Leila Mohamed: Nurturing Africa’s brilliant young female leaders and living authentically

I am unafraid of mistakes, I gauge my growth by how fast I make mistakes in a given week Click To Tweet

Leila Mohamed is a wordsmith, a loving soul and a force to reckon with in education, health care, and organizational leadership. She heads admissions and strategic partnerships for the Zawadi Africa Educational Fund; an organization that has sent brilliant African women to universities in the United States, across Africa and Europe for the past 15 years.

Leila has interacted with ambassadors, and rubbed shoulders with top business and humanitarian leaders including the serial entrepreneur Dr. Chris KirubiEva Muraya (CEO Brand Strategy and Design Group), Connie Nielsen (Actress and Co-Founder of The Human Needs Project), Diana Ofwona (UN Women Regional Director for West and Central Africa), just to name a few, in a bid to create networks to help Zawadi Africa in its commitment to its scholars.

She graduated from St. Lawrence University and has a Master’s in Public Health Management from the University of Southern Maine in the United States. SLA contributor Kerubo Wall, also a Zawadi alumna, has known Leila for the past five years. She caught up with Leila to highlight the crucial work she does.


Who is Leila Mohamed?

I was born and raised in Mombasa, Kenya and I am the second born in a family of seven children. I enjoy running, creating value at work and for people I care about. Most importantly, I enjoy being authentic and braver every day.

I spent a significant part of my life in the US for my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees through the Zawadi Africa Educational Fund – an organization that secures full scholarships for African high school graduates with leadership potential and coaches them throughout their academic and professional journeys.

What gets me out of bed every day is the allure of progress. Not only for personal and professional development but also for my immediate family, my Zawadi Africa family and the opportunity to be impacted by the powerful stories of the young girls we work with in our offices and in the high schools we visit.

You head alumnae relations for Zawadi Africa, what are the greatest aspects of this job? What are your fondest experiences?

Alumnae relations is a significant part of what I do at Zawadi Africa. We have an all women team running the program and my colleagues are passionate about women’s empowerment. I love to win, so it is exciting to work with other diligent women to create opportunities for our scholars. Shoutout to my colleagues, Eva Ntalami, Lilian Kwamboka, Hajara Musah and Rose Nyaondo.

As a Zawadi Africa alumna, I feel a special connection to this transformational program as it directly impacted my life for the better. As the alumni relations lead, I support a team of Zawadi Scholars to organize our annual US leadership conferences. I enjoy this role because it involves paying attention to the needs of our scholars and finding ways to amalgamate those needs into a theme and list of speakers who would speak to their current needs.

As a Zawadi Africa alumna, I feel a special connection to this program as it impacted my life for the better Click To Tweet

At our leadership conferences, our scholars are inspired to discover and use their strengths and passions to invest economically, socially and academically in Africa. The opportunity to spend time interacting with, and asking questions of key leaders in various industries is often life-changing for these young women, many of whom are the first to attend college in their families.

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Our past speakers have included Mr. John Pepper (Retired CEO of Procter and Gamble), Atsango Chesoni (Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission), PLO Lumumba (Former Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission Director), Patricia Ithau (Regional Director Stanford Seed – ‎Stanford Graduate School of Business, Kenya), Suzan Kereere (Head of Global Merchant Client Group – Visa), and Peter Nduati (CEO – Resolution Health), just to name a few.

This year, Zawadi Africa celebrates 15 years of giving the gift of higher education to more than 350 incredible young female leaders across Africa and mentoring over 20,000 high school girls. To celebrate this landmark, Zawadi Africa is stepping up its fundraising to reach higher heights and I would like to take this opportunity to highlight our GoFundMe page as a convenient means that friends can support us through. Please do consider helping our noble cause of creating a pipeline of Africa’s next generation of women leaders. To the people who have supported us, we thank you.

You post a lot on your social media about authentic living. Could you speak to that?

Most of what I talk about in my social media can be summarized by a quote by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, “… It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.”

I am passionate about growth beyond the realities of our destruction -particularly the excellence an individual brings to their area of work and/or relationships. The Philosophy of Living intrigues me -how do we thrive despite life’s successes and turmoil. The separation of one’s worth from one’s gains or losses. Maintaining one’s sanctity of humanity and joy despite what it is you acquire or lose externally. Tough times shape us into stronger beings, and more importantly, the constant reflection and being connected to one’s own humanity helps us understand the ultra-complexity of people.

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The beginning and end of living an authentic life is not only practicing being true to oneself, which is a moment to moment agenda, but also being humble and being open to feedback. This is what I reflect mostly about on social media with my family and friends. The things I analyze are simple, from random conversations with family members, a stranger in a bus or a colleague at work. Being true to oneself means to honor and trust your journey -the beautiful and the ugly.

You feel wholesome and at ease with the world you when you answer honestly to what makes the most sense to you. Life is short, make your own rules and your own definition of what success really means. But of course have a circle of advisors and mentors, because being pushed while you are comfortable in your skin can mean significant growth for an individual.

Being true to oneself means to honor and trust your journey - Leila Mohamed Click To Tweet

I think of you as my older, wiser sister. Every time I got on a Skype call with you in undergrad, you oozed wisdom, love, and comfort. How do you achieve that?

That is very kind of you to say, thank you.

Wisdom, love, and comfort are good things to be associated with. The person I am today is a conglomeration of experiences I went through, and observations and recalibrations I had to make as a result of personal lessons from life and interactions with other people. I owe a lot of my humanity to my mother, for her strength in character and spirit is something not short of a dream and goal for me. Although I was raised in a low-income family, our household had immense joy and comfort. My Zawadi Africa sisters and family have also had a significant part in my growth.

I am unafraid of mistakes, in fact, I gauge my growth by how fast I make mistakes in a given week, I only make sure I do not repeat a mistake. Failing fast, failing forward. Philosophy blogs and books have helped my thinking. From spirituality to friendships, I have always been curious about how I could better my work and family relationships. I learned a great deal from my mother whom I consider one of wisest people I know of, she is down to earth and has immense faith in life in itself. She has seen it all but still works hard with an undeniable sense of hope and gratitude.

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Do you have a blog where you write?

Yes, I do. I reflect a lot about my journey, and the opportunities life presents on my blog. I also include reflections on interesting TEDtalks. There is joy in creating and magic in putting yourself out there. I have struggled for a while even about sharing this link with people outside my circle of very close friends, less than five people actually know I am the author of the blog.

I, however, have a good group of followers who happened to stumble upon my blog. It is time I became braver and let people see my random thoughts on my blog. So here it is – The Magic of Process.

What are your sources of wisdom and encouragement?

My favorite books are everything by the British Philosopher Alain de Botton, Founder of The School of Life – especially “Essays in Love” and “Status Anxiety”.

I also refer to books by  Eckhart Tolle “The Power of Now” and “A New Earth”.

Blogs I frequent:

  1. Productive Muslim – a blog by Mohamed Faris (Abu Productive) about meshing Islamic principles and habits with work ethics.
  2. Blood and Milk – A blog by the international development expert Allana Shaikh.
  3. Zen Habits – A blog by Leo Babauta that focuses on simplicity and productivity.
  4. The Lazy Yogi – A lifestyle blog by a wise 28-year-old meditation enthusiast who is currently a medical student.
  5. Shaping African Conversations – A blog by a good friend of mine, Martha Wakoli, seeking to inform and educate the public on the progress in her home country, Kenya.
  6. Tim – a blog by Tim Ferriss, an American author, entrepreneur and public speaker (One great book he wrote is the 4-Hour Work Week).
  7. Abba Anxiety – A cool blog by a close friend of mine, also a Zawadi Africa alumna, Abba Arunga, that uses comics to describe most of the authentic feels we have in work spaces and in life.SLA pic 6

Any words of wisdom to the younger you, or younger women?

Do not be afraid of real hard work.

You are what you train yourself to be. Dr. Susan Mboya-Kidero, the Zawadi Africa founder, recently shared some advice on this. “…You will be overextended and overexert yourself especially in those first few years where you are trying to distinguish yourself from the pack. Don’t fear hard work. It is like exercise. It toughens you up. And enables you to do more.

And the more you build your muscles the less you sweat each time you face a mountain of work. So, go ahead. Overexert yourself. It’s the only way to build the stamina you will need to get to the top. Aim high. Be ambitious. And if you fail, don’t let that get you down. Pick yourself up. Learn life’s lessons and start again.”

There's nothing more painful than lack of progress, whether you are a billionaire or the person who cleans the street Click To Tweet
No matter what is happening around you, do not stunt your introspection.

Certainty brings comfort, comfort brings about stagnation, and stagnation can be all dandy when you do not have deadlines and excellence in delivery at stake. There is nothing more painful than lack of progress, whether you are a billionaire or the person who cleans the street.

If you do not feel like you are advancing in some way or delivering your true potential (growing beyond your current comfortable confines), then it will be a wasted opportunity and you will feel frustrated and unhappy.

Sometimes we try to get motivated or regain drive and we get stuck…this can mean that you might need a “system reboot” -something to jolt your inside system, to fill your cup. So, try it out, go see your family, take time out and travel to someplace new, take on a new hobby that excites you etc.

Details are important, but when dealing with people, always seek to be a “big picture” person.

Be aware that you are not perfect, you can hurt people and when you do, be sincere and heal the situation. Humanity is ultra-complex and it is way too easy to get lost in our truths and narratives. Be gentle with people, you do not know what other people are battling.

It does not hurt to be kind at all times. You will not lose a thing. Be aware and tame your ego. Remember that humility does not mean you let people step on your toes, stand your ground, but also invest in keeping your heart soft and forgiving as easily and as often as possible.


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Jackline Aseyo Kidaha: God gave me a beautiful mind to inspire others to dream bigger

I believe in touching one life at a time - Jackline Aseyo Kidaha Click To Tweet

Jackline Aseyo Kidaha is a Kenyan lady who founded Golden Hearts for the Vulnerable (GHV Initiative), a CBO in Kangemi, Nairobi.  The 24-year-old is also the Program Coordinator at Edge Disability Mainstreaming Partners (EDMAP AGENCIES), an organisation that convenes disability mainstreaming training and workshops for government ministries and parastatals.

As a young social entrepreneur still in her baby steps, Jackie believes in youth power as key actors to development and agents of positive change.


Why do you say that youths are the best agents of change?

Young people make up the largest population in Africa. The youth are growing up with high energy, creativity, innovativeness, and talents which I believe are key to the attainment of various Sustainable Development Goals.

All this needs to be tapped into as it’s not only for individual benefit but also for the betterment of the African continent to bring up social and economic shifts.

What are your expectations from this generation?

Much sacrifice and aggressiveness in reaching this goal of restoring our mother continent to abundance, wealth, and diversity.

The previous generation achieved the political emancipation but I expect the current youth of Africa to achieve the socio-economical emancipation. Thus this generation of young people needs to be more open-minded, proactive in identifying gaps and addressing them.

Can you give SLA readers a sense of where GHV Initiative is at the moment and what plans you have for the future?

GHV Initiative (Golden Hearts for the Vulnerable) in a glimpse is a registered community-based organization in an informal settlement called Kangemi (Nairobi). It was founded in March 2015 and was officially registered in March 2017. Our main goal being to empower the vulnerable groups in informal settlements with relevant information on life skills, talents and helping realize their rights as enshrined in various legal documents. This is to give them a voice to speak up, be their own decision-makers in life and be actors in development too.

So far I can contently say that we are a notch higher compared to when we began as GHV Initiative. We are now equipped to challenge and ready to bridge the gaps identified in our community. More so I can frankly say that as the Founder I now have a more reliable, committed and dedicated team that I work with to ensure that we achieve the overall GHV vision.

jackiephotoOur future plan as an initiative is setting up a centre which will compose of unique an art space; crafts making and a talent space to nurture the spirit of dancing. The centre will entail teaching crafting, dancing, communication and entrepreneurial skills to more groups.

We are also strategizing on coming up with a charity clothing line/boutique within the centre where well-wishers can to donate. This will have clothes for both boys and girls from ages 5 to 16 to enhance decency and boost their self-esteem which is critical to many of them, especially those in their teenage years who are shy in relation to how they are dressed thus pulling down their self-confidence.

Our empowerment program doesn't give fish but teaches target beneficiaries how to fish themselves Click To Tweet

What programs do you provide and what are some of the setbacks you have faced?

We have two programs so far. One is ‘Limited Edition’ which is a continuous life skill program for teenagers. It mainly seeks to equip young minds with knowledge of life, its challenges and how to overcome them by sticking to their principles. The program aims to reduce issues such as early pregnancies and unsafe sexual behaviour leading to school dropout as early as primary level. Being limited editions means that they are not easily swayed by things which will cost them their lives and not realize their dreams.

The second one is ‘Nifunze Nijitegemee’ (meaning “teach me so that I can be independent”) which is a continuous empowerment program that seeks to teach practical skills. We believe in not giving the fish but teaching the target beneficiaries how to fish by themselves. This is to enable them to shift their talents and skills gained into profits thereby making them sustainable.

Rolling out the programs at the beginning was a great challenge, as with any idea or innovation to be diffused both early adopters and laggards are present. Our target beneficiaries are diverse, have different mindsets, knowledge gap levels, lack of enough resources in terms of funds for facilitation and other logistics.

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What kind of response are you getting from the vulnerable groups you are empowering?

From the activities conducted so far by GHV Initiative, we have received positive and overwhelming feedback. This has stimulated and motivated us to do more despite the challenges.

We are constantly receiving calls and messages from the previous schools, children centers and hospital visited encouraging us to do these activities more often.

How are you measuring the impact or effectiveness of GHV Initiative in your community?

We utilize the theory of change in executing and evaluating our programs’ effectiveness. We have set a number of indicators and respective tools to measure that.

For instance, in determining self-esteem among the teenagers we use the Rosenberg Self-Esteem scale which has ten brief questions that an individual is asked to respond to.

After each activity conducted we monitor and evaluate the success and gaps to measure the impact of our programs.

Jackline Aseyo Kidaha is showing the world that something good can come out of the slum Click To Tweet

Besides education, how else are you empowering the people of Kangemi?

I personally make DIY things such as cards, hair accessories, bow ties, crocheted mats, scrapbooks and journals all with an African touch or theme.

Art is cool. I believe in touching one life at a time thus teaching those around me who are still figuring out the next step in life how to make the above stuff and getting small markets for them too. I do this during my free time just in the house.

jacklinekidaha

Are there any GHV Initiative stories you really want to tell?

I have always believed in my life being someone else’s inspiration not to give up on themselves. I would really like to share my personal journey as a young lady with big dreams living and overcoming challenges in the slum until the birth of GHV Initiative.

Moreso demystifying negative perceptions and assure the world that something good can come out of the slum and there’s more rising girl power in transforming African continent.

Tell me about something you would happily do again

Serving humanity, saving the vulnerable and doing charity.

When I do these I feel more accomplished. I have or would not regret doing this for the rest of my life. I believe God gave me a beautiful mind to inspire others to dream bigger and be their own change agents.


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Tabitha Tongoi: Authenticity matters

Write from personal experience has helped @CravingYellow remain consistent Click To Tweet

When a post on your blog clocks about 40,000 views in under 24 hours, I think it’s safe to call you a highly successful blogger. Tabitha Tongoi creator and owner of the Craving Yellow blog, still gets astounded to know that she reaches that many people with her effervescent nature and views on life’s ups and downs.

The 26-year-old Kenyan, natural hair enthusiast and lover of all things yellow has been blogging for over two years now. Tabitha touches on everything hair, beauty, lifestyle and of course, finding yellow i.e. finding joy in life’s simple pleasures. She has lived, worked and studied in four continents, her current home being Melbourne, Australia.

Tabitha is currently on holiday in Nairobi and SLA contributor Diana Odera caught up with her to get to know more about life as an African blogger in the diaspora.


Who is Tabitha outside of the craving yellow moniker?

Personally, I feel like I’m a thinker and I’m a writer. In my free time, I’m always thinking of new ideas, researching on creative projects etc. I love the mind space. I’m always engaging with my mind so I guess I’m a bit of an introvert; I spend a lot of time observing the world and people.

When it comes to my extended life – I’m the last born of 3, I have an older sister and an older brother who just got married last year.

Career wise – I am getting into the blogging space, I studied Political Science, which was never meant to bring me here but here I am.

I’m a bit of a nerd, I love to read and study, I‘ve always loved school. I also love to give and I love to encourage others and see them succeed.

How did the Craving Yellow movement begin?

It started when I was in my last year of uni. I had just come back from England, which was an amazing experience that made me grow into myself, learn how to formulate my own ideas and be confident in myself. Once I was back in the US with that mindset, I took a class on the power of documentary photography in telling new stories that are untold.

I had just finished reading Americanah and I was so inspired so I decided to turn the camera on myself and tell my story because I felt there weren’t enough women in the diaspora who’s stories were being told, if any. So I started off on that premise, I knew I loved hair and people would talk to me about hair so that was a constant conversation starter.

Hair was the hook but I also wanted to talk about other things e.g. who are you? When you go home what type of conversations are you having with yourself as a young African woman living abroad? It gradually took on a life of its own from there on. I saw a lot of my friends get into depression, addiction and just losing themselves so it was also about touching on these types of conversations and experiences that women face.

I was so inspired so I decided to turn the camera on myself and tell my story Click To Tweet

Your blog focuses on your natural hair journey as well as beauty and lifestyle topics. How do you go about creating great content that is relatable and consistent?

The premise has always been my hair because that is what I can teach people about as a skill I have. I haven’t been as regimented as I’d like to be because I have a full-time job and run the blog on the side.

On average I make sure to release 2-3 youtube videos, mostly on hair and hair reviews. On the blog, I put out two posts a month on hair and for lifestyle topics. I think that because I write from my own personal experience, the type of content stays consistent. I don’t write what everyone else is writing about so it just comes to me naturally. When I’m not able to write, I don’t force myself at all just to appear like I’m writing.

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At any point, have you felt the pressure from trolls online or any negative feedback that you may get on your blog – pressure to make you change from your premise?

In terms of hair care, in Kenya as compared to abroad, I have only felt pressured when I’m compared to fashion bloggers who have a very different production process and different content. Sometimes people blur the two.

By default, because the hair blogging field here is very small, it’s easy to be compared to others. But I think in terms of my own journey, one thing I really appreciate is having lived abroad and having had to be in my own mind space and create this blog with no outside interruptions. I admire what people do but I’m very clear in what my message is and what my premise is, I’ve never been threatened or intimidated.

Having lived in four continents, how have these diverse environments contributed to your personal growth, your professional and academic career?

I’ve really had to learn who I am and to be fine with that. I always stand out everywhere I go, so I’ve been forced to really look into myself and ask myself internally – who am I and what do I stand for, what are my passions, what drives me? etc.

As a whole, it’s allowed me to have a very clear vision of who I am as a young person, more than I would have if I had stayed in Kenya. I’ve learnt to be my own island. Adaptability has been another strength I’ve gained, great work ethic as well.

What keeps you motivated?

I think about young girls out there who are probably struggling with a lot and need just a bit to encourage them to push on and keep at it. A lot of women struggle with issues on love, lifestyle related issues, family, loneliness etc.

Whenever I feel lazy I remember that maybe someone is watching me and this is what’s keeping them motivated. That’s a privilege to be in a position like this. I put myself out there, not afraid of the risks or the negativity, I believe if my mission is true, people will see it.

When did you know it was time to monetize your site?

That actually just happened on its own to tell you the truth. When I set out to blog, I never really had a template, especially blogging internationally. Brands started reaching out to me about eight months after I began blogging and that was brand reviews.

In regards to monetization, that began a year and two months into blogging. It’s just happened gradually and sporadically. I’ve never approached a brand, they usually get in touch with me first because I do have a full-time job so I was never doing this for the money aspect. If it’s something that I know will be interesting content for my followers then I will consider it.

I’ve mostly just been testing the water, it’s not anything that was formalized, in fact, the job I‘m doing now, I got it because of my blog. I’ve never had a steady, livable amount of money come only from blogging. The thing people have to note with blogging is that it’s a journey and a step by step process.

So if you go out looking for money, people smell that on you and turn away and subscribers/followers get bored. You end up losing your personal touch. I’m still learning the ropes with this section but it’s looking more plausible as the blog grows.

I’ve never had a livable amount of money come only from blogging, it's a step by step process Click To Tweet

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What skills does one need to become a successful global blogger like yourself?

Blogging seems to be the in thing right now. I don’t think I’m as successful as you say but I think it starts with who you are. You have to really know what your purpose is and it has to be unshakeable. If you start blogging for Instagram likes, you’re going to die out real quick.

So for starters – know what story you want to tell and always write from where you want to write from. Don’t do things because it’s popular, don’t imitate other people – just do your own thing. By doing that, you establish your niche and your followers who will be reading other blogs as well will see why they should stick around with you and love you for who you are.

Authenticity matters and confidence in your message is very important. You’ll always find someone who’ll listen to your story.

Nelly Olang’: Women, sanitation & basic hygiene are the key to creating lasting change in Africa

Nelly Olang’: Lack of sanitation remains one of the world’s most urgent health issues. Click To Tweet

Nelly Olang’ is the founder and Managing Director of Connel Enterprises Limited, a company that brings relief to women and girls through provision of sanitary services. With good use of her creativity and drive, she is improving personal hygiene to transform lives and boost health and survival in Kenya.

Nelly thrives on challenges especially those that aim towards making her company grow. In her words, “I believe that the question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”

SLA Communications Fellow, Tonye Setima-Benebo was able to get more insight on Nelly Olang’s entrepreneurial journey in this interview below.


Please tell us more about your business?

My company is registered by the name Connel Enterprises Ltd. It is a hygiene services company which aims to bridge the gap in health promotion. The company provides quality foot-pedal operated sanitary bins that are placed in female washrooms.

The sanitary bins fit feminine hygiene requirements since they are placed with liners, perfumed disinfectant and strong granules that kill bacteria. This provides a safe and discreet disposal solution for female dressings. The bins are regularly maintained, serviced and contents are incinerated. Our clients include hotels and restaurants, hospitals, schools, offices, NGO’s, parastatals and churches. We are currently providing services in the Nyanza and Western Regions and rapidly expanding countrywide.

Why choose to focus on women’s hygiene?

Women, sanitation and basic hygiene are the keys to creating lasting change in Africa. Lack of proper sanitation and poor hygiene play a major role in mortality.  Ensuring that girls and women are provided with a means of observing their personal hygiene, could transform their lives by boosting their health.

Lack of sanitation remains one of the world’s most urgent health issues hence bringing relief to women and girls through provision of sanitary services will result in better services for all and benefit entire communities.

With limited resources, how were you able to run your start-up?

The first years were very challenging with cash flow. I had to plough back profits to keep the business running. This also made me run a one-man show for a while, as I had to play almost all the roles single-handedly (playing the marketer, director, messenger, accountant, service lady) till I could afford to employ staff to assist me.

I really had to reduce expenditures as much as possible and put all the cash I had growing the business as much as possible.

Entrepreneurship is about living like most people won’t to spend the rest of your life like most can’t. Click To Tweet

As an entrepreneur, what are some of your skills that have been useful in business?

Marketing skills: I am a very good marketer and very good at creating rapport and conversations. This has played a huge role in driving clients to have interest in our services and has greatly contributed to our growth in the two and a half years.

Customer focus: My number one priority is to ensure all our clients get quality service and that our service crew delivers professionalism which we promise our clients.

Communication skills: Through this skill, I have been able to charm new clients as well as retain our clients. This skill enables us to have a good relationship with our clients.

What lessons have you learnt from owning a business?

I have learnt that sometimes all you really have is just yourself to help you get what you want so you really have to go confidently in the direction of your dreams to get what you want. People will only show approval/support when things start taking shape.

I have also learnt that entrepreneurship is not an easy journey; most people never share the challenges. It’s all about living a few of your years like most people won’t so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.

Then I have learnt not everyone is genuinely happy for someone else’s accomplishment, loyalty is also very rare and you have to be careful about who you keep close to you.

Finally, passion, drive, patience, persistence and loving what you do and understanding your reasons for doing it, is very important to help you get started.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams to get what you want Click To Tweet

You started your business at younger than 25 years old, where do you see yourself at 50?

The future is bright, I have plans to scale it up and expand the business by incorporating hygiene-related services and expanding to the East African region.

Which would you spend more money on, make-up or lingerie?

I would spend more on lingerie.

Lingerie is the foundation of your everyday wardrobe so investing more on it would be better as it makes me feel comfortable.


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

Gina Din-Kariuki: Treat your business like you would a lover

I wasn't doing what I was doing just to be an entrepreneur, I was doing it to build a life I love Click To Tweet

Gina Din Kariuki is a great example of the trade she practices perfecting the public image. An expert in the communications and Public Relations field, Gina has grown her company Gina Din Corporate Communication into the award-winning machine it is today.

After 14 years with finance giant, Barclays Bank, she took a leap of faith and decided to be her own boss. The communication agency has been responsible for the strategic PR work for major brands like Kenya Airways, Red Cross, Safaricom and Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB). SLA contributor, Diana Odero engaged with Gina to discover the tricks of her trade and on why she thinks being a boss isn’t always as glamorous as people think.


Why did you choose to get into the communications and PR field?

I am actually a trained journalist but I have never practiced.

After school, I got a temporary job at Barclays handling their shares issue and ended up working there for 14 years. I started off as aPR manager and rose to become Head of Corporate Affairs. After that amount of time, I decided it was time to start my own company. October of this year will mark 20 years since we opened the doors to the Gina Din Group.

What has kept you going in this industry for almost two decades?

20 years in October! Quite a feat, it has been an incredible journey, let me break it down a bit for you.

  • Keep evolving: I have always set a high standard for the work we do. There is nothing we do today that will be good enough for tomorrow. We don’t place limits on what we can achieve and keep pushing ourselves further.
  • We have always had people who gave us opportunities. Starting out as a relatively unknown brand playing in the field with only international players (at that time) was challenging. We were lucky to have businesses that rolled the dice and gave us a shot well before I earned it. I am grateful to them 20 years later.
  • Perseverance. The ability to roll with the punches and hang in there even when things weren’t great. To have an inner faith and belief in yourself that tomorrow will be another day. Remaining optimistic is so important when running a business.
  • A great team is indispensable. I have had the opportunity to work with incredible people. Many who came to me with little to no experience but with passion and drive.
  • Treat your business like you would a lover. Give it love, attention and nurture it. Reignite the fire every now and again and always stay relevant.

What skills do you think one needs to be a great communicator?

You need to know what you are talking about. Obtain knowledge, insight and earn the respect of people in your industry so that you actually know your subject well.

Don’t just talk, listen. Focus on understanding what the other person is saying. Watch out for the non-verbal communication. Be open to other points of view. Build relationships.

20 years running a communications agency is quite a feat, @gina_din breaks down how she did it Click To Tweet

Running a company is no easy feat and you have probably felt burnt out a few times. If yes, how did you deal with it? What do you think is the best way one should deal with that feeling?

Of course, I have, as most business owners have. When I do feel a sense of burnout coming I take time to recognize I am human. Sometimes when one is successful we can be perceived as super humans… we can be seen as invincible and never failing. I have failed often and suffered burn out and fatigue. The key for me is to keep evolving as a person and as a brand. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “When you’ve finished changing, you’re finished.”

On a personal level, I keep a good balance between work and pleasure. I start the day with quiet time and set the tone for what my day will look like and that really helps in ensuring my mind doesn’t get too overwhelmed. Also, I travel a lot and love visiting new countries and seeing new cultures. I exercise, practice yoga and spend time with loving, supportive people.

Gina Reception

As an expert in your field, you’ve had your fair share of multitasking jobs. What skills would you advise young business women to have in order to be effective multi-taskers especially when working in a profession as demanding as Public Relations?

I like to break things down in blocks so it doesn’t appear too overwhelming and I try as hard as I can to avoid distractions.

Being efficient with your time is important when you have to juggle. It’s also crucial to learn to prioritize tasks and delegate what and where you can.

What has kept @gina_din going - the ability to embrace success & failure in equal measure Click To Tweet

Building an award-winning company from scratch must have come with its various challenges. How did you overcome any challenges that you faced and how would you advise the women reading SLA to handle challenges that may come their way?

I have faced many challenges and failures in business and in life but through everything I have found my inner strength and that is what has really kept me going -the ability to embrace success and failure in equal measure. When I first started my business, I took failure very personally but as my inner strength has developed, I have developed the knack of quieting the voice of resistance and stepping outside my comfort zones.

I have always tried to keep my spirits high and now fully understand my ‘big why’. In my 20 year journey, I have come to understand you never know what’s around the corner. It can be all or nothing and I am okay with both. I have a mentor who has created a very successful business and his advice to me was –act like a grown up.

Take responsibility. Don’t whine and complain. Do whatever it takes. I have learnt that perseverance is actually more important than skill in running your own business and whilst talent is important, it will only take you so far. My wall may be well decorated with awards but my greatest accomplishments are what I have had to overcome to get here.

Gina Office

There's a lot of talk about entrepreneurship right now and it has become quite glamourised Click To Tweet

What is the most important thing one must know about starting a company/business?

One must know that it’s not all cocktail parties and CEO moments. There’s a lot of talk about entrepreneurship right now and it has become quite glamourised. The thrill of one having freedom from full-time employment is so seductive. What people rarely talk about is how the freedom doesn’t come on a platter.

Success isn’t overnight… it takes many many nights of late toil, a lot of personal sacrifice, of building networks and serious hustling. The reality is that no one owes me a pay check and no one owes me attention. It’s up to me to ensure I create value.

I remember when we first started with literally no capital, no brand recognition, a few small clients and staff on our payroll. It was scary because there were literally so many people depending on the company for their livelihood. I had my share of sleepless nights.

Coming out of the safety net a blue chip organization, it was difficult to know what to expect. I had no boss, no performance review and no idea how to measure success. What I soon learnt though was success for me was about the learning… the learning of my clients, the market, my business and myself. Most of what I learnt couldn’t possibly be learnt before I started.

Starting out can be pretty lonely because you don’t have a trusted support network (which established businesses do) so you can’t get feedback from colleagues. I missed that part of belonging to the Barclays Family but I wasn’t doing what I was doing just to be an entrepreneur, I was doing it to build a life I love. To be able to build brands and empower individuals, to be able to spend time with the people I care for.

I knew what I wanted to contribute to the world and wanted to do something that makes me come alive every day. Too many times people build businesses without considering what they want on a personal level and soon become prisoners of their own making. Having your own business also means there’s no boss to blame. We make our own rules and get to create our own magic on our own terms.

What mantra do you live by?

The spaces beyond one’s comfort zone is where dreams come alive.


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

Emma Macharia: Invest in data and analytics from the beginning

EM Consulting exists to help such businesses scale through effective communication Click To Tweet

Emma Macharia is a communications consultant at EM Consulting, a communications firm based in Nairobi, Kenya. EM Consulting is dedicated to helping start-ups and SME’s grow and scale by effecting impact based marketing and communication strategies and tactics.

Passionate about life, people, and business, Emma loves insightful conversations and turning ideas into successful business stories. Emma shared with SLA her thoughts on the Kenyan start-up ecosystem and her tips on effective marketing for start-ups.


What are your thoughts on the Kenyan start-up ecosystem? How does your company fit into it?

Kenya’s startup ecosystem, in my opinion, is at maturity level. By this, I mean that we are slowing moving from the hype of entrepreneurship and now starting to look at the sustainability of businesses. We are evolving from collaborations into partnerships and similarly from churning just new products and services to products and services that are customer focused and scalable.

EM Consulting fits into this system simply because it exists for one agenda only which is to help such businesses scale through effective communication with all their stakeholders; suppliers, customers, shareholders and so on. We help your business speak one language to get everyone growing and moving in the same direction.

How easy (or difficult) was it for you to step up EM Consulting in Kenya? How did you overcome any challenges?

Setting up EM Consulting in Kenya was not too difficult because of continuously improved business facilities and regulations that make the process of setting up a business more flexible. Similarly, the relevant government institutions have begun opening up to entrepreneurs and taking a more active role in the entrepreneurship space in Kenya.

However, building a communications firm in Kenya was quite a challenge due to the cut-throat nature of the industry. For this, I ensured I built my business on values that would withstand the industry such as innovation. Also, I ensured to surround myself with people of different skills sets and expertise to help me create a solid and well-planned business. Some of these experts include financial experts, tax consultants, brand strategists and technology experts.

I ensured to surround myself with people with the expertise to help me create a solid business Click To Tweet

What do startups get wrong when it comes to marketing?

When it comes to marketing within a startup, it is very easy to initially place the customer in the back seat of the business. Between figuring out your financials, to perfecting the product and pleasing investors; customers tend to take a back seat in the scheme of things. This is where I feel startups get it wrong. If startups and founders mastered two key things then their solutions would be irrefutable. These are; the problem around the solution they are working on and the value proposition of their solution to their customer.

If there is one thing I would advise all startups to have on the back of their hand it is their customer; to do this, collect insights, and invest in data and analytics from the beginning.

How can start-ups leverage their brand to achieve business goals?

Your brand is your credibility, so to this, I say build a brand that attracts your customer to your business. Communicate correctly and efficiently; figure out the one message you want your customers and stakeholders to pick from you and communicate it efficiently. Also, invest in a marketing plan to reap well from your brand.

logo_pngHow do you hope to inspire current and future entrepreneurs? How can they get it right?

Through the training service of EM Consulting, I speak to and train businesses and entrepreneurs on the value and leverage of the customer in building a business. Through these training sessions, I am able to share insights and trends about different kinds of consumers and audiences in different industries hoping to spark new ideas and innovations amongst entrepreneurs.

How to get it right? Learn from and listen to your customer. There are a lot of benefits to focusing your business on the ‘consumer;’ it helps with forecasting the numbers, it helps you anticipate future trends and therefore innovate accordingly, it helps you build a business beyond yourself.

Figure out the message you want your customers/stakeholders to pick from you & communicate it Click To Tweet

What’s your major challenge as a startup that caters to other startups?

My major challenge as a startup working with startups and growing businesses would have to be money and buy in. I have learnt that the reason a lot of businesses are failing at communications and marketing is because they do not budget for it like any other business function.

Secondly, a lot of entrepreneurs and business owners overlook the role of effective communication on their bottom line. This is why I decide to include training and business consulting in my range of services to listen to my clients immediate and long-term business needs, and show them how effective communications will help them get there.

What communication trends have you noticed as more impactful for African businesses?

I personally think Africans are by nature early adopters of technology among other solutions and that is why platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Uber, and even LinkedIn thrive in our markets. However, in the last few months is when I’ve seen African businesses applying these technologies to their context and markets.

A great example is how service industries use WhatsApp or Telegram to build niche communities with their customers and share more personalized content or using Facebook communities to educate customers and build customer lists. Other communication trends include getting in touch with Generation Z consumers who are more focused on purpose and changing the world forcing businesses to relook their social impact as well as sharing more authentic communication to reach them.


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

Fatuma Abdullah: I am motivated by wanting to do better and making an impact

Fatuma Abdullah: My business is special because it contributes to raising confident African children Click To Tweet

We all know and probably owned at least two of the famous blonde doll in the world, Barbie. It has been an important part of the toy fashion doll market for over 50 years and it doesn’t seem to lose its popularity. A Kenyan-born entrepreneur wanted African girls to embrace their ethnic diversity and allow them to celebrate their uniqueness and thus Akiki Distributors was founded.

Fatuma Abdullah is the founder and owner of Akiki Distributors (Pty) Ltd, which manufactures and distributes Akiki Dolls. “Akiki’s Short Stories”, is her first self-published book. The Johannesburg-based entrepreneur has worked in Banking and NGO sectors delivering on development projects across Africa. 

We had the pleasure of interviewing Fatuma and this is what we learnt from her…


Why Akiki Dolls?

Akiki Dolls is about affirming the African girls’ confidence. Seeing themselves in a positive light translates to a positive self-image and a healthy self-esteem.

I want African children to experience and to grow in love with an Afro-centric 5-year-old girl who they can identify with. I chose the name Akiki, which in Swahili means ruby (the precious stone). A stone associated with nobility, high energy, courage and confidence.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I am inspired by my children’s laughter, Akiki’s stories are structured around that happiness.

Also, I am motivated by wanting to do better and making an impact. I love reading books on people’s purpose and life lessons, it is stimulating to see we have the power to choose how our story will turn out and the impact we have on others. It gives me the positivity which I carry through Akiki’s ventures.

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How do you market the dolls you create? And what has been the most successful form of marketing to date?

Mostly it has been online. Social media is a good channel for creating product awareness and the reach is global.

We are on Facebook, we have an Instagram account and we also market through our website.

Word of mouth and online marketing have been very successful for us.

What are your responsibilities as the business owner that have been unique to your business?

As the business owner, I am the author and Akiki’s dress designer. I envision the illustrations in the books and I also do the marketing of our products.

However, with the growth I am looking to delegate some of the responsibilities.

Did you have a blueprint/business plan before you started Akiki Dolls?

I had a blueprint in my head to begin with but it has evolved since. I was eager to get Akiki into momentum and was working on incremental activities.

                   Akiki Products                                          FB1

How closely have you stuck to this initial plan?

I have since made the time and gone through the valuable exercise of developing a business plan and having it documented. It’s not vastly different but it puts things into perspective and makes it easier to articulate the specifics.

Our children need to see more positive illustrations about themselves & their countries Click To Tweet

What makes the Akiki doll unique?

My business is special because it contributes to raising confident African children, by providing them with the play tools and literature that teach and reinforce positive perceptions of black Africans.

Our children need to see more positive illustrations about themselves and their countries, they need to read books where they are the stars. Akiki storybooks are concept themed stories all children can relate to and learn from.

Books

Did you write Akiki’s short stories, if so, what will the next book be about? If not what would you write about?

Yes I did. It was my first self-published book. I have Akiki’s travel series coming up, I am very excited about that and the other stories I am working on.

I want to write short stories of African women and men. Everyone has their own magic and it would be interesting to capture that.


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

Amandla Ooko-Ombaka: Ask for forgiveness, not for permission

We need people who can walk between the worlds of business and government @AmandlaOO Click To Tweet

When you’ve graduated from not one but two Ivy league schools it’s safe to say you are one highly educated individual. Amandla Ooko-Ombaka is not only book smart but has built her professional career with years of experience as a Management Consultant at McKinsey & Company, the world’s biggest consultancy firm.

You’d think that would be it for her but not at all. Amandla’s ambition has her advising various non-profit boards as well as co-founding initiatives such as Second Story Africa and the Yale Leadership Institute. We can’t resist adding that she’s currently writing a biography of her late father, top Kenyan lawyer and politician, Oki Ooko-Ombaka. Our SLA contributor managed to secure a few minutes of her time to see if she does ever

Our SLA contributor, Diana Odero managed to secure a few minutes of Amandla’s time to see if she does ever catches a break and to find out what motivates her.


How does one juggle the various hats you wear and do it so well?

I think the notion of daily balance is false so I don’t try and achieve balance on a day to day basis. It’s impossible with the job I do, where sometimes I work 17hr days, to say that I will go to the gym today, I will cook today, I will see my friends today…it’s just not possible. So I think the first step was allowing myself to think about balance over a period of time and that also gives me time to evaluate. Every two months I try to live a balanced life. Meaning in those two months, there’s good periods of working out, of sleep, of seeing my family and of work.

The notion of daily balance is false so @AmandlaOO doesn't try to achieve it on a daily basis Click To Tweet

The second step was learning how to say no, which I think has been a much harder lesson for me to learn. I find it very hard to say no especially to people I care about. So, I sort of tell the person asking me to do this or the other; that this is a really cool opportunity and I’m grateful but have to say no in the hope that this opportunity will be there again in future. Once I remove this notion that I’m not the only one who can do this thing, it makes it easier to say no.

On top of your quite extensive and busy schedule, you are also writing a book. Tell us more about it and why you felt a need to do this now.

The book is a biography of my father. It has been a passion project for the past 10 years. My siblings and I had constantly talked about doing it. I finally took some time off between graduating last year and going back to work to put some real time into the book. The process revealed itself in many different ways one being the more we work on this, the more it becomes our own story. We’re discovering who our father was and the contributions he gave to this country and to this world.

I realize we are in a very unique position as his children to write about our perspective of him. We are trying to juggle telling his story and telling ours because his story has so much merit to stand on its own but our story is also valid and legitimate.

The timing of this could not be more perfect as I finally moved home after living abroad for a while and I would love to get engaged in politics at some point. In many ways, my political identity is very much tied to my father’s political identity. So I need to understand him, who he was in his early years of politics and what formulated his opinions in order for me to make my own opinions.

Amandla Ooko-Ombaka's political identity is very much tied to her father's legacy Click To Tweet

You recently completed a dual Masters degree at Harvard, something not many achieve – what motivated you to pursue the two courses – an MBA and MPA/ID (International Development), simultaneously?

I chose the dual degree because it was a reflection of who I am as a person. Some people may think it’s a lack of focus but my heart is very much in the public sector and my mind is very much in the private sector and I’ve just stopped fighting that. I’ve embraced who I am and my heart and my mind need different avenues to be fulfilled and to work optimally. Harvard business school catered to my mind and the public sector school while Kennedy catered to my heart.

My heart is in the public sector & my mind is in the private sector - Amandla Ooko-Ombaka Click To Tweet

At a more fundamental level, I think that we need more multidisciplinary thinkers in the world we live in. Things are exceedingly complex and we need the sectors to work together. I don’t think business and government should be the same thing but we need people who can walk between the two worlds. Harvard doesn’t want you to be half a business person and half a public sector person. You should be able to completely hold your own in the two separate schools which I think is really important.

I’m multidisciplinary by nature and I think there’s a role for people who think like me. A lot of the things I care about like power and utilities will not be funded by the government. The private sector will fund a lot of these projects, but they need the government to eventually take over asset ownership, right of passage etc.

These two disciplines need each other so much more than we like to talk about. It is my life’s mission to bring them closer together. The joint degree was a perfect way to try this. I really think it makes me a better person for this country to have both skill sets. The question I face now is when to use which one and when to apply both of them.

Amandla graduated from Harvard in May 2016
Amandla graduated from Harvard in May 2016

You have spent most of your adult life away from your home in Kenya and moved back 12 years later. What inspired you to come back and how was the transition back to the continent?

In Kenya, there used to be a time when people would study abroad and immediately come back home. Some examples include the late Professor Wangari Maathai and Barack Obama Senior. After that period elapsed, the next group of people -mostly those our parents’ age, would study abroad and not come back at all or not come back for a very long time. Now I think we are back to what used to happen where a lot of people go abroad and actually want to come back.

Most of my friends are returning home and it makes me happy to see that. When you are abroad and not involved in civic life back at home, you lose certain privileges like complaining about the status quo. I chose to come back because this is where I want to give the most productive years of my life. I believe we can build the country my dad saw and I wouldn’t be able to do that being away.

When you are abroad you lose certain privileges @AmandlaOO Click To Tweet

Strategically speaking, because I want to get involved in government, I wanted to be here before the next election to know the law of the land. As for transition, I’m grateful that in the time I’ve been away I have been able to come to Kenya several times. Especially while I was working in Lagos, I would be home almost every month so there wasn’t a big transitional change.

What makes this different though is that I’m not home on vacation anymore so it’s the little things that have been hard to adjust to. Things like Uber drivers not having a working GPS, or not knowing where they are going but I have learnt to just release all that to avoid stress. I’ve learnt to pick my battles and decide which ones I am willing to fight against and change. For example, the stand on homosexuality here is very different from what it is in the west and to me, that is a big problem.

Most of your initiatives and projects focus on leadership and Africa. How important is it for African women to be leaders in their respective communities?

It is critically important. Statistics show that we have more women than men in this country. However, beyond the facts, I think women have proved to be very different leaders than men. We have a real problem with titles and actually exercising leadership here. I think women exercise leadership in the household every single day. If the woman is in charge of finances in a home, then the children have a higher probability of getting educated and the returns on education are endless.

Amandla Ooko-Ombaka: Women are different leaders and we need more of them in leadership Click To Tweet

Women make much more long-term decisions and invest in things that have much longer returns. The fact that women are different leaders shows we definitely need more of them in leadership. A bad outcome would be having women leaders who are not ready to lead so we need to create access, giving women who want to lead the chance to do so.

We need to have a broader conversation about how we provide mentorship and support for women at each stage of their lives. The reality is that there are people who have to give up power for others to access power and that’s a conversation women can’t have by themselves so men have to be involved.

Amandla (right) with friends, Fadumo Dayib (left - Former presidential candidate of Somalia) and Francis Gatare (middle - CEO of Rwandan Development Bank)
Amandla (right) with friends, Fadumo Dayib (left – Former presidential candidate of Somalia) and Francis Gatare (middle – CEO of Rwandan Development Bank)

Having worked in both the private and public sector while at McKinsey, which one do you prefer and why?

That’s such a hard choice to make! One of my mentors actually explained it to me in this way; if you think about scale and resources on a spectrum -the government is the ultimate in scale and the private sector does not have that.

Maybe some companies do have that scale like Facebook and Google but in general, the government is the overall scale leader. Often times the resources and the skills are in the private sector. I think we live in a world where we need both of those things -scale and resources as well as funding.

I love the intersection of these two sectors but if I had to completely choose, I’d pick the public sector. That is where my passion lies and also because I think the government is solving the most challenging problems in the world, it needs the best resources.

My passion lies in the public sector the government needs the best resources @AmandlaOO Click To Tweet

Diana Odero: I have had years of practice travelling on a budget

Diana Odero
Patience, an open mind and other skills you need to master the art of budget travel Click To Tweet

Diane Odero counts being a journalist (and contributor to SLA) among her growing list of accomplishments. She is also an avid travel lover and is able to do even though she was a student until just recently. For Diana, travel is an enriching experience and an opportunity for African women to get out there and see the world for what it actually is and not for what we think we know about the place.

Travel is more than just time to re-energize, reboot, press the reset button on life, it also helps bring in some Chi back into your life. Diana has only ever travelled on her own and has found that travel can be therapeutic.


Let’s talk finances, how do you find the budget to travel so widely?

I save constantly! I’m just like every other young woman who likes to shop, eat out and have a pamper day once in a while but then I also love to travel. And if you know anything about travel fares, they sure don’t come cheap. So I usually compromise on most things that I would like but don’t necessarily need.

I also make sure to put some money away with every income earned to keep up the saving habit. Also, I started travelling a lot while I was quite young, so I knew early on that I wanted to study abroad at some point and I was fortunate enough to do it twice for undergrad and for my Masters.

I also signed up for various sky miles programs years ago, not knowing how beneficial they would be in the long run. The miles started accumulating a lot while I was in college and before I fully understood the magic of sky miles. Now those miles have come in handy in the past two years and with more flights made, more miles are earned —it’s a beautiful cycle.

Lastly, I have mastered the art of finding really cheap flights. Would you believe me if I told you that my direct return flight to Italy from London only cost me £100 on British Airways? Insane. I couldn’t believe it myself, but booked it instantly before it disappeared. (Fares like those on such airlines don’t come by every day).

I’ve had years of practice since my college days with my friend Fiona who would scour the web with me at wee hours of the night (best time to find flights, also best days are Tuesday & Thursday in my experience). I also realized most of the travel packages out there put out a really good deal if you research very carefully.

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What about visas? Have you faced any difficult travelling within or outside the continent as a Kenyan citizen?

The one place I have had minor issues was in the US where the Kenyan passport isn’t as valued as others. My visa was never an issue but the way I was treated compared to other people with passports from non-African countries, was really disappointing.

Nonetheless, America is still a second home to me and I know as more people of colour travel and even more Africans get out there, these unnecessary stereotypical discriminations will stop in due time.

In terms of visas, the UK visa was quite the struggle to obtain particularly for school. It’s not an impossible task, they just make it ultra difficult so you need to have a lot of patience when travelling to the UK. One single step missed in the application process and you’ll be denied one as soon as your interview is done.

Having applied for various visas before, I already knew what to prepare for and the dos and don’ts of the process; the lengthy process was what I had not expected at all. Within the continent, I haven’t had any problems with travel and visas so far.

What five skills does every African travel lover need? Why these skills in particular?

Time management skills

I have never missed a flight and I’ve only ever been close to missing one once in my life. That was because I had a 7:30am flight and woke up at 5 (the time I was meant to be at the airport). I literally got there as they were closing the gate; I had to beg them to let me in because I was rushing to school to make it in time for an exam.

Why I woke up late you may ask? I was up the night before until 4am —silly, I know but I really thought I would hear the alarm clock. Be very time conscious so as to never miss flights because rescheduling is such a pain and costs so much as well.

Patience

I’m usually a very patient person but some things can drive you insane. Traveling a lot has made me appreciate the art of being patient with people everywhere because not all places work the same as where you are familiar.

You have to be patient enough to scope out the environment around you, to learn how things work instead of forcing your ways upon someone who has no idea what you mean or are doing.

You need to be patient with the visa processes while going through security and customs at different ports, and you need to be patient when flights/trains get delayed over and over again. Keeping calm is much better than blowing a fuse believe me, you’ll get to your destination eventually.

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An open mind

It’s really the only way you will enjoy anywhere you travel to including the traveling process as well. The world is a huge ball of diversity and with so many cultures living in it, no one person is the same so keep an open mind wherever you go to embrace what all these different places and people have to offer.

A lot of Africans are very rigid and very stuck in their ways, unwilling to embrace any type of change even while in another country. This will make your visit/stay quite miserable over time because the homesickness will overwhelm you and the longer you keep your mind closed to what’s around you, the worse the feeling gets.

Home is always going to be home but there’s no harm in making your new destination feel like home as well by being positive about all the place has to offer.

Financial Savvy

Please put down a budget! I can’t emphasize this enough. Always write down a budget before embarking on any trip especially if it’s a solo trip or one with friends where you don’t have family to rely on in case anything goes awry. Vacations, work trips, even road trips take up a lot of extra money that doesn’t come back to you so spend wisely even if you are on holiday.

Research on transport options in the area you are visiting, you’ll find it’s cheaper to use the local public transport than taking cabs everywhere. Eat at local spots; avoid the big brand names you’re used to, try something new that may end up being cheaper and healthier in the long run. Hotels are luxury exemplified for sure but the only purpose a hotel serves is somewhere for you to sleep and store your luggage, you hardly spend any quality time in there.

Instead of splurging on fancy hotels that you may never even eat in, go for an Airbnb or couchsurf, there are plenty of much more affordable accommodation options nowadays thanks to travel becoming a huge part of the millennial lifestyle. And all the money you’ve saved in hotel costs can go into extra shopping or activity spending money – win win!

Be responsible

I know I know… such a dull word to put together with travel and adventure but you knew it was coming. Once again, if at all this is a solo trip or a trip with friends; know that you alone are solely responsible for yourself. Your safety, health and your belongings – all you. You may want a vacation to just go turn up and have a blast, but always think, where is my passport? Where is my money? How is the security at this hotel, apartment or house?

I personally don’t trust hotel safes, so I keep my IDs/passport on me at all times. Money stays on me as well if I’m not using a card for purchasing items and I keep a look out for my friends whenever we are out. Others may have a different way of going about things but all in all, you need to remember where you are is foreign to you thus you need to be extra careful and stay safe.

Most travel packages provide you with a tour guide who can also double as your security because being local they know the ins and outs of the place and can guide you effectively.

Worst case scenario —something does go wrong, say an accident or robbery, the authorities in the area are always willing to help, and it will go by much smoother if you cooperate with them.

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What will be your travel goals for 2017? How do you plan to make them a reality?

I have so many travel goals! I always start out the year planning out where I want to go which is usually 2-3 different countries or cities within my own country here in Kenya. But as you know, plans don’t always work out they way you want them to.

This year, I decided I’ll stick to the decision I made after completing undergrad —that I must travel to at least one new place every year and if more trips happen to come about, even better. It’s been about three years since I said that and true to form —I have travelled even more than once each year since. I believe in speaking things into existence.

Travel is a special part of my life and has been for a very long time and because I love it so much, I work hard to make it a reality. For 2017, I would love to go to Cape Town, it’s the one city in South Africa I really want to explore but I haven’t had a chance to visit yet and I would also love to go to Morocco. A few friends and I already have that plan in the works, so if God wills it, it will happen.

My ultimate goal though is to secure a job that feeds into my passions - Diana Odero Click To Tweet

My ultimate goal though is to secure a job that feeds into my two passions in life —writing and travel. This will enable me to not only keep checking countries off my travel bucket list but it will also contribute to my career by giving me constant inspiration and content to write about —telling the world great stories of different places, people, and things.

Anyiko Owoko: It starts with you

Anyiko Owoko is a writer and PR maven who has worked with many Kenyan & African stars Click To Tweet

A celebrity publicist, a Public Relations maven, journalist, blogger and all round music and entertainment aficionado -Anyiko Owoko is the perfect definition of more than a triple threat.

The young connoisseur is the publicist to award winning East African music group; Sauti Sol. Starting out as their friend and assistant, Anyiko has risen to media success thanks to her work with the boy band. Anyiko also works with many other talented artists on the continent and beyond who have seen her prowess as an influential communicator and brand strategist.

Now she intends to expand her growing PR company –Anyiko PR and let SLA contributor, Diana Odero in on her journey to where she is now and why she is fuelled by creative people.


You have the incredible role of being Sauti Sol’s publicist. How did this come about?

I have always been their friend to begin with. I was initially friends with Chimano in particular, who I met in 2006 at Alliance Francaise where I was studying French. Funny thing is, we weren’t even in the same class so I don’t really recall how we became friends. Chimano would always tell me about his friends and him singing in high school and now that they were done, they were thinking of starting a music group. He wanted my opinion on that.

So I sort of became their advisor from back in the day and I encouraged them to take on the music group idea. Chimano and I joined the choir at Alliance and we really liked it but Chimano felt that he needed his friend (from high school) to join in as well. We both convinced the choirmaster to allow his friend -Bien Baraza to join, even though non-students weren’t allowed in the choir. Later on Savara and Polycarp, Chimano’s other friends were brought in and they were a full singing group in a choir.

After we completed the French program, we enrolled into University and surprisingly Chimano and I ended up in the same school, in the same course and in the same class. That’s really how it all started and as for me, I’ve always loved writing and communicating.

As a friend, that was a great quality I had that was able to help them get their group off the ground. I have been their road manager, an assistant, I got them onto social media and after several years, they realized that I was the main person doing their publicity. I knew they would become big stars from way back in the day and so I did all I could to secure their brand and maintain their presence in the music industry.

They of course now have a bigger team; I even have my own assistant as well, so at least we have a lot more help than we did when it was just the boys and I.

Did you always want to get into the public relations field?

No, I never saw myself doing this kind of work. PR kind of just found me because of the work I was doing with Sauti Sol. My plan had always been to get into writing and become a journalist. PR is part of communications so it still lies in my preferred field but I guess you can say I ended up specializing in it.

Anyiko Owoko: PR kind of found me because of the work I was doing with Sauti Sol Click To Tweet

I wanted to do broadcast journalism, which I have been doing actually; I’ve been working in TV for the past seven years. I still write though, I write for DStv, for the Daily Nation, I run my own blog and I also write for the Coke Studio website. So I’m still doing what I always wanted to do and I’m grateful to have found something else that I can do that contributes to the industry.

Anyiko Owoko during the BYOB Spark Talks
Anyiko Owoko during the BYOB Spark Talks

How did you know that it was time to leave the employee life and become your own boss?

I recently stopped working in TV this past September because I wanted something new and more challenging and needed a break from my broadcast career. About three years ago, I started feeling this way, I always wanted to leave but it was a bitter-sweet decision to make as that was my first official paying job.

I was still in college when I got that job and for a journalism student, landing a job hosting an entertainment show in a national network was and still is quite a big deal. It was a really great show with great content that you don’t get much of nowadays in Kenya.

I knew I wanted to leave when I realized I wasn’t learning anything new. People would come on the show and I would train them on hosting, reporting, scriptwriting etc. and no one was teaching me anything new. The producer of the show who discovered me had already left the network and I was now answering to his juniors even though I had more creative experience than they did.

In addition, things were really changing fast in the world of media, including social media . The show was stagnant and I started interviewing the same artists all over again due to lack of content so it was getting too monotonous for me.

I knew I wanted to leave my job when I realized I wasn’t learning anything new - Anyiko Owoko Click To Tweet

Now I have my own column in Yummy Magazine where I interview all kinds of celebrities discussing food and lifestyle, which is something I never thought I would do. I started my own company and all this has been the breathe of fresh air that I really needed.

As a celebrity publicist now, can you tell us which artist has been the most pleasant to work with and which interview has been the most impactful to you?

I really don’t know, probably all of them. I don’t think there’s a way for me to gauge that because I meet a lot of people and the impact is really vast. Almost every single interview I have done has impacted me because most of them have very powerful stories of where they came from.

For example, Nigerian artist, Patoranking used to be a street boy. He lived in the biggest slum in Nigeria and now he’s the biggest dancehall artist in Nigeria. Our very own Octopizzo took me to where he used to live before the he became a big artist. It was in the middle of Kibera (Nairobi’s biggest slum), in such a tiny house.

I remember when he put out his first video, I was the first one to interview him in Kenya on TV. Then people looked down on him, but look at him now. Sauti Sol also got their first interview courtesy of me. It was in the school paper at university, where I was the features editor. Such moments make me remember why I do what I do.

My work gave these artists a platform that took them to greater stardom in the long run. It’s very hard to choose a favourite because there’s something special about each person I interview.

Anyiko Owoko: My work gave artists a platform that took them to greater stardom Click To Tweet

If you could be anything else (career wise) what would you be and why?

Oh my God, almost anything! I always wanted to be a lawyer when I was younger, an architect, a musician, and a policewoman at some point. An author…

There’s so many things I wanted to do and I could easily have done them all. I didn’t realize that I wanted to do journalism until much later in life.

Anyiko speaking on a panel discussing the proposed Kenya National Music Policy. Photo Credit: Julian Manjahi
Anyiko speaking on a panel discussing the proposed Kenya National Music Policy. Photo Credit: Julian Manjahi

Name three women who inspire you and why.

My mother:

She is such a hard-working and powerful woman. My dad passed away when I was 9 years old and we are five kids, one boy and four girls. She raised us all so well; I never felt like something was missing even though I did miss my dad’s presence. There isn’t anything I think he could have done to raise me any better than she did. She did the work for both of them so I never felt like I was missing out.

My mother always empowered me and even while I was undecided about my career choices, she was always supportive. She shaped who I am today and as an English teacher she taught me how to talk and write. At the age of 10, I was helping her grade English essays for students in higher classes than me. She didn’t realize she was helping mould me into a good writer and journalist.

Caroline Mutoko:

She is a no-nonsense person who keeps to her word. Everyone knows how hard-working she is, and that she is good at what she does. When she was on radio she was very tough and never minced her words.

Caroline Mutoko inspires me with the way she grew her brand and became the media mogul that she is now. That growth curve shows me that even now, where I am, who knows where my experience can take me. She’s shown me the possibilities of where I can get to.

Michelle Obama:

She is tough and also very powerful. She is a great example of how women in power should carry themselves. People believe this myth that a woman shouldn’t be a leader because they are not as good as men in the leadership aspect. Michelle has put all those misconceptions to bed with her strength and her belief in all that she champions.

She goes above and beyond in everything she does. For a black woman to make me and all black women and girls so proud is a very big point of inspiration. She has a lot of grace, style and is very caring. We forget that as women, we don’t have to give up our femininity just because of the fields we work in.

What advise would you give to young future Motherland Moguls looking to get into PR?

I would tell them to sharpen their communication and writing skills. Writing reports are the most important actually and they should concentrate on achieving their objective and making the client happy.

That’s basically it. Keep calm during a crisis; while people yell and come at you, the best thing to do is keep your cool. There’s nothing much you can do in a crisis until a solution is found.

What mantra do you live by?

Go out there and make your dreams a reality. I’m a dreamer and as are so many people out there; but they are always saying how difficult it is to achieve their dreams. It starts with you though.

If I don’t get out, you don’t get out, no change will happen. People will always put you down, but what if you get out there and actually do it? You have to keep pushing until you see your dreams come to life.


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