Best Ayiorwoth: Most communities have remained ignorant of women’s potential

I just focus on my goal and that really encourages me to continue with my work - Best Ayiorwoth Click To Tweet

Best Ayiorwoth is the founder of Girls Power Micro-Lending Organisation (GIPOMO), an establishment that supports girl child education in Uganda, by giving microloans to women who make a commitment to grow businesses while keeping their girl children in school.

Founded in 2011 when Best was only 19 years old, today GIPOMO has helped put more than 170 girl children in school and counting. We recently did an interview with Best to find out more about her story and the future of her remarkable organisation, GIPOMO.

Tell us about yourself and your story that led to the creation of GIPOMO

My names are Ayiorwoth Best, I am from the Northern part of Uganda (West Nile) Nebbi District. I come from a family of seven (four sisters and two brothers) but lost both my parents when I was between the ages of 8-13 years. That incident pushed me hard to become a social entrepreneur promoting girl child education by financially empowering mothers of girl children. With the purpose of starting or expanding existing businesses so as to provide a girl child’s educational needs efficiently.

Hence I am the founder and CEO of Girl Power Micro-Lending Organization (GIPOMO). After the death of my dad, my mother had all the seven of us going to school. But as a single mother, she wasn’t able to pay for all of us and provide all the necessary needs for us at the same time. Unfortunately, she passed on when I was still in primary school and that decreased my chances of getting a higher education. Even though my elder sisters and brother tried hard to support me in reaching a certain level of education, they could only do so much despite their best efforts.

I then joined a vocational institution and did a certificate in catering and started working in a restaurant. With the in-held pain I had about my education, I used my first salary to start up the above organization.

Why do you value education and what does it mean to you?

I value girl-child education especially because most communities have remained ignorant of women’s potential and women are often not given a chance to prove their capabilities.

Granting girls a chance to receive adequate education gives them an opportunity to realize their potential to develop the country or transform the world. If a girl is taken to school, she will also take her daughter to school and together they will be able to contribute to the transformation of the nation. This way, the world will end up knowing the great potential in a woman.

Have you been able to replicate the GIPOMO model in other regions?

I would have really loved to do that but unfortunately that requires additional finance and currently, GIPOMO doesn’t receive any external funding.

We haven’t been able to replicate it in other regions yet, but it is in our five-year plan. In the meantime, I have tried to sell this idea to people in other regions hoping they can implement it for broader results.

gipomo logo

What challenges have you faced as a young female social entrepreneur?

Well, at first people in my community didn’t take me seriously, they looked down at me because of my age, young as I was.
I’ve also struggled to secure funding for the organization being a sole founder with very limited funds.

My determination and sincerity strengthened me during those difficult times otherwise I would’ve tumbled under the pressure of having to work doubly hard, taking a stand to convince men, local government and others about my ability as a young woman to start an organization like GIPOMO.

At first people in my community didn't take me seriously because of my age Click To Tweet

What gives you strength to do the work that you do every day?

I just focus on my goal and that really encourages me to continue with my work even when things aren’t going so well.


What do you enjoy most about your work?

Conversing with my clients (community) and having sessions with the girls where we discuss their challenges and achievements among other issues.

Tell us about the Girl on Skills program and how it’s going so far.

The Girl on Skills program is an additional project specifically rendered for the girl-child drop outs. We came to learn that we have many girls who would have loved to study but because of certain conditions are not in school. We register those girls, take them to vocational training schools and pay their full tuition. Their parents get to pay us back by installments with zero interest.

This can enable a girl to be self-reliant or even take herself back to school with the money she is earning if she is still willing. This program is really going well, however, we do not have enough funds for it so we are just limited to a small number of girls every year. Right now, that number is 10 per year.

What are your future plans for GIPOMO?

We are planning to open up a vocational training institute so as to support the girls on skills program.

Also, we plan to open a Sacco so that we can lend funds to parents who need to urgently clear their child’s school fees and this would then be paid back at a later. We have learnt that it is difficult sometimes for mothers to get immediate cash from their businesses to pay for their child’s schools fees, so this is a way to make that available to them in times of need.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time to unwind?

Write story books.
Sit and share with friends
I love swimming
Singing and playing Keyboard

Wow, what a touching story. You are a remarkably strong woman Best. And we’re truly honoured here to be able to share your story with the world. You are amazing.

Thank you.

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

Royal Adventures of Princess Halima: It just takes time for others to see your vision

The Royal Adventures of Princess Halima book series was created to teach African children more about their history & culture Click To Tweet

While digital content has made it easier for people across the globe to access previously underrepresented stories, there is still a significant gap when it comes to online and offline content focused on authentic African stories. After the birth of a new generation of their family tree, Anna, Lucy, Jainaba and YaAdam came together to ensure that more African children knew about their rich history and culture.

Why did you believe that Princess Halima needed to be created and how did you find yourself being the one to make it happen?

We are half Gambian and Tanzanian and wanted to bring Africa to the forefront and educate our readers that Africa is a continent full of rich history, and not the misconceived idea that Africa is a single country.  We want our readers to find an escape into Africa’s vast richness and history while following Princess Halima in all her adventures.  And most importantly, we want to empower young minds with knowledge that will pique their interest to one-day jump on a plane and make the journey to Tanzania, Ghana, or Nigeria or any other country in Africa!

Our inspiration- Halima Bah
Our inspiration- Halima Bah

The Royal Adventures of Princess Halima project was inspired by the birth of the first baby (grandchild) in the family, Halima Bah. Halima is of Guinean, Gambian, Tanzanian descent. With such a rich combination of African culture and history, we thought the best way to educate Halima about her many homelands was to start the series of books through which she will get to not only discover her heritage, but also learn about the African continent as a whole.

Why don’t you believe that books such as Princess Halima have been created before in the market?

You will find that most stories about Africa are told through animal characters. It boils down to controlling our own narratives and images of ourselves in the world. Storytelling is one of the most important traditions humans possess to influence, shape beliefs and behaviors. We could not exist without the values, the wisdom and the courage shared from past generations through the art of storytelling. As such, this campaign is an effort to control the stories and images of our beautiful continent.

What makes Princess Halima different from all of the other educational content out there on the market?

Princess Halima is a brave, curious and courageous African girl that is intrigued by the wonders of the world but specifically her continent of Africa. As a Princess, she luckily gets to travel across the continent visiting cousins, friends and family. During each visit she takes time to explore all that these beautiful countries have to offer from the culture, fashion, languages, parks and historic sites etc. These adventures and experiences shape her worldly view, and those of her readers.Princess Halima Book Cover

For your business to get to the next level, would you prefer funding or a high value mentor? Which one would you choose and why?

We would prefer both but to be completely honest, at this point we would select funding over a mentor. We have built a machine over the past two to three years that is working for us. Every member of our team handles different aspects to ensure we are reaching our goals and meeting deadlines.

Royal Adventures of Princess Halima: It just takes time for others to see your vision Click To Tweet

What is the most important thing you’ve learned on your journey that you want to share with young African women entrepreneurs?

The most valuable lesson we have learned is patience. We have also gained an understanding that although we are passionate about this project and believe in its power, it will still take time for others to jump on board. In addition, we have learned that while we have received significant support from our African communities it wasn’t that overwhelming support we anticipated. However, it doesn’t mean that the interest and love isn’t there, it just takes time for others so see your vision and feel your passion for something you so strongly believe in.

What story can you not wait to tell next?

We are excited to tell the story of our homeland, The Gambia also known as the Smiling Coast. The smallest country in mainland Africa is going through some transitional changes right with the results of a recent election which has birthed the movement #GambiaHasDecided. This movement speaks to the ultimate pride, honor and fight Gambians have. Princess Halima’s story will capture its beauty and strength.

Fast Five

Favorite story or nursery rhyme as a child

Favorite story Shaka Zulu, was scared of it but loved it at the same time.

What did you want to be when you grew up

Work in the international development(United Nations) field like our mother.

Any travel tips for when you’re on the go with young ones

Get them a good book like ours, you can’t go wrong with The Royal Adventures of Princess Halima

What author are you most inspired by

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from Nigeria

Ebook or hard copy

Hard copy! I love the smell of books and closing the book upon completion gives me a sense of accomplishment.

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Hilma Ndinelago Moses: I want to be known as a selfless leader

If you believe education is key to changing the world, you can count your similarities with Nelson Mandela and Hilma Ndinelago Moses. Only familiar with one name? Well, you need to know Hilma. She is the creator of  Nambian Opportunities, and co-founder of the Young Woman Arise Impact Project. Through these initiatives, Hilma strives for academic excellence for Namibians.  

SLA contributor Itumeleng caught up with Hilma who is living up to Mandela’s words in her own way. Her hopes and dreams for her country, Namibia is for everyone to have the opportunity to better themselves and their community through education. Hilda believes African education systems should be revised and is involved in other projects aimed at growing Namibia’s representation on the global stage.

Why did you choose a career in law?

Law is interesting and powerful. Most people who studied law are influential. You can’t change society if you are not involved in the process that regulates the very norms of society.

We need people in Africa who are academically-orientated. I value the efforts of people going far to further their education whether it’s through TVET or short courses. It’s not just about university degrees but should be about acknowledging all those who make an effort to further their studies at different levels.

We have to promote other avenues of learning beyond secondary education.

You must have been involved in a lot of projects on campus? Tell us about them.

I was the Vice President of the Student Representative Council (SRC). I am dedicated to transforming the overall student welfare of the University of Namibia by dealing with all issues that impede the affable atmosphere of academic credibility for all students.

Having had the experience of being the secretary for Academic Affairs on the University of Namibia student body. My role required me to safeguard the general welfare of all students in relation to academic matters.

This position allowed me to make evident lasting transformation in the academic environment of the University of Namibia. The difference that I have made in many students lives is remarkable. My office was the custodian of all students of the University with regard to academic matters.

I also represented the students interests on the Senate body of the university. I represented student interest when exam results were declared null and void. When you represent students you don’t look at their nationality but what is best for them academically.SRC

Do you still plan on furthering your education?

I see myself completing my PhD and becoming Dr. Hilma Moses.

I also want  to contribute in compiling academic literature from a Namibian’s perspective.

What’s your opinion on the state of education in Africa?

Africa is concentrating on providing free education but overlooks the quality of the education. It’s good to make education accessible but with accessibility should be quality. Therefore, the education systems should be revised.

One of the problems with African education is academic victimization of students. Exam papers are leaked by those who are supposed to be protecting them.

We need to promote and protect the right to education through Agenda 2063 and Sustainable Development Goals.

What projects have you been involved in?

I am the co-founder of Young Woman Arise Impact Project which was established through the University of Namibia Legal Aid clinic. We promote the rights of young women to health and sanitation.

We distribute “care packages” consisting of soap, face cloth, toothpaste, tooth brush and sanitary towels. In 2015, we donated 500 care packages. We also have an initiative called “Donate a Bra” where we urge women to donate a bra to those in need.

I also have an online platform called Namibian Opportunities. This is to expose Namibian youths to national and international opportunities. Namibia is under-represented in international organizations and I would like to see more people from my country in influential positions.


What would you like to be known for in your country?

I want to be known as an advocate for youth and opportunities for young people. I want to be known as a selfless leader. Someone who goes out of their way to create a path for others.

When you are a leader you go out of your way to serve people and that’s what I strive to do. Most importantly, I would like to be remembered as a God-fearing woman.

If you had the chance to prepare lunch for Namibia’s President, what would be on the menu?

I would prepare Oshiwambo traditional food because it represents where I come from.

Oshiwambo traditional food usually includes traditional chicken, omahangu porridge and evada (spinach).

What 3 things are in your bucket list?

  1. Sky diving.
  2. Drag racing.
  3. Live in another African country, which I have achieved. ( I’ve lived in South Africa and currently live in Ethiopia)

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

Black women and the MBA: What to consider

shehive london she leads africa mba

Despite the fact that rising tuition costs have led some to question the true value of an advanced business degree, the MBA remains a popular course of study. It’s certainly expensive. And the first few years out of school can be difficult as graduates look to balance budding careers with paying off student debt. But there’s little doubt that in most cases, the MBA can also help the same graduates to obtain better jobs with more satisfying career paths.

Unfortunately, however, there are still some disadvantages for women and people of colour when it comes to MBAs. Back in 2013 Lillian Lincoln Lambert, the first woman to earn an MBA at Harvard in Massachusetts, gave a speech in which she suggested that when she was in business school (in the late-’60s) people didn’t feel that black people or women should be there. In the late-’60s, this was a simple result of racism and sexism. In today’s environment those ways of thinking are less prevalent. But there is a lingering impression among many that business school is meant for white men.

And of course, this doesn’t need to be the case. And despite questions about MBA value these days as well as continued disadvantages for women and people of colour, a business degree may be more worthwhile than ever for a black woman to pursue.

Women and the MBA

The most obvious reason for women in particular to consider the MBA is that more companies are striving to facilitate equality in the workplace. And thus, women are, in some cases, in high demand. However, that merely covers the value of the degree. There’s also tremendous value in the education and experience of business school, arguably more for women more than for men.

One article a few years ago, listed reasons for women to pursue MBAs and essentially pointed out that business school offers an invaluable preview of a world typically dominated by competitive alpha males. By growing accustomed to asserting themselves in this kind of environment, women can be better prepared for a life in business.

Diversity and the MBA

Just as more companies are aiming to narrow the equality gap between how women and men are represented, many are also starting to address diversity in the workplace. Places of business are increasingly encouraged to go public with reports on diversity. And so, the need to hire candidates of different races and ethnicities has intensified.

However, a report from the US citing surveys conducted by Bloomberg indicated a problem. Diversity in the corporate world is rooted in the lack of black MBA candidates. Indeed, the same report said that in 2014 only 6% of full-time MBA candidates polled identified as black.

That means that black students, in addition to women, are “in demand,” so to speak, where business education is concerned. However, going for an MBA isn’t all about opportunism in the workplace. It’s also about pursuing a genuine jumpstart for one’s career.

A few years ago an article discussed the benefits of the MBA for nine successful black women across a range of industries. The ultimate impression was that each of them benefited greatly from higher education. The MBA may be more accessible than ever for a black woman —but more importantly, it’s also legitimately helpful.

Crafting a successful application

The fact that some business schools are more focused on admitting women and people of colour does not negate the fact that applicants still need to be qualified. And, just as importantly, be able to showcase that qualification.

Applying for business school is a major task. There’s an art to creating a successful application that goes beyond listing strong test scores or accomplishments. For the MBA and, really, post-graduate education in general, a lot of it comes down to personal expression.

One program online provides a comprehensive coaching program for MBA applicants and emphasises the importance of personal expression. That particular program helps with all aspects of applications, the testimonials. And examples regarding essay writing should help you to get a feel for how personal the process is.

Applicants need to show their passion for business, indicate their career ambitions, demonstrate their strengths, and honestly express a few weaknesses. Above all else, they need to do so in a way that stands out in a heap of similar applications! It’s a tricky endeavour, and even improving conditions for minority applicants don’t change that.

Is it worth it?

The tuition is high, the application process is difficult. Women and people of colour pursuing MBAs are knowingly walking into environments where they’re underrepresented. Yet, things are getting better in that regard.

So is it really worth it to consider an MBA in 2016? Frankly, this depends almost entirely on one’s own situation and ambitions. Finances, job prospects, and career goals all factor in, and they’re different for everybody.

What is clear, however, is that being black and a woman is no reason to avoid business school.

How to start a PhD with no money

We understand that some Motherland Moguls are working towards a career in academia. It could be because you’re looking to add Prof. before your name or you just want to further your studies. Chances are you’ve looked up the cost of studying a PhD and balked at the price tags.

Because SLA always has your back we spoke a self-funded PhD student. Oreva Olakpe is not only studying for a PhD in international law focusing on African migrations, she’s also an entrepreneur and a hustler. She’s self-funded her way through school so we knew she’d give some great tips.

Why self-fund a PhD?

Finding funds for a PhD is hard. Most of the funding out there is based on the interest of people that have the money. If they are not interested in what you are doing, there’s nothing for you. If you’re from a country that doesn’t have the money to fund research on their particular field. Don’t feel too bad though.

Well, the issue with funding is that it can suck out the creativity of your work. Especially when funders want to dictate where your research goes (and if they can, they will). When you self-fund, your research is in your control and you can go wherever you want with it.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s very difficult to be self-funded. In Oreva’s program, there’s just one other self-funded girl. And guess what, both of them are African. There’s nothing Oreva didn’t do to pay for her living costs. She says, while there is a joy in knowing that your efforts are paying for your research, it’d be wrong to glorify it.

So if you’re ready to walk down the self-funded path, be ready to do all sorts of things to make money…

Save up

First of all, don’t jump straight into your PhD from your masters. Have a year to figure out things financially. Find a 9-5 that pays well and start saving ahead of school.

“For me, I only managed to save up a bit of money. What was able to help me get through the stress was doing entrepreneurial activities.”

Apply for (small) grants

Any PhD student is familiar with the grant application process. Grants can be very competitive and the trick to get through them is to apply for many.

“I got tiny grants from different organisations as opposed to the big funding that most people get.”

Small amounts pouring in from different organisations can come up to a lot. For Oreva, grants paid for all her international flights. For her fieldwork, she spent a couple of months in China and grants paid for all that. When money comes in from different sources, you can take care of annoying things that suck up your funds without you knowing (like transport and food).

There’s no shame in applying for all the grants. Also consider applying for a scholarship. A fair warning though, there is not much out there for Africans in social sciences.

Have a support system

“The most important thing that helped in cases of emergency, was family members.”

Just because you’re self-funding doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for help when time calls for it. For Oreva, family came through when she needed her tooth removed and did not have cash at hand. Her mom and sisters are deep in the entrepreneurship vibe and this supported and inspired her hustle. Oreva credits them as her motivation to try business ideas as a source of financial and intellectual freedom. Friends came through when someone smashed her laptop screen —the most important thing for a PhD student— and she needed to repair it.

Another way family and friends pull through is with connections. If you need to do fieldwork in certain locations, they can help make things easy for you. The important thing is to have a support system, whether its your family, friends or the investment your parents put in your name.

Get your hustling gear on

Oreva has sold clothing (ankara), artwork and jewellery that paid her a lot. In addition, she does a lot of freelance writing and has worked with blogs while also writing academic articles for companies. While she lived in China, Oreva was also an IELTS tutor and French tutor.

It seems if there’s one thing self-funding a PhD will do, it’ll improve your entrepreneurial spirit. Academics are associated more with the library than the marketplace but the truth is entrepreneurship fits into any career. Academics can also be entrepreneurs.

“A lot of the African students I know are hustlers.”

In SOAS, where Oreva studies, there’s a market for students. Maybe it’s unsurprising that most of the people selling at the market are African students. Some sell jollof rice, buns and chin-chin while others sell jewellery, bags, homemade beauty products, soaps.

Find ways to cut cost

“I don’t stay in London but in my family home in Nigeria. This way I don’t have to pay that high rent.”

You don’t have to be physically present at campus for most PhD programs. To cut costs further, you may also consider studying something that relates to you or to your country. Oreva’s case study is focused on Nigeria.

Pick research topics that will be cheap for you. This way your networks will come through. For example, when you have to travel to conduct research in your home country, chances are people will be more willing to help you.

And it doesn’t have to be people you know. It can be local universities coming through because they see the value of what you’re doing.

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Lillian Achom: Using technology to revolutionise report cards in Uganda

Say yes if you recall the days of paper report cards in primary and secondary school. It may not have been a big deal to some, but to Lillian Achom the inadequate procedures of schools cost her to enter university a year late.

Information Systems was a new one for us. Yet there are even brilliant entrepreneurial ideas in the education sector. Lillian is one woman tapping into this is. Lillian is an Information Systems Professional that provides university information to students in and out of Uganda.

Tell us about your startup. What societal challenges do you hope to address with it?

Throughout my primary and high school, we used to be given hard-copy, class results to take to our parents. However, by end of the year two or even year one, there would be no records of all the previous results for comparisons with current results. As a result, it was difficult to rule out where my strengths and weaknesses were in the different subjects.

When I joined Advanced Level, at the time for applying to join university, we were given information about the available universities courses, their entry requirements among others. I was seeing these for the first time so everything looked new to me.

Besides, my performance in my subject combination at A level was way below the entry requirements I was seeing. The lack of prior knowledge of university entry requirements and poor choices I made affected my studies. I never got admitted in any university that year. However, I managed to join a tertiary institution one year later.

What I experienced years back in my high school are what the majority of students are still experiencing today.

  1. Schools use manual systems to provide information about public universities to students.
  2. Students receive hard-copy performance results. Some students make changes and provide wrong results to their parents.
  3. Very few parents are able to keep track of the student’s results slips from previous years and monitor the child’s performance as the paper reports get misplaced.
  4. Some students or parents have to travel long distances to respective universities in order to access information on admissions to universities.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information System, I had the passion to startup something and put it out there for people. The above was what motivated me to focus on building an Information and Students Performance Evaluation Tool, GradeScore.


What does GradeScore do?

GradeScore is an online platform for evaluating high school students’ performance as they work towards joining university courses of their choice. It allows easy access to crucial information about all universities in one portal. Information such as minimum entry points for each course at university and subject requirements for each course at respective university.

The platform is also aimed at providing an electronic version of students’ performance records. This is accessible privately by the student or his/her parent/guardian.

Would you say you’re fulfilling your passion?

Yes I am. To me, the input from users (teachers, students and parents) and the subscriptions are some of the indicators that there was indeed a gap and the product is much needed.

How do you go about achieving your business goals?

We involve the users, students, teachers and parents, who have greatly contributed to what the system is to-date. Also, we are in partnership with Education Secretariats who recommend our product to the schools.

One of the challenges we have experienced in schools is where the teachers in charge of career guidance feel that the project will render them jobless. We managed to bring them on board when we explained that the system is for them to use. It actually simplifies the work guidance counsellors do, the existing manual system is tedious and time consuming.

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

When I got a scholarship to upgrade my Diploma in Information Technology to BSc Computer Information Systems at Africa University, Zimbabwe.2

You mentioned you volunteer. As a volunteer, what advice will you give other young women looking to start volunteering?

Volunteering is not for people who place importance on financial gains. There are lots of passive benefits attached to it.

It should not been seen or treated as if you are doing the organization a favor. Once you commit to volunteering your service somewhere, put in your whole because you just never know who is watching.

What is your favourite life quote?

This is one of them, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your dreams. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you, too, can be great”. It’s from Mark Twain.

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

Atti Worku: I wasn’t smarter than them, I just had more opportunity

Former Miss Ethiopia and Columbia University alumni, Atti Worku started Seeds of Africa Foundation (Seeds) as an afterschool program in the backyard of her childhood home in Adama, Ethiopia. Eight years later, the program has evolved into a full-time school which serves 114 children from poor families (with plans to serve over 150 students from September). Seeds’ model is a far cry from the traditional ‘chalk and talk’ methods in most Ethiopian schools with project-based learning forming the base for all learning.

In addition, Seeds runs complementary community development programs including a microloans program for women to start or grow businesses, adult literacy training and health and gender workshops. Seeds of Africa plans to expand to a full pre-K to 12 program through its Dream School Campaign to purchase land and build a state-of-the-art education and community hub.

SLA contributor, Liz Moran, who just so happens to be the Country Director of Seeds, recently chatted with Atti about Seeds’ origins and visions for the future.

Where did the idea to start Seeds of Africa come from?

You know, in the neighborhood where I grew up, most of the kids who lived nearby went to public school. I was lucky to attend a good private school. By middle school many of my neighbors were dropping out of school. Boys would drop out and work in the informal market while girls were getting pregnant. You could see all of the issues associated with poverty.

I didn’t fully understand what it all meant at that time but as I got older I realized that I wasn’t smarter than them or anything. I just had more opportunity. Seeing these issues firsthand left a great impact. It was people I knew and grew up with and once I had that understanding I knew I wanted to do something.

You started Seeds as an after-school program which later evolved into a full-time school. When you were laying out your plans for Seeds, how did you want it to be different from other schools in Ethiopia?

When I was conceptualizing the program, I wanted to focus on quality. At that time elsewhere, there was a huge focus on numbers. The big push was to put kids in school rather than looking at what they were learning or the learning outcomes. I wanted to provide opportunity for students to reach their potential. I know this is cliché but I didn’t want kids to be limited by what was around them.

I also wanted something that focused on the whole family rather than push kids away from homes. I knew I didn’t want a boarding school. Finally, I wanted to create a place where both boys and girls got the opportunity to learn together. We definitely need a push for girls’ education but I also believe that if boys and girls are in same space and learn to collaborate as children they can work better together as adults.


I know that you recently returned to Ethiopia after several years abroad. How did it feel coming back and what changes have you seen in the country?

The population growth is intense. You read about it but then in person you are confronted and think, “Holy cow, that is a lot of people!” The difficult thing is that the poverty is still there. The economy is growing but the population is growing even faster.

On the positive side, the infrastructure has really improved which is necessary for development. Mostly, I was struck by how a lot of younger people are working now. People are very entrepreneurial. Growing up there was always a sense that people had lost hope. It just seemed insurmountable. People didn’t know where to start so they didn’t. I loved seeing the hustle of so many people –especially women– going to work in the mornings.

With Seeds, seeing everything after so many years was really incredible. The kids are unbelievable. They are so smart, and inquisitive; so confident! When you think of the backgrounds they come from it is really a testament to the work of our team. They really understand why this work is important and treat the kids with a lot of love and respect.

I also loved seeing the women whose businesses our microloans program has helped start or expand. It is actually changing the quality of people’s lives.

I know this is probably hard but if you had to pick a favorite moment from your trip to Adama what would that be?

So many but I really loved break time when the kids would all be jumping around. Everyday, I was secretly waiting until they’d come out of class. For me to be able to play the games I played when I was a kid with them was really great! I was also really touched when the mothers organized a coffee ceremony for me. They took initiative on their own.

Oftentimes people think that if you’re poor, you’re helpless but that could not be further from the truth. They made that very clear when they collected their own money to have a get together and talked about wanting to give back to Seeds and contribute. They would say, ‘Tell us what more we can do.’ I really appreciated that!

atti and students

Looking towards the future, tell me a bit about the Dream School Campaign and Seeds’ plans for expansion.

Currently, we have been renting facilities for our current campuses which is difficult. I believe that environment is a big part of learning. If you learn in a well-designed environment, you learn better and, more importantly, you see what is possible. I want to build something that our students and the community are proud of. In addition, the new facility will not only be a school but also a space that the community can take advantage of.

We want to create a hub for other organizations to provide service and collaborate. We want to create the first public library in Adama and establish a model of how to build sustainably using recycled and indigenous materials that meet the standard of a quality school anywhere in the world. Right now, we are in process of acquiring land and the initial stages of the design process. It is a big project but we are hoping to open the first phase by 2018/2019.

Seeds is a women’s run organization. Was this an intentional decision or did it happen organically?

To be honest, it organically happened that way. In the beginning on the US side, we were all volunteers and as a lot of data shows, women are more likely to volunteer than men. Once we started growing (and paying staff), I interviewed a mix of men and women but mostly I’ve found that the best candidates happen to be women, which is even better!

Now I’m happy that we can show that it is possible to be a woman and run something and succeed doing what you love. We have seen many unintended positive impacts of having a female-led team.

What has been the greatest challenge with establishing a non-profit in Ethiopia?

That’s a sensitive question! Things move a lot slower. That is the biggest challenge about working in Ethiopia generally.

atti and her mother

What I think is even more impressive is that you started Seeds as a full-time student. How did you manage this?

Thank you! I actually started Seeds before when I was modeling but then I became a full-time student just a year later so I honestly don’t know how I managed it! It required extreme organization and time management. I literally had my schedule for everyday from when I would wake up to when I would go to sleep, seven days a week on a spreadsheet. And I had to follow it.

When you don’t have a lot of time, you are forced to work more efficiently. Sometimes I had to answer work emails while sitting in class, or miss social things at school in order to attend work events. It was difficult but I enjoyed it. I thrive under stress.

What else do you see in the pipeline for yourself?

Personally, I want to do more writing. I have been writing for Huffington Post and I want to expand on that. I am also applying for some leadership fellowships and have started to look into how I can be involved with economic development work in Africa.

What advice would you have for a woman who wants to start her own organization or company?

If you know it’s something you want to do, just get started. Starting is the most difficult thing. Then stay focused on the long term. It is stressful and difficult in the short term and there are a lot of sacrifices you have to make, financially (especially at the beginning). Also ask for advice by those who have done something similar before.

Some people might tell you it’s too hard to do but trust your instinct and the research you have done (make sure you have done enough research to understand the marketplace for whatever you are working on before you start). It’s not an easy road but it is one of the most fulfilling experiences because even if your venture doesn’t succeed you gain experience and expertise that make you a more valuable asset to others. If you fail, try again. Never give up, ever!

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

Dzivhu Precious Tshiwalule: I know and understand my own purpose

Dzivhu Precious Tshiwalule

Dzivhu Precious Tshiwalule, a Dietician and co-founder of UPower Africa is one woman who makes being a superwoman seem easy. She attributes her balance in life to knowing and understanding her life’s purpose. As a wife and professional, she refuses to be limited by just her talent but strives to break new grounds.

She is also the author of an informative book on eating right, ”Shaping your Attitude towards Healthy Eating.” Lerato Motshana, our SLA contributor had the chance to talk with this awesome and passionate woman.

Tell us about UPower Africa

UPower Africa is a youth development initiative focused on developing disadvantaged students, especially in remote rural areas. We help them gain access to basic information and education.

So far, we have branches in Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Zambia. And in South Africa, every province has a UPower Africa manager.

How did you become a part of UPower Africa?

Co-incidentally, my husband is the founder of UPower while I am the co-founder. My husband grew up in poverty and so naturally, he feels obliged to help kids in rural areas who are going through what he had experienced first-hand.

Aside being a co-founder, what are your other roles in UPower Africa?

In addition to being a co-founder, I am also a member on the UPower Africa board.  We are currently involved in a couple of projects, but I’ll mention a few. We donate computers, school shoes, online university applications and motivation to students in schools. I oversee these projects, liaise with provincial managers, and provide assistance where necessary.

20160803_075628-1_resizedUPower Africa is not a typical NPO. How were you able to achieve that?

I am inspired by the evident success and progression of those we’ve been able to help and motivate. Meanwhile, UPower Africa is just three years old but we’ve recorded successes in helping people get into universities.

Let’s talk about your book, what’s it about?

I wrote a book titled “Shaping your Attitude towards Healthy Eating”, and it extensively addresses the attendant health consequences of not eating right.

The book is significant to me because as a first-year student in 2005, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. As a Dietician and from the knowledge gathered, eating right contributes so much to good health. I never got to know the cause of the tumour but through research, I have come to believe there was a link to the kind of food I ate.

So, I decided to write a book, highlighting the importance of healthy eating and how to keep chronic health conditions like cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetics at bay.

Is healthy eating the ultimate solution to chronic health conditions?

Evidently, food plays a huge factor but there are other factors like smoking and so on.

Let’s move on to less serious stuff. What do you do for fun?

I am usually so busy and actually don’t relax much. I do a lot of seminars on purpose discovery and the like. I am also involved in a lot of church activities, indoor exercises, and travelling. Obviously, I don’t engage in a lot of what people qualify as fun.

UPower Africa, book-writing, being a Dietician, a mother, how are you inspired?

I am excited and driven by my life experiences and the need to be of help to the next person.

What would you say to an African young woman who views marriage as the ultimate life goal?

Marriage can be beautiful if you are married to the right partner.  My husband and I enjoy a unity of focus and that has helped our marriage. Notwithstanding, I don’t believe marriage is the ultimate life goal. A purpose-driven life should be the goal for everyone, man or woman.

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

So, you want to start a career in education

When I was younger, the word education for me meant receiving instruction and strict teachers who I call, ‘madams’. In my naïve little world then, I equated education to the tutelage received from angry looking madams that always dressed appropriately. It was these madams that instilled the pride associated with accomplishing basic goals in reading and writing in us. They were the women who allowed us to proceed through the next grade, form and eventually to college.

With time, I realised that lessons from the madams was just one aspect of education. There are also policy makers, administrators, researchers, project analysts, area experts and numerous education development practitioners at different levels. These experts work towards collectively improving the quality of teaching and learning in any system.

The process that leads many to the teaching vocation is pretty clear and straightforward to some. However, having realised the versatility of the sector, I concluded that there was no one formula to getting ahead in education. Rather, there are certain basic principles that you need to follow to launch and maintain a successful career in education.

Passion is half the battle won

I am a strong believer of the mantra, “passion is half the battle won”. When you are hungry and starving for a specific goal, you are more likely to be successful. When you have the drive to achieve something, you will chase after the best results. You won’t rest until you have left your mark in your specific area of interest.

Start with the basics

Basic education in your area of choice is the much needed support structure to quickly launch your career in education. Many people go for any first degree and then struggle towards getting employed after. Don’t be one of them. You should carefully choose what course to enroll in at uni considering the area you’d like to be an expert in.

While receiving basic instruction in your field of interest, you will learn the theoretical aspects of your trade. This will be what you put into practice once employed. Volunteering as a student also allows you to put into practice what you’ve learned at university and to start creating a name for yourself in your industry.

Write academic papers

Researching and writing academic papers on your subjects of choice is what will turn you into a specialist. While everyone has an opinion on educational topics, it takes a well recognised author, who has done the research (be it primary or secondary) on specific aspects, and produced papers with demonstrated and verifiable results to be taken seriously.

It is the specialists that get to influence the decisions of policy makers and development agendas. They are also the ones who guide the way other academics think and move in the education sector.

Be dynamic

As the world is dynamic and constantly changing, any career path has to be similarly open to change. It is key to keep up with innovations in the education sector so as to remain relevant. For example, the increasing use of the internet to disseminate information on subjects should be taken into account for career development. Online courses make it easier for students to familiarize with their field of choice and areas of growth and opportunity. This can be employed by educators to spice up their trade.

Nok Nora Duany Bassey & Aprelle Duany: We wanted South Sudanese children to access education

nok duany bassey aprelle duany tasoos

South Sudan is the world’s youngest country. Despite the ongoing conflict, it’s status provides many opportunities for business. Sister-in-laws Nok Nora Duany Bassey and Aprelle Duany joined forces to create The American School of South Sudan (TASOSS) in order to provide much needed high quality early childhood education. Nok’s background is in finance and Aprelle is a fashion designer but both wanted the best for their native and adopted homeland. Below the founders share their greatest challenges, hopes and advice for creating a business in the midst of conflict.

Liz: Nok, can you tell me a little about how you came to leave South Sudan and live in the US?

Nok: We left South Sudan immediately after the civil war started and came to Bloomington, Indiana where my parents were graduate students at the time. Even during that period, my parents remained really connected to the conflict and worked on the peace process. My dad used to spend six months in Kenya or wherever he could in the bush in South Sudan and then six months in the US to check on the family. I had three brothers and a sister so there were five of us with my mother. She did a lot of advocacy work with churches from the US but there was always a narrative in the household that, “When there is peace we will go home.” And that narrative stuck.

So literally when peace came in 2005 after the CPA was signed, I went back after 21 years of being away. My father was already in Juba and we first went to the North, to Khartoum. I remember thinking, “Why haven’t I been here?” A Sudanese classmate from Georgetown was showing me around and everything was so developed. We spent Christmas there and I flew to Juba in time for New Year’s and when I arrived there was completely nothing. I remember getting into the back of a truck to go to my childhood home where I was born. There were no roads. Everything was still under construction.

My father had been there for a week and was working to set everything up but it had been abandoned for twenty years. When he came back home they had a found a corpse there and many dead animals. Coming back, I remember this feeling of excitement but also of anger. I thought to myself that I would never go back to the North until I had played some part in developing South Sudan. Coming back forever changed me. I finished my graduate studies in 2006 and moved back to South Sudan permanently.

Liz: How was the transition moving back?

Nok: Of course it was difficult but it was such a mix of emotions. There was a lot of excitement. So many South Sudanese were moving back after a long time. Over 4 million people were displaced during the war so there was an influx of different South Sudanese from all over the world. Everyone was so encouraged and inspired. I remember drums beating at nights and elders telling stories. People were finally moving freely and everyone was happy. My mom would say, “This really is what peace is: freedom.”

We were all building things from scratch and anything that you wanted to do in South Sudan was possible.  My father would tell me, “If you miss something you had in the US ,build it here.” I was so inspired and encouraged seeing the work being done for us to have our own country. Of course it was also a big culture shock and it took time and patience to take everything in.

2Liz: What about you Aprelle? How was it for you moving to Juba?

Aprelle: Moving to South Sudan was a difficult transition for me.  I left my family and comforts of New York City to support my husband, who like his sister Nok, wanted an opportunity to redevelop his home country.  As a new wife and mom, there were many cultural differences that I was not expecting.

In addition to the lack of development and language barriers, the environment was difficult to ease into.  Overtime, I began to meet new people and gain a better understanding of why South Sudan faced generations of challenges, which held the country back.  South Sudan was not an easy place to thrive, but everyday I would meet people who were so passionate about changing the country into a place where they could call home, it was inspiring.  At that time, I also began to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of life and I began to explore areas where I could also contribute.

Liz: So once you were based in Juba, how did the idea to create a school come about?

Aprelle: The school was inspired by my daughter Jinai.  The idea became actualized over lunch with Nok, myself, and a few friends. Children in Juba were often isolated in their compounds without an opportunity to engage with other children, which is key to healthy childhood development.  One of the things that I wanted for my daughter was a sense of community where she could play and learn.  Additionally, Nok and I both benefited from education in our lives from a young age and we wanted to create opportunities for young South Sudanese children to access education.

Nok: Yes, oftentimes, people were sending their kids to Kenya or Uganda for school. Young women like myself left kids with their grandparents in other countries. It was heartbreaking. We finally had peace and families were being split again after so many years of being unstable. There were not many schools to support kids in Juba.

We initially decided to start a nursery school because Jinai needed one. We started with one classroom and one student. The first day we held an Open House and a few people passed through but Jinai was the only student enrolled for the first two weeks. So everyone was looking over Jinai saying, “Oh, she’s coloring! She knows the ABCs….” Eventually we got more students enrolled and had a full class and a waiting list.

My background is in finance and Aprelle is a designer so it has been a learning process. But we’ve always had a lot of passion and it has been helpful to start small and learn along the way.

Liz: Aside from not coming from an education background, what have been some of the greatest challenges building a business in Juba?

Aprelle: There were many challenges. I think even with an education background, we would have still run into many hurdles.  You have to remember, South Sudan is the newest country on Earth, less than 5 years old at the time.  We didn’t have an education system, curriculum, or guidelines to follow, so we had to make it up as we went along.  We had to pay attention to what was working and what was not working in terms of building relationships with parents, training teachers, and gauging how much the students were growing.  It was a difficult task as we were basically pioneering the space but we had a lot of passion that helped us along.

Nok: In addition, when we started this we knew that we really needed to get it right. When we just had nursery level it was easier to say that we could build the foundation, but then as the students grow we really realized that we can’t mess up. Education is so important to the development of South Sudan so it was nerve-wracking. We knew we needed the right support and people who are skilled in educational development to get involved.

We knew we needed the right teachers, but the retention of these teachers has been a huge challenge because of the instability of the environment. Teachers often leave without much notice and really good teachers have been nervous about living in South Sudan. Another challenge has been learning the terrain and the culture and how business works here. Things like getting proper registration and licensing take time and can be quite costly. Once we got the technical stuff out of the way the main challenges were convincing people that investing in early childhood education and in getting girls in school are important. When we started, many people were asking, “Why work with this age?”

Ideas about girls’ education not being valued are not just present in rural areas but also in Juba. Families believe there is no immediate benefit to have daughters in school, but we know how investing in girls can change communities.