Earlier this month, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the launch of WANDA, a newly established nonprofit organization educating, empowering and advocating for women and girls of African decent to become leaders in the fields of nutrition, dietetics and agriculture.
The launch, which took place on March 5th was held in honor of International Women’s Day and as such, featured a panel of innovative and groundbreaking social entrepreneurs in industries ranging from beauty and cosmetics, to television and entertainment. WANDA Founder, Tambra Raye Stevenson, groundbreaking in her own right as a National Geographic Traveler of the Year and founder of the DC-based NativSol Kitchen, describes WANDA (Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics, and Agriculture) as an initiative bringing together “sisters of the soil” to encourage all women, young and old, to lead in advancing the fields of nutrition and agriculture.
“Women and girls are at the heart of transforming our communities through preserving our foodways, building vibrant economies and healthy communities,” she said. WANDA will also be launched in Abuja, Nigeria in May.
As a Ghanaian-American woman just beginning her journey into the fields of agriculture and nutrition, I find WANDA’s mission intriguing. The organization promotes itself as a Pan-African initiative, which is hugely significant to me at this point in my career. Though most of my professional experience falls within the realm of international development, a heightened social awareness of racial injustice in the United States, underscored by the growth of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, has compelled me to offer whatever service I can to ensuring a healthy future for Africans AND African-Americans alike.
Having shared this passion with colleagues and advisors, I have been told that I cannot have a successful career straddling both sides of the Atlantic – I would have to choose. The launch of this organization confirmed that I am not alone in my desire to protect and promote health throughout the African Diaspora. And for me WANDA is blazing a trail where there had been none before.
If you missed the launch, check out my top 10 black girl magic moments that continue to resonate with me.
1. Getting in formation
Inspired by the song that launched many a think piece, WANDA flexed its impressive marketing and social media muscle by borrowing from Beyonce’s celebrated and controversial song, “Formation” for the title of their event. Dubbing the launch, “Black Women Getting in Formation: Power of Media and the Arts to Advance Nutrition and Agricultural Advocacy,” WANDA brought attention to the convening power of a song some have identified as a call to arms for black women.
In a recent interview with Black Enterprise, Stevenson shared that WANDA’s version of “getting in formation” means encouraging women and girls to pursue education and leadership roles in health and agriculture.
For me, gathering under the backdrop of “Formation” and a national conversation about self-love and unapologetic blackness brought a palpable sense of pride and purpose to the launch. It was an environment that allowed participants to celebrate each others accomplishments, relate to each others struggles and commit to partnerships moving forward.
A moment that stayed with me, however, was when panelist and WANDA honoree Rahama Wright, CEO of Shea Yeleen International reminded attendees that countless unnamed and unknown women have always and are still doing the work only recently championed by Beyonce. Way before the Super Bowl performance that stunned America, black women worked together to achieve success and independence. This moment from Wright reminded me that despite Beyonce’s undeniable contributions to the movement, the real heroes in the quest for justice and equality are in our midst and should not be overlooked.
2. Celebrating excellence in entrepreneurship
Speaking of celebrating the heroes in our midst, WANDA set a great example by honoring four WANDA women leading the way in promoting positive images of blackness and black women. Along with Ms. Wright, WANDA honored Julian Kiganda, CEO of Bold and Fearless, DeShuna Spencer, Founder and CEO of KweliTV, and Mukami Kinoti Kimotho, Founder and CEO of Joodj.
During the panel discussion, each honoree offered a unique perspective on the realities of being a black female entrepreneur. The most memorable moment for me was the vulnerability each woman shared in explaining that their successes were not won overnight. The panelists openly discussed the tendency in the black community to erase struggles from one’s personal narrative. By openly discussing the blood, sweat and tears that goes into growing an organization from the ground up, the panelists believe that more women may be encouraged to continue chasing their dreams even when they face hardship. It was a message that resonated with the audience who clapped in support of these personal and uplifting statements.
3. The food
NativSol Kitchen provided the tasty, healthy and culturally relevant fare originating from different countries across the continent. Stevenson dazzled attendees with a Morroccan stew, West African rice dishes, savory black eyed peas, and my personal favorite from the event, bissap, or zobo as it is known in Nigeria. The drink is made from dried hibiscus leaves and is known for its tangy flavor and deep crimson color.
NativSol spiced its version up with a touch of ginger, giving the beverage a kick that rounded out the meal. The message I took away from the impressive spread is that food from across the African continent and Diaspora is naturally delicious and healthy. Over time, departure from these foods and the uptake of the Western diet has left a staggering percentage of the Diaspora suffering from overweight, obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. In the United States, over 75% of African Americans are overweight or obese, while in Africa nutrition related non-communicable disease will account for 40% of the disease burden on the continent by 2030.
A part of WANDA’s mission is to reverse this trajectory and restore health to the Diaspora by embracing the heritage foods that characterize so many of its classic dishes. For more information about the link between culture, food and health check out Oldways African Heritage and Health, a wellness program developing resources and initiatives to promote the healthy foods and delicious eating traditions of African Heritage for good health and community.
4. The fashion
Sometimes being one of a few, if not the only black woman in the one’s work environment requires a precarious balancing act of trying to maintain one’s identity while not becoming a target of stereotypes or scrutiny.Sometimes it can become pretty stressful. For black women, hair can be one of the most treacherous waters to navigate in the workplace. What I loved about the WANDA launch was seeing successful professional black women in all of their diverse glory.
From Kiganda’s waist length locs to Kimotho’s cropped and colored do, the women at the launch exuded class and professionalism no matter the texture, length or color of their hair. Not only did attendees’ hair make a statement, but their clothes did as well. Who says being a businesswoman only means blue, grey and black suits? The WANDA event was a feast for the eyes, with attendees rocking colorful Ankara print and eye catching jewelry from a range of African countries. This reinforced to me the necessity for all women of the Diaspora to rebel against the societal norms of the work place and refuse to forget just how beautiful every kind of black woman is.
5. Establishing a multigenerational connection
The number of mothers and daughters who came to the launch together pleasantly surprised me. So much of whom I am as a woman in terms of my confidence and self-esteem comes from my mother therefore it only makes sense that mother/daughter pairs would be interested in ensuring that their descendants yet to come are guaranteed equal access to the education and job opportunities they desire.
Beyond those with familial ties, women of all ages were able to connect at the WANDA launch. During the panel discussion, a lawyer with plenty of years of experience asked panelists if they ever seek to engage older women. All panelists highlighted the importance of engaging all generations, particularly elders, in their work.
Mothers, grandmothers and women leaders in general play the pivotal role of passing down cultural knowledge and eating habits, and promote economic growth in their communities. This traditional role fits well into WANDA’s model of empowerment through mentorship. It touched me to know that WANDA and its honorees saw it fitting to remind us that we all can influence the next generation. and we ‘have a duty to plant trees, so they can sit in the shade.’
6. Remembering the importance of self care
After the panel discussion concluded, I asked the panelists how they maintain their enthusiasm and confidence. I also asked how they care for themselves and maintain their sanity if they ever face backlash for their work. I asked this question because, as in the case of Beyoncé, black women who stand up for themselves and for their people can sometimes open themselves up to racist and sexist criticism.
Activists and public figures such as Melissa Harris-Perry have publicly discussed the self-care routines they adopted to protect themselves from their detractors. Though all panelists gave incredible answers, such as knowing one’s limits, never neglecting one’s health and feeling comfortable admitting failure, my favorite piece of advice came from Spencer who discussed the importance of having a team of friends and trusted advisers who you can go to for laughs, tough love, a shoulder to cry on and more.
Spencer noted that surrounding one’s self with like-minded individuals keeps one focused and inspired. I remember looking around the room in the moment and thinking, “We need each other. None of us can do this alone.” This sentiment was solidified by Stevenson who admitted that unlike past initiatives she tried to grown on her own, WANDA would be a child raised by the village – a community of women who want to see the child thrive. The grassroots nature of this organization encouraged me to address my own fears of failure and get involved with WANDA by working on my writing.
7. Reflecting on the pain that unites us (and how to overcome)
The moment that drew out the most thought and reflection came from a comment shared by a woman named Rose. Originally from Uganda, Rose had this to say during the question and answer portion of the panel: “Africans will never heal until African-Americans heal”. Having never heard such a statement, I stopped, as did many other participants, to seriously reflect on what this means.
Though I’m sure it can be interpreted in many different ways, I took what Rose said to mean that our destiny, as people of the Diaspora is interlinked. It has been interlinked since the first of us endured the Middle Passage. It was interlinked when the Civil Rights movement exploded during a time of widespread liberation on the continent and will continue to be interlinked as Africans and African-Americans battle the very similar challenges of hunger, malnutrition, unemployment, marginalization and limited access to resources. These feelings were hard to unpack, but were appreciated by the panelists who praised Rose for remembering the importance of communal healing and love within the African Diaspora. This was a thought provoking moment that will not be soon forgotten.
8. The unveiling of little Wanda
In a moment that drew a collective “Awwwwww!!!” from attendees and panelists alike, Stevenson unveiled an exciting and creative aspect of the WANDA initiative: Little Wanda of the upcoming “Where’s WANDA?” series, is a character inspired by Stevenson’s own journey to Africa and childhood goals of healing her family.
In developing series, Little Wanda travels across the African continent meeting WANDA Women, or Big Wandas, that research, produce and promote African heritage foods to nourish their communities. “Where’s WANDA,” geared towards girls under ten years of age, will include educational enrichment resources inviting young girls to travel and learn with Little Wanda.
I believe this character, the Diaspora’s answer to “Dora the Explorer,” will open so many opportunities for little girls of African descent to learn about culture and heritage in a way they never have before. With her adorable afro and cute ankara skirt, Little Wanda is a character young girls can relate to and that sort of representation in the media is so important. Follow @NativSol and @IamWANDAorg to catch updates on where Little Wanda goes next!
9. ToluMiDE debuts “Mama Sunshine”
TolumiDE is a talented Nigerian-Canadian singer and songwriter whose music spans the genres of R&B, Afropop and Soul. Having never met her nor listened her music, I was struck by Tolu’s earthy voice and quirky adlibs. A WANDA honoree herself, TolumiDE graced attendees with a new song called, “Mama Sunshine”.
While listening to the catchy song filled with themes of growth, resilience and renewal, I felt the song was a perfect way to begin a new chapter for many of the women standing in the room. WANDA has provided an opportunity to connect and build a community with a common purpose and that is something I am very thankful for.
TolumiDE had a song for these feelings as well, offering an encore with her song of thanks and praise, “My Love”. Be sure to check out the video on YouTube!
10. Recognizing the strength in numbers
The WANDA launch was an awakening for me, drawing out feelings of affirmation, inspiration, solidarity and energy that come with finally feeling understood and identifying a direction. Following the close of the event, participants lingered for hours, laughing, sharing and embracing their newfound roles as students, mentors, leaders, advocates, and WANDA Women.
We closed by taking a final picture, which solidified for me that I have become apart of something bigger than myself. The sense of community offered by WANDA and its powerful women and male advocates fills a hole that many black women in the fields of nutrition, dietetics and agriculture often feel, being one of a few, if not the only black woman in their work place.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, people of African descent only make up roughly 2.6 percent of the registered nutritionists and dietitians. It is time to change this and WANDA is a big step forward in finding the solution. There is strength in community and strength in numbers, and I look forward to watching WANDA’s membership grow.
It seems like everyday, there’s another of your friends who is moving back to the promised land of Nigeria for a shot at making it big. They either grew up or attended schools in the UK, America or South Africa, etc. Our generation seems to be leading the great diaspora exodus from the comfortable Western world and jumping back into Nigeria for a chance to “make it”.
But for those of us who aren’t yet convinced that moving back to Nigeria is the right move, there are typically a couple of questions that come to mind:
– Are there are any real opportunities there that I can’t find anywhere else?
– How do I even get situated in the job market and meet the people who can help me find a job?
– What things should I be looking out for to make sure I don’t get hustled?
– Should I ask for the same salary I made before?
As founder of a recruitment firm specializing in connecting diaspora returnees (Nigerians who have studied/worked abroad) with top companies in Nigeria and a returnee myself, I’ve faced all of these questions and more.
Here is some advice for you on the areas with the biggest opportunity and some helpful do’s and don’ts.
Ready to move back?
Employers want what you’re offering. Diaspora Nigerians (aka repats) are the ideal package for employers as they help bridge the capacity gap in-country while simultaneously fulfilling local content obligations. As Nigeria becomes more globally competitive, repats are in the best position to maximize on the opportunities that accompany such growth.
Those on the fence about moving back are being seduced by the promise of endless champagne nights, parties, and lucrative money making ventures. However, as likely as this may be, it’s extremely important to make sure that you are fully prepared for dealing with all sides of Nigeria, not just the glitz and the glam. You must have a clear plan about meeting your basic needs, that aren’t so basic in Nigeria (e.g. housing, transportation, electricity), otherwise you are on a fast-track to misery and likely to leave without maximizing your full potential, but I digress!
All things being equal, lets assume you’re prepared for the move, let’s move on to what opportunities are on ground that aren’t available in more developed markets.
Old dog, new tricks
Major multinationals that have been on the continent for decades have refocused their global priorities to favor their sub-Saharan markets, Nigeria, in particular. Their increased investment is due to the market size opportunity available here. Several companies have instituted specific programs for moving diaspora Nigerians to work full time in Nigeria indefinitely or for a set period of time. If you’re working in a company that has an office in Nigeria, definitely enquire about this, and move back corporate style.
Nigeria’s new wave of transition has led to an increase in development projects in established industries such as infrastructure (power, water, roads, etc.), agriculture, manufacturing, telecommunications, healthcare, you name it! Innovation is driving Nigeria at the moment, so you have to find the right opportunity at a major firm for what you are passionate about and drive it home.
This is the golden goose for young Nigerian professionals considering moving back. Start-ups are great ventures to move back to work for, especially if you have long-term entrepreneurial ambitions. I actually moved back with a popular ecommerce company many moons ago and my experience there was invaluable!
They are extremely ambitious, have long-term growth strategies for Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa, and are looking for repatriated talent that has local understanding to really drive their objectives. There is immense opportunity for growth but just make sure you do your research on the right ones to join and ask detailed questions about your role, responsibilities, short-term and long-term objectives.
If you are on the same page, the sky is the limit with a start-up.
Do your thang
If you have a bright idea, pursue it. Do this intelligently and fearlessly. The opportunity potential here is true, the time for new ideas is not dead, even if someone is doing what you want to do, the market is big enough for both of you. I have friends that own bakeries, fashion labels, financial services companies, blogs, consulting firms, farms, you name it and are actually successful (no expensive hobbies here). If you know what you want to do, do some serious research, speak to the right people, and carry-out your plan. If you provide a great service, you will have clients. This is a huge consumer population with growing pockets. Create, plan, and deliver.
- DO be open minded to different opportunities that you wouldn’t have previously considered. You moved back for a change, so go ahead and try something different.
- DON’T just take any job that has the highest paycheck. Find something you’re passionate about and don’t feel pressured into a role that you won’t perform in.
- DO network with people that have different backgrounds. This is the best way to find new opportunities and friends that can help you get acclimated in a new city.
- DON’T have an entitled attitude. If you’re coming from abroad people are looking for you to show that, so surprise them.
- DO find things to do that remind you of your life back home (e.g. weekly manicure, grocery shopping/cooking, intramural sports teams). Moving back can move you out of your normal routine so find the things that keep you sane and feeling settled.
- DO keep following She Leads Africa to stay motivated and help you achieve your dreams
This is an area that causes frustration for both returnees, the employers and the recruiter (aka me ☺). Employers tend to find repats “entitled” for expecting higher pay than market rate; repats expect to be paid internationally competitive salary’s given their education, and experience in other markets, and I, the recruiter, am stuck in the middle!
When discussing salary with potential employers, it’s always best to do the following:
- Research – what are companies in Nigeria offering from the role you are interested in
- Transparency & Flexibility- Let your expectations be known but also be open to reasonable negotiation
- Be a saleswoman – Sell yourself girl! (not in the pretty woman way) but be confident about your skillset, value, and why you are worth the amount that you are asking for
If you take these 3 tips into consideration, you will be in a better position to get what you want, or at least close to it. It works for other people, why not you.
- Your network is your net worth. Networking is vital in this community and is the best way to open doors for your career
- Just Do It. Don’t waste time over planning or overanalyzing every decision, you lose valuable time and time is money.
- Breathe! Nigeria can be a very frustrating climate to operate in, especially when you are used to certain procedures abroad. In order to not to be frustrated 75% of the time you should accept that things work differently here and not freak out when things don’t go seamlessly.
I love sharing advice on how to make sure your return to Nigeria is a positive one. If you have more questions, add them to the comments below or find me at ResourceNigeria.com.
It may be 2016, but young Nigerian girls are still being exploited by those who should be protecting them. I’m referring to the father figures, lawmakers, community leaders and even some parents. Only recently, the internet and media went into a frenzy over the notion that the age of consent had been lowered from 18 to 11.
The reason for this confusion? A bunch of subsections under Section 7 of the Sexual Offences Bill postulating penalties for sexual penetration in girls under the ages of 11, 15 and 18. We’re all still asking ourselves why the need to highlight these three ages rather than the relevant one which is 18. This is of major concern as concerns two main areas: child marriages and rape.
Source: BBC Africa
UNICEF reports that Nigeria is the country with the highest number of child brides across Africa. The number of child brides across Africa is expected to almost triple by the year 2050. It’s been almost 2 years now since the world has been fighting for the return of the Chibok girls following the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Sadly, at this time, we are still waiting and hoping that they are rescued.
Most people have been following the story of 14-year-old Ese Oruru who was abducted from her base by a man who took her to the North to become his bride. Reports made by the Bayelsa State Police Command as captured in Punch Newspaper state that her recent kidnapping from her home in Bayelsa to faraway Kano is a case of eloping. It’s almost laughable except that it’s not.
This is a grave issue that affects every one of us regardless of gender. It thus becomes obvious that law enforcement and the rest of the community have failed to catch on that the law does not condone the violation of any woman especially one who is still a child. Ese’s predicament is our predicament and as such statements made by the very institution put in place to install law and order demonstrates our failure as a society.
How on earth does a teenager elope? The fact that such a statement can be made by the police public relations rep confirm to us that child marriages are still very much a thing in this part of the world. This is a practice prevalent in the northern part of the country where matured men take on child brides.
At this point of the century where societies are moving to expel inhumane practices, the reaction to Ese’s case is a prime example of the normalcy of such a practice. Whether or not Ese voluntarily left her base in Bayelsa for a faraway state or was kidnapped / coerced into doing so as certain assertions have been made, the baseline is she is still a minor.
Although it has taken six whole months, the good news is Ese has been handed over to the police for her return to her family in Bayelsa. Just as author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been quoted as saying, ‘culture does not make people, people make culture’.
Thus, the mere fact that something is a part of our culture is not a good enough reason to uphold it. There is certainly good culture and bad culture and as humans we are expected to evolve and be progressive.
What are some of the risks?
There are several risks that child brides are faced with including emotional and psychological trauma that may follow them way into adulthood and in fact for the rest of their lives
In addition, if the ‘marriage’ had been consummated underage, pregnancy, Vesicovaginal Fistula and STIs are all common occurrences for child brides.
As a society, where do we go from here?
- We need to close the gap between the law and its practice through proper information dissemination and sensitization. The Nigerian police force must undertake reorientation programs with the passing of new laws.
- The law should expressly state the age of consent for sexual intercourse by getting rid of the compounding subsections in the Sexual Offences Bill.
- It is also not enough that the law prescribe a penalty of 5 years imprisonment or a fine of N500,000 for the perpetrators in child marriages! A part of her life is taken away from her as she is forced to grow up in the worst ways possible. The maximum penalty should be sought for such offenders.
What can we do as women?
As women, each of us has a responsibility to uplift other women especially those who do not have some of the privileges we do have.
- Speak up about it! Challenge the status quo! Tweet about it, blog about it, discuss with peers, make your voice heard. You may be surprised how little people actually think about this issue.
- Educate yourselves including other young girls and women. Females need to be aware of the dangers they face and to take extra precaution where necessary.
- Counsel and encourage one another. As women we need to quit slut shaming and blaming the victim. The guilty party is the aggressor or manipulator. Skimpy clothing or a flirtatious nature do not equal a license to rape.
- Parents and guardians also need to be receptive enough for their daughters to feel free enough to tell them about any funny business going on.
- Raise your sons to respect women. Men have as much a part to play as women do in the promotion of gender rights.
SLA quickly caught up with Tracy and Omowunmi the founders of fast growing fresh food startup Smoothie Express. They shared with us how they developed the idea for the company, how they get around volatile currencies and the best piece of feedback they’ve ever received from a customer.
Where did the idea of Smoothie Express come from and how did you get it started?
I was trying to do a smoothie detox and my biggest challenge was finding the right time to blend my smoothies as I was still working a 9-5 then. That’s where the idea came up, I had seen a problem that was not peculiar to me alone and I wanted to solve it. So I contacted Omowunmi and we both developed a solution for the problem hence, Smoothie Express.
We first of all picked a name, Smoothie Express because we wanted to make fresh smoothies available to customers with minutes. Then we registered the company. We used our savings in starting up the company. We had to prioritize our capital expenditure because funds were limited.
Why is healthy food so important to you?
As adults, we have the tendency to go by our lives eating any piece of unhealthy food just to keep body and soul going. With lots of diseases coming up and ill health associated with being overweight, the best and easiest way to keep your health in check is to eat healthy.
Healthy food plays an important role in our health and it’s important for me to indulge as much as possible.
What is the most challenging element of running a food startup?
I would say quality control for a food start up. Customers expect nothing less than perfect food/beverage not withstanding anything, all the time.
So as a food company, you have to make sure there is quality control checks all day everyday.
How has currency fluctuation affected your business and what are you doing to creatively manage it and keep your products affordable?
We have always been a company that believes in patronizing Nigerian products. It’s been a struggle everywhere, but we have been able to manage the currency situation because of that.
Although, we are struggling with increased prices for a few items. It’s such a shame how dollar still controls our economy this much.
What is the best thing and the worst thing about having a business partner?
The best thing about having a business partner is that, there is always someone to cover your weaknesses and loops.
The worst thing about having a business partner is that you guys get to disagree a lot of times but the ability to push past it makes it worthwhile.
What is the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received from a customer?
Oh well. A couple of customers say we make the best smoothies in the world.
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.
When considering female micro-entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa, I often remember the stark images of the women of Yaba market in Lagos. Some of the market women sell food produce, others focus on the textile business and a greater number work as the “Jacquelines” of all trades.
I often wonder if they designed and wrote out a business plan before they started their respective ventures and how they and their businesses have survived through the years. More importantly, I think about what can make their businesses more profitable and sustainable. During my last trip to Nigeria, I spent a few hours buying gifts at Yaba market and engaging different micro-scale womenpreneurs. My goal was to gain insight as to how these women got started in business, how their businesses were structured and what their biggest needs were.
Unsurprisingly, many women talked about limited access to loans and credit. However, I was more struck by the desire of many of the women to get an education. The conversations inspired me to think of creative and effective ways to empower women in the market with customized business skills and education.
I dug deeper to gain a clearer understanding of what can be done to empower these women, many of whom didn’t complete secondary school but still had a strong desire to obtain some formal education. The biggest challenge to getting formal education for many of these women was time, money and the opportunity cost of leaving their businesses for extended periods of time. Many women simply could not leave their kiosks during business hours to attend class at a school that would most likely be far away.
While auditing a Coursera class on Social Entrepreneurship, I applied the Principles of Design to the problem.
My solution: take the training and education to the women.
I crafted a model that will function as a daily or weekly lunch-and-learn, allowing micro-womenpreneurs leave their kiosks for forty-five minutes to an hour and take skills-focused business classes at a location within the market infrastructure. To increase the chances of success, the program must be skills-focused and be offered in bite-sized digestible format. Many of these women manage shops, stalls and boutiques; hence they need an education that is timely, tailored and convenient.
Listed below are the reasons that having a skills-focused business school in the market will be beneficial to small-scale women entrepreneurs:
Timeliness and applicability of information
Given the focus on skills-based learning and real time application of information, women can learn about how to build a budget and exercise their knowledge of different commerce topics on their businesses the same day.
Their learning is further complemented by their respective business challenges, which can serve as case studies from which everyone else can learn. Additionally, women can real time advice from their teachers, mentors and fellow womenpreneurs.
Creation of a Womenpreneur ecosystem
A market-based schooling approach creates a network of entrepreneurial women who come together to share business experiences, engage with business lessons, and form a coalition. This creates a support system whereby women can rely on each other for support or even micro-credit; an ecosystem where women can share issues they are having in their businesses and find ways to learn from each other’s experiences promises to create trust among the women.
Women may also discover that they are serving different levels of the business chain and may decide to integrate or partner; hence creating potential value to be realized in efficiency gains.
Convenience and flexibility
It is difficult to convince a middle-aged woman who is the breadwinner of her family to leave her kiosk for hours at a time to attend school. However, if that education is right there in the market and is fitted into mini-education sessions, it creates a more compelling and readily available opportunity. Bringing education to the micro womenpreneurs creates the flexibility that has been missing in obtaining an education.
The Girl effect
Many of the women I’ve seen running shops over the years tend to have some help from another younger woman. Usually, it’s a daughter or a niece or a relation of some sort. Some of these relationships with younger women can be structured as apprenticeships with defined learning outcomes, which further fuel the entrepreneurial spirit of the young women. Coupling that structure with formal education (right there in the market) can create a powerful domino effect for years to come.
A program of this nature can take many forms. There are number of parties from the private, public and non-profit sectors who could come in as partners. From a funding perspective, the program can be sponsored through philanthropy, whether from an NGO, the government or a Private Corporation.
It can also be structured as a public-private partnership. While there are obstacles facing women entrepreneurship, most of these are in fact solvable. Education continues to be a primary issue, however, with some creative thinking we can develop meaningful responses and improve these solutions as ideas further develop.
Perseverance. Determination. Willpower (PDW). To a person without struggle or strife these words are merely scribbles on a blank piece of paper or some abstract notion or a catchy mantra on the walls of a gym.
However, when life suddenly takes an unexpected, drastic turn and plunges you into an abyss filled with mind-boggling agony, emotional turmoil and a seemingly bottomless pool of despair, one truly has a stark realization and a deep understanding of PDW.
When you feel like you are drowning, trying to gasp for air as waves of struggle keeps pushing you below the surface – the challenges facing you, constant tides pulling you in all sorts of directions – the sheer force of will to swim against the current is the very definition of persevering.
Setting the scenes
Two years ago, one single moment caused a ripple effect and altered the course of my life in an unimaginable way. On the 21st of April 2014, Easter Monday, an unnecessary car accident in Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria involving two drivers and one passenger shifted my understanding of the world. Immediately after the crash, I looked down at my misshaped, lifeless legs and I knew that something had gone terribly wrong.
In a matter of minutes, I was carefully lifted out of the car and placed on a little chair. Amid the chaos, voices and confusion, a scary feeling gnawed at my soul – life, as I knew it, was never going to be same. I spent the next five days flat on my back in excruciating pain, the kind of inexplicable agony that is difficult to comprehend, in four different local hospitals from Victoria Island to Igbobi to Ikeja. I was poked and prodded, underwent several medical tests, scans, endured sleepless nights, hunger, thirst and incompetent doctors.
The knowledge and the hope that an ‘angel of mercy’, in the form of an air ambulance bound for London, England, would save me from the torrent of suffering gave me the determination to grit my teeth and survive the medical purgatory I was in.
On Sunday, the 27th of April 2014, after a five hour back surgery, I found out I had sustained a complete T4 spinal cord injury caused by a T12/L1 fracture. In plain English, I had broken my lower back which rendered me paralysed from just below my chest all the way down to my toes and here’s the punchline – there was very little chance of ever walking again.
The First Act
Debilitating pain became the norm but I knew that finding strength through adversity was the only path to take. I had to summon every ounce of willpower to relearn how my ‘new’ body worked and moved. Imagine being taught the ‘art’ of rolling over in your late twenties, being instructed by an occupational therapist the best way to put your shirt over you head or how to sit up straight and balance so you can feed yourself. How undignified do you think I felt? How could I possibly survive and move forward?
The answer is simple, yet complex – “The toughest steel is forged in the hottest fire” (Unknown, Chinese wisdom). With this new mindset, physiotherapy was not an obstacle but a challenge to build up muscular strength. Meetings with the neuropsychologist presented opportunities to equip myself to battle depression and emotional conflict; the confines of the hospital was not a prison but rather an avenue to foster positive relationships that enhanced my mental stability.
The soul-crushing diagnosis from the doctors was a suggestion, not a declaration or conclusion. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was going to not only walk, but run, skip, jump and dance again.
The Second Act
Ask any young woman today to regale you with tales of her most trying times in life and how she emerged victorious, the replies will definitely have certain things in common. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of struggle takes perseverance, determination and willpower. One has to harness the innate ability to utilize strength through adverse circumstances.
It is not how you get knocked down but whether you get back up. Focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel culminates in what I like to call the Spirit of Invictus; in other words an unconquerable force to be reckoned with.
Going to rehabilitation five times a week, in spite of the constant neuropathic pain in my legs and back – in order to build upper body strength, learning how to execute a safe multi level transfer from the wheelchair to the plinth and figuring out the best ways to manipulate my restricted mobility to achieve a desired result, required a level of perseverance beyond the ordinary.
Enduring extreme discomfort became the ideal persevering tool I needed to succeed and excel, to rebuild what I lost and overcome the insurmountable challenges that lay before me. In essence, to achieve the extra-ordinary, one has to push beyond the realm of normalcy and endure the physical pain, mental torture, sleepless nights, financial struggles and emotional turmoil otherwise known as the uncomfortable and unwanted sacrifices that come with the territory associated with the extraordinary.
In the face of all the anger, disappointment, agony, confusion and dismay, my faith and hope burned brighter than ever. I was determined to not allow the wheelchair define who I was. Living life to the fullest once again became a top priority.
Wine tasting in the vineyards of Napa Valley, sitting in awe at the San Diego Comic Convention, appreciating the beauty of nature in Carlsbad, hoping to spot a celebrity in Beverly Hills, screeching with delight at the dolphins in Sea World, marveling at the millions of Christmas lights at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, clutching my sides from laughing too hard at the jokes in The Book of Mormon production at the Fox Theatre on Atlanta’s Broadway, being gobsmacked at the wonder of ocean life at the Georgia Aquarium and getting lost in worship at the Bethel Church in Redding, California are just some of the glorious adventures I have embarked upon thus far.
Life may throw you a curve ball that may seem to break your spirit temporarily but reaching deep within and using a combination of faith, hope, perseverance, determination and willpower to obliterate the obstacles in your path, I believe that you will emerge from the war victorious.
My battle strategy is to overcome paralysis – one step at a time.
There is obviously a lack of diversity in the food television industry and Imoteda Aladekemo had to do something about it. She birthed the idea of ”Heels in the Kitchen”, a Nigeria-based cooking show that teaches viewers how to plan, prepare and plate amazing meals, while looking like they just walked off a magazine cover. Heels in the Kitchen provides interactive content to encourage Nigerians to use local products to create nutritious and stunning meals.
Imoteda, who previously worked as a makeup artist and in the television and film industry, is a Cordon Bleu trained chef. She combines her expertise to provide her audience with an unforgettable viewing experience. I caught up with her via email to discuss her Heels in the Kitchen journey so far.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My personal life is sorta boring. I’m a mother, which seems to surprise a lot of people. I have an 8 year old daughter. I come from a pretty large family – 4 kids and too many extended family members to count.
I’m an introverted-extrovert, if that makes sense. I love socializing but I’m happiest in a cold room with a warm duvet and an amazing book.
Professionally, I’m a certified makeup artist and a Cordon Bleu trained Chef. I have over 5 years experience working in the film and television industry both in Nigeria and in Canada. Right now, I am the head chef and hostess of Heels in the Kitchen.
What inspired you to start Heels in the Kitchen?
I watch the food network a lot and was bothered by the lack of black faces in the food television world. I also thought it sad that as prominent a nation as Nigeria is, there was not reflection of our culture and palettes on television.
Why did you decide to name your company Heels in the Kitchen?
The “Heels” bit came from the fact that I didn’t own any flats at the time. I lived in heels, and that included when I was cooking. Even my bathroom slippers were wedges. I thought it would be fun to create a different kind of cooking show with more glam, especially since we, Nigerians, love fashion.
What did you once you decided Heels in the Kitchen was going to become a reality?
The first thing I did was get certified as a chef. I attended Le Cordon Bleu in London to get a background in classical French Cooking. I don’t believe in jumping into things without proper knowledge. I also took some acting and elocution classes to prepare for the camera, and classes in film and television production to ensure that I knew what the technical processes are.
Tell us a bit about the process – from creating recipes and sourcing ingredients to picking the outfits and shooting the show?
Getting the show from concept to TV is a grueling process, especially if you’re a micro-manager, like I am. The recipes are a mix of all the cultures and cuisines I enjoy. I give everything a slight twist to make it more acceptable to the Nigerian palette. Sometimes, it is as simple as adding more pepper. Other times, it’s deconstructing the entire dish and building it up again with Nigerian ingredients.
I have gotten quite familiar with almost all markets in the Ajah-Lekki-Vi axis. When I moved back to Nigeria, I would spend days going from market to market and grocery store to grocery store, searching for where to get the freshest ingredients and the most reliable supply. The aspect of having reliable supply is super important because it’s possible that a store might have lamb chops one week and then not have them for another 8 weeks. On one occasion, I had announced that I would be serving pork chops, only to discover that the pork suppliers hadn’t delivered to store in Lagos for two weeks. Lesson learned! Now, I talk directly to suppliers and give them advance warning.
A major part of the show is the style. I was lucky the first stylist I worked with, ToyoC, understood my vision. ToyoC is great at bringing my look to life. I prefer feminine and classic looks with a bit of an edge. I would have loved the 60s housewife (well style wise at least).
The first step in getting styled is creating mood boards. Sometimes, I just send ToyoC pictures of outfits or pieces that I really like and she does her magic – talks to designers, finds tailors, sometimes takes trips to the market – and then brings me options. Sourcing from designers can be difficult because I’m a bigger girl. But most of the time, they make all the necessary adjustments.
On the more technical side of things, I have a very solid team. The team knows what it is doing. We are creating a show worthy of being on the food network so we do a lot of practice sessions. Also, I work closely with script writers to keep the flow natural. The set is arranged to make you feel you’re hanging out with one of your girlfriends in my house. It’s all very organic.
How have you been able to break through the food/cooking show industry?
Heels in the Kitchen is truly the first show of its kind in Nigeria. We are shooting 96 episodes and intend to be a daily presence in people’s homes. That kind of exposure alone is more than enough to shoot us to the top. Add to that, premium quality production and we are confident we will be the best.
What are some challenges you have faced as a chef and cooking show host, and how have you dealt with them?
Like I mentioned earlier, sourcing for products is difficult because of the lack of reliable supply. But, by building relationships with various suppliers and stores, I have managed to avoid running into such issues.
Another issue is finding reliable people with solid skills and technical knowledge. Because we are going for such high quality production, we can’t settle for the run of the mill Nollywood type production that people are used to. Luckily, Nigeria has a lot of talented people, and we found a team who sees the vision and is excited to help create it.
Entrepreneurship is a difficult and often lonely journey. What keeps you going especially on difficult days? Do you have a support system?
My family. My family is the most amazing, supportive and funny group of people you will ever come across. The times I’ve been broke, everyone chipped in. When delivery drivers don’t show up, my sister and my mom will get into their cars and go deliver. When I’m feeling down, they make me laugh and forget the problem. They are my sounding board for new ideas and are unfailingly honest. I could go on and on about how amazing they are. I wouldn’t have made it a quarter of the way here without them.
Something else that helps on tough days is looking back on where I started. I’ll look at events I first did and cringe at how bad my plating was, but, I’m happy because I can see how much I’ve grown. I think about when Heels in the Kitchen was just a random concept in my head and marvel at the fact that I’m actually creating my own TV show on my own terms.
What excites you about Heels in the Kitchen, right now?
Everything! Honestly, I’m amazed and excited by every single thing. Every new client, every piece of equipment we purchase for the kitchen, every time we pick an outfit to go with an episode – I get so hyper and excited. We’re also getting a fresh inflow of investors and that is very exciting.
Right now, I’m most excited about pitching for SLA. I’m trying not to think too much about it because cause that excitement might turn to nerves. It’s amazing and gratifying to see my work grow to this point.
If you win the SLA competition, what do you plan on doing with your winnings?
Buy a robo coupe food processor, lol! All the money is going to go back into HITK. Startups are money guzzlers. Every time we buy something we need, 4 more things that we MUST have pop up.
Imoteda pitched Heels in the Kitchen at SLA’s Entrepreneur Showcase September 2015. Learn more about developments at Heels in the Kitchen on their website.
Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.
[Editors Note: This post was originally published on Medium and is republished here with the permission of the author.]
Nigeria in 1988 — Not a premier investment destination
In 1988, Nigeria was not a premier investment destination. Life expectancy for the country’s 91 million people was 46 years; gross domestic product (GDP) was about $23 billion; GDP per capita was about $256; 78% of people lived on less than $2 per day; about 37% of people had access to sanitation while roughly 58% had access to improved water source; Nigeria had experienced six coups in its short 28 years of existence as a republic. It was also under military rule so technically and literally anything could happen.
Then in 1993 Nigerians woke up to the news that General Sani Abacha, one of the most corrupt and brutal dictators Nigeria would ever know, had become the military Head of State. If you were an investor, Nigeria was just not the place to go.
Yet, executives at Tolaram Group paid little to no attention to those statistics. Tolaram began importing instant noodles into Nigeria in 1988. Since then the company has vertically integrated in-country and grown their Indomie Noodle® instant noodle sales to a staggering $700 million a year. A packet of noodles cost about 18 cents.
They sell more than 4.5 billion packets of noodles per year. In 1988, Nigeria did not have an instant noodle market. How was Tolaram able to set up and sustain operations in one of the most difficult countries to do business? After assessing Tolaram’s strategy, I cannot help but highlight the following attributes and impacts of their business — business model targeting non-consumption, interdependence, patient capital, and job creation and tax revenue.
Business Model Targeting Non-consumption
Tolaram entered Nigeria with a mission to target non-consumption. The company’s vision is to “bring affordability and quality to the lower socio-economic segments” in the country. In order to execute that vision, Tolaram developed a business model that allowed it sell its product profitably for as little as ten cents (due to inflation and currency depreciation, Indomie instant noodles now sell for 18 cents).
Tolaram developed the necessary distribution infrastructure and relationships to get its product to as many Nigerians in virtually every corner of the country as possible. To target non-consumption in a country without the necessary infrastructure — roads, reliable electricity and water supply, etc. — Tolaram had to integrate across multiple components in its value chain.It had to build an interdependent architecture.
Most innovative companies, especially in emerging markets, have to build interdependent architectures because most of the components they need are usually not available.
Whenever a product* or the delivery of that product is not good enough**, the company providing the product has to create an interdependent system. In other words, the company has to integrate across multiple components in the value chain. It does this so that it can manage the interfaces across the different components in the system. Consider Tolaram.
The poor state of infrastructure in Nigeria necessitated Tolaram to integrate multiple components in its value chain. The company has had to provide its own electricity; manage a fleet of more than 2,000 trucks for its logistics; and build a palm oil factory (palm oil is one of the products needed to make instant noodles).
Creating an interdependent system can be expensive, especially when compared to a modular system. In modular systems, there are other players (either the government or private enterprises) that provide the necessary components to build or deliver a product.
For example, if Tolaram were set up in the United States, the company could leverage electricity, water supply, and logistics from existing companies or government entities. This would greatly reduce its cost of doing business.
Interdependence, while typically more expensive, is not all bad. The fact that Tolaram has had to develop these components has enabled it offer those products to other companies in Nigeria.
Tolaram now has 17 manufacturing plants in Nigeria (including noodles, flour, palm oil, seasoning, etc.); a packaging company; and a logistics company. Building an interdependent system enables companies to offer products to other companies once they satisfy their demand.
Stay tuned for part 2 to learn about how Tolaram used patient capital to build their company.
* product here refers to product or service
** not good enough here refers to products that don’t yet meet the performance standards of most customers
Louisa Kinoshi created BeautyRevNg to celebrate the diverse beauty of African women. The Nigeria-based company, which officially launched in April 2014, aims to revolutionize the beauty shopping experience in Africa.
It seeks to put brands that cater to the needs of African women in its clients’ hands at the click of a button. BeautyRevNg also provides an online space for African beauty enthusiasts to gather and learn from each other.
“It is more than just selling makeup,” said Louisa, who is also a fashion and beauty blogger, and has written for various online publications. Before relocating to Nigeria to work on BeautyRevNG full-time, she worked for Clean Line Energy in Houston.
Prior to that, she worked in corporate public relations and marketing for seven years. Her clients included Starbucks, Pepsico and Pfizer, among others. I caught up with her to talk about her entrepreneurial journey so far.
The idea to start a beauty business came about when Louisa was at Carnegie Mellon University. As a student, she often travelled to Nigeria for holidays. During one of her trips, she lost her makeup bag. “It was a surprise that there was nowhere I could go to replace its contents at an affordable price,” she said.
The few places that she did find sold the makeup that she wanted at exorbitant prices. She realized then that there was a need in the market for reasonably priced beauty products that compliment African women’s skin. “I also heard from family, friends and blog followers that this was something African women want to see,” she added.
As a blogger, Louisa spend time figuring out what was missing in Africa’s beauty and fashion industry. She talked to people on the ground who shared their beauty wants and needs with her. She also cultivated relationships with beauty influencers, who included celebrity makeup artists and bloggers, in Nigeria.
It is through this research that she was able to find out the type of products that her company would initially feature. The relationships she had built came in handy when the business started. It was easy to get people to join the beauty revolution because they had heard about it from these influencers.
Louisa wanted to start small. This approach would give her leeway to make mistakes as she worked out the kinks of her business and tested to see if it was something that people really wanted. Armed with personal savings and a little bit of investment from family and friends, she embarked on turning the idea into reality.
The first order of business was getting inventory. “We live in a society where there is scarcity of product so whoever has the most inventory is queen,”she said. “If you don’t have anything to sell then that’s a problem.”
She then had to develop a website for the company. “I didn’t have to spend too much money on this,” she said. “I have web and graphic design experience so I did a lot of the web development myself.” Louisa had also fostered relationships with photographers and designers who agreed to work with her at a reduced cost.
Growing the brand
Louisa and her team, which consists of herself, a creative director and logistics manager, identify beauty companies to partner with through research and crowdsourcing. They first find out the brands that African women like, want and respect. “Respect is a really big factor,” Louisa said. “Then we ask, ‘Do these brands have products that cater to us?’”
They then reach out to the brands to find out if they are willing to work with BeautyRevNG and have a foot in Africa. Louisa also travels to Los Angeles and attends trade shows where she can meet with the brand representatives in person. She lets them know about her company and her mission and vision. “Once we have an agreement with them, we bring the brands to our site and market them to our customers,” she said.
Fostering these business partnerships has not been without its challenges. Some of the brands that customers desire don’t understand the opportunity in Africa yet. Others aren’t quite ready to have a presence in the continent. As such, they are not willing to form a wholesale relationship with BeautyRevNG.
“There are also some popular indie brands that are owned by small businesses, but they are struggling to provide inventory for America so they can’t quite expand,” Louisa said. “It’s not their priority.” This doesn’t deter her because the beauty industry has so many options. “If one brand says no, it definitely doesn’t kill your business,” she said.“There are also new players coming in.” “If one doesn’t work there is always the next one,” she added.
The company has also dealt with logistics challenges. Initially, it was tough to get the product from the website to the customers hands. “It would take almost three days in the same city,” said Louisa. She worked closely with her delivery partners in order to tackle this. “Now we are at a point where it takes 24 hours for most deliveries within the city.” Her goal is to cut down the product delivery time to 3 to 4 hours. “That would be the sweet spot,” she said.
Powering the beauty revolution
The startup sets itself apart from its competition by actively engaging with its clients. “From day one we have focused on building a community,” said Louisa. “So our brand voice has always been very inclusive.” Customers participate in the company’s story. They share pictures of products they have purchased from the store as well as beauty finds they are interested in.
Through this online community, clients can also access tutorials and get beauty advice. “We are their friends,” said Louisa. “We are who they go to when they want to have conversations about beauty.” “Even if you aren’t purchasing at the time, we still want to engage you.” she added.
This online community keeps Louisa going in the face of challenges. “People are always encouraging me with their words and pictures,” she said. Her family and friends also constantly cheer her on. As a part of Tiffany Amber’s Women of Vision Mentorship Programme, she has been able to connect with other female entrepreneurs. This community of women business owners has been her sounding board and source of strength.
Louisa is excited and energized by the reception that BeautyRevNG has received so far. She is working on launching the first beauty shopping app for African women which will not only enable them to buy products, but also read their reviews and engage with beauty experts. She wants to build a beauty experience center.
Should she win the 2015 SLA Pitch Competition, Louisa plans to use the funds she gets to accomplish these two goals. “We are going to get there eventually, but winning will fast-track the process,” she said.
Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is: “Be OK with failure, that’s how you learn. Mistakes are lesson plans for the next phase.”