Valentine Mabaso: I am a warrior, I got scars to prove it

I aspire to help those with skin conditions and scars to see that their strength Click To Tweet

…Shape, size and scars. These are some of the common insecurities that massacre every shred of confidence one can possess. Women feel the pressure to weigh certain kilos, have a particular melanin shade and definitely a clear skin tone.

But trying to be something else is honestly a waste of who you truly are. You need to accept the areas that make you feel fragile and capitalise on your  strengths. A beautiful soul called Valentine Mabaso embraced her own scars and now gives hope to all those who feel trapped by their skin conditions. This #MotherlandMogul is a Marketing Specialist by day and a Rock Scars warrior every day. Her aspirations are to help others see that their strength is written on their skin and to help them see the beauty in their scars.

She lives with a chronic skin condition called Atopic Dermatitis and has been living with it for 10 years to date. The 23-year-old was born and bred in the rural villages of Limpopo and currently resides in Johannesburg, South Africa. Valentine has two awesome younger brothers and they were raised by a single mother who is Valentine’s number 1 cheerleader in her mission to change the world.

What Rock Scars priorities are you focusing on right now?

At this stage we are prioritizing on the following:

  • To provide a platform and an environment that serves to empower and inspire people living with any form of skin condition or a scar of any kind.
  • To restore self confidence in people of any age and gender, living with scars by providing support, networking, mentoring, encouragement and health care activities across the nation (particularly concerning skin disorders, cancer and scars of any form).mabaso

Rock Scars also educates people about skin conditions. Do you do this personally or do you have professionals who conduct these sessions?

We have unfortunately not worked with any dermatologist to date but we hope to have a professional assisting with that in future. I personally made thorough research about different forms of skin conditions, the common ones and those that are rare. I look at how they can be prevented and/or treated and how to live with them and then I share that with others.

We call this Skin Condition Awareness and it is Rock Scars’ way of educating people about skin conditions. However, I always make it clear that our participants should in all cases seek medical attention with professional Skin Doctors. Also, as people come forward to share their stories about their skin conditions, I further research about the skin conditions and then create awareness about them, especially with our online communities.

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How do you tackle discrimination against the people you assist?

I believe that no one is born with a discriminatory mind, such things are learned from people and events around us. If we can teach people especially those not directly affected by us and our scars, then we can change their minds thus tackle being discriminated. We teach people to learn to appreciate diversity and respect people who are different in any way.

People may be disabled, transgender, dark-skin or have a different hair color, scars, stretch marks or a skin condition but the truth is, no one chose to be that way so why should we discriminate them. Rock Scars promotes dialogue on social media and during the events where we engage those living with skin conditions and scars and those who don’t.

In as much as I wish to protect the people I assist against discrimination and negative remarks, I unfortunately, cannot be there for them all the time. This is why during the sessions or our 1 on 1 conversations I remind them that they are warriors. That way they will be strengthened and will stand their ground under any circumstance.

I call them warriors not because I want them to feel better but because it is true. If you can survive a burning house, car accidents, cancer, and its many surgeries, live with a chronic condition for so long, why should words from someone you don’t know break you? I remind them that it matters NOT what others say. They should know that they fought bigger battles and won them and now they have the scars as medals to prove it.

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How do you respond when Rock Scars is held up as an object of ridicule?

The best tool I believe in is education. Most people make such remarks because of misinformation, so the best way to correct such behavior is through educating them about our conditions.

For example, I was told a lot of times that I must be HIV positive because of my skin and its scars. This example goes to prove that people can just look at you and make their own assumptions and conclusions. Through Rock Scars, I show people it is not ok to make your own conclusion just by looking at me.

Often when we get ridiculed for what we do, I always remind people that no one ever voluntarily goes out there to get a scar for the fun of it. We try to make those ridiculing us understand that even if they are not infected they are probably affected in some way. They have someone in their lives who has a scar or is living with a skin condition. We are patient with those who do not agree with what Rock Scars does and let them know that in any case the same happens to them they are welcome to our family of warriors.

To grow, do you advertise Rock Scars or do you rely on word of mouth? Why?

I use every opportunity I get to promote the good work Rock Scars does. We interact with most people online and therefore use that as an advertising tool. It allows us to reach a large number of people across the globe instantly and it is cost effective, which is beneficial for a small social enterprise like Rock Scars.

We are also occasionally given the opportunity at various TV and radio stations in South Africa to advertise our brand through interviews. Podcasts and videos are available on our website. We also attend seminars of other organizations with similar objectives which contribute to our growth.

Besides the struggle to get proper venues for events what other challenges are you facing as an NGO?

My biggest challenge is running this organization and having to do my 9-5 cooperate job. Rock Scars is a social enterprise and as much as I would love to devote 100% of my time to it, I unfortunately, can’t.

I depend solely on my income to run the Rock Scars campaign and help others. I am not complaining, I love my job but I would love to travel across the country especially schools to encourage and educate learners that scars are beautiful.


What are the key indicators by which you measure your impact?

There are various ways we use to measure the effectiveness of Rock Scars. One would be an increase in the number of attendants and participants to our sessions. On our second session, we realized growth in the number of participants who came through to share their stories.

We also measure the effectiveness of our work through testimonies and reviews. There is nothing that makes me happy like seeing someone who attended our session/s having the courage to wear anything they like and feel absolutely confident and beautiful in their skin.

With our online community, it’s very easy to measure our effectiveness. For example, we can post a story of one of the warriors with a picture of themselves attached and once we see people open up about their own scars and skin disorder stories, we know that our message has been positively received.

The number of likes and shares each post gets is also a good indicator of the impact our organization has. Another way is when people from other countries who contact us to share their stories which indicates that our organization is serving its purpose.

Valentine, I understand to date you are funding Rock Scars. How do you plan to increase your income streams besides calling out for sponsors?

It is very difficult getting people to invest into your idea and vision, especially one that is something totally different and is based more on changing people’s lives than profit. That is why I resorted to self-funding the organization.

We are currently in the process of making a few Rock Scars items that will be for sale and help us raise funds so we can be able to travel across the continent to reach more warriors. Items will include, Rock Scars shirts, caps, fruit juices, and more exciting things.

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.


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has been your overall experience in this industry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essie Bartels: I immerse myself wherever I am

Essie Bartels Essie Spice
l told myself l was going to give 100% of my vision into the brand. Nothing was going to be half-baked - Essie Bartels Click To Tweet

Spices and sauces are what turn insipid ingredients into gourmet food. We all love food, well at least l do and there is nothing disappointing in the life of a foodie like being served a dry meal that’s meant to be succulent. Yes, it’s all about the food and for food, it’s all about the bursts of flavor.

Ghanaian #MotherlandMogul Essie Bartels knows the art of fine cookery and through her kitchen experiments, EssieSpice was established. Essie was born in Accra to a family of 9, she went to school in the central part of Ghana and moved to the USA at age 18. She has traveled to over 26 countries, lived on three continents and schooled in those three.

Essie Bartels learnt how to cook from her mother and grandmother from when she was 8 years old.

How did you turn your love for spices into a business?

It was thanks to a lot of encouragement and support from family and friends. The plan was to continue working in corporate America and rising up the ranks and I was doing that. EssieSpice was a side gig. But with all the support, I kept going and when I lost my job, I decided to give EssieSpice a chance.

Main Picture Essiespice

What were some of your disappointments?

There have been so many. Being disappointed by partners, investors, the government, writers who say they’ll publish your story, running out of funds, disappointments from ingredient producers.

The list goes on.

What has been the most successful strategy of marketing your spices?

I think what has worked for me so far is my foundation. When I started out, I told myself I will give 100% of my vision into the brand. Nothing was going to be half-baked.

I spent a substantial amount of money on research, on my labels, on my ingredients, on telling my story, and my overall branding. I think people identify with that and they understand how much I put in. They understand how that translates into the passion and love I have for EssieSpice.

What is your favourite spice from your product range?

I actually wish I had a favorite out of the 4 so I could answer everyone who interviews me but I really don’t.

Anyone who’s tried the sauces will tell you how different they are. With products so different, it’s hard to pick one since they can be used for the same things but also completely varied and different applications.

I immerse myself wherever I am - Essie Bartels founder of @EssieSpice Click To Tweet

How do you generate new ideas?

I travel. I immerse myself wherever I am. Whether I’m back home researching new spices or in another country. I ask a lot of questions. I then come home and experiment. Some of the ideas come out of disasters of experiments as well.

Which cuisine most inspires your spices?

African and Asian cuisines. They are my favorite.


What are your responsibilities as the owner of EssieSpice?

Currently, I don’t have staff. Most of my workers are contract workers or outsourced.

Once in a while, I have help from friends and family so ultimately I have all the responsibilities at EssieSpice. From sourcing ingredients to packaging to production to deliveries to demos to accounting to social media…you name it. But that will be changing soon.

Most of @EssieSpice's workers are contract workers or outsourced Click To Tweet

Did the birth of EssieSpice cause any lifestyle changes? How?

I can create my schedule now. That wasn’t the case before when I worked in corporate. I had to go with someone else’s schedule for my life.

I also had to learn to budget a lot more and to be more organized with finance and schedules. Also knowing that once I create the product, it’s not about me anymore but the consumer. That brings a whole new perspective.

Describe a kitchen disaster

I remember I went to a market and I was told there was no power. So I needed to run to a Home Depot and get a generator to power our fryers and grills. But the generator could only power one thing at a time. It was an extremely hectic and difficult day but we pulled through.

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