Ntombizodwa Sibanda: Contentment is the realisation of how much you already have

Ntombizodwa Sibanda
Our ultimate goal is to holistically fulfil our guests @ZoeOmza co-founder of @TheHighTeaZA Click To Tweet

Ntombizodwa Sibanda and Bonnie Chimanikire recently hosted a successful high tea event in Harare, Zimbabwe. The High Tea concept is an initiative that was co-founded by the two ladies, Ntombizodwa and Bonnie. They wanted the event to be an afternoon of encouragement, pampering and positive interaction for women.

SLA contributor Makhosazana Ndlovu recently caught up with Ntombizodwa to learn more about the concept and discover their secrets to running a successful event.

What inspired you to start The High Tea initiative?

My partner, Bonnie and I had successfully run a campaign to assist displaced xenophobic victims in the Germiston area. After the campaign, Bonnie approached me about her vision to host a women-focused event.

We agreed that we wanted the event not only to be informative, but to be an afternoon of encouragement, pampering, and positive interaction of women, which is contrary to the general negative narrative of the interaction of women.

Empowerment, fashion, food. Why these themes specifically?

Our ultimate goal is to holistically fulfil our guests. Our guests are encouraged to dress to the nines, we ensure that our menu and refreshments are fit for the palate of queens and carefully select our speakers with a simple mandate to encourage our women. No woman can ever get enough of these themes.

How did you deal with the challenges that you faced when you first introduced the initiative?

Determination: We knew what we wanted. We knew what had to be done to achieve it, and we set out to do it. Most importantly, we were prepared for the worst; which was very low numbers. But we knew that if we succeeded in executing the first one, we would have the most effective publicity (word of mouth) going forward.

Support structure: We had friends and family who stood by us and gave us the necessary support and advice we needed.

Prayer: Some situations were beyond us. Those are the ones we left to God to handle. And He pulled through for us… a lot of fasting and prayer comes into every edition of The High Tea.

We knew what we wanted. We knew what had to be done to achieve it, and we set out to do it Click To Tweet

Who do you work with to ensure that The High Tea events are a success?

When we started, it was just Bonnie and I. However, as the vision grew, so did the need to incorporate much-needed help. The core team has grown by an extra four members, namely, Pam, Zihlobo, Gugu, and Sidumisile.

We also have a large network of successful women who are originally from Zimbabwe but are resident in South Africa. They are affectionately known as the SQUAD and we rely on them for valuable advice and direction. I could never forget our friends and families who have all played various roles in assisting us to meet our goals.

What impact does the events have on African women?

The event is not limited to Zimbabwean women but attracts women from various African countries. This is also evident in our diverse speakers. We aim to encourage inter-dependence amongst African women. Our struggles are, after all similar, regardless of our different countries. This means that viable solutions can be found in positive interaction with each other.

We aim to encourage inter-dependence amongst African women @TheHighTeaZA Click To Tweet

What are your words of advice to young women who would like to start initiatives such as The High Tea?

Regardless of how many times you have seen something being done, no one can ever do it like you.

Identify your target market, identify a mentor, identify what and whom you will need to assist in bringing your vision to life, stalk them. It is possible.

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

Aisha Akiti: Your hard work can put you anywhere in the world

The best way you can predict your future is to create it - Aisha Akiti Click To Tweet

Meet Aisha Akiti, CEO of  Missashleybakes and Eventbyashley, a baking and events planning company. This business was founded a year ago after graduating from her degree. Being a mother of two kids there was no luck finding a job so Aisha decided to create one for herself.

In fact, by the age of 10, Aisha was already selling candy, biscuits and doughnuts to her family and friends. Aisha’s favourite part of the business is that she is able to put her passion into reality. She also loves the daily interaction with clients as she helps them choose cakes and styles that match their personalities with the event.

The bubbly entrepreneur from Tema, Greater Accra region of Ghana says even though she has had her business for a year she is still excited about it. We interviewed Aisha Akiti and here is what she had to say….

What do you bring into baking and styling that makes your business unique?

I provide each client with signature designs and taste, I also treat clients like friends and let them get to know me.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

My greatest achievement so far is that I’m able to create a job for myself. After graduating from university, I had no hope finding a good job.

In addition, I am proud of the fact that I’m able to provide short-term job opportunities to other young people as and when my business allows.

How do you plan on taking your business to the next level?

I intend to take my business to the next level by introducing new products and services and hiring a social media manager to build my online reputation and engaging customers.

Getting a mentor, someone who’s been there, done that and learned lessons the hard way is indispensable. Also important is having a good team, providing them with good working environment and training. I believe when the people around you improve, your business will improve.

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What four qualities do you think every young entrepreneur in your industry should have?

I believe every young entrepreneur in my industry must possess these qualities:

  • Passion and leadership skills: Your passion will drive you to turn your ideas into reality.
  • Good numerical skills: You will need to measure ingredients and other basic items.
  • Creativity: Anyone can bake but to stand out from your competition the element of creativity is necessary. With creativity, you’re able to offer something different from the crowd.
  • You must be able to work under pressure. Baking is a lot about timing and it’s important to grasp the right time that may cause unnecessary stress. You’ll also need the ability to face the immense amount of stress when the end product does not turn out as expected.
  • Teamwork is also extremely important in a kitchen. You need to be able to work with other people to make beautiful creations on a large scale.

What has been your overall experience in this industry?

My overall experience in this industry is that the best people, no matter who they are, who they know or where they are on the ladder can succeed with their work being recognised.

Your hard work can put you anywhere in the world. Fear must be removed and you must focus on getting to where you want to be as fast as possible.

No matter who you are, you can succeed with your work being recognised Click To Tweet

If it takes one skill to be the best, what skill would you choose? Why?

I would choose communication skills because having a good ability to communicate will help you to build up relationships, present ideas and most importantly make you a better leader.

With good communication skills, you will be confident to talk and present your thoughts in public thus boosting your chances of success when you have to negotiate or persuade a client. A good leader is not the most intelligent one but the one who can inspire everybody the most. And how can you motivate people around you? Mostly using your words by communicating with them.                                      15801906_1903469049876219_6773135323820982272_n

What do you think other young women can learn from your start-up story?

Young women can benefit from my start-up story knowing that in life you don’t have to depend on anyone, you can create your future.

The best way you can predict your future is to create it. You are your own boss knowing how to bake, design and style an event with confidence, you can be anything you desire with hard work and determination.

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

Yoadan Tilahun: Nothing gives more credibility than the quality of your work

yoadan tilahun flawless

So many of us dream of turning our side hustles into main ones. Few of us do but Yoadan Tilahun is one of the few who’s managed to succeed. Yoadan founded Flawless Events while working full time in corporate trade in the Washington, DC area.

Flawless designs and produces corporate events, brand activations, international conferences and trade fairs on behalf of its clients in a number of industries. These include Coca Cola, Google, World Economic Forum, Africa Leadership Network among many others.

Yoadan moved Flawless to her home city, Addis Ababa in 2008, where it has been flourishing since. Heran Abate, SLA contributor, spoke to Yoadan whose career decisions and approach to life demonstrate a calm boldness that exemplifies the #MotherlandMogul.

Having worked in corporate trade, why did you decide to start an event management company?

It started as a side gig, actually. I was looking for an additional source of income to supplement my day job. Around that same time, the events I was attending were quite unorganized —so I leveraged my existing network and tried my hand at it.

But from the beginning, there was no two ways about it. The very first event sparked this exhilaration in me —from brainstorming initial designs to realizing the finest details, I was hooked!

To this day, there’s nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of being in perfect sync with my team. Especially when months of planning and toil pay off and an event falls seamlessly into place before our eyes.


It sounds like it was going well in the US, what prompted the re-location of the business to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia?

Ethiopia has long been a center for African intergovernmental affairs, being the seat of the African Union and the Economic Council for Africa. So, there were already many international conferences going on.

Particularly around the Ethiopian millennium (September 2008 —we follow a different calendar), there were a number of grand initiatives to broadly expand Addis Ababa’s infrastructure and create larger FDI (foreign direct investment) opportunities. This meant an increase in modern facilities, roads and an influx of investors who were looking to tap into networks and opportunities.

That was the market gap Flawless came to Ethiopia to fill.

Would you say this re-location was the turning point for the company?

Yes and no. While it was good timing, the hard work ahead was in building the momentum. We had to adapt to new regulatory frameworks, re-adjust to an entirely different set of clients. And also build relationships with vendors from the ground up.

Like any start-up, the initial stages were crucial. You have to be tireless and tactful in pursuing new clients, being a step ahead of their needs. Until you build a reputation for over-delivering in (seemingly) effortless fashion.

That sounds like there’s more good advice where that came from for our readers, could you elaborate?

Certainly. To put it simply, nothing gives you more credibility than the quality of your work itself.

No amount of advertising can make up for a poorly managed event. It was through happy clients’ referrals that we were able to get some of our highest profile and exciting events.


So what makes for a flawless event? What else helped you establish a compelling brand and reputation?

Clear process and production, the two are different but both critical. The first requires top-down strategy to tackle the separate pieces of the whole. It also entails investing time in creative output and designs to personalize the event then tireless follow-up.

As the event nears, we burn the midnight oil, making sure there are no loose ends affecting back up plans and that we are in constant readiness for crisis —this is inevitable. Our clients rely on us to trouble-shoot and problem-solve on the spot —a late visa, equipment held up at customs etc.

Are the majority of your clients international? What industries do you serve?

About two-thirds of our clients are international. We mostly do corporate events, international conferences in trade and investment, development as well.

We have held events that companies used as entry platforms into the Ethiopian market —Google’s first event for example. We’ve set up high-level meetings for finance entities who don’t have contacts in the country.

Most recently, we organized an event in which Ethiopian Airlines celebrated its newest plane acquisition by setting a Guinness World Record for the largest human formation of an airplane. That was fun!


How do you nab these high-profile events?

We are tireless in building and sustaining relationships both locally and internationally. We are the only private-sector members of the International Congress & Convention Association. We are close partners with professional networks in Africa including African Leadership Network (we’ve hosted their event in Kigali and Addis) as well as Extensia —a continental group of high-level professionals in ICT.

On the ground, we have excellent working relationships with hotels, government offices as well as previous clients. This gives us a lot of leverage to flexibly offer our clients a whole buffet of options.

Your increasing influence sounds like a direct result from the events you have previously organized.


Our influence is built on opportunities born out of our previous work and our growing network, clients calling us back to take on new events or referring us to contacts in new industries.


You were very recently selected among 30 women entrepreneurs to take part in the Graça Machel Fund’s Woman Advancing Africa. What was the goal of this forum? What are the implications for Flawless?

I’m honored to have been selected. Graça Machel is a Mozambican humanitarian and also the widow of Nelson Mandela. This forum is a platform for African women entrepreneurs to leverage their capacity and networks to influence the economic trajectory of the continent.

It’s because of the integrity of the work that our client’s have attested to that we are invited to take part in larger conversations about entrepreneurship, economic growth. In Ethiopia as well, we are now well-positioned to take initiative in expanding the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events) industry to a new level.

We have found our own means of being part of Africa’s growth story.

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

Lulu Mutsikira: My opportunity came from my frustration

As a person who believes in following their dreams, you can only imagine how much it excites and inspires me, when I see someone I know personally, do exactly that. Following her dreams fully and wholeheartedly and succeeding at it!

Lulu Mutsikira, founder of Nama Saya, who can be contacted via email, began her company when she left the corporate life, in pursuit of her passion. Nama Saya is an event styling and interior decor company. The multi-faceted boutique agency specialises in full-service design and planning of interior & event spaces.

When I bumped into Lulu in a car park, as she was leaving a client’s apartment, we had the best catch-up in her car. We discussed the rise of local designs in South Africa, incorporating heritage into everyday living spaces, starting a new business venture and juggling being a family woman and an entrepreneur.

Event styling is not a term I’ve come across before, please tell me a little more about it.

The event styling business was born from frustration at the event industry when I was planning my wedding. I was struggling to find exactly what I wanted in one place, and the cost of sourcing from multiple suppliers just wasn’t worth it.

So, I decided to buy everything for my big day myself with the long term ambition being to then go into a hiring-out style business part time. The styling bug hit hard and I became addicted to making tables beautiful. I no longer wanted to just hire-out, but wanted to be there from beginning to end, to ensure a holistic and connected event was achieved.

While the wedding was a catalyst, I had been saying I will do this kind of thing for years. The interior decor story is a similar one, I have always loved making interior spaces pretty and my first flat was such a project. I was so happy with the final result, and so was everyone else surprisingly, so I knew there was something there. Then right after my wedding, a friend asked me to do her boyfriend’s home, and that he would pay —I did it and loved it and that was that, I was sold.

I can imagine that must have been very exciting, and the start of a new business venture?

A few happy clients later and a course in interior design, it’s the thriving part of Nama Saya. What really cemented Nama Saya as a business idea for me is the realisation that so many people are hungry for someone to take away the stress of “creativity” from them.

While many may view this kind of career path as easy, it certainly isn’t —constantly thinking up fresh ways to reinvent ultimately the same thing, is work and you either have it or you don’t.

What’s encouraging, especially from the interior space, is that people are really starting to recognise that and are willing to pay for the service of having a professional eye reinvent their home.

Nama Saya 4As it is known, “customers are the lifeblood” of any business. Who would you say is your clientele?

Surprisingly I don’t have a specific type of client. I have individuals from all walks of life. The events clientele is mostly couples looking to tie the knot and needing some help with the creative direction of their big day. Most have a colour in mind but not much else, so it’s up to me to put the pieces together.

The home clientele vary from just out of varsity individuals who want to spruce up their spaces, to wealthy business people who are building a home, the spectrum is very wide.

So on top of being your own boss, you’re a wife and a mother, how do you juggle family life and being an entrepreneur?

I don’t! Seriously though, it’s an incredible struggle and it takes a lot of work and understanding from your family.

Luckily my husband is on a similar journey so he understands 150% that right now, I am building and that will take time. The long term ambition is definitely to strike that balance, but right now, I would be lying if I said I have it all figured out. Let me know when you catch wind of the secret.

I’ll be sure to do so. So with various projects and an array of clients, which project has been your most exciting thus far?

You know, every project fills me with excitement, perhaps because I am still growing.

They are a God-send; I treat every single event or home installation with as much excitement as the next. I am currently working on a huge home project that makes me both sick to my stomach with nerves and giggly with excitement!
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With South Africa taking an interest local design, fashion, music, experiences and everything in between, what would you say is trending in terms of design? What local styles, trends and brands, give a space that truly South Africans feel?

Local has always been lekker! It’s about time we caught the train that has long been on the move, there are so many local designers doing amazing things for the industry.

From an interior perspective, it’s not so much a particular brand, but rather the African influence used subtly to make a true statement in the home. I recently did a home installation where the client asked me to use Sesotho blankets as upholstery for her headboard —the result was magnificent and really so reminiscent of true pride in the heritage of our county.

Wow, that sounds really beautiful. People actually wanting to incorporate their heritage into their everyday living spaces – would you say that this is a growing trend?

I am finding out that individuals are starting to really insist on a space in their homes that reflects them from a heritage perspective; it is really very exciting to see.

We are very blessed in SA to have traditional ceremonies as part of our wedding process. What a complete feast for the eyes, from the bridal fashion, to center-pieces to floral selections, you see some amazing local designs come through. The local influence is no longer rudimentary but planners and stylists are really pushing themselves to create amazing things, very refreshing!

Nama Saya 5What does the rest of 2016 have in store for you?

Nama Saya must start seeing real traction and penetration in the market. The foundation is being laid and we really want to get all the proverbial ducks in a row so that we can really maintain sustainable growth.

There are a million companies doing what we do, the real differentiator is how we go about creating that experience, the back-end is a critical piece to that.

So for me 2016 speaks to foundation and growth!

Lastly, for the woman who is sitting at her desk, being inspired by you to follow in your footsteps and take on entrepreneurship, what advice do you have for her?

Plan! So, so critical! This journey isn’t easy. In fact, from day 1, you will realise there are about five million factors you didn’t take into consideration, and that’s fine. The journey is one of learning, but if you can avoid some start-up pitfalls, definitely do. Other really important aspects are;

  • Your already existing network as a starting point.
  • Your friends are your friends because they are your biggest hype men; let them be your first level sales agents.
  • Networking, your business will not grow if you don’t go out there and tell people it exists. Use social media.
  • Networking events are also critical to get word out for your business.
  • Don’t be afraid to share your small wins, and even your falls —strategically though! (You don’t want potential clients to know that your wall fell! *laughs*). People love to feel like a part of a journey.

We want to know what amazing things women are doing in your communities. Tell us about them here!


How to succeed as an event planner

So, you’ve set up your events planning company but have hit a few snags along the way. You thought everything was in order and progressing well and aren’t sure why you’re not as successful as you projected. Don’t panic yet. Shit happens, don’t let that stop you from achieving your dreams though we’ve got your back. Here are some tips that’ll help you towards becoming the badass events planner you’ve always wanted to be.

Be good at managing

The first step in managing starts with you. It’s very easy to feel like you have wasted a whole day doing nothing when you haven’t properly managed your time. Once you’ve mastered the ability to coordinate yourself and work efficiently, you’ll find that you’re achieving more.

Next, look at your team. How are you coordinating them? Are roles clearly defined? Are deliverables clearly set so your team is doing what they are supposed to? If not, time to step up your game. You’re the leader here, guide your team and lead them to success.

Be resourceful

Resourceful here means being creative when facing any problems. As an events planner you will undoubtedly face random problems that can emerge during events. If the electricity doesn’t trip up, there’s a toddler throwing a tantrum while someone is trying to give a speech. You need to sit yourself down for a one-to-one.

How effective are you at thinking on your feet and using your gifts to problem-solve? To win you must be able to remain calm while the world burns around you. When something doesn’t go your way, think quick and sort things out resourcefully.

Be good at communicating

This is linked to teamwork as your team is integral to your success. Make sure your team is clear on your ideas and your vision. When communicating with your team, be respectful to everyone regardless of their role. Speak the same way to your decorators as you will to the catering team. When anyone on your team offers suggestion, listen.

Accept criticism when necessary and be open to their ideas. Your team should run like a well-oiled machine. Every single person has their part to play in running an event smoothly.


Be best friends with your vendors

As an events planner, the most important relationships you’ll have outside your team is with your vendors. Vendors come in different flavours, they are the ones that make your events run without a hitch. The caterers, the rental companies, the hotels, the music band…maintain a good relationship with them.

Study your vendors, learn about them by conducting interviews (formal or informal). When you have an established relationship with them, you stand a better chance at getting the discounts you ask for. Once your vendors become your bffs you’ll be able to reap rewards. They may even refer clients to you.

Be mindful of your clients

There is no set formula to ensure that all your clients are happy and content. The first step to growing your niche of customers who will always use your services and refer you to others is to do right in whatever you do.

Listen to what your clients want and uncover their hidden needs. Then when you are creating their events, add that unique touch that only you can bring. This will make you stand out and is another step to achieving the success you deserve.

Be passionate

Remember the passion that you had when you started out as an events planner? Don’t lose it. Keep that passion burning. It should be the fire that never goes out. Passion for what you do will get you through any rough patches that you may encounter.

Passion will also make it easier to run your business day-to-day. When you need to crack your whip to get things done, it’s your passion that’ll drive you.