The Queen of Representation – From Botswana to the world

“The A-Girls are exceptional, black vinyl dolls that appreciate the African girl of today, with all her versatility and diversity”.

Dolls are part of a girl’s introduction to what is considered ‘beautiful’. According to Bakani, creating the brand was essential in order to excavate and resuscitate what African beauty is. 

Until August 2016, Bakani July Johnson was a Lecturer at the University of Botswana (UB) in the Social Work Department. She holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work and has worked intensively in the psychosocial field since 2004, gaining experience with Botswana Baylor Children’s Clinic as a social welfare case manager.

Prior to that, she worked with the Government of Botswana as a Social Welfare officer. After years of ideating, planning and testing, Bakani left the UB and started her doll-making business.

Bakani is a social entrepreneur and is constantly looking for ways to enhance the lives of others.

She is also a founding trustee of Musani Family Care Foundation, an organization that focusses on the restoration of Botswana’s family unit, and offers accommodation to families in transition, mostly caregivers of hospitalized patients who come from far off villages.

Musani Family Care Foundation seeks to bridge the gap by providing temporary housing and support for these families who need it most, at no cost. 

Connect with Bakani and her business on social media.


Why it is important for me to make the dolls…

I have always loved children. I am forever looking for ways to enhance their wellbeing and this led to the realization that there were no black dolls to use during clinical sessions with my little patients.

As a social worker, dolls are some of the symbolic tools used for communication during sessions. However, more often than not, the dolls that were donated looked nothing like the children I worked with.

This became a query, to manufactures and it was not a pretty feeling as it was seen from the point of exclusion. 

I realized that I could continue with the feeling of being ‘left out’ as a black African girl, or I could do something about it.  The research allowed me to see that I, and others like me, were never a concern for doll-makers; they had their own market and concerns.

Whatever I could find was by sheer luck.  I refused to use divisive story-telling or to accept that it was ‘someone else’s fault’ that as Batswana – and Africans – we don’t have black dolls.

The more I searched, the more I was challenged to create the doll I was looking for. I worked from thought to product, beginning in 2007.

The effect representation has on young Batswana /African girls…

We have for the longest time been portrayed as ugly, and not a representation of beauty.

If you research dolls throughout history, you will not like what you see. We have been ‘caricatured’ through the years and our features ridiculed. Our natural hair is still a full-on debate today.

With the dolls, I am simply excavating and resuscitating a black girl’s beauty.

The idea of the @AGirls15 dolls was to trigger an emotional response and to ensure that we put African girls faces on beauty, with a clear understanding that it is our responsibility to raise a new, confident African girl. – Bakani… Click To Tweet

The idea of the dolls was to trigger an emotional response and to ensure that we put African girls faces on beauty, with a clear understanding that it is our responsibility to raise a new, confident African girl. 

The development of The African Girls Dolls is a winning communication tool targeting children.

These are one-of-a-kind vinyl dolls that appreciate the diversity of African girls and were created with the realization of a lack of representation both commercially and in messaging for African children.

Most props and toys used are of girls and boys are not of African descent. Through the African girls’ collection, I am constantly helping organizations to create a unique language of truths, trust, and symbols as part of visual storytelling and visual messaging.

I understand that symbolically, images help us to understand abstract concepts that cannot always be translated into words and dolls have throughout history been symbols to communicate, appreciate and represent.

Dolls are part of a girl’s introduction to what is considered ‘beautiful’, and speaking to that aspect we want to be able to say ‘she is so pretty, just like a doll’ – and actually talk about a doll that looks like her. 

Children are visual beings. They connect to things visually and will remember things seen more than things said. They connect with objects or pictures from memory.

Africa and Botswana are about symbolism, or what things represent and communicate.

By giving girls @AGirls15 dolls that look like them, we are communicating a million things without words. Silent messaging works well with children – Bakani July Johnson Click To Tweet

If you listen in on doll play, your child communicates with what she sees. If her dolly is wearing beads she will have a conversation about that. The idea was to have dolls that are relevant to the children, thus when one looks at the dolls, they will realize that some have tutu skirts and modern symbols which represents a ‘modern girl’ whereas others are dressed in traditional Tswana regalia.

Great dolls bring the thought of history, self, and admiration. Children from different ethnicities benefit from playing with dolls that are a different skin tone, make and versatility.

Though dolls are not photocopies of the individual, we believe that to a small child the most important thing is that her little dolly is beautiful just like her, validating who she is and how she relates to herself.

The role I see my dolls playing in a Motswana girl’s life

This product, created by an African woman for African children is girl-centered for now and is self-esteem/self-efficacy based.

More than play, the dolls are seen as communication tools that instill gender and ethnic pride as a foundation for social skills. What you see and is preached becomes a norm. If everyone talks about ‘light-skinned’ being better, children will want that.

I want parents to hand the dolls to the children without influencing the children’s taste about them. 

I have involved a few people in the crafting of the dolls from those that design the clothes to those that do the hair and packaging.

I am very committed from an economic point of view to create an ecosystem that will hire many people because the project has a lot of potential for growth.

I want a situation where the dolls will have ambassadors so that the young ones can appreciate the mortal presentations of the dolls, just the way they experience the princesses that they see at places like Disneyland.

I will build the momentum and I am open to ideas to help develop the brand even further. I am sending out a call to all African and Botswana girls to join the brand as re-sellers and distributors for their countries.

How I manufacture my dolls…

I have involved a few people in the crafting of the dolls, from those who design the clothes to those who do the hair and packaging.

Unfortunately, in Africa we don’t have companies that work with vinyl for doll making, so we have been forced to outsource.

However, we do have tailors and designers, crochet ladies and shoemakers working on other aspects of the dolls locally.

How the dolls have been recieved by people so far

The success of the dolls has transcended borders and continents, and they have reached international markets.

Botswana has been amazing! The relevance is clearly understood, the need is very apparent and we can only express gratitude for all the support.

Media has been keen at each stage of their development, and young, hopeful Batswana are eagerly working to join the brand and with open arms, we are welcoming ideas and collaborations.

The dolls are currently available across Botswana, as well as re-sellers in Johannesburg, the Netherlands and the United States of America.

We have worked with brands like the Netball World Youth Cup, International Women in Sport, Botswana Tourism Organization and we are currently working on a project with Botswana Netball.

The growth of the business will definitely be stimulated by partnerships.  Partnering at different levels with others is beneficial.

I am working with so many individuals who want to run with certain aspects of the product and I have never been as relieved as the agreements come to fruition. I know now I cannot do it alone! 


Botswana is one of Africa’s success stories, from one of Africa’s poorest countries to a vibrant, developed, middle-income African state.

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The HealthCare Giant of Botswana

“Bridging the gap between Policy and Implementation in Gender, Reproductive Health, and HIV/AIDS”

Professor Sheila Tlou – whose surname translates literally to ‘elephant’ is a veritable giant in the gender, health care and sexual and reproductive healthcare space in Botswana, Africa, and the world.

To Professor Sheila Tlou, the themes are inseparable, and much of her work includes activism at the intersection of these spaces.

Professor Sheila Tlou is the co-chair of the Global HIV Prevention Coalition and the co-chair of the Nursing Now Global Campaign. From 2010 to 2017 she was Director of the UNAIDS regional support team for Eastern and Southern Africa.

She is a former Member of Parliament and Minister of Health of the Republic of Botswana (2004-2008). 

Also, Professor Sheila Tlou was the former Professor of Nursing at the University of Botswana and Director of the WHO collaborating center for Nursing and Midwifery Development in Primary Health Care for Anglophone Africa. 

Professor Sheila Tlou has conducted research and taught courses like nursing, pre-medical and social science students on Gender issues relating to HIV/AIDS, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and Ageing and Older Persons.

She has played a key role in the development of national nursing and medical education curricula, working to broaden the scope of Health Sciences education in Botswana.


Her work on HIV/AIDS

The first case of HIV in Botswana was reported in 1985.

As was the case with the pandemic in the early years, the virus spread quickly, and with Botswana’s small population, the implications for social and economic stability were devastating.

However, Botswana responded to the pandemic and implemented a number of health care reforms and programs including the PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) in 1999 and universal access to ARVs (antiretrovirals) to those who were at an advanced stage of the disease.

The management of the virus in Botswana is due in large part to the role that Professor Tlou played in those years, and she continues to lend her voice, wisdom, and expertise to the healthcare space worldwide, today.

For example, the transmission of HIV from mother to child decreased from about 30 percent in 2003 to about 8 percent in 2008. Maternal mortality due to AIDS also decreased from 34 percent to 9 percent under her leadership.

Her work is ‘numbers’ and report-based, however, one cannot forget that the work that Prof. Tlou continues to do has a major impact on the lives of women, and by extension, their families and communities.

“I am hoping that what I say will inspire young people to be able to ask themselves how they will be able to participate in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals because as far as I’m concerned, all 17 of them are… Click To Tweet

Professor Tlou worked tirelessly at the intersection of gender and health, to generate research and forge important partnerships between academia, government, and civil society.

She advocated for real change at the grassroots level in Botswana.

As Minister of Health, she led a forward-thinking and focused HIV care, prevention, treatment, support, and care programme that is used as a model all over the world today; a testament to her knowledge, resolve and leadership.

One of the hallmarks of great leadership is the ability to translate ideas into plans that are actionable – Professor Sheila Tlou Click To Tweet

Professor Tlou is aware of the role that young people have to play in continuing the challenge of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths – effectively ending the disease by 2030.

Her work on gender health

Professor Tlou is the United Nations Eminent Person for Women, Girls, and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa. She is also the International Council of Nurses Goodwill Ambassador for Girl Child Education.

In her past assignment as UNAIDS Regional Director, Professor Tlou provided leadership and Political Advocacy for quality sustainable AIDS response in 21 African countries, from Eritrea to South Africa, including the Indian Ocean Islands of Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Comoros.

She has been instrumental in the formation of advocacy bodies such as The Pan-African Positive Women’s Coalition (PAPWC) and the High-Level Task Force on Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV in Africa.

Professor Tlou initiated and chaired a High-Level task force on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Services for Young People in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Because of the uniqueness and peculiarity of the cultural context of African societies, HIV/AIDS thrived in a thick cloak of ignorance, denial, and secrecy that Prof. Tlou has recognized as a deterrent to the success of any programs that may be implemented.

Again, her sensitivity to the fact that women empowerment is a key issue that lies at the heart of HIV/AIDS prevention means that her work is alive to the issues that are particular to African women.

“Gender inequality, gender-based violence, including sexual violence and sexual exploitation, are at the core of young women’s vulnerability and need to be addressed if we are to achieve that SDG of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030″.

This very goal gives us a platform to deliver services based on rights, inclusiveness, universality and ensuring that no one is left behind.

Her Recognitions/Awards

Professor Tlou has received many national and international awards. Among them are… “the Botswana Presidential Order of Honor, the Florence Nightingale Award from the International Red Cross Society, the Trailblazer Woman Leading Change Award from the World YWCA, the Leadership in Health award from the Global Business Council (Health)”.

She also got “the President award from the US National Academy of Nursing, the President award from the US National League for Nursing, the Princess Srinagarindra award from Thailand, the Christianne Reimann award from the International Council of Nurses, and The Princess Muna Al Hussein award from the American Nurses Credentialing Centre”.

“Leaders who are able to communicate the importance of their activism are often able to inspire groups to pull together towards a common goal”.


Botswana is one of Africa’s success stories, from one of Africa’s poorest countries to a vibrant, developed, middle-income African state.

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6 ways to tone down your stress levels

It is not uncommon to see someone you know, perhaps your friend, a family member, or a colleague whose demeanor is looking unusual, and you show concern by asking the question: ‘why is your appearance looking so dull today?’  and their reply goes ‘it is stress’.

Recently, I attended a meetup where young women discussed ‘creating balance’. In the heat of the discussion, one woman mentioned that she was on an official assignment to a psychiatric ward and found that the leading cause of psychosis in women admitted was stress.

I was both alarmed and pained.

The term stress seems to be something everyone takes for granted but its effect on our physical, emotional and mental well-being is often disastrous.

More women than men are prone to stress partly because besides the everyday hustle to support the family income is the added responsibility of taking care of the home front.

Many studies have confirmed that stress could lead to deli-bating diseases like high blood pressure (which is constantly on the rise in recent times), heart attack, nervous breakdown, and many others. Hence, there is an urgent need for us to take the matter of stress very seriously.

On the scale of 1 - 10, how high is your stress levels? @awunliwomanup highlight 6 ways to manage stress. Read more... Click To Tweet

Stress cannot be eliminated completely, however, here are six ways to manage it.

KNOW WHEN TO LEAVE WORK BEHIND

Some women are naturally workaholics, while others are in the hustle just to outdo their contemporaries in terms of material acquisition.

Whichever end of the divide you find yourself, be kind to your health and long term well being, you have to know when to stop.

LEARN HOW TO RELAX

Some people know when to unwind after a hard days job while some people see it as unnecessary. For example, I have a friend who stays glued to his laptop watching one series or the other after work and I get so angry until he explained that it was one of the ways he cools off after a hard days job.

Whatever works for you, make sure you go for it.

STRIVE FOR BALANCE

It has been emphasized more often than not that being busy does not translate into being productive. To increase your productivity, prioritize your activities and determine when you have reached your limit.

ASK FOR HELP

This is especially for those who have the perfectionist syndrome. They believe no one can do it the way they can. Sister, if anything happens to you, there will be someone else who will do the job better than you, so put your health first.

Leave those things you can delegate to someone else at work, outsource some tasks if you can afford it, and ask family members and friends to help out as a way of reducing your workload.

PLAN AND PREPARE AHEAD

We all know how what last-minute tension feels like. you begin to sweat profusely, you get jittery all over. To avoid this kind of scenario, do things well ahead of time.

LET GO OF WORRY

I have a friend who says worry is her recipe for losing weight.

Worrying over an issue does not get the problem solved. Worry and anxiety tend to the release of stress hormones in your body. Rather than worry, pray, believe and take the steps you need to solve the problem.


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Need some zoning out? – 4 quick ways to create mini escapes

An average African woman is strong. There is no argument.

Her strength is not basically physical. She is emotional, mentally, psychologically and spiritually strong. Nobody expects her to need an escape, once in a while.

Naturally, mental health or exhaustion is mostly not discussed in Africa (we are improving but not yet).
Nobody likes to be labeled “abnormal” or “possessed” due to being bi-polar, depressed or schizophrenic.

It always baffles me when I say I am mentally tired and people ask “how?”. Some even go ahead to suggest that I might be possessed. LolMental health and wellbeing are often overlooked because they are not physical. They do not show up in blood or urine tests, neither do they have noticeable symptoms.

Therefore, we sometimes see it as a shameful thing and never admit that as women, wives, employees, employers, business owners, we need some escape space.

Truth is, whether you are a working-class woman or you own a business, There are moments when you want to forget everything and have a brief respite, escape.

Regardless of your state or status, there comes a time in everyone’s life when we just want to drop the reins and unravel in peace for a little while.

We might not all get enough time for a long respite but, in-between the day, we can steal bits of escapes to help us power through the day.

I have over the years developed quick escape spaces that help me zone out at times when I get overwhelmed. Here are some of them:

Music

The power of music cannot be overemphasized. There have been more times when I get overwhelmed with the work on my desk and the work waiting for me back home (i run a business too).

Right there on my desk, I plug in my earphones, sit back for 2 minutes and listen to something. My go-to choices are slow blues or classical music. Beethoven’s is a staple.

 

It gives me a little reprieve and escapes. Little is enough

BOOKS

I have loved sappy romance novels from when I was 8 years old. It took me a while to understand that they provided an escape for me.

Right now as I type, I have an appointment with one chapter of a sappy romance novel.

It is a long day.

Old Movies

I cannot count the number of days I have gotten home, work on my business and snuggle under the blankets for an old movie. I mostly end up falling asleep most time, but for a while, the whole world falls away.

Me time

Me time means different things to different persons. It could be an alone moment with your thoughts or a 2-minute cup of tea. There are long “me times|’ and short ones.

It could be savoring a piece of chocolate while at your desk or a reasonable drink after work. Personally, I take snatches of “me time” whenever I can.

Just me. No work, No business.

In this second month of the year, we may have done a lot and still have a whole lot to do. However, let us remember it is okay to escape briefly, unwind and revive.

Most importantly:

  • Plan your dream vacation and work towards it.
  • Take your mental health seriously.

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The Deep Rations of a Mental War: How It Affects You and Your Career

 Triggers are not always pulled, some are attended to by planting seeds where the soil has no intention to grow or build - @go_itse. Click To Tweet

As a content creator or simply a writer, you would think that the only thing that one has to deal with is pen and paper. The conception of an idea and putting it to paper, and then once you’re done, it defines you.

However, we tend to forget that our career or business is a journey.

If at any point you find yourself thinking of quitting, changing the name/industry of your business or switching careers and starting afresh, remember these points coined from The Art of War.

Discovering

The author of The Art of War, Sun Tzu, would say,

Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security, open ground and narrow passes, the chances of life and death.”

Mental health, depression as most would relate to, takes us to the depths of fighting between small and great distances, vis-à-vis, that we would want to take ourselves to, especially with our business and career goals, with the same breath try to balance it all with the personal ones.

And what I’ve learned and still I’m still learning is that it brings great danger than security. Allowing narrow passes over open grounds, bringing about confusion and a high risk of certain aspects of your career lying dormant.

In Point 21 of Laying Plans, Tzu explains,If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.”

In as much as we take the detriment of mental health as sickness, it is more psychological as it is. The more we allow the elements to grow greater than our will to succeed, the more we are aligned to derail.

 

To evade is an individual mystery, which is aligned as to how we got there in the first place. As we go through this state in a unique way that in some cases, no mantras can maintain let alone anti-depressants.

It is more like trying to evade the police in Need For Speed Most Wanted. Wherein this matter, we are trying to evade the state of being “less wanted” by the essence of life and you’re either marching, running or sinking in the art of war with your mind.

The best thing about knowing and acknowledging the state of our own mental health is through self-mastery - @Go_Itse Click To Tweet

Uncovering

When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes prices to go up; and high prices cause the people’s substance to be drained away.”

Waging War, The Art of War.

Defining what we go through as a mental illness whereas it’s a result of unattended life aspects that stack up, cause friction and then the heat goes to the head.

That’s when we start to wonder why life sucks and then the idea of being stuck sucks life away from that which we love. From managing people, careers to a detrimental state of not being able to manage the major key to all, ourselves.

 

A high price to pay that I learned by the means of losing a job, as you couldn’t talk to anyone.

You see yourself as the go-to person and the happy-go-lucky person with a great beautiful smile. Failing to deliver on time and lack of communication were the failures derived from this state.

We define what we go through as a mental illness whereas it’s a result of unattended life aspects that stack up, cause friction and then the heat goes to the head - @go_itse Click To Tweet

Recovery

”If equally matched, we can offer battle, if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy, if quite an equal in every way, we can flee from him”

Attack by Stratagem, The Art of War.

Triggers are not always pulled, some are attended to by planting seeds where the soil has no intention to grow or build.

The energy it takes for an attack or a relapse to occur, (as some deal with it well enough to know the triggers and some don’t), requires one to have an equal or greater strength as the infirmity.

Be it consistency in therapy (talking, writing etc.), yoga, meditation or exercising. Trying to avoid such a state can be easy at an early stage by doing the most with therapy and other forms of it, from someone who discovered at a very early age.

Mastery

”One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.”

– Tactical Disposition, The Art of War.

We may read all the self-help books to gain knowledge on how to break through an anxiety/depression state. But the will of the author of the book and of another individual may not correspond.

The best thing about knowing and acknowledging the state of our own mental health is through self-mastery. From that point of perspective and execution will we be able to master other things, even when there are triggers.

Then we can become effective motherland moguls and not be faint-hearted.

5 Take Home Points from The Art of War on Mental Health

  1. “Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow. A decision, to the releasing of a trigger.” – Energy
  2.  “Thus one who is skillful at keeping the enemy on the move maintains deceitful appearances, according to which the enemy will act. He sacrifices something that the enemy may snatch at it.” – Energy
  3. “By discovering the enemy’s dispositions and remaining invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated, while the enemy must be divided.” – The Weak Point and Strong
  4.  ”So in war, the way to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.” – The Weak Points and Strong.
  5.  ”In order to carry out an attack, we must have means available. The material for raising fire should always be kept in readiness.” – Attack By Fire

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Anita Benson: The Anti-Skin Lightening Activist

Anita Oghenekome Benson is a Medical Doctor specializing in Dermatology. She is also a Public Health Specialist with a Masters in Public Health from the University of Sheffield.

Anita is a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow and a Fellow of the Center for Global Business Studies at Howard University. She is an award-winning blogger and the founder of the Embrace Melanin Initiative, an NGO that focuses on eradicating colorism and harmful skin-lightening practices from Africa.

Anita is raising a generation of young Africans who embrace their melanin and are empowered, educated and self-aware.

The Embrace Melanin Initiative is quite a unique project, what led you to start it?

I was starting my final year as a Dermatology resident and I had to choose a topic for my thesis. I had always considered myself an anti-skin lightening activist because I had seen too many patients pay the price for their skin lightening practices.
Being a very dark skinned woman, I was constantly offered the option to lighten my skin by cosmetologists and well-meaning friends.

This motivated me to do a community survey to find out why people lightened their skin. I wanted to know what products they used and if they were aware of the side effects which included obesity, hypertension, diabetes, liver and kidney disease, skin cancer, premature aging, fragile skin, stretch marks, body odor, skin infections, and discolored skin.
A young woman is content with her skin color until the first time someone points out that it is 'too dark', 'dirty', 'less attractive than fair skin' - Anita Benson Click To Tweet
In a few months, I had interacted with more than 400 people and I realized that the magnitude of the problem and the level of ignorance surrounding the possible complications of skin lightening was way beyond the scope of my thesis.

The Embrace Melanin Initiative was established to address this problem.

What would you say are the major reasons African women engage in this trend?

Colorism is the major reason African women engage in skin lightening practices. It is a silent problem that exists in our communities and is simply defined as the discrimination of a person because of her darker skin tone by members of her own race/tribe/community/family.

A young woman is content with her skin color until the first time someone points out that it is ‘too dark’, ‘dirty’, ‘less attractive than fair skin’. Or she begins to notice the affiliation of some males and the media for lighter skinned women.
Kicking colorism out of Africa is the only way skin-lightening practices will ever be truly eradicated - Anita Benson Click To Tweet
She may even face discrimination at her job or a reduction in marriage suitors. Whatever the case may be, this silent discrimination leads to poor self-esteem and an unshakeable belief that lighter skin is the answer to all of her problems regardless of the potential dangers of skin lightening practices.

Men are not left out and some women even bleach their children. Pregnant women have also been reported to take certain pills to lighten their babies in the womb which can lead to all sorts of potential complications.

What can we as well as the government do to reduce this problem? 

We can stop the discrimination. It happens in the marketplaces, in the home, in church, at social events, in the media, at work.

Africa has been freed from slavery for hundreds of years yet we still mentally attribute more beauty and importance to anything or person that looks more foreign than native African. We need our women to know that they are beautiful not in spite of their dark skin but because of their dark skin.

The government can provide tighter regulations on the sale of skin lightening agents in the open market and ensure that the ones that have been banned by NAFDAC are not still freely available for sale.

Another very important role the government can play is to ensure that the side effects of every skin lightening agent are boldly printed on the bottle so that consumers can make an informed decision.

Too many women are suffering due to their ignorance. One of my patients died of kidney disease a couple of years ago due to chronic use of mercury-containing skin lightening agents.

What would you say has been your key learning points on this journey?

These have been my key learning points:

1. You can’t change the practice till you change the perception about black skin.

2. Kicking colorism out of Africa is the only way skin-lightening practices will ever be truly eradicated.

3. There’s a need to change the narrative on what it means to be black which goes past our perception of our skin color to dissociating being black from words like corruption, self-hate, crime, ignorance, illiteracy, and mental slavery.

4. Do not judge a person till you have heard their story. So many women who chose to bleach did not feel like they had any other viable option at the time.
Colorism is the major reason African women engage in skin lightening practices - Anita Benson Click To Tweet

What are the possible business ideas/solutions that can arise from solving this problem?

African skin-friendly products. Not the ones that promise to tone the skin but those that make the dark skin shine and keep it healthy and protected from the UV rays of the sun.

The cosmetic industry is a billion dollar industry however right now the focus of the majority is on skin lightening agents and solving this problem will create a vacuum for healthy skin care products suitable for the African skin.

What is your advice to women seeking to advance their career while getting involved in personal passion projects?

 

Women are amazing multitaskers and what makes us really special is that there’s no limit to the number of caps we can wear as long as we are able to manage our time effectively.

The best way to juggle a career with personal projects is simply to maximize the number of hours you have each day. Every morning I write a to-do list and try to get through each one before the end of the day.

Whatever your passion is, let it connect with your purpose - Anita Benson Click To Tweet

So many hours are spent doing things that are either distraction with high urgency or activities with little or no value. A to-do list will guide you toward achieving important deadlines with high urgency and give enough time for long-term development and strategizing.

You are allowed to slip from time to time and just do nothing because that’s what makes us human. Take it as an opportunity to get re-energized and come back better, stronger and more motivated!

Final words for our motherland moguls?

Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

When I started this project, all I had was my passion to make a difference and my experience as a skin doctor. So many people tried to talk me out of it, even fellow colleagues because they felt it was a problem too great to tackle, too entrenched in our culture to ever be eradicated.

Whatever your passion is, let it connect with your purpose so that on the days when you feel down, you can draw from the inner strength that comes from actually making a difference in the world.

That inner strength will keep you moving till the sun comes out again.

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Meet the Young African Women Shaking Up the Global Health Sector

Around the world, women make 75 percent of the health workforce and continue to be the primary caretakers in communities and families. They also experience heightened health risks.

This is thanks to persistent gender-based violence and stigma that prevents access to preventive care and treatment. Despite these realities, women occupy fewer than 25 percent of leadership roles in the health sector.

Adanna Chukwuma, Karen Maniraho, and Favorite Iradukunda are slaying the game when it comes to demonstrating that young women of African descent can lead – and are leading – the global health equity movement.

As Global Health Corps (GHC) alumni, these ladies are committed to playing their part in realizing health as a human right for all. 

GHC’s Brittany Cesarini caught up with these ladies to learn about how they’re crafting their own unique leadership journeys. And how they are disrupting the status quo in global health leadership along the way.  


 

Adanna Chukwuma

Why do you think we need more women leaders in global health?

Adanna: There is overwhelming evidence that diversity of team membership and leadership promotes creativity and productivity in teams. Therefore, increasing the proportion of female leaders in global health will increase our effectiveness at addressing the pressing health problems we face.

One can also make an ethical argument. We know that bias partly shapes the gaps between male-female representation in leadership. This bias does not always reflect performance. It may be a matter of discomfort with the idea of women in leadership. This is a wrong that must be righted.

Karen: Health and who has access to it will always be a discussion of power. Without women in positions of power, we cannot tackle the systemic inequalities that affect women and our communities.

Favorite: I think this is a matter of logic and holding true to what we believe. If global health values equity, equality, and social justice, if we are advocating for these values for other people. Doesn’t it make sense to start at home?

Where is equality and justice, when women make up to 75% of the healthcare workforce but occupy less than 25% of the leadership positions?

We are all leaders and learners - @favourtieiradukunda Click To Tweet

What lessons did you learn from the Women Leaders in Global Health conference at Stanford University last October?

Adanna: In one session at the conference, Laurie Garrett and Agnes Binagwaho shared personal stories about the bias they encountered and overcame to excel in their careers. Their conversation stuck with me because of the understanding that excellence can be female, and it can be black African.

A paraphrased version of my favorite quote, uttered by Laurie Garrett, is: 

Women need to shove their modesty through the back door. There are billions of lives at stake - @Laurie_Garrett Click To Tweet

Karen: It was quite inspiring to hear Dr. Afaf Meleis talk about the ways “women are vulnerable and at risk in their productive and reproductive lives.” 

There was also a panel titled “How to Become a Change Agent in Global Health” moderated by Donna Shalala. It featuring Ambassador Deborah Birx, Patricia Garcia, and Vanessa Kerry, among others.

They all so candidly discussed successes and the importance of failures in their global health journeys in refreshingly honest ways.

Favorite: Dr. Afaf Meleis brought up the issue of missing nurses. Nurses are continuously under-represented in global health leadership. They have also missed out on discussions meaningful to the advancement of healthcare, yet we all know that nurses are the backbone of healthcare.

Karen Maniraho

What advice can you give young women aspiring to have leadership roles in global health and to those supporting them? 

Adanna: We can start where we are to influence the gender imbalance in global health in the right direction by challenging ourselves to take risks and more responsibility in our careers. 

Karen: 1. Mentoring at least one girl will help change the status of women in leadership today. Secondly, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, failure is something we should celebrate. 3. Don’t “lean in” if it’s only to replicate male models.

Our work as women leaders can’t simply be about breaking the glass ceiling. Rather, it must be about rebuilding the whole building so that its doors are open to all. 

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. — Marianne Williamson Click To Tweet

Favorite: We have a lot of female leaders in global health, yet they are not considered as leaders because we measure their leadership abilities against a biased definition of leadership.

We need to redefine leadership and not be intimidated by all the biased definitions out there. We need to realize that women are not just leaders but also innovators. 

Favorite Iradukunda

How are you committing to investing in your own professional development as a young leader in global health?

Adanna: I recently joined a Lean In Circle primarily so that I can be intentional about confronting my fears, taking career risks, and developing strategies for dealing with bias.

Karen: After my Global Health Corps fellowship in Burundi, that I realized elevating underrepresented voices through storytelling had a key role in amplifying health conversations. Also, reconnecting with my homeland and working with people taught me innovative ways of communicating health and social needs.  

Favorite: I have always considered professional growth as a result of receiving and giving. receiving 2. giving. My mentors’ help in achieving my goals is part of the receiving.  

With regards to giving, I have invested in younger women. However, I need to redefine my mentorship strategies to be more intentional with clear expectations and deliverables on both sides.

Have the courage to use your own reason - Karen Click To Tweet.


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

Sandy Dorsey: 10 Things Every Aspiring Speech Language Pathologist Should Know

Sandy Dorsey, MA, CCC-SLP has spent over 15 years as a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP). An SLP is a highly trained professional who evaluates and treats, children and adults, who have speech (coordinating sound to talk) and language (understanding others and/or expressing thoughts and feelings) disorders, as well as difficulties swallowing.

Sandy’s journey as an SLP started out as a simple case of curiosity. As a young girl, her uncle Henry developed Alzheimer’s disease, and for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why he struggled with communication.

She took that curiosity to the next level  later on in life and entered Howard University to major in Speech-Language Pathology. During this time, she became the President of the National Student Speech and Hearing Association; her active involvement with the American Speech Language and Hearing Association led her to being offered a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee.

Sandy later went on to become the founder of All About Speech LLC; a professional Speech-Pathology practice that focuses on the individual’s strengths and has helped countless individuals ranging from young children to seniors with a wide range of speech-language and swallowing disorders.

Sandy approaches each client with the belief that no two cases are the same and believes in taking a holistic approach to accurately assess and personalize each therapy plan. Patience, persistence and her upbeat personality helps her clients succeed in meeting their goals. This past July, Sandy’s commitment for helping others prompted her to start a non-profit organization, Smiles for Speech Inc. ; which provides speech, language and educational resources, as well as oral care items for children in impoverished communities. It’s safe to say her life and work are intricately entwined.

Sandy has found that to be a successful Speech Language Pathologist, one should know the following:


What you learn at school may feel very different on the job

If you are a new grad, it is normal to feel that you don’t know everything at your first job. Graduate externships are a great first step in learning, the expectation to be independent changes everything. It is not until you are officially working that you feel the weight and responsibilities that come with your managing your time effectively with a big caseload and report deadlines.

This is why the clinical fellowship year (CFY) is so important. To be a certified SLP, you must have 9 months of supervised work after graduate school and pass the Praxis in order to be licensed and certified. So, don’t panic, learn as much as you can from your supervisor and remember you know a lot more than you think you do!

 

Gather as much information as you can on each child/client you work with

Approach the client in a holistic way. At Sandy’s first job working with teenagers in Harlem, New York, in the late 90’s, many children had parents that had a limited education and/or working multiple jobs with very little time, which made them unable to offer their child the academic support they need at home to really excel in school.

Therefore at times before therapy can begin and to truly be effective, in the morning you may have to provide breakfast for the children if they came to school hungry. So, make a brief assessment of any conditions that may affect their therapy session.

Some things may not change for example, the discomfort of not wearing a clean shirt or shoes that fit properly. But talking about these challenges and discoveries is often very much needed to  begin to break the barrier to success.

 

Adopt a positive attitude

When it comes to this career path, you will need loads of patience, compassion, and self-motivation to succeed. You have to be able to offer support and nurture your clients, while firmly encouraging them to move forward to achieve their goals.

You will also need a positive attitude in order to encourage and motivate individuals not to give up. It is not easy to be vulnerable and children can be easily frustrated. Therefore it is up to you to make it fun and push enough for progress, but know the limits that may lead to the individual giving up.

Everyone wants to feel successful, so being that cheerleader ready to celebrate every small gain, especially when the progress may be slow, is key!

 

Always be prepared with the materials needed and have a backup plan 

When you are first starting out as a new therapist, you may not have materials available to you, depending on the setting. For this reason, you need to build up your go-to materials to keep on hand, based on the population you are serving. Also, always bring more than you think you may need in your therapy session, in case you have to change something on the spot.

You may think a new activity will work, but you don’t know until you try. Being prepared is always best! Working with children and adults alike, you want to be ready for any surprises or glitches.

With experience, you will learn how to quickly adapt and modify as you go, but starting off, it is much better to have a supply of your own materials that you are already comfortable working with. Teachers pay teachers is a great resource for getting materials that you can print and that are more DIY, so you don’t need to buy everything which can tend to get pricey.

 

Be an advocate

With so many professionals involved in the care of your client, remember you are the expert in this field. You must be an advocate for your clients and speak up for what you think is right. Especially when you work with communication and clients that may not be able to speak for themselves.

If you feel that an individual needs extra support outside of your scope of practice, be sure to refer them. We are the eyes and ears for our clients, especially with children in early intervention.

Be creative, flexible and dynamic

You will need creativity when dealing with clients, continually seek ways to help your clients learn and grow. With children, try to discover their learning style and celebrate their individuality.

Sometimes these methods might be unconventional, but may work for that child. Always look for ways to get deeper insight into your clients’ needs that can be motivating for them to push forward.

Things can change daily when it comes to serving students as well as adults. Be so prepared to be flexible and adapt to any schedule or MOOD. Things can change from day to day so you gotta roll with the punches! Sometimes literally!

Establish great relationships / mentors

As in any profession, mentors are key. Starting with undergraduate school, focus on building relationships with everyone you can. That is your professors, clinical supervisors and colleagues. It is an extremely small profession, so you want to know as many people as possible.

 

Stay relevant by taking courses and being adept with new trends and techniques

In other to excel in any profession you need to stay relevant. Staying relevant means being adept with all trends and techniques in your field of work. Current trends for SLP’s are:

Telepractice – this involves receiving speech therapy services online through skype and other means. It allows children in areas in remote areas or with a limited number of to SLPs to get gain access to speech services.

Transgender communication – an elective service to focus on voice, verbal and nonverbal communication skills that applies to the way the individual identifies his/herself.

APPs – there are many great apps SLPs are more frequently in treatment, while some use as reinforcement at the end of the session.       

                                                     

Give your best always and keep your communication lines open

It is extremely important to keep a healthy relationship with everyone you work with and don’t burn any bridges. Speech Language Pathology is a small profession and word travels fast.

 

Don’t assume that people know what you do, demystify the process

One of the challenges you will face as an SLP is that people may not know who you are and what exactly you do. With few people entering the profession, it is no surprise that people would not know exactly what you do.

Teachers and families may hear from their children that all they do in speech therapy is play. In our field, play is therapy. Yes, we try to make therapy as fun as possible, so people may seem to think we are having too much fun!

But that should not discourage you from doing what you gotta do. As busy as you may be, take some time to educate people when they ask. In most settings, you may need to do an in service, distribute information about who you are and what you do.


Are you a professional or aspiring speech language pathologist?  Or do you work in a rarely known industry? Do you have some key lessons to share?

Let us know here.

 

Why Sustainability Makes Good Business Sense

You’ve likely heard of business “going green.” From installing solar panels on rooftops, utilising recycling bins, and switching off lights after hours, there are a number of ways both employers and employees can adjust their behaviour to operate in an environmentally responsible way.

But that’s just one part of building a sustainable business. Along with environmental well-being, it’s also about social impact and economic viability. This could include skills training for employees, and improving the quality of life in the communities in which you operate in.

 

Sustainability at What Cost?

There’s often a misconception that sustainability initiatives are expensive and will erode profits. On the contrary, it has shown to be beneficial for business owners from the bottom-line up.

Using the example of Egyptian agri-business SEKEM, that used biodynamic agricultural methods to start Egypt’s first organic farm in the middle of the desert forty years ago, a Harvard Business Review article titled ‘Making Sustainability Profitable’ offers three approaches for companies  to ensure their environmental efforts pay off financially:

  • Many, like Sekem, took a long-term view, investing in initially more-expensive methods of sustainable operation that eventually led to dramatically lower costs and higher yields.

 

  • Others have taken a ‘bootstrap’ approach to conservation: they started with small changes to their processes that generated substantial cost savings, which they then used to fund advanced technologies that made production even more efficient.

 

  • Some have spread their sustainability efforts to the operations of their customers and suppliers, in the process devising new business models that competitors find hard to emulate.

You don’t need to incur high costs upfront, but rather adopt a model that works with your available resources, and adapt it to your sector.

That’s exactly what AccorHotels set out to do when they launched their internal sustainability management system, dubbed Charter 21, which recommends over 60 actions hotels can take to reduce their environmental footprint.

The French hotel chain group, that operates in over a dozen African countries, commissioned two independent studies to assess the financial return on a number of their sustainability initiatives. The first study focused on the corporate social responsibility expectations of the hotels’ B-to-B customers, while the second provided a statistical analysis of the influence of several sustainable development indicators on profitability and guest satisfaction. Both revealed that the more a hotel invests in initiatives that reduce their environmental footprint, the more positive its paybacks are, both in terms of (1) reducing costs of water and energy for example, and (2) increasing revenues partly due to enhanced reputation and guest satisfaction.

 

Other key takeaways:

  • Sustainability should not be viewed as a cost to the business.

 

  • Highly visible sustainability initiatives can be a very effective way to differentiate a company in the minds of customers and strengthen customer relationships.

 

  • Formal programmes that include specific, measurable objectives and a framework for managing progress towards achieving them are critical to making sustainability a core part of doing business.

Another core part is getting the buy-in from staff members. One of the key actions of AccorHotels’ Charter 21 is training employees in environmentally friendly practices.

 

Fostering a Culture of Sustainability

By encouraging employees to follow sustainable practices, it could soon become a norm that has a lasting impact in the workplace and in their private homes. Think about something as simple as using energy-saving bulbs at office desk lamps, or utilising reusable glass instead of plastic cups at the water cooler. Consider the possible knock-on effect if this results in a conscious behavioural change where the employee now turns the household water geyser off when not in use, or ploughs biodegradable kitchen scraps back into the garden instead of disposing as waste.

It’s this way of sustainable thinking that lead a turtle conservationist at Cape Town’s Two Oceans Aquarium to start an eco-rooftop garden. Initially meant to feed the facilities’ green sea turtles, it soon evolved into a lush garden of waterwise indigenous plants and herbs that is shared among employees. Not a drop of water is wasted here, with the vegetation being nurtured by the condensation from nearby air conditioners. The sustainable rooftop garden now also functions as an oasis for employees during break time complete with recycled artwork, and a worm farm that feeds off lunch scraps which in turn becomes fertilizer that can be ploughed back into the garden.

Nurturing Community-Based (Business) Partnerships

Sustainability relates to the future of your company and the broader community. Consider the impact of procuring goods and services from local businesses, or spreading your sustainability efforts to the behaviour of your suppliers and customers.

Kenya-based ICOSEED (Integrated Community Organisation for Sustainable Empowerment and Education for Development) have successfully nurtured a mutually-beneficial relationship with local farmers. Winner of the 2017 SWITCH Africa Green-SEED Awards, they buy banana stems from farmers, process it into balls of fibre, and then use them to produce (biodegradable) products such as bags and table mats. They even take it a step further by giving the by-product (slurry) back to the farmers to use for biogas or compost. ICOSEED factors in all three key tenets of sustainability in that they’ve accounted for environmental well-being by producing environmentally friendly products and promoting the use of slurry for compost and biogas digesters; social impact by providing job opportunities for stem transporters and extractors along with an alternative source of income for hundreds of farmers; and economic value.

The company now plans to Increase the number of farmers supplying banana stems from 400 to 9,000 by 2018, scale up the production capacity of banana fibre by buying new machinery, diversify the product range, and establish two new production sites in key banana growing areas.

ICOSEED has adopted a sustainability model that works with their available resources. They’re now able to reap the rewards by funding the advanced technologies that will increase their production efficiency, while also spreading their sustainability efforts to the operations of their suppliers. They encapsulate the ideal of a sustainable business, where environmental well-being, social impact and economic viability are obtained, demonstrating that sustainability indeed does make good business sense.

 


Photo Credits:

AQUARIUM: Two Oceans Aquarium – www.aquarium.co.za

SEKEM: www.sekem.com

ICOSEED: https://www.facebook.com/www.icoseedkenya.org/

 

 

 

Dr Enibokun Orobator: Understand your workplace dynamics

Dr Enibokun Theresa Orobator is a young African doctor, a visionary and public health enthusiast. She works as a Medical Science Liaison officer in a multi-national pharmaceutical company.

Dr Orobator is also a student at the University of Edinburgh, a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) 2016 fellow, a KECTIL colleague and member of the Kectil youth leadership Council, and she was also a finalist for the McKinsey’s 2017 Next Generation Women’s leaders Award.

In this article, she shares insights about getting an entry level job and distinguishing yourself. 


How did you get your first job?

I got my first job in a very interesting way. I had just rounded up my national youth service and, I got a call from a colleague I had interned with, about a job opportunity. I took it, and had only worked for about 4 months before I got another call, from a recruitment agency, inviting me to come in for an interview in a pharmaceutical company, for my present job. The interview went very well and I was offered the position.

 

Did you meet resistance in the new workplace? 

Oh yes I did. Quite a lot of resistance actually.

 

Do you think it was because you were a young woman?

I was considered quite young and fairly green and thus, I did not come with much experience. This meant that I had to learn a lot on the job, gradually gain the respect of my colleagues, and earn my seat at the table.

I don’t think the resistance I met was as a result of the fact that I was a woman, although this may have also played some role. The ratio of male to female colleagues in the workplace is still disproportionate, this is why it has become necessary for young women to build themselves for success in the workplace.

 

 

How did you handle the resistance?

Well, truthfully, I was not prepared for the kind of resistance I encountered. I was brilliant and quick to learn, and ready to perform at my job, but, that was not all that was required. I had to go back to the drawing board, step back from myself and began to study both my work environment and my colleagues.

I began to understand what made my colleagues tick, what their interests were and how best to work with them. It required a lot of focus on the task to be accomplished and less on the personalities of those involved.

I read a lot, and took counsel from older colleagues. I prayed a lot for wisdom too. Basically, for me it was building emotional intelligence, improving my leadership skills and capacity to handle stress and still produce excellent results.

 

Go the extra mile. Seek to be the best in your area of interest Click To Tweet

 

What would you advise female job seekers?

My advice to young female job seekers is to build capacity. Opportunities always come, both to the prepared and the unprepared, but, only the prepared can make the most of the opportunity presented to them, to climb to the next level.

Go the extra mile. Seek to be the best in your area of interest. Keep learning, constantly seek to develop your skills set and your knowledge, so that when opportunities come, you will invariably make the most of it, because now you are prepared.

Also, do not limit yourself, search for opportunities actively, apply for the jobs you want, put yourself out there. It is also great to volunteer. You get to build your skill sets and build experience.

It is also important to make the most of your online presence. These are not the times to make posts on social media that you would regret later. Build your LinkedIn profile, take online courses, some of them are free, and network!

Let people know what you have interest in, you may never know who would be linking you to your next opportunity. Be resilient and persistent, be dogmatic and hold the faith.

 

Be resilient and persistent, be dogmatic and hold the faith. Click To Tweet

 

 

How can young women distinguish themselves after securing a job?

First of all, note that you may not get your ‘dream job’ in the first few years of your career. You make your current job your dream job, because, it is only when you can do your best at your present level that, you can either get promoted or be built up enough to establish your own business.

Work hard, work smart, and give your best. Work well with your team, understand your workplace dynamics and organisational structure to see how you can progress in the organisation. Always continue to develop your skills, experience and your knowledge and lastly, trust your process.

 

What can more young women do to position themselves rightly for future opportunities?

To position yourself rightly for opportunities, be thankful for all you have achieved. But, constantly appraise yourself and seek to always become better. Do your work well, and don’t stop learning. Realise that every achievement you have conquered is a step on a ladder. There is more, so never restrict yourself.

 

Any final words?

Trust your process. Every experience has a lesson in it, learn it so you don’t have to repeat the lesson again. Learn from others, both their successes and mistakes, remain teachable and know that with God, success is inevitable.


Do you have any tips on how to stand out and progress in the workplace?

Let us know more  here.