Foodies Salone: Disrupting the Sierra Leonean hospitality industry

Foodies Salone is a Branding and Marketing Consultancy Firm founded by three young visionary women: Mariama Wurie, Aminata Wurie, and Onassis Kinte Walker.

In this interview, Mariama shares her story and thoughts about her journey as an entrepreneur.


How I turned my passion for food into a business

When I moved back to Sierra Leone in 2016, I started working for a local and an international NGO at the same time.

Since the NGO didn’t have an office, it was quite common to work from a café or restaurant to use the free Wi-Fi for the day. I spent a lot of time in my car driving between meetings and coffee shops.

Every day, my colleagues and I would work in a different place: new restaurants, new hotels, new cafes, etc.

Coming from Montreal where the food scene and customer service culture is amazing, I noticed this was not the case in Freetown. Everywhere I went, there was always a reason to complain to the manager, or ask to speak to the owner.

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Very quickly I realized that the same complaints were coming up wherever my partners and I went. We summarized that these problems were usually around product and service.

  1. In most restaurants, there was a lack of consistency in quality and menu variety – most restaurants served burgers, fries, pizza, pasta, shawarma.
  2. Most restaurants didn’t adjust their menus to focus on local ingredients.
  3. A lot of waiters were poorly paid and managers often did not invest in hospitality training.

We thought solutions to these issues will help restaurants achieve variety and consistency. Services like menu consulting, branding and customer service are just what many Freetown restaurants needed.

With Foodies Salone (Foodies), we decided to build something that would motivate establishments to step up their game and improve their standards.

How we started Foodies Salone

We tested out our business model through a lifestyle Instagram account. Our strategy was to highlight restaurants that were building Sierra Leone’s dining culture. Any featured restaurants had to be locally owned, pay fair wages and have good customer service.

With Sierra Leone’s small economy, restaurants rely on a limited customer base to make a profit. Within months of running an Instagram account, Foodies Salone began to influence consumer behavior.

Our social media test allowed us to establish ourselves as an authority in branding, marketing, staff training, online listing and advertising, and business development to the multiple restaurant owners who began to reach out to us to improve their product and service.

Soon enough, demand became bigger than 3 of us could handle. With our business model tested and validated, we created our service package, registered our company, and opened a bank account.

Lessons we’ve learned

Educating the market

At the beginning, restaurant owners did not understand what we were trying to do.

We were talking about apps, websites, and social media, but they barely knew how to use Pinterest. We worked extremely hard to find simple ways to explain what we did and how it would help them.

Factoring in knowledge and infrastructure gaps was not something we had initially considered. For startups looking to innovate in unstructured markets, this should be something to consider in your game plan.

Be patient with your monetization plan

As three young African women trying to run a business in our own country, we faced a lot of hostility. On top of that, my own friends were quite skeptical about what I was doing.

The beginning was quite hard because I had no money. I was dead broke for the first nine months.

Most people knew about the Foodies Salone Instagram page, but they did not understand how we planned to monetized the brand. They were constantly asking me: “do you even have a real job? How do you make money? How can you afford to travel?”

When we started, we made a conscious decision not to touch the money we made and to re-invest all the profits into the business. I was living on my savings and nothing was coming in. It’s only when it became hard to put gas in the car to drive to a meeting that we started using part of the profits.

When you start a business, times are going to get hard. But, just stick with it. Forget the haters. forget the gossip. You have something good here and it's amazing – @MariamaWurie_ Click To Tweet

Just stick with it. You’re broke? Yeah, it’s a start-up. It will get better.

Advice for anyone looking to start a company?

  1. Solve a problem. Necessity is the mother of invention. If you are looking for inspiration on what kind of business to start, think about things that are lacking in your routine.
  2. Do NOT accept freebies. Some people will try to get you to work for free with gifts. Always assess the value of what you are given and the reasons why they are given before accepting.
  3. Stay professional. As a woman, people will be more critical of you. Make sure you keep everything professional. Stick to business.

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Yasmine Bilkis Ibrahim: No Act of Change is Small

Yasmine Bilkis Ibrahim is an educator, feminist, social entrepreneur, blogger, and podcaster.

As an embodiment of all five, she believes in nurturing and stimulating young minds. Her philosophy is simple: no act of change is small; everyone has a role to play in their community.

This is reflected in her social business Ori from Sierra Leone or Ori which manufactures unisex shea butter-based hair and body products infused with essential and carrier oil.

This enterprise is set up mainly to support Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone where I serve as Founding Director since 2016.

Her educational background is in French and Global health and she has spent the past 5 years teaching in Sierra Leone. She has been involved in education, civic engagement, girl empowerment, and agricultural projects.

Yasmine loves writing, researching, photography, traveling, acting/playing drama games, watching movies and doing yoga.

She speaks to SLA on her aspiration to expand Ori and grow Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone into a training center in West Africa for girl child capacity building.


What motivated you to become a social entrepreneur?

I didn’t actually plan or aspire to be an entrepreneur ever let alone become a social entrepreneur.

When I left the United States in February 2014 and returned to Sierra Leone I didn’t have a job.

After 3 months of job searching I found one at a school in June 2014, however, Ebola engulfed the nation and schools were shut down in July 2014 after a national emergency was declared by the then-president.

During those 9-10 months of schools being closed, what saved me was private tutoring. I did that throughout and in April 2015 when the emergency was uplifted I started searching for formal employment and got a placement to commence September 2015.

Returning to a harsh job market in 2014, this catapulted me into entrepreneurship – @MinaBilkis Click To Tweet

From September to December 2015 my tutoring “side hustle” grew and it surpassed my salary — it was then I took a calculated risk and decided to quit formal employment and grow this newfound business.

I registered my tutoring/translation business as Mina Bilkis & Co in 2016 and started catering to teaching adults in the evenings who work in NGOs, offices and it expanded to private tuition classes as well.

The proceeds of the tutoring business I reinvested in buying photography equipment and a camera (as I mentioned earlier, I love photography) and added the photography division to my business.

In July 2017, I opened the shea butter business but at the time it was called Karité (French for shea butter) with the aim making it a social business so as to make Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone (which was founded in 2016) more sustainable and by designating 5% of our proceeds to Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone.

However, in early 2018 I decided to shut down productions for 9 months. Upon further research, I discovered that the name Karité was already trademarked. So I went back to the drawing board and in October 2018 Ori was born.

In March 2019 it was officially launched where our beneficiaries of Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone gave some of their testimonies of the program and how they have benefited from Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone.

Returning to a harsh job market in 2014, this catapulted me into entrepreneurship, moreover living in such a astoundingly beautiful country yet endures so much pain and suffering and is victim to the paradox “resource curse”, I don’t see how one wouldn’t want to help and build your community in your own way.

Tell us about your work with Girl Up Vine Club, and how it is impacting communities in Sierra Leone?

Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone or Girl Up was founded in January 2016 and operates at the government-assisted secondary school called Vine Memorial Secondary School for Girls (VMSSG) in Freetown at the Junior Secondary School (JSS) (middle school) level targeting girls ages 11-17.

We aim to promote the health, safety, leadership, and education of adolescent girls in Sierra Leone through community outreach, advocacy, and public speaking workshops.

Our main projects are Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM)/Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights (SRHR), Digital Rights and Sexual & Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).

We meet once a week for 90 minutes and discuss a topic of the week outlined in our monthly curriculum.

Our topics stem from social issues ranging from mental health, peer pressure, self-care, health and body rights, and feminism. Every year the new girls (who get inducted at the start of every year) are given journals to log in their thoughts and are given assignments on a topic discussed or are asked to research new words or expressions.

As English Language and speaking is an underlying issue for many, we do English classes often to strengthen their Grammar and Vocabulary so they are able to facilitate workshops or speak in public confidently in addition we offer internal public speaking and self-confidence building sessions.

So far, our beneficiaries have facilitated workshops in Kambia Port Loko, Moyamba and other parts of the country sensitizing, educating and engaging different communities in the scope of our aforementioned projects.

Do you have success stories of the girls that you’ve mentored so far?

In my 2018 Tedx talk entitled “Creating Safe Spaces in the Global South”, I highlighted my work at Girl Up and our success stories and our beginnings and mentioned the following girls:

Suad Baydoun

Suad Baydoun served as the first President of Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone. I met Suad in October 2015 at the US Embassy when I was co-facilitating the International Day of the Girl Child.

She was actually the reason why Girl Up was launched at her school. She was a Junior Secondary School student at the time preparing to take her middle school exam: Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) that upcoming academic year.

Three years she has blossomed to socially driven and motivated young woman. She has now taken her West African Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) waiting for her results to go to university.

She has founded her own safe space for girls at her senior secondary school — St. Joseph’s Secondary School and she is a TV presenter.

Mariam Jalloh

Mariam Jalloh was very timid and withdrawn when we first met three years ago and wasn’t academically strong.

She graduated as the highest-ranking student of her year and was also selected as class prefect. She aspires to study Accounting in university next year upon her WASSCE results.

She currently serves as our Co-Program Coordinator and Teen Advisor at Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone.

What are some challenges you faced while growing your vision for the organization?

To impact change — long-lasting and sustainable change it doesn’t come easy and anything easy I tend not to want (haha).

Nothing good comes easy I believe but sometimes you can also become fatigued by not seeing the fruits of your labor manifest sooner than anticipated.

A challenge starting Girl Up was deconstructing what girls have been learned and taught their entire life — which translates in the way they speak, think about/perceive themselves and surroundings and the way they interact with one another and loved ones.

Wanting to unlearn something as an informed person is one challenge, but educating others on how to is a different ballpark and that was a challenge at first in growing my vision and molding Girl Up Vie Club Sierra Leone.

There is no right or wrong way or answer to combat this and I am not someone who is easily defeated so I persisted and continue to persevere. I myself continue to unlearn toxic societal “norms” and patriarchal stratification.

What helps me is surrounding myself by like-minded people I can express my grievances to, laugh with and I partake in guided meditation sessions and do yoga to recharge and recalibrate myself.

As an organization, we learn and grow together so when we hit these hurdles in regards to

Identity isn’t stagnant, it’s dynamic as are human beings. We evolve. I have evolved and grown and will continue to do so – @MinaBilkis Click To Tweet

Do you have role models that have influenced your journey?

I would be doing my entire existence a disservice if I do not start with my family. I owe my mindset, strength, and determination to my parents but most importantly my mother — Dr. Aisha Fofana Ibrahim.

My mother is a feminist scholar and activist who teaches Gender Studies at both the undergraduate and masters level at Fourah Bay College (FBC) – University of Sierra Leone (USL).

It is with her love, encouragement, and support I am who I am and do what I do. So my mom has played an exponential role in my journey.

Outside of my family dynamic, I would say Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I am her secret child she doesn’t know about. Chimamanda is fearless and speaks her mind unapologetically (even if it is deemed “controversial”). I like that.

I also adore Oprah Winfrey. Always have as a child. She is the epitome of inspiration and motivation. I admire her business mindset and when I have my Ori and Mina Bilkis cap on, I say to myself “What would Oprah Winfrey do?”.

Also, I think of how she began her career and see how she has from TV and transcended throughout the decades and is relatable to all walks of life. I like that because I aspire to that.

Recently, I’ve been looking up to Rihanna as well. From a successful singing career to becoming a successful businesswoman with more to come.

Identity isn’t stagnant, it’s dynamic as are human beings. We evolve. I have evolved and grown and will continue to do so, therefore I like that about Rihanna. She’s unstoppable.


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Takeaways from Sheryl Sandberg’s Book – Lean In

Lean in is a book I’ve always wanted to read from the first day I saw it.  The three words at the cover caught my attention – Women, Work, and Leadership.

These three words have unique interconnectivity that I just could not resist. I’ve been looking forward to reading this book and I gripped it from the moment I found it on the shelf.

Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer for Facebook where she has worked in since 2008. She has also worked with Google and lots of major brands.

She began her career as a staff at the US Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers, since then she has climbed the corporate ladder and is now the only female at the board of directors for Facebook.

Her book –Lean In encourages women to be more assertive in the workplaces, stock filled with her experiences on motherhood, leadership, and career. Lean in is a book I encourage every Motherland Mogul to read.

Here are some few tips I picked from chapter 1 alone. I hope it wills you to pick up on this book from the shelf.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WEREN’T AFRAID?

Statistics show that:

At the top fifty colleges, less than a third of Student Government Presidents are women

Profession ambition is expected of men but is optional, or worse, sometimes even a negative-for women

“And for all the progress, there is still societal pressure for women to keep an eye on marriage from a young age,” She wrote in her book.

Sheryl shares the story of her first marriage. She married early expecting that it would secure a happy life for her. “In my head, 24 is the perfect age to get married, I think it’s time I do some rethinking”. She said.

For all the pressure to be successful, I felt a higher pressure to get married early - @sherylsandberg Click To Tweet

“Many women still see ambition as a dirty word,” she says

That’s true. Just the other day I told my friend that my sister was very ambitious like it is a bad word. She works with a large editing firm and when I tell people that, they go “hey that’s cool, she should think of getting married’.

They honestly do not expect more from her. She has proved her point, she has worked hard, now it’s time to get married.

Leadership roles are not the only way to have a profound impact.” – Sheryl Sandberg

Hellen Keller says “Power is being able to make a decision in the thing that matter to you” sometimes being a CEO may not be the thing that matter most to people.

Sheryl closes the chapter saying – “Writing this book is what I would do if I weren’t afraid”

Now you, what would you do if you weren’t afraid?


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Rukky Esharegharan: I am redefining education in Nigeria

Rukky Esharegharan is an early childhood education expert and founder of The Teachers Hub and South Pacific Teachers Academy. This is an initiative she founded to help deal with the lack of skilled teachers in the Nigerian education sector.

In less than two years since founding The Teachers hub, Rukky has grown its membership from 1 to 7500 members. She talks to us about her journey building the Nigerian education sector. 


How did your journey as an educator begin?

I first began my journey 16 years ago as a nursery teaching assistant while I awaited my university admission. Initially, I wanted to be a doctor and later a writer. For my degree, I studied English and later published a series of short stories, wrote a novel and started a blog.

Teaching was just something I did during the holidays to pass time. Our society does not promote teaching as a lucrative profession for high achievers, so even though I was great at teaching, I never thought of it as a prospective career.

Two things changed me.

Firstly, my quest to play an active role in my children’s lives led me to study more about early childhood care and education. Secondly, my teaching experience in a government secondary school in Warri, Delta State, opened my eyes to the decay in our education sector.

When I met the children, something stirred up within me. Each day I would go home upset and worried about how unmotivated the senior secondary students were.

I wanted to help these children but a 40-minute English lesson three times a week was not enough. Therefore, I decided to fully immerse myself in education.

I am redefining education in Nigeria, one teacher, one school owner, one parent at a time - Rukky Esharegharan Click To Tweet

Tell us about The Teachers Hub and the impact it is making

I started ‘The Teachers’ Hub in December 2016 with a singular vision ”to equip parents and educators with 21st-century teaching skills.” Though we have schools for education, we lack skilled teachers.

The Teacher’s Hub community was founded with the aim to network with, and helping other educators. In the past 8 months, I have trained over 350 educators (teachers, parents, school owners and consultants).

The many testimonials have inspired me to keep going. A parent from one of my courses called me to say she had decided to become a full-time teacher after the training with me and I cried with joy. I am redefining education in Nigeria: one teacher, one school owner, one parent at a time.

How has social media enabled you to grow The Teachers Hub brand and what makes it stand out?

The Teachers’ Hub started as a Facebook group a while back, and we’ll be hosting our first of many Early Childhood Education Conference in April and May across 4 states (Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Delta).

Without social media, I won’t have come this far. I have people contact me from different parts of the world and that’s because of the power of social media.

What makes The Teachers’ Hub stand out is that I give of myself so freely. When I first started, I had a dear friend call me to say ” Why are you sharing so much for free in your group?” She could not understand when I tried to tell her that I just wanted to help other educators find their way.

Without social media, I won't have come this far - Rukky Esharegharan Click To Tweet

What advice can you give aspiring teacher being held back by the poor remuneration in Nigeria’s education sector?

I like to say that ”teaching is a work of the heart.” Do it, not for the money, but for the love of our children, the love and future of our country. Only quality education can liberate us from the mess we face in our country. Make that sacrifice today so that our children will get a better future.

Money is important because we all have needs. However, money is often the after effect of hard work, passion, dedication, personal development. Be the best teacher you possibly can be and the money will come.

What difference did working with UNICEF make in your journey as an educationist?

My current work with UNICEF has opened my eyes even more to the realities of the Nigerian education sector. When one is a teacher or even a school owner or consultant, they don’t fully grasp the decay or damage in the system, unless you have someone show you a bigger picture.

UNICEF helped me look beyond the symptoms of our dysfunctional educational system to the root cause. And our team’s solution will address the root cause and not just the symptoms. It’s a very big project that would have a national impact.

What lessons have you garnered from your entrepreneurial journey?

I have learned that to be a successful entrepreneur, one must be passionate, committed, focused, hardworking, highly self-motivated and be a lifelong learner.

Don’t be too quick to say I have arrived, no matter how good you are, because there is always something more to add, to learn, to be.

There is this saying that a teacher’s reward is in heaven, what is your take on that?

Yes, I believe the saying to be partly true because great teachers are like mothers: our love and commitment to the children can never be adequately compensated with material gains.

While I will say yes we have a very big reward waiting for us in heaven, we can and should experience wealth in financial terms, also good health, peace, and satisfaction here on earth. All we need to do is work consistently on being the best versions of ourselves.

Don't be too quick to say I have arrived, no matter how good you are Click To Tweet


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The purpose of business: The business of purpose

Chioma Okunu - Recycle Points

A few decades ago the notion of the Triple Bottom Line became commonplace. The phrase introduced the concept that businesses, particularly global brands, have a responsibility to ensure that their business and their business practices not only render to them (internal) economy prosperity, but that their business practices safeguards the environment, and delivers social responsibility (external). The Three E’s – economy, ecology and equity.

More recently, the notion of sustainability and climate change has become a global dictate for ensuring and assessing the actions of corporations – again as a measure of ensuring that corporations take responsibility in and for their global business practices. This ensure that in operating their businesses, they are not in any way depleting the environment and livelihoods, nor negatively impacting the lives of future generations.

As usual, naysayers thought it was all hogwash – a liberal, goody-goody notion that some had latched onto to make their businesses look good. A notion that was good for shareholder value and drenched in profit-making with little thought for ecology and equity.

But I beg to differ.

You see, the future is not only a place we are going, it is also a place we are creating – and as such there can be a trade off between the present and tomorrow, depending on how we live, and ultimately how we lead and how we do business.

What am I driving at?

I am very much interested in the idea of transformational business leadership as opposed to transactional business leadership. My premise is that business leadership should be transformational and purposeful, and not merely transactional. Your business leadership should have a positive and resounding transformational impact on your internal (staff) and external (clients, shareholders, and partners) stakeholders, to the extent that the leadership positively impacts society at large. Not my responsibility, I hear you say. Well, let’s look at the business landscape and how this notion is being played out in the business sector – and particularly by two women in business.

PwC released its 19th Annual CEO Global Survey at the recently concluded World Economic Forum in Davos. Shannon Schuyler, President of PwC Foundation and Chief Corporate Responsibility and Purpose Officer, in an article in the Huffington Post, wrote that the 19th CEO Survey had revealed that while CEOs and companies may define purpose differently, for many ‘purpose is why their business exists’. More importantly, the CEOs noted that they recognise that companies have a wider responsibility to provide value to all stakeholders: ‘business profits and societal prosperity are inseparable: purpose is what aligns and unites them.’

Ms Shannon words were music to my ears. Essentially, global business leaders accept that business is not merely a secular, transactional act, but an intellectual and purposeful act to respond profoundly to societal needs. And that is why you need transformational leaders, leaders with unusual, far sighted ways of thinking and doing, to lead businesses – and ultimately – to shape societies.

Jen Lim is the CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Delivering Happiness – a company she co-founded to inspire science-based happiness, passion and purpose at home, work and in everyday life. For Delivering Happiness, companies can successfully use happiness as a business model to increase productivity and profitability, proving that companies with a higher sense of purpose outperform others by 400%.

Here’s the premise

My premise is that the higher sense of purpose, the ‘why’ of your business, is the strategic and leadership responsibility of the business leader to know, own, cascade and secure buy-in into by internal and external stakeholders. People generally are always pursuing happiness. They want to be part of something big and bigger than themselves – and what a better place to know and find that than the place where they spend two-thirds of their day, i.e. work?

For me, it will take transformational leadership to build the business of your dreams. It will take transformational leadership to have a sustainable business. And it will take transformational leadership to have a truly loyal, dynamic and productive set of internal stakeholders – as well as a set of external stakeholders that render you and your business profit.

The transformational business leader is concerned about all their stakeholders – the enterprise itself, the clients, their staff, their business partners – and they go out of their way to identify the needs of each one, after which they seek to arrive at a place of business operations that delivers joint value to all stakeholders.

Ms. Schuyler delivered superbly on an enthralling Twitter chat on 18th February about using purpose to drive business. She demonstrated explicitly that in businesses, purpose leads to more innovation, focus, human intensity and quality – and that each of these drive profit.

Business therefore is not only a commercial transaction for financial gain but also a potentially transformational endeavour for financial and societal good. Business is purposeful, and there is business in purpose.

Creating impact that works: Tips from my start-up experience in Ghana

Eu'Genia Shea - Impact

Naa-Sakle Akuete is the founder of Eu’Genia Shea, the first line of premium shea moisturizers dedicated to using 100% natural ingredients in partnership with female cooperatives in Ghana. She shares what she’s learned from working with rural communities for her natural products.


When my mother founded a shea butter manufacturing company in Ghana in 1999, she had never heard the term “double bottom line.” She did, however, know that if she was going to succeed in business, she wanted to do so in an ethical manner.

By partnering with pickers from female cooperatives, paying them above-market prices, and offering organic and financial training, she was able to ensure that her community thrived along with her business. Her decades of experience inspired me to start my own finished products line last year: Eu’Genia Shea.

As I pore through her life’s work, applying lessons learned and trying to avoid mistakes already made, one point shines through brightly: good intentions do not always yield good results.

Hopefully, some of these points will be helpful to others aiming to make mutually beneficial business partnerships in rural developing communities.

Build Trust

You know yourself, you understand your motives, and without a doubt, your heart is in the right place. But even if you are native to the country/region/community, how can others be assured of this goodwill if they do not know you? SNV is a Swiss nonprofit dedicated to “creating effective solutions with local impact”, in this case facilitating savings. They entered Damongo, Ghana with speeches and promises, but without any connections. The cooperatives with which we work were understandably wary.

How many times have they encountered non-profits who raised their hopes only to disappear, or worse still, people claiming to have their best interests in mind, only to cheat them? They sent the confused SNV away then SNV came to my mother to explain their mission. My mother spoke on their behalf, and now SNV is a valued contributor to these cooperatives.

Bottom line: Understand the legacy of the community and approach accordingly, whether through an intermediary or through years of proving yourself (which takes a bit longer, but Mum can confirm it works!)

Listen

There are thousands of aid organizations flooding millions of dollars into poor communities globally. Most of them have good intentions, but their money still goes to waste. For example, on one visit to our facilities in Damango, Mum occasionally saw workers without shoes. As a westerner, or a native with a westerner’s perspective, this is jarring for a number of reasons, not least of all because of the safety implications.

She spoke with the women and made a point of purchasing shoes for all of the workers on her next trip to the US to ensure that no one was left unprotected. Upon her return, some women again were not wearing shoes. When she inquired about it, she discovered two things: some husbands were absconding with their wives’ shoes and some women found it difficult to maneuver in the new shoes.

Had my mum taken the time to dig a little deeper originally, she would have found that buying local shoes closely fitting each woman would have helped solve both problems.

Encourage them to maintain assets

Now you’re partnering with a community whose needs you understand and are able to address. You’ve suggested ideas and implemented technology where appropriate; they’ve told you why half of your bright ideas aren’t quite so bright, and everything is moving along swimmingly. It’s come time to leave them for a couple weeks, months, or years…

Before you leave operations in their hands, make sure you’ve given them the tools and know-how to maintain (and how often to maintain) any machinery you’ve introduced. The once shiny, now corroded Japan Motorbike rusting by our plot is a great example of something that made life easy for a couple months before falling into disrepair.

Choose the right customers

You’re running a business not a charity. On one end, you have Bill Gates in Microsoft era and on the other, Bill Gates in the Bill & Melinda Foundation era. You don’t have to be either extreme, but what you have to do is make enough money to keep yourself afloat and to continue the work you’re doing.

If social impact causes your products to be slightly more expensive than competitors, find the customers who care. And make sure your product is worth it! At Eu’Genia Shea, not only do we pay above market wages, provide training, and give 15% of our profits back to our workers, our longevity in the industry helps ensure our products are always of the highest quality.

Our customers get expertly moisturized skin, our partners make a good living, and we get to keep on doing what we love — win/win!

Transparency

Your aim is to do great things, so be open about it. Maybe you’re not doing quite as much as you’d like yet. For example, 15% of profits covers some of the tuition costs of our worker’s children, but not all. I’d love Eu’Genia to be able to give all the children in our communities a free education. I’d love to provide all past and future workers with a pension when they retire. I’d love to offer free daycare to workers whose children are below school age.

The reality, however, is that I’m not in a position to do any of this yet. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try though. Along the way, I’m sure I’ll make mistakes. But my mistakes can be learning points for me and other entrepreneurs like me. Being transparent about our goals and processes not only allows others to give us valuable feedback, but also supports the growth of all enterprises looking to make an impact.

We live in a big and complicated world with many societal issues I’ve never heard of or understood. If those who are able can contribute to improve the landscape how best they know, our actions will magnify each other’s. I’m excited to be a small part of this effort.


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

Carpe Diem: Engaging Africans in the Diaspora for development

Diaspora Demo Day

Every year, the Motherland loses some of its most brilliant minds to other parts of the globe. They leave for a number of reasons that include political instability, repression, conflict, and poverty, and do so in the hope of getting better education and job opportunities. They become a part of the diaspora, non-resident Africans who still feel a strong connection to their origins.

According to the World Bank, there are 39 million Africans in North America, 113 million in Latin America, 13.6 million in the Caribbean, and 3.5 million in Europe. They are well-educated professionals and together they send over 40 billion US dollars in remittances to the Africa every year. Per

The power of the diaspora lies in their duality. They identify with both cultures and act as a bridge to communicating the true African experience. Utilizing this duality can help in a number of areas.

Fighting the negative imagery

A number of Diasporans are young, talented and optimistic about the future. They’re also eager to return to help Africa progress. Having achieved success in their respective fields, they defy the perception of despairing poverty, corruption, and repression that often overshadow Africa’s success stories.

The politics

Our global representatives can also make changes in foreign policy. When it comes to negotiating interventions and support, diasporans can provide an authentic African voice to political discourse by communicating the needs, potential and realities of Africans.

Sharing skills

They can also apply their knowledge and talent to close the skills gap, which would help attract foreign investment. After all, the Motherland doesn’t lack intelligence. What Africa lacks are opportunities to apply and develop its talent.

So how do we put this into practice?

Almaz Negash, a respected business executive and non-profit leader, has a feasible solution. Negash was born and raised in Eritrea, and went on to study in the US. She now works to connect Africans on the continent with those in the Diaspora.

Negash suggests using the African Diaspora Network (ADN), an online platform, to convert the $40 billion remittances into investments.

This is easier said than done. The ADN solution requires reliable infrastructure and policies that are conducive to conducting functional businesses. These include enforcement of property rights and political stability. There are concerns over whether or not African governments have the capacity to enforce such policies or even comply with them themselves. The ADN must also figure out the best way to engage with the diaspora. Not all diasporans are Pan-Africans so some may focus more on their own countries than the entire continent.

But, if successful, the creation of a diaspora database could work as a platform for the Diaspora to share their entrepreneurial capacity with those at home, and be a forum for Africans to seek investors and donors. This will allow Diasporans and resident Africans to form partnerships and invest in each other.

ADN could also function as a space for nonprofits to connect with Africans and share ideas on how to best tackle development problems and create sustainable solutions. Over half a trillion dollars has been spent on aid to Africa since independence, and almost nothing has come of it. The ADN could be the missing link.

Proof of Concept

A similar model has worked in India. As a country that is dependent on remittances, the Indian government has made a conscious effort to engage with the Indian diaspora. Through liberalizing their trade policies, India has been able to attract its diaspora’s investment. They have also established the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs that connects to the diaspora through youth teaching, cultural education, and annual awards to revered Indians living abroad.

So…what are we waiting for?

Sadly, African governments aren’t doing the best they can to connect with Africans abroad. At least 32 African countries have set up specialized units or ministries to engage with diaspora, but these units tend to be under financed and understaffed. As a result, African governments are not engaged with their diasporans.

But Ethiopia is making moves

The country established an Ethiopian Diaspora Directorate in 2002. It now has a web portal with information for the diaspora about potential investment and trade opportunities, on-going development projects, and the Ethiopian diaspora policy. Ethiopians born outside of the country can get “yellow cards” allowing them to travel without a work permit or visa. The Ministry of Health also attracts professional diasporan doctors to work in their health sector. Ethiopia now has its first emergency response residency program.

SLA also knows what’s up

We too have recognized the need to harness diasporan potential. In November 2014,  SLA co-produced and co-hosted Diaspora Demo Day, a social impact pitch competition. Diaspora Demo Day is the largest convention of African startups, entrepreneurs, and angel investors outside of the continent. SLA took seven African startups to the showcase where growing tech companies and social enterprises focused on Africa and the diaspora were presented.

Demo Day took place in Washington DC and was attended by policymakers, impact investors, journalists, development professionals, and leaders of African enterprises. Participants gained media exposure from multiple outlets like Washington Post, BET.com, and AllAfrica.com to name a few.

Carpe Diem

6 out of the 10 fastest emerging markets are in sub-Saharan Africa: Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone. So now is time better to invest in Africa’s future.