yet we put up a business for African tourism and blog about our travels because we fell in love with this continent and now consider it as our 3rd home.
Who knows how long I can carry on being a digital entrepreneur, maybe in a few years time I’ll decide to become a musician, perhaps a painter, or maybe I’d prefer to settle down as a housewife, and that is okay.
But for now, I’m still a backpacker, I still travel cheap, and definitely not rich (financially). But I found my purpose and I’m living my dream. And that’s more than I can ever ask for.
So ladies, do yourself a favor and get out of the box and let the world see what you’re capable of.
Find and live your passion and tell us your story.
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Addie Olutola is the founder of D’IYANU, a ready-to-wear clothing line that offers African inspired fashion for men and women.
She thought of the business idea while working as a buyer and also attending a Masters program in International Marketing. Her professional and academic background, coupled with a love for fashion and a passion for African-centered art set the stage for D’IYANU.
A regular on my Instagram Explore Tab featuring #datenight outfits and a go-to brand for the culturally-conscious fashionista, D’IYANU encourages self-expression through its bold prints and unique pieces.
The meaning behind the brand name draws from French (D’) and Yoruba (IYANU) influence, translating to “of something wonderful”–a reminder to everyone that they’re uniquely made and to dress like it.
What makes D’IYANU even more special is Addie’s commitment to seeking ways her business can empower her community and help address the social issues it faces.
The company has grown to 12 employees, many of whom are Nigerian women, and has donated a portion of its profits to nonprofits that provide clean water and education to African communities.
In this interview, she gives a sneak peek into her world and shares her wisdom on how to build a purpose-filled business.
Tell us about your journey of starting D’IYANU.
Since university, I held a purpose to help build schools and clinics and provide opportunities to people in underdeveloped communities in Nigeria and other African countries.
I later launched D’IYANU with a mission centered on community engagement. Since our start, we’ve donated over $20,000 to causes that support African communities and the D’IYANU brand continues to grow daily.
What were some important lessons you took your work experience to your business?
My first job out of school was for an online pet store. I learned a lot of valuable lessons about inventory and website management that helped me when I launched my own business.
My second job as a buyer helped me hone my vendor and customer relation skills which was much needed as well in my business. All my previous jobs really contributed to my success as an entrepreneur.
I would advise aspiring entrepreneurs to regard their current and previous jobs as stepping stones and commit to gleaning as much knowledge and skill as possible from that role
One failure we experienced was trying to implement an ERP system that was too big for us. It was an archaic system used by larger companies and thought it would work for us.
We made many assumptions, and it ended up costing us a lot. The lesson learned was that not every business is the same and not to make the assumption that what worked for another company will necessarily work for your own.
Also, make sure you do your due diligence and get as much of your questions answered as possible.
Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
I listen to some motivational speakers regular such as Les Brown, Jim Rohn, and Tony Robbins whose words have helped me through tough times with my business.
Words from Les Brown such as “It’s not over until I win” or Tony Robbins “I can, I will, I must” ring in my mind when I’m feeling discouraged.
As your business grows, what are some core values that will remain important?
Always keep customers first and maintain excellent customer service
Hire great people and keeping them happy within the team
Continue to innovate and try new things with operations and fashion
Make sure that D’IYANU continues to give to great causes
The African fashion market is heavily saturated, how do you cut through the noise to differentiate your brand?
Since starting D’IYANU, my goal has been to make sure that we’re differentiating ourselves by offering quality, ready to wear clothing at reasonable prices, quick delivery, and quality customer service.
Our men’s fashion line, for example, has allowed us to reach a rarely tapped market and to gain a competitive advantage in the African-wear industry.
With the substantial relationship between e-commerce and social media, what are some creative strategies you’ve experimented with or want to explore?
With social media, we recognize that the possibilities to connect with new customers are endless. We’re currently exploring our options in using more video content and collaborating with influencers.
What is your personal brand mantra?
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.”- Maya Angelou
What’s your advice for a budding entrepreneur?
Write down why you want to start your business. Make sure the reasons are compelling enough to get you going on tough days.
If your reasons are compelling enough, you’ll figure out a way to make your dreams a reality and continue to push in spite of failure.
Vumile Msweli is an international speaker, renowned coach and the Chief Executive officer for Hesed Consulting. Hesed is a consulting firm specializing in commerce acceleration, career coaching, women empowerment, facilitation and training on the African continent.
Vumile has worked in Europe, Asia and across the African continent for reputable multinational institutions including Barclays, Investec, Nedbank, First National Bank and Vodafone.
She is an award-winning businesswoman who has received honors such as the Women’s’ Economic Forum’s Woman of Excellence Award, named 34th Most Influential Young South African by Avance Media, the Mail and Guardian Top 200 most influential Young South Africans.
Vumi has also been awarded the Elle Boss of the Year in the Corporate Category. As we celebrate women’s month in South Africa, Vumi talks about what she’s learned from globetrotting and her driving force to start her business.
Tell us about your experience studying in various countries and how its helped you
I am a vehement advocate for education and its ability to transform lives. I also believe that traveling is one of the best educations you can give yourself.
The combination of expanding my worldview through both formal and informal learning by studying in different countries has been invaluable to be me. It helped me realize how I am a global citizen with proudly African roots.
Living abroad also shifted my thinking to want to excel at a global level whilst keeping my local values. I also learned that where I was born doesn’t define where I belong.
How did studying in West Africa change your perspective about business and career?
Being an African, one tends to think of the entire continent as home but West Africa definitely has an energy like no place on earth. There are a palpable entrepreneurial spirit and an optimistic view of taking control and accountability for your life as a pose to making excuses as to why you aren’t where you could be.
The competition is also very tough, you look at Nigeria and realize that the population of Lagos alone is half the population of my country South Africa.
There are also some infrastructural challenges such as energy but no one sits around waiting for the government to resolve these. Everyone gets on with it and takes it upon themselves to excel despite these challenges.
Being in West Africa imprinted in me the importance of a diverse revenue stream, the importance of being able to sustain oneself in a cash economy as a pose to being enslaved by credit for survival.
West Africans exude an apologetic confidence for their existence, their desires, and the pursuit of their dreams. Being surrounded by a culture like that leaves you no choice but to walk with your head a little taller, work harder and make no excuses as you toil towards your own goals.
What prompted you to start your business – Hesed Consulting?
I found myself having coaching conversations with friends and acquaintances on various career-related topics and soon realized that I had acquired some niche knowledge.
Especially around accelerating my career, what seemed to me to be a simple strategic career or finance play was a non-discussion amongst my peers.
I thoroughly enjoy seeing people transform through a shift in perception. Marianne Williamson aptly said: “ a miracle is a shift in perception”.Certainly, I wanted to be a part of that miracle.
Vumi is truly a teacher at heart, I love sharing what I have learned. So the look on someone’s face as they utter “I never thought of it that way before” and then proceed to change the direction of their lives because of that conversation gives me great joy.
Being a part of that sacred space of sharing tools and experiences that help my clients leapfrog their learning and accelerate their careers and businesses truly makes my heart sing. That’s what prompted me to start Hesed and it’s the reason why Hesed is still in existence 6 years later.
At Hesed, we work with individuals and entrepreneurs to accelerate their careers and businesses. We do this through workshops; training; coaching and consulting. We have a pan-African approach; global exposure whilst remaining locally relevant.
I guess what makes our team rather unique is that we have executive experience across sectors so we understand the pressures of both corporate and entrepreneurship. Also, many of our teams have worked and lived in different countries and continents.
That cultural richness allows for diversity in thinking when tailor making solutions for our clients.
How did you go from being a trained accountant working in an international financial institution to a becoming an international speaker and accelerator coach?
I had the scholarship to study my Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting Sciences but soon realized after completing that it definitely was not my passion.
Actually, I recalled working at an Investment Bank early in my career and instead of focusing on the financial audit work I was assigned to found myself in the customer care department worrying about clients. I was more concerned about the organization’s strategy and operational ability to service them better.
Needless to say, my career shifted towards being people-centric and that has never changed. It just expanded to their strategies for success and how they can operate better in their careers and personal lives.
How valuable is it to be African and think global?
I often say I am a proudly African global citizen. Thinking global allows us to elevate our standards; fast track our learning; bring international best practices to the continent whilst expanding our reach to the whole world.
Thinking global in my opinion should not be in exchange for our what makes us African. Being African allows us to see the world through a certain lens and more often than not have a shared experience such as valuing Ubuntu; a tangible sense of community, a rich heritage, and culture.
This is an advantage for us because selfish capitalism is no longer sustainable as a means of doing business. This is an opportunity for the whole world to bask in Africa’s rising.
Who are your mentors and what life lessons have you’ve learned from them?
Lillian Barnard taught me that femininity and executive power are not mutually exclusive that being feminine is a power within itself.
Sindi Mabaso-Koyane has taught me that there is indescribable joy in being of service to others. By asking how you can serve allows you to rise to the occasion of fulfilling your purpose.
Buyile Ngcobo reminds me constantly that being my most authentic self is the fuel to propel me to my destiny.
How do you set goals for yourself? Do you use a one year, 5-year plan, or the traditional vision, board?
I am a very visual person so vision boards work well for me using images and words to draw experiences to me is one of my favorite things.
In my bedroom, my vision board is framed and is actually one of the first things I see when I wake up. My vision boards offer inspiration for me as I pursue my goals and lofty dreams.
You are constantly building networks across the continent, how does this translate to business for you?
Not as fast as you would think. I am a big believer in genuine relationship building. People can very often sense if you are coming from a transactional place or being authentic. This may be the slow route but people do business with people.
So I take time to really get to know the people I engage and in turn, they get to know my heart, energy, and personality. Thus they have the ability to vouch for not just a brand but a woman they know and trust.
You’ve been to 50/51 countries in the world. Where was your favorite place, and why?
This feels like a trick question! I like different places for different reasons. I enjoy Bali, Indonesia for the simplicity and warmness of its people who will share their last cent to make you feel at home.
I enjoy Lagos, Nigeria because it’s insomniac energy inspires the entrepreneur in me to dream bigger and work enthusiastically towards my goals.
Prague, the Czech Republic for its architectural beauty makes me feel like I am in a painting.
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa because it’s my home. From the breathtaking valley of a thousand hills, it’s rich history to its warm beaches all year round to my mother’s cooking.
What drives Vumi?
Leaving a legacy drives me. It was sagely said that we die twice. Once when they put you in the ground. Second when they utter your name for the last time. It’s that second death that drives me what can I do in life to make life easier for the next person that the impact of my existence may be felt long after my body is in the ground.
What’s the one advice you’d give to your younger self?
Vumile you are enough.
It’s unbelievable how enough you are. You are God’s child, definitely one of his favorites. Your destiny is larger than any of your wildest imaginings.
So go ahead and be the fulfillment of your wildest dreams you can imagine yourself to be.
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According to the Harvard Business Review, “diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth. ” Because of technology allows us to communicate instantly, everyone can access diversity.
The world is becoming a global village, largely because we no longer need to spend hours, weeks, months or more transmitting messages. We can access information and people within seconds, allowing us to build companies, teams, and relationships with those that used to be unreachable. This phenomenon is a game changer for social entrepreneurs and professionals.
If one does not consider the interconnectivity of the world and the need for diverse teams, one will fall behind and miss economic and social opportunities.
For those who recognize this and seek to diversify partners and scale global businesses, it is crucial that we understand our ingrained mindsets surrounding our work habits, our communications skills and our overall view of success that come from the environment we grew up in.
Often, we do not even realize that we are behaving in a way that hinders our success, even when we have the best intentions.
I have done a lot of work promoting mutually beneficial relationships between Africans and Americans. During this time, I saw some of the major challenges that crop up in our intercultural relations stem from different communications habits.
For example, certain cultures rely heavily on writing, whereas others communicate verbally. The frequency of communication can also be affected by the environment, tone, vocabulary or communication methods used.
In certain contexts, different methods of communication are preferred- in an American office, email is the go-to, even when you could walk down the hall and ask a question in person.
However, in the offices I worked at in Senegal, if I needed anything, I took a walk to my colleague’s desk, chatted about family, the weather, the latest wrestling match, and only then asked about my work needs.
In order to succeed in our globalizing world, the most important thing to do is increase your cultural knowledge of your collaborators. Certain aspects are relatively easy to learn- norms surrounding work attire, greetings in the local language, gestures/body language, or religious belief, for example.
Others take more time to truly understand intricacies such as social classes/ethnicities, relationship with authority figures, gender/family roles, work ethic and office behavior.
Before my trip to Ghana last August, I made sure to do some basic research on culture, customs, and linguistics, but also knew I needed to continue to ask questions and joke respectfully with people during my stay to be better prepared to collaborate professionally and personally with Ghanaians.
Increasing cultural knowledge and working on intercultural awareness are actions to take to ensure you are building the most successful, inclusive, financially solid and sustainable programs with the top talent the world can offer.
Furthermore, it is crucial to establish trust in any relationship. A trust model dedicated to intercultural teams is based on ten dimensions; competence, compatibility, goodwill, integrity, predictability, well-being, inclusion, openness with information, accessibility, and reciprocity.
There are many ways to build this trust, paying special attention to which methods to employ given the nature of the team, be it in person, remote or a hybrid.
As I build Baobab Consulting, where most of our relationships are virtual, I mostly use WhatsApp, social media, Google Drive and email to share information and create team culture, but I take every opportunity to meet face to face to establish that physical connection, which in many cultures, plays a crucial role.
Even with cultural awareness and trust, there still may be some lingering stereotypes or assumptions we carry that we are unaware of. Let us not presume that two North Americans or two Africans on a team understand each other.
A woman from Senegal will have a completely different vantage point than a man from Zimbabwe, just as a woman from New York City’s will be different from a male colleague from Montreal. Even if there are some similarities between them that may help them bond faster, it is still necessary to follow the same procedures of intercultural awareness.
At the end of the day, no matter where you fall on the intercultural awareness spectrum, how many languages you speak, or how many cultural events you have been to, you must remember that personality can also play a role.
Sometimes, we work better with certain personality types and struggle with others, so this should not be discounted as you work together and build team dynamics. Take a free version of the Myers Briggs test to learn more about your personality and that of your teammates.
By creating inclusive teams and encouraging them to fearlessly and meaningfully contribute, entrepreneurs will see true disruptive innovation. To do that, we must make sure the right steps are taken to ensure that everyone feels taken care of, considered, understood and respected.
There will always be some level of tension and even conflict when we work together, but if we assume all parties have good intentions, these snafus can be overlooked. Always remember the true mission of what you are doing. Understand everyone’s goals and work together to achieve them.
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Samah Zingran is one of those rare women often spoken of but rarely encountered in these modern times, kind of like a unicorn! Maya Angelou once described this type of woman as, “a woman in harmony with her own spirit”.
This Khartoum born entrepreneur, who aspires to learn 7 languages- Russian being one of them, is interested in history, anthropology studies and psychology and is currently working on obtaining a masters in Folklore from the University of Khartoum.
Samah is the founder of the eponymous brand, Zingran, which creates gorgeous handcrafted leather accessories and bags.
What led you to start your own business?
I launched my business on two separate occasions. The first was as a result of what I call “a graduate rush”. I wanted to start making a living as an independent fashion designer as soon as possible. Sadly, my business failed to grow. I was doing it part-time and had just begun my postgraduate studies.
During this time, I volunteered many times to do other artist’s projects from different fields, theatre, music bands, fine art exhibitions…I was even once a translator! I never said no to a job, and rarely considered the financial gain.
My second chance at business came in 2017. At this point, it hit me that I must depend on myself and do what I’m passionate about.
I quit my job at the Embassy of Venezuela in Sudan and with the help of a friend who became my retailer in Juba, I got the boost I needed.
This year, God awarded me generously by giving me the opportunity to attend a training given to selected creative entrepreneurs working in the East Africa region by the British council in Kampala and Nesta.
It exceeded my expectations and allowed me to connect with wonderful and enthusiastic teachers as well as students, build an essential network and learn many lessons- my greatest lesson being, “its okay if you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, you plan it anyway.”
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned while running your business so far?
The most valuable lesson I learned was first taught by a friend, a very successful businesswoman in Sudan. She said to me:
I must say, from my personal experience, this has proven to be very true.
What drives you to achieve the goals you set for yourself?
Love to create, and my passion to create new things has kept me going. I also find myself continually motivated by my Father- the first supporter of my work, my friends with all their great insights.
I love the look on people’s faces when they see what I’ve made for them, it’s a wonderful feeling when I see they like my work. It’s also incredibly humbling and it’s where I get my satisfaction from.
What is the business environment like for young female entrepreneurs in Sudan?
I’ve struggled to be an entrepreneur in Sudan simply because I am a woman. People ruin professional relationships by harassing girls or making them uncomfortable. Many don’t believe in the possibility that a woman can actually make great achievements in business.
However, the few times I overcame these challenges resulted in great networking opportunities with suppliers, retailers, and buyers. The experience has taught me to expect to be treated unfairly, to be undermined, not just because I am female but mostly because I am a female artist.
Through it all, the conviction instilled in me by my father, that I am no less than any other man kept my heart solid to these challenges.
Do you think being a female entrepreneur in a country like Sudan is an advantage or disadvantage?
I think it’s a huge advantage since recent studies show young women in our generation are more advanced both in higher education and work. Traditionally, in Sudan, women often times overtake the responsibility to provide- even if this particular fact is openly overlooked.
Therefore, despite the obstacles they go through, women in my country like all African women, are strong and thrive to work, invent, create and provide.
What I’d love to inspire them to do is to dream. To get inspired by recalling the heritage we have from ancient Feroh–queens (Kandake) who led wars and led nations, whose biggest dream wasn’t to simply provide for their families.
What has been your greatest challenge so far? How did you overcome it?
While a student in art school in 2017, I fell sick of Myasthenia Gravis. My desire to overcome this pushed me to work hard in school and I completed with flying colors.
However, when business pressures rushed in, I struggled, being a solopreneur and working 14 -16 hours a day to deliver took its toll on me. I eventually had to scale back on my business.
To support myself, I started working part-time with other artists temporarily which exposed me to some of their struggles. Eventually, I also educated myself on the disease I had and trained someone close to me so that I wasn’t alone in my journey.
If you could be mentored by anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
I admire Meryl Streep, a well-known actress. I believe she is strong and has a great body of work- she has been nominated several times for the Oscars and various other awards.
She is a living embodiment of pure talent and is clear about her political and social opinions.
What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs both in Sudan and across the African Continent?
Remember that dream of yours you once had when you were a little girl? Draw out its details and bring it to life.
You will struggle one way or another, you will meet pessimists and those who have given up on their own dreams-but never ever give up, keep feeding your passion because you are your own knight in shining armor.
My friend is going through that phase where she is panicking about whether she will ever find the man of her dreams. I keep telling her “Girl, chill out, the sea is not empty yet”.
She recently went on a date with this new guy she is seeing, and now she knows what she wants in life, and I admire her so much for that.
Before she even goes on a date with a guy, she has to have conversated with him for a while and after the first date, if she is not feeling it, she is not the “Let’s see where it can go” type of girl. Maybe that’s why she is not married yet.
Anyway, I asked her, “How did this one go? Do you think he is the one?”, she stared into space and after a while replied, “Yea he might be, but he asked me if we should do Dutch”.
I also paused and stared into space, what does that mean, I thought.
“So, for the rest of the date, we ended up talking about doing Dutch and women becoming more independent.” So, “do Dutch”, basically means splitting the bill. This made me ponder about a statement I once read which said – “These days women are now becoming the men they once dreamt of marrying”.
Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel like that’s somewhat true. Why is it that many women don’t rely on men as much anymore, is it because we don’t need them, is it because they are not providing what we are seeking?
Is a man no longer a man if he can’t provide? Should women turn down their independence just to maintain the man’s ego?
That’s a flat out, big NO for me. Women have been oppressed and have had their rights suppressed for a long time. Now that we have more privileges and equal opportunities, some men and women are slightly uncomfortable with our liberation. So much so that some women feel the need to hide their ambition.
There is something endearing about being humble, but there is a difference in taming yourself down because some people are uncomfortable with your star qualities.
There are men out there who feel threatened if their woman is earning more than them and they feel like they are not enough. If a man feels threatened by your independence, then those are his insecurities he needs to work on, not yours.
You shouldn’t have to pretend to be less just to please him.
The independence of a woman can often destroy a man’s masculinity. There is absolutely nothing wrong in building together with your man, he makes his own money and you make your own too. There is also nothing wrong with sitting back and letting your man treat you and you doing the same for him.
As long as the woman is not putting down her man because she is richer or more powerful than him, a happy, balanced, healthy relationship can be boded.
These are just some of the things you suss out when you begin dating someone, are they comfortable with you being the bomb ass woman that you are, can they handle you, what does their ego say about you being this boss chick? It is as simple as asking your potential suitor those direct questions.
Society depicts that the man should be the main provider of a family. As women, we should allow the man to be who he is and who he is destined to be. Our life’s purpose does not take priority over his your opinions don’t matter more because you have more money or are more powerful than he is.
In relationships, you often have to compromise yourself and compromising is not betrayal. When you find yourself having to kill your true, authentic, hardworking, go-getter self, its yourself you’re betraying. You don’t have to kill who you are to please your counterpart.
Independent women are often deemed as high maintenance, sometimes greedy and their standards are too high. Well if you don’t set boundaries or standards you will settle for whatever is handed to you in life and you will never be fulfilled.
Having said all this not all men think the same. Sometimes men want more than just an independent successful woman with her own money. Hopefully, there is more to you than just your successes. What are your family values, what are you like as a person without all your accomplishments?
Are you really this well rounded independent successful woman in all areas of your life. It may not be your independence and success that’s putting men off you. It’s a matter of looking inwardly, are you really this gracious, strong Queen you say you are?
Growing up in a household rich in colour, born to parents of Nigerian heritage and a culture that inspired her artistic talents, it’s no surprise that Flo Awolaja grew to become an incredible burst of creativity. Flo is a fun loving and exuberant personality that exudes a quiet confidence and steely determination to succeed in all things.
She has been influenced by many of her mother’s collection of African fabrics, various painters, designers, textile artists, photographers and inspired by a plethora of contemporary Nigerian and African American artists in the likes of Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye, Abdoulaye Konaté, Peju Alatise, Victoria Udonian, Hayden Palmer, William H Johnson, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden et al.
Flo Awolaja represents a lot of things in one, as a writer, poet, and photographer, she continues to take delight in all visual pleasures which stimulate the senses. She also has a successful career as a graphic designer and lecturer and has combined her passion for art, design, and photography with teaching, working to raise achievement in her learners by encouraging them, raising their self-esteem, and aspiring confidence in them.
There is an expression that I have been carrying around with me for the best part of a year now. When I stumbled upon it, whilst surfing through social media, it was so profound that I have it permanently on my screen saver on the laptop to remind me to keep striving and designing, and how fortunate I am to be doing the things I like.
The quote is, “The things that are random, are not your calling, they are your passion”. This is what essentially guides me, and I really do try not to take my talent for granted. Like most things, the body of work that I am now exploring happened by accident, (the best things usually do) it occurred whilst I was at home looking after my son, who had been in the hospital and was now convalescing at home.
I had travelled to Ghana in 2013 and brought back a lot of batik fabrics. Not knowing what I wanted to do with them, they lay dormant, until 2015. Whilst looking after my son, I remembered that I had them, and had added to the collection by purchasing metre samples in all colours from friends who would travel to Nigeria and Ghana, gently asking them to bring me back whatever they could. In those moments as a designer, the light bulb goes on and you find yourself creating pieces, which is how the first few ideas transpired.
Gradually one became two, and the pieces began to materialise, to the extent that I had about 20 small pieces which I had framed. Enter my son, who saw me spread them out on the floor and was marvelled at how I had managed to hide them around the house, out of the eyes of my mother.
Quick as a flash he had photographed them and posted them onto his Instagram account, I still do not have one! From that moment the genie had been released and it was not going to go back into the bottle. It became a question of how to showcase the designs to a wider audience. Each opportunity has acted like a stepping stone, I have been most fortunate in the breaks that have come my way I tend to look at my work much in the way a painter starts with a blank canvas. No two pieces that I create will ever be the same. Whilst I am creating these textile paintings, I am only aware of the colours that I will use, but not the journey of the piece, each one has its own rhythm and story, that for me is what makes each one off piece unique.
Wow, that is a difficult question, but I can honestly say that I am inspired by many things, from listening to music, conversation, hearing and reading a line of poetry, along with photographs that just capture my imagination. I also think that being raised in a culture steeped in Yoruba tradition, has been instrumental in my journey as a designer.
My mother was a printer and my father was a draughtsman, so design and the love of design have been instilled in me from an early age. I am inspired by anything that delights and tickles my visual senses.
How would you compare the Western and African market in terms of values for art works?
Like most things we have been constantly conditioned through no fault of our own to have the idea that African works of art are somewhat in inferior; that is certainly not my view, and anyone who knows me will tell you I am the most ardent and fervent champion of our African Ancestry and Heritage.
The African market is far more exciting. The current resurgence and proliferation of African art is taking the art world by storm. Our trajectory of art has always been rising, however presently its stock has never been higher, why is this? Artists from Picasso to Hirst have made more than a passing reference to the art of Africa, even to the point of appropriating whole elements in the quest to claim works as their own. So why the sudden interest?
What many curators were happy to call ‘tribal’, that somehow adding the word ‘tribal’ made it somewhat less authentic and therefore was not really valued. Fast forward, the last few years have seen a sudden surge of interest as new kids on the block enter. From photographers and sculptors to painters and textile designers, old and new now sharing the platform. There really is space for us all.
As cultural houses and museums have watched this market grow so has the interest in all things African, fuelling and creating a demand. Contemporary artists such as Yinka Shonibare and El Anatsui share the space alongside Peju Alatise and Kehinde Andrews, all creating a rich mélange.
Modern art collectors are looking for something and presently African art is it. Major houses and museums are keen to reach the emerging markets of Ghana and Kenya, alongside the more established countries of Nigeria and Morocco. Having international events like the Venice Biennale, The Art Paris Fair, and the 1:54 London and Paris Fairs will continue to raise the profile of African art and artists, along with a growing number of galleries in London and Paris that find, develop and support African art, the value, and market of which will continue to grow.
Recently, you had the Making Stories, Telling Tales exhibition, tell us about it.
Again sometimes it is about being in the right place at the right time. There were two parts to this exhibition, it was never intended to be but fate and the universe have a lovely way of conspiring to tell you something different. As I alluded to earlier on in this interview, sometimes it is a case of banking ideas and then releasing them when the time is right…and so it was the case with the Making Stories, Telling Tales.
I was invited to exhibit to celebrate the work of a Black female artist for Black History Month. The body of work presented had been mulling around for some time titled ‘Ain’t no Jack’, based on the seminal work of Professor Paul Gilroy ‘Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack’. The stories of the flags bearing semblance to the work he has written, depicting Britain’s involvement in the Commonwealth, exploring the struggle of the African and Caribbean nations’ fight for their independence.
The original exhibition held in 2016 at the Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, North London was a body of work exploring the idea of fabrics telling stories and going back to explore the tradition of handcrafted work. Printed collaged textiles is like a painting, it is watching a print evolve. What was meant to be a 2-month exhibit, turned into a 6-month stint. Such was the success of this exhibition that I was asked to show case the exhibition in Bath, at the Tafari Gallery (the former home of the Emperor Haille Selaisse and his wife), where it remained for 4 months.
So I have been most fortunate in showing my work. The opportunity to exhibit in London was too good to miss, and I was looking for a space that was sympathetic to my work and artistic ideals, The GIDA Collective, in Brixton, South London was the perfect spot. A week long exhibition in April 2017 was followed by a very stimulating artist’s conversation. These new ‘Paintings’ continue to explore the theme of ‘Narrative’ within printmaking, with the use of African textiles. Employing material predominately native to Ghana, namely batik woven and dyed cloths which are collaged together.
My use of fabrics creates abstract compositions that hark back to West-African traditions of using textiles as a means of commemoration and communication, taking them and placing them in a contemporary setting. It is interesting how the idea of ‘Narrative’ can be explored through a range of media, techniques, and processes to tell a story that does not need words. Enthused with a rich sense of colour and rhythm, these works serve to remind us that the idea of narrative, of story telling, is not always verbal.
Sometimes it takes another eye to see and encourage you for you to know that what you are doing really makes sense! Amarachi Attamah is just a young simple Igbo girl. She is someone who scribbles some lines and calls them poetry. Amarachi, by career is a broadcaster and she has worked with different radio and television stations.
As a young woman who loves who she is, Amarachi’s career draws from her identity, her roots and her cultural heritage. “My father would always say, ‘When you go out, remember that you have roots, so don’t go out and get lost’”, she says. Today, Amarachi is a performing poet specifically in Igbo language, and a writer. She has four published titles which include, “My Broad Daydream”, “Tomorrow’s Twist”, “Making a Difference” and her first Igbo collection, ‘’Akuko Ifo Nnem ochie koro m” (Folktales my Grandmother Told Me).
SLA contributor Onyekachukwu Asadu met Amarachi in Enugu to find out more about what she does and how it is contributing to the growth of her community.
Do you think you are making a difference? If yes, how are you making a difference in your community?
Of course, I think I am making a difference. If I am not, I wouldn’t have continued what I am doing. However, the encouragement comes from seeing that what you do, actually makes a difference, even if it seems so stupid sometimes or unrealistic. I was born in Northern Nigeria and I grew up amongst a people that know who they are and are proud of it. As a child in that environment, I would tell you that I never saw a northern child that couldn’t speak their indigenous language; be it Hausa, Gwari, Nupe or whatever. They speak their language. They were always proud of their local food, or dressing.
However, coming back to the east, I noticed that it was different; we were not even proud of our names. This got me worried and I made a resolve that the negative trend of denying our culture had to stop. I am proud of my identity and culture, and I have to make others see the same. So I thought to myself, ‘perhaps I should bring in this consciousness’.
Honestly, I can’t tell when it started. When I was doing my NYSC, I wasn’t quite fluent in Igbo language but in my local dialect (Nsukka). I had published my first Igbo collection in 2007 and it was during that time that I met the literary icon, Professor Anezi Okoro. Despite my challenges at speaking and writing the Igbo language (I had failed Igbo language in my Senior School certificate examinations!) he encouraged me to do something in Igbo. I remained resilient and kept learning. I decided to dress in Igbo attires, making Igbo hairstyles.
During that time, I started thinking of how to present my poetry and when I started displaying my craft on stage, I got a good response! So I continued, I never planned it but I saw the opportunity and so I started creating awareness about Igbo language and culture. I went to secondary schools, talking to students and teachers and parents; persuading them to speak the Igbo language.
From there, we got the inspiration to organize festivals where schools make presentations and cultural displays in the Igbo language, then we published a collection of poems rendered by students. Gradually, people started coming around and getting involved with what we do. We have not gotten there yet but we have engaged the community, we have increased their consciousness and we are restoring the dignity of the Igbo race.
Tell us about OJA Cultural Development Initiative. What plans are you making to reach and impact a global audience?
OJA is ‘Odinala na omenala jikoro anyi’, which implies the culture and traditions that bind us together. It is an NGO created out of my passion to unite people. As a broadcaster working in the civil service, I discovered that even with most employees coming from Enugu State, there was still discrimination and segregation along village and local government lines. This did not sit well with me.
I also realized that at the village level, certain positive elements/practices of our culture that united us was no longer there. For example, the women associations that changed the communities, the kinsmen and age grade meetings were no longer as strong and edifying as they used to be. This is because we accepted/adopted the foreign individualistic style of living that is not our cultural heritage. In as much as culture can be modified, we should not destroy our culture or lose the major ingredients that bind us together.
This is why OJA is working with the younger generation because they are the ones that are mostly affected by this. To achieve this, we introduce regular festivals to bring these kids together and remind them of who they are. We go around reviving positive cultural practices that are going down. We don’t promote clandestine practices, after all, beyond Nigeria; there are cultures that are repugnant to natural existence.
In addition to OJA, we also have a cultural outfit, Nwadioranma (The child that puts smiles on people’s faces) outfit. It is into cultural performances and all creative enterprise promoting our culture. People call us to perform at their events for entertainment. We also train young and consenting adults to work with us there to raise funds and further support our work.
You once worked with a Broadcasting house. As a Mass communication graduate, tell us how you perceived it was time to leave paid employment to becoming the one calling the shots?
As you know, world changers are not regular employees. The world needs people with passion to drive a cause. To drive a cause, you must be creative. People will say you are crazy, they will assume you are not well.
It was challenging working for a media house, people didn’t understand why you would leave your office for a while to write a poem or visit a school to advocate for our passion. There were bureaucracies affecting my flow. Being a paid worker also meant I had to be at work every day. I love broadcasting because it’s a means of reaching the world. I have not stopped broadcasting, I can still make videos and audio files and share online reaching people all around the world. Yet, I needed to leave my comfort zone, I weighed my job against my passion and found that I needed to move because most people around me didn’t understand me.
If any African or young person here in this part of the world must pursue a just cause, they must learn to leave their comfort zone. For me, paid employment meant rest and I wasn’t ready to rest. If I listened to what people felt, I would be discouraged, so I also needed to go to where I will be inspired. If you must be in an office environment, try to create a difference so that when you leave, it will be felt. I do not regret it. The world might call you crazy because you are leaving paid employment even when many youths are looking for job. But because you have the vision, please go out there and make the difference you envision.
You seem so passionate about culture and the Igbo language. Most young people wouldn’t see opportunity in those areas. They would rather see it as being old fashioned. What drives your interest?
I wouldn’t really say I know what drives my interest but I grew up in a close-knit family that didn’t have much materially, but we were content and loved each other. As a child growing up in Northern Nigeria, I saw that trend of close-knit family relationships. When I returned home to the east, I was surprised to see that such relationships are not commonplace, even families are turning against one another, despite cultural and tribal similarities.
It’s challenging being a young woman trying to venture into an area which is expected to be driven by men. In the Igbo parlance, a woman is seen and not heard so being a young lady with my interests is seen as absurd because it is assumed that going into cultural matters is a taboo!
Most times when I perform, I am the only woman at the event and people look at me as if I am from another planet! It takes a lot because you have to explain your motive before presenting. Despite the challenges, I am not deterred. Like I tell people, I have decided within myself to follow my heart and remain focused, no matter what distractions coming my way. When people see your passion, they will support you. If I didn’t continue, you wouldn’t have travelled here to interview me. It hasn’t been easy, but we have succeeded.
If you could change anything about your community, what would it be?
It would be that seed of unity and individualism that has been wrongly planted in our families. I recall the first OJA seminar we organized in my hometown. While visiting a family, I heard a child refusing to run an errand for the mother, ‘’A ju mu’’ meaning, ‘No, I won’t go’. I saw it became a trend in the community.
That stuck out to me. It didn’t show respect and that was not how I grew up. I saw brothers fighting over land, married couples separating. This I know brought hatred, pride and rancor, therefore, my passion would be to plant a seed of unity, where we eat, laugh, pray, sing and dance together. Even the holy book says that there is the presence of God where two or three are gathered.
There is a philosophy I believe in and advocate for, it’s called, ‘Igwebuike’’ there is strength in our numbers. When we join forces in love, we will succeed together and the world will be beautiful. Families make up the community so I would like to bring that back.
Considering the cultural perception of women in African/Igbo society, would you encourage Igbo women to aspire to largely responsible positions of Influence? Why?
In any community where women are given the opportunity to serve in leadership, there is always a difference. I am talking about women who possess positive values. That is why feminity is divine, not minding people’s wrong notion, feminity and masculinity is divine. Even in Igbo culture, there is a beautiful narrative of Ani (Earth) as a goddess of fertility and Anyanwu (The sun) as the god who shines and on her to produce and give life. It is believed that the earth is a woman because she produces a lot of beautiful things.
Women are powerful but sometimes they don’t know it. That’s why they shy away from leadership position; the truth is that this world in practice is not a man’s world. This is because every man has a woman that influences him. I don’t struggle to be a man because I am first human then a woman. No matter how strong a man is, there is a woman that tickles his soft spot.
My point is, you must not clamor to be a government official before making an influence, you can start from your family, club, workplace, etc start from there, make an impact and the world will feel your positive touch, so I am saying that I support women in governance. However, it won’t be easy that is why you must know who you are, and when you get out there, stay strong because challenges will come. Please assume your real responsibility, let your strength be invested into building and not pulling down.
Finally, what favorite Igbo proverb/saying keeps you going even in tough times?
If you look at my notice board, you will see I pasted some proverbs in Igbo language.
‘Oborochi nwere olili anya, ike agwulagi’, despite your failures, as long as you wake up and you are alive, there is hope. I use this proverb to encourage myself. There is nothing wrong in feeling depressed sometimes, so when I do, I just recite this to myself and it always revives my spirit.
For others, I have a saying to encourage them, ‘Akwu ji ibe ya agba mmanu, Igwebuike!’, there is no one palm nut that makes sufficient palm oil, it requires several palm fruits to obtain palm oil. In other words, it is in our coming together bringing our collective efforts that we can overcome our challenges and achieve common objectives. I also have a time set aside every day for innovative thinking. It helps me find out better ways to make my work better. The world needs creative thinkers.
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To answer the question, no. There isn’t a right way to handle conflict. Processes in start-ups are never linear, especially in the beginning stages. So when a disagreement arises between members of the start-up, there’s almost always a third party involved to resolve the issue.
People are different, and can also react to situations very differently. Processes and policies put in place in big corporates solve this issue. But when issues arise in start-ups, processes and policies are thought of.
What can start-ups do in the early stages to handle conflict?
Acknowledge that conflict will occur
Having to acknowledge that it will happen might seem cynical. But because people are different, the acknowledgement helps the start-up be realistic. Getting recognition in the beginning stages of a start-up is usually key. The beginning stages also include getting your product and service out to your target audience.
At this stage, handling conflict by creating processes would be the least of your worries. Or so you may think. Being in an organisation that was being run like a start-up before —I’ve seen that if there is no process behind handling conflict, operations may come to a halt, especially if you’re working in a small team.
Handle conflict according to its levels
To fast track my advice on how to handle disagreements between people, it’s important to first rate the level of conflict. The different levels could be a low, medium or high. It may also be hard to rate the different levels. How would a start-up actually measure which conflict is more important than the other? This, I believe, is at the discretion of the organization.
Identify each level and put processes in place to handle each level. Handle low or medium level disagreements internally within a few days or even hours. But a high level conflict means that a third party can be brought into resolve it and only the people involved should be addressed so that operations continue.
With any organisation, a culture fit between team members is important. People have different personalities, attitudes and different ways of reacting to situations. However, it is still very important to bring people into your start-up that know and understand the value of what the start-up is trying to achieve.
Eliminate continuous conflict by involving people that believe in the values of the start-up. Align your goals and values with that of the start-ups to become the right person to work with. This way even if conflict does arise, as it always does in any organisation, people know what their purpose of being in the organisation is.
With knowing and understanding the value of being in the organisation, the resolution stage can be much easier situation to reach.