Eyitemi Popo: How I turned my media brand into a lifestyle brand

If you're an entrepreneur who feels stuck with your business, I hope you find this article at the perfect time and it encourages you to keep pushing. Click To Tweet

After five years of building my online magazine, painstakingly growing a social media following, and nurturing relationships with global brands, I had found a comfortable niche in the media landscape.

The night after my magazine’s 5th-anniversary party, I quietly reflected on the journey. I read the congratulatory messages I had received, some reminding me that many online sites and magazines that started with – or even after – Ayiba no longer existed.

But was survival enough of an achievement?

Making my dream my reality was significant. Building a team to drive that vision forward had significance. I mean, I had gone from shooting the first cover of Ayiba Magazine on my college campus to having celebrity photographers shoot the cover with Hollywood actresses.

The growth was undeniable, that had to count for something. And perhaps it did. However, my side hustle was still a side hustle bringing in side hustle revenue. Was that the best I could do? And more importantly, what was next?

Almost a year to the date of my quiet contemplation, I have built Girls Trip Tours, a social venture that is a direct manifestation of my magazine’s mission. It leverages Ayiba’s readership, brand equity, and professional network to design unique travel experiences across Africa with a focus on female empowerment.

Our trips have the goal of empowering future female leaders through mentorship, while taking in the sites and dining around town in the company of high profile business women and local industry leaders. I like to think of it as ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ with less soul-searching and more self-actualization.

Where once you could read about Lagos’ nightlife, Nairobi’s startup ecosystem, or Rwandese artisans in the pages of Ayiba, now we can arrange for you to experience these things first-hand through group or solo travel with Girls Trip Tours.

The idea came from the opportunity I observed for digital brands to bring online experiences offline and create deeper more meaningful connections with their virtual communities in real life. The concept of Girls Trip Tours emerged from a perceived customer need. Ayiba readers were emailing to ask for travel advice.

Our articles had inspired our readers in the diaspora to want to visit the continent and they were looking to us as an expert resource. My mission with Ayiba is to connect Africans in the diaspora with those on the continent through storytelling. I have consistently done this through online and print mediums, but now I have the opportunity to create those connections in real life.

Lifestyle brands thrive when they figure out what their customers end goal and design their brand around the experiences that their customers desire - @AyibaMagazine Click To Tweet

Figure out your customers desire, along with the people, places, things, and ideas that inspire them to action.

After surveying 100 plus women in Ayiba’s online community, I decided to organize trips to Kenya and Nigeria in 2019. As per their feedback, there are a mix of experiences to satisfy those seeking ancestral travel experiences to West Africa, wildlife and adventure in National Parks, as well as urban exploration in Africa’s most vibrant cities.

In addition to satisfying a customer need, by expanding my media brand to include travel experiences, I now have a new avenue for creating content. On each trip, there are multiple opportunities to connect with new talents to feature or more contributors to write.

I also will be creatively inspired by my surroundings to shoot video series, photography campaigns, and write OP-EDS on social issues I am confronted with. In the long run, I believe it makes sense for Ayiba to become a lifestyle brand.

I am creating a customer journey that can start with exploring content online, which may lead to booking a travel experience or vice versa. The magazine and the trips will feed into one another. In this next phase of my entrepreneurial journey, I look forward to listening to my customers, as well as looking to broader industry trends for my continued evolution.

For any entrepreneur that may feel stuck with their businesses, I hope you find this article at the perfect time and it encourages you to keep pushing.

If your growth has become stagnant and you are looking for a new direction to go in, observe customer behavior, look to the industry for inspiration, and most importantly, ask your audience what they want/need, then test it out.

I did a soft-launch with a Girls Trip to Ghana in July. It was that small group trip, the women I met, and the girls I mentored that gave me the confidence to do more.My advice

  • Consider what other verticals may be profitable before you give up on a business you have put time, money, sweat, and tears into.
  • As tough as it may be, if you have a good foundation: reputable brand and loyal audience, there are many ways you can consider monetizing and scaling up.

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Meet the young African women creating impact through international consultancy

International consultants working on finding sustainable solutions for social-economic problems on the continent, are more and more often roles fulfilled by our own young and brightest.

Meet three young inspiring ladies from Kenya, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe who made their way into Dalberg – a firm that is rapidly expanding across the continent – to contribute to social impact and sustainable development through consulting work.

Edel Were is a Consultant and Co-Lead of the Youth Employment and Education Practice at Dalberg Advisors. The 27-year-old is based in the Nairobi office and has been in Dalberg for 3 years.

Within her time at Dalberg, she has built a range of experience in the youth employment and education space in Africa. Her work has supported the Conrad N. Hiltonn Foundation, MasterCard Foundation, Government of Rwanda, NGO’s and more.

Christelle Nayandi is 23 years old and she recently joined Dalberg Advisors as an analyst. Prior to this, she worked on different social impact-focused projects in Africa.

She was a research assistant in the Appropriate Point of Care Diagnostics project in Kumasi, Ghana, where her and her teammates conducted research on Pediatric Tuberculosis in hospitals and generated ideas on appropriate point of care diagnostic devices using available resources.

Fadzai Chitiyo joined Dalberg as an Analyst in the Johannesburg office in 2017 and has made immense strides in her career, having been promoted twice in less than two years!

She is now Strategy Consultant at Dalberg, with broad development sector expertise across agriculture, financial inclusion, healthcare, mobile for development, impact investing and inclusive business growth. She has conducted several businesses cases and go-to-market strategies for banks in DRC, Uganda and Zambia.  

In this interview, Edel , Christelle, and Fadzai share their tips of how to get your foot into the door with an international consultancy firm while in your twenties.

Tell us about the competitive route towards being hired by a global consultancy…

Chrisetelle: It involved a lot of hours spent on studying for case interviews, practicing and honing my structured problem-solving skills.

Fadzai: Next to the case studies, consultancies are hiring more and more for company culture and global fit, with some building relationships with specific clubs or faculties on university campuses.

It is a good idea to join some of these clubs, so you can gain exposure to current employees at the consultancy you are interested in, whilst also positioning yourself well to be a potential candidate

Edel:I had expressed within my network my interest to engage in actionable problem solving, especially in the development sector, therefore people gave me guidance and how to prepare.

I hadn’t really been exposed to consulting before, so resources such as this and this, but also videos like this one, really helped me.

Edel Were
Before you become a consultant, practice the skills, apply for internships and if that’s not possible read up on case studies and how to solve them - Edel Were Click To Tweet

How did you land your job at an international company like Dalberg?

Chrisetelle: I got to learn about Dalberg’s amazing work through an information session at my university. I also got the chance to attend a talk hosted by a partner in one of the African offices.

I made the effort to reach out people who work in consulting to seek preparation tips, connect to people currently working in Dalberg and being very proactive about it.

Fadzai: A former Desmond Tutu Leadership fellow who saw my potential for a consulting career and introduced me to the firm.

The introduction was a first step, but I really had to prove myself in the interviews to land the job through three case study interviews with senior staff and partners from the Africa offices.

Edel: I met someone who worked at Dalberg and got interested in the company as it matched my desire to work in the social impact space.

Even though they didn’t have any vacancies at the time, I tried to build my experience by doing several internships and jobs in the development space and applied once a position opened.

Want to work with an international consultancy firm while in your twenties? Edel, Christelle and Fadzai share some tips... Click To Tweet

In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of life as a consultant?

Christelle: Working as a consultant is great because you get to work on many projects in different sectors and areas. But traveling often can be challenging because you don’t usually get a lot of time to spend with family and friends back home.

Fadzai: The exposure to some of the top executives and development leaders on the continent or globe position you well to take your career anywhere you like.

However, life as a consultant is also a life on the road. It is important you ensure you can achieve some work life balance and maintain the relationships that matter in your life.

Edel: Working with people who are constantly refining their problem-solving skills has helped me build my skills and knowledge quite quickly.

I work in a variety sectors (health, education, agriculture, energy etc.). At the same time, it can be difficult to specialize in one sector or practice area as you’re expected to a be a generalist.

Fadzai Chitiyo
Life as a consultant is also a life on the road. Ensure that you achieve some work life balance - Fadzai Chitiyo Click To Tweet

Have you worked on any projects which contributed to the overall development of Africa?

Christelle: As I recently joined, I am working on my first project! The bulk of my work involves doing a market assessment for an international education institution here in Rwanda.

I do this in order to identify needs and gaps in the market and see how it can better position itself to address them.

Fadzai: My most exciting project was to design and develop a commercial business case and go-to-market strategy for a leading bank in Zambia.

They wanted to reach 30,000 small holder farmers with business financial services for them to graduate to emerging farmers. The bank is looking to implement soon which is exciting!

Edel: One of the projects I really liked working on was supporting the Mastercard Foundation and the Government of Rwanda. The project focused on rethinking 21st century skills training for your young people in the country by technical vocational training programs.

After involving young people, businesses and institutions in some of the most marginalized districts in the country, we recommended a couple of focus areas as well as an implementation plan. The project is being implemented as we speak!

What advice would you give to other young African women hoping to join an international consultancy?

Christelle: It is important to start practicing and become more aware of structured problem-solving. There is a wealth of material on the internet on how to improve this skill.

Also, networking is very important. Take every opportunity possible to meet up and talk to people in this industry.

Fadzai: I would suggest doing internships during your university holidays (either in a global consulting firm or any other professional services company) By doing this, you can prepare for the high pressure and fast work environment that consultants work under.

This skill will help you to start building some basic research and problem-solving skills.

Edel: With a focus on development consulting, I would say start familiarizing yourself with the sector, read up on important conversations and decisions being made in the space.

Practice the skills, try and apply for internships and if that’s not possible read up on case studies and how to solve them.

Christelle Nayandi
Before I got this job, I made the effort to reach out to people who work in consulting to seek preparation tips - Christelle Nayandi Click To Tweet

How do you make a name for yourself as a young woman in a consultancy office?

Christelle: Be proactive in your everyday activities. The reason why you are there is to help the company fulfil its mission while you also aim for professional development in the process. So own it and be open-minded.

Make an effort to go out there and meet people who have been in the firm longer than you because they often have great advice on what you should keep in mind in your everyday activities.

Fadzai: You don’t go in trying to make a name for yourself! Instead, be willing to ask for help, fail fast and learn quickly. Identify mentors and advisors that can help you in your journey.

Most people tend to overlook the Project Managers and look for a Partner. But you will typically interact more with managers and they will have a clearer line of sight on your professional development.

Edel: I think you should follow the things you are passionate about. Volunteer in internal initiatives and topics that you find interesting. The people around you are a resource, try to engage with people on these topics across the firm, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Also, I’d say participate in industry events, try and get your thoughts and opinions published, and make people aware of your interests.

This article was written by Marthe van der Wolf

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Francine Irakoze: Explore your talents, master them, and find a way to shine on the continent

Francine Irakoze was born in Burundi and grew up in many countries including Japan, Germany, and Belgium. Francine held various positions including Team Leader, Program Coordination/Liaison, and Interim Program Manager at Mckesson Canada before starting her global health career.

In 2015, she was selected to join the 2015 – 2016 Global Health Corps Fellowship cohort as an Operations Officer in Rwanda She was later promoted to Operations Manager/Program Specialist.

Francine now works in Toronto for Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR) as a Program Coordinator/Proposal Writer.

In this article, she talks about returning to Africa, her work with CPAR, the projects she worked on as a GHC fellow and her humanitarian work across Africa.

What does a typical day look like for you and what projects are you currently focusing on with CPAR?

CPAR is a sustainable development NGO in Ethiopia, Malawi, and Tanzania. My daily tasks include providing operational and programmatic support to the headquarters and the field offices in Africa.

My workload ranges from closely monitoring programmatic activities reviewing narrative and financial reports, working on multi-annual funding applications to recruiting Emergency Canadian Physicians for our Medical Placement Program among other tasks.

I sometimes travel to meet field teams. Last month I visited Malawi to conduct research on the country’s Sexual Reproductive Health landscape and secure partnerships with local organizations.

Overall, the varieties of my tasks make it hard to predict my day, but my one constant regardless of country or time zone – is my light cup of coffee every morning.

You once interviewed civil war health workers in Burundi, what did you learn from the experience?

In 2015, Burundi faced a social-political crisis that sparked deadly protests and violence between state forces and suspected opposition. In the same year, I moved from Toronto to Kigali, Rwanda as a GHC fellow with Health Builders.

I would wake up every morning worried about my family and friends living in Burundi. It was very hard for me to grasp how different life in Kigali was compared to my hometown of Bujumbura.

Writing became my coping mechanism.  “Letter to Burundi”, wasn’t meant to be published but the positive comments I gained reminded me of the incredible power of using one’s story and voice to raise awareness.

With  “White Coats, Dark Times.” I felt compelled to share this story of the conflict evolving in Bujumbura.  More importantly, I wrote this article to honor my friends who were fighting, as physicians to save lives.

Around the world, conflicts stretch everything thin: a person’s sense of safety and security, emotional stability, and resources. On the other hand, conflicts also create heroes whose courage and resilience become inspirational.

“White Coats, Dark Times” turned out to be, for me, a bridge between these two conflict-generated realities.

Why do you think many other young Africans decide not to return home?

As I grew older, I started having a strong desire to return to the continent to contribute to change from there.

I would encourage Africans in the diaspora to continue exploring their true identity locally and globally - Francine Irakoze Click To Tweet

Everyone needs to develop various skill sets, explore their talents, master them, and then find a way to shine on the continent – not just in the international development sector but in finance, fashion, technology, the arts, and more.  

My hope is that one main factor will drive our common homecoming journey, to play our part (however small) and to lift our continent up with hard work and positive contributions so it can thrive both politically and economically.

Why prompted you to return to Africa?

When I went back to Burundi as a teenager I was exposed to the harsh reality of life in an impoverished environment. Sadly, I saw family members struggling to afford prescriptions drugs and others dying of preventable disease.

After a few years, I gained more perspective on the dangerous combination of poverty, infectious disease, and inaccessibility to primary health care.

This was such a systemic problem in my country that, I felt compelled to get involved in the field of global health.

What advice would you share with other young leaders interested in the global health sector?

Global health is hard work because it’s about fighting for health as a human right and any fight against injustice is not easy.  My advice would be for young leaders to be vigilant and always analyze power dynamics at play.

As you prepare to enter the fight for health equity, equip yourself with the knowledge of where disparities stem from in the first place. Stay engaged.

We need more people to join this sector to drive concrete change to eliminate health disparities. We should use the fullness of our diverse personalities, professional experiences, backgrounds, and talents, to fight health inequality.

I call this D against D: diversity against disparity. We should not tolerate such big gaps in the way people receive medical care or are able to access health insurance, and/or even live or die based on their financial status.


What’s your leadership mantra? 

“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily, even if you had no title or position.” —Brian Tracy, motivational speaker

Working in such a challenging sector, how do you stay inspired and hopeful? 

I stay connected to other changemakers. I read and stay in tune with other organizations, global health professionals, GHC friends, present and past co-workers. Their vision, drive, approach, and impact are a source of motivation for me.

When I was in Malawi, I attended the Segal Family Foundation (SFF), Social Impact Incubator (SII) event. During a small group exercise, I had the opportunity to sit with young leaders tackling issues ranging from improving cervical cancer services to advocating for climate change prevention in Malawi.

Listening to them explaining their source of motivations, and describing their organizations’ respective approach to solve local challenges was very informative.

It’s during moments like these, when my passion for transformative change aligns with others, that my sense of purpose is always reignited. 

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44 African leaders made history in Kigali, Rwanda on 21 March 2018, when they signed up for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The agreement will create one of the world’s largest free trade areas – a single market for goods and services for a population of over 1.2 million people – if all AU members eventually sign and ratify it.

The AfCTA is in line with the broader goals of the AU reforms initiative, which intends to move away from the current situation of multiple, almost competing for economic blocs to a single pan-African unit that facilitates the free movement of goods and services across the continent. The AfCTA is a milestone achievement that could change the economic trajectory of the continent.

A celebratory photograph of the various leaders who gathered in Kigali was rapidly shared across various media platforms to commemorate the singularity of events. Yet, anyone paying attention quickly noticed one thing about the photograph – there were no women.

Can the AU reforms process create room for women in the highest levels of political leadership on the continent? The final round of negotiations for the AfCFTA, unfortunately, coincided with the resignation of Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the first female president of Mauritius.

Outside of South Africa and Malawi, no woman has run for president in the Southern Africa region- @tanaforum @nanjala1 Click To Tweet

There are now no female heads of state on the continent. Before Gurib-Fakim, we had Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia, Joyce Banda in Malawi and Catherine Samba-Panza in the Central African Republic.

Of the four, only Johnson-Sirleaf completed a full term with both Gurib-Fakim and Banda leaving office under tenuous allegations of fraud and Samba-Panza electing not to run for office after serving as a caretaker president.

If there are any unifying lessons to be learned from these experiences it is that African women political leaders are often held to higher standards than their male counterparts and that much more work can be done to incorporate women into political governance on the continent.

The subject of equality of women in politics in Africa is complex. In the pre-independence era, there are a number of examples of women rising to the top of their societies, particularly in fraught political moments.

Today, South Africa is the most un-equal country in the world according to the World Bank, with entrenched poverty directly linked to the “enduring legacy of apartheid”.

Madikezela-Mandela was punished for doing exactly the same things that her male counterparts did- @tanaforum @nanjala1 Click To Tweet

Madikezela-Mandela’s experience echoes the experience of women on the continent who form a slight numerical majority of the population but are systematically shut out from high-level politics. She was punished for doing exactly the same things that her male counterparts have done throughout the ages.

Women were at the center of liberation movements across the continent; not just in supporting roles but also leading political and military organizations.  Madikezela-Mandela was branded a murderer and denied a seat at the table of power in post-apartheid South Africa.

Rwanda has the highest number of women in parliament at 63.8%.- @tanaforum @nanjala1 Click To Tweet

Today, the situation facing African women in politics is mixed. Between 2005 and 2015, the proportion of women in legislatures in North Africa more than doubled from 7% to 18%, while in sub-Saharan Africa it increased from 15% to 22%.

Globally, Rwanda has the highest number of women in parliament at 63.8% and, because of the increasing use of quotas, women make up more than 30% of the legislature in most countries in East and Southern Africa. And as mentioned, four countries have put women in the top seat, more than Europe or North America combined.

Nonetheless, there have also been significant losses, particularly where women aim for the presidency.

Read the concluding part of this article here

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This article was originally written by Nanjala Nyabola, a writer and political analyst based in Nairobi, Kenya for the Tana-High Level Forum on Security in Africa 2018.

Sonia Mugabo: Emerging markets, like Rwanda, are centers of innovation

@soniamugabo is setting the standard for Rwandan fashion in global and local markets Click To Tweet
Sonia Mugabo is the founder of Sonia Mugabo (“SM”), a Rwandan-based fashion brand offering an eclectic mix of African trends and contemporary style. SM offers both bespoke as well as ready to wear designs.

A pioneer of Rwanda’s fashion industry, Sonia is setting the standard for Rwandan fashion in global and local markets. Since its start three years ago, SM has cultivated a loyal following of customers who value the brand’s innovative and high-quality designs.

Rwanda’s fashion industry is nascent. What impact has that had on Sonia Mugabo and other fashion businesses in Rwanda?

Most people in Rwanda wear second-hand clothes imported from Western countries, which basically means Rwanda’s local talent is largely ignored. Luckily, with the aim to encourage consumption of local products, the Rwandan government is putting a stop to the importation of second clothes.

As such, local designers are seizing the opportunity to build brands with a strong Rwandan heritage as well as creating jobs and inspiring young talent to pursue fashion careers. I believe emerging markets, like Rwanda, are centres of innovation since they’re compelled to innovate to solve unique challenges.

You interned at Teen Vogue in New York. What are some of the things you learned there that helped you navigate the Rwandan fashion scene and those you’ve had to discard?

Teen Vogue New York was a fast moving and fashionable environment. The behind-the-scenes of the fashion world intrigued me. I learned about clothing brands while observing talented fashion editors define the next season’s trends. I got a sense of how the business of fashion functions and the hard work involved to remain at the top in a highly competitive industry.

In Rwanda, I’ve had to follow my gut, work hard and just do everything possible to make my brand stand out. Also, since we’re in an age where we can market freely on social media, I’ve leveraged that platform to create brand awareness and reach a diverse audience.

Sonia Mugabo
Sonia Mugabo

You said your best work is created in New York, a city that’s been branded a fashion haven by fashion aficionados. Why did you choose to move to Rwanda to open Sonia Mugabo?

When I realized I wanted to pursue a fashion designer career, I discovered starting in New York was almost impossible without having gone to fashion school.

However, in Rwanda, there’s a lot of incentives by the Rwanda Business Development (RDB) for companies and individuals wishing to do business in the country. That encouraged me to return home after I graduated college to launch my brand, Sonia Mugabo.

Sonia Mugabo
Sonia Mugabo

What’s your advice to women considering a career in fashion but can’t access a fashion magazine internship or fashion school?

I’d say educate yourself as much as possible about the industry. Research how your favourite brands became fashion powerhouses.

Most importantly, if you want to start your own brand know that there is a whole other aspect of just making beautiful clothes. There’s the business side of fashion, so make sure you understand the 5 Ps of marketing [product, price, place, people and promotion].

Another key to note is, though the fashion industry might appear glamorous from the outside, a lot of work takes place behind the scenes. It isn’t an overnight success story so don’t expect to bear fruits right away. Sometimes, you even have to plant fresh seeds.

Lastly, I’d say set up a 5 to 10 year plan for yourself, set milestones and try to achieve them one step at a time.

If there was something you could change about the Rwandan fashion industry, what would it be?

I would encourage people to support local businesses as much as they support foreign ones.

I’d change the mindset that “Made in Rwanda” is of lower quality than something sold in Nordstorm. Support your own.

Opportunities in Rwanda encouraged Sonia Mugabo to return home and launch her brand @soniamugabo Click To Tweet

What’s next for Sonia Mugabo the brand and the person?

We’re excited about launching our second store at Kigali Marriott in Kigali, which will carry our up-scale collection inspired by timeless fashion.

We plan to continue creating strong fashion pieces that celebrate and capture the essence of global trends with an edge that is purely African, and will be distributing SM products around Africa, North America and Europe through e-commerce, retail stores, stockists and stores across major fashion cities in 2017. We also hope to present seasonal collections in New York, London, Paris and Milan fashion weeks.

Personally, since I’m self-taught, I would like to take fashion courses to enhance my craftsmanship. I’m excited about the future.

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Salha Kaitesi: Many of our traditions and stories have been lost

ElleAfrique Salha Kaitesi
Salha Kaitesi of @ElleAfrique shares her advice on starting a blogzine. It's not so hard! Click To Tweet

Salha Kaitesi is a social entrepreneur currently managing two projects: Beauty of Rwanda, a not-for-profit organisation that economically empowers women and girls in Rwanda; and ElleAfrique, a blogzine dedicated to challenging the perceptions of African girls and women in the world today. 

The blogzine features writers and wide-ranging topics from across Africa, providing a space for African women to empower and celebrate one another and unite through their stories.

How does ElleAfrique stand out in comparison to other lifestyle magazines that target African women?

ElleAfrique stands out for several reasons but what truly makes it special is that it’s a platform dedicated to the everyday African woman. Most of our contributors are not “professional” bloggers/writers, they’re just everyday women with a story to tell and wisdom to share. ElleAfrique bloggers are university students, stay at home mums, professionals and everything in between.

Our blogzine also covers a range of topics, from the negative effects of the war in Burundi to the latest fashion trends in Cameroon, and span the entire continent because we have gathered women from many different parts of Africa and given them a voice through our platform.  The special ingredient to our success is our contributors.

What’s the most difficult aspect of running an online website in an age where advertising money is hard to come by and entry barriers are low?

Starting a blog has never been easier. What’s important is uniqueness because there are thousands of blogs out there. Attracting new readers with fresh content while maintaining our current readership has been vital to the success of ElleAfrique. It’s a constant balancing act. Constantly monitoring the performance of the blog has been key to keeping on top of things.

I have an amazing management group of women that work with me. The blog would not be what it is today without them (and those who share their stories, of course). ElleAfrique is successful because of the entire group.

@ElleAfrique is a platform dedicated to telling the stories of the everyday African woman Click To Tweet

Are there stories about African women begging to be told that no one is telling but should?

I believe the stories of our mothers and grandmothers are absent in magazines and media in general.  However, they are important because these matriarchs, through their life experiences, have shaped today’s African woman.

Through modernization, civilisation and the mass exodus of many towards the “Western world”, many of our traditions and stories have been lost. Writing and reading about them will strengthen our connection to our past and bring greater perspective to our present.

What’s your advice to anyone starting an online African magazine?

Having a unique niche is great, but even if that niche is already being covered elsewhere you can always turn your model into something that is still appealing to future readers.

Starting an online magazine isn’t as hard as you might think, but you must be prepared to work really hard. Your small idea can become a household name!

When I started ElleAfrique, it was being managed by someone else because I knew nothing about blogging. But I took the time to learn about web design and building a blog. Knowledge of online marketing was also an advantage and an important area to be familiar with.

Salha Kaitesi - What's important is uniqueness because there are thousands of blogs out there Click To Tweet

What does the future hold for ElleAfrique?

The African woman is multifaceted, multitalented and multicultural and it is because of this that we want all of her represented. I think the best way to achieve this is to have at least one contributor from each country in Africa.

We want to attract brands that cater to African women and to be a bridge for businesses to reach their target market. Ultimately, our mission is to change the narrative about the African woman, and who better to do this than the everyday African women, living on the continent or in the diaspora.

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Faith Uwantege: I had a burning desire to help street children

Faith Uwantege: If I didn't have a big heart, I would probably have given up Click To Tweet

Faith Uwantege set up Faith Foundation to answer the issue of Rwandan children and women living below the poverty line. To realise her dream, she saved up while working her 9-5, all while knowing that when she quit, it’ll be to work in something she was truly passionate about.

Through her foundation, Faith encourages vulnerable women to sell handicrafts they make themselves. Faith Uwantege is working towards breaking the poverty cycle in Rwanda by encouraging people to be self-reliant.

What do you think of the industry you work in?

Well, that’s quite a handful of a question but I’ll try my best to answer it. On a personal level, what I dedicated my life to do is not something that’s being done by everybody else. So I cannot say I am competing or comparing myself with anybody in the industry.

All I can say is that it takes a lot of passion, dedication and selflessness to be in this kind of industry. So what do I think of this industry? I think the answer to that question is quite relative depending on who you ask!

Tell us about saving your salary to see your dream come true. How long did you have to save? Did you have any other plans outside just saving?

I really can’t specify how long it took me to save in order to start my dream. All I remember is that I had this burning desire to help helpless children and get them off the street.

It is not actually monetary saving alone, I sacrificed my time to be with these children and to try to pinpoint the most vulnerable ones.

In what ways do you restore hope to vulnerable children and women?

I restore hope in vulnerable children and women first of all by convincing them that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Before giving them any other form of help, I give them a vocal assurance. I teach women how to be self sustainable by creating and selling hand crafts and helping their children live a better life. I teach women how weave baskets (commonly known as ‘agaseke’) and I also teach them how to use sewing machines.faith-4

How do you think the poverty cycle can be broken in Rwanda?

The poverty cycle in Rwanda can only be broken by teaching people to be self-reliant, by changing their mindsets.

Most poor people in Rwanda think that since they are poor, they are only meant to survive on government hand outs and foreign aid. This is a wrong perception because nobody was created to be poor. Once you convince them that they can actually be self-reliant, that’s the beginning of poverty eradication.

Faith Uwantege: What I dedicated my life to do isn't being done by everybody else Click To Tweet

What is exciting to you about being a young Rwandan woman today?

What’s exciting to me about being a young Rwandan woman today, is that I have a say in the society. Thanks to our president, who actually embarked on a war to ensure that there is gender balance in the country.

He also ensured that all children have equal opportunity in education and jobs in order for them to contribute to the development of the country.

Do you engage in any other projects outside Faith Foundation?

I dedicate myself fully to this foundation and that’s all that I do.

I might consider doing other things in the future but at the moment, I think my effort and focus is still vital in the foundation.faith-3

Who is your mentor and how important has she/he been in the growth of your project?

My mentor is Nick Hills, he is one of a kind! He has played an important role and is still there for the Faith Foundation in so many immeasurable ways as a donor and as my advisor. I look up to him!

I met my mentor Nick Hills first during his visit to Rwanda. Like most other tourists who had travelled here, Nick came with his family to see Rwanda’s famous mountain gorillas.

Faith Uwantege: As a young Rwandan woman today, I have a say in the society Click To Tweet

What five skills do young women need to successfully run a foundation like yours?

The five skills I think women or any other person for that matter needs to be successful in running this kind of foundation are;

  • Dedication: A woman needs to be dedicated even if the journey seems rough. It’s actually the challenges that make us more stronger in this kind of field.
  • Determination: A woman that wants to be successful in this industry, must be  determined. Without determination, you’ll easily give up.
  • Passion for what she does. I always tell people that it’s very important to do something that they are passionate about. Be it in a business or in a non- profit organization, it just makes it so much easier. If there’s no passion, then don’t even bother.
  • Hard work: Work harder even without expecting something in return. It’s worth it.
  • Simply having a big and helpful heart. If I didn’t have a big heart, I would probably have given up. There are many challenges in this industry, especially that it does not pay. It’s the big and helpful heart that drives us.

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Teta Isibo: There is so much potential for African artisans to increase the value of their products

Teta Isibo: The whole essence of @InzukiDesigns is the fusion of traditional & contemporary Click To Tweet

Teta Isibo is a Rwandan fashion entrepreneur and the founder of Inzuki Designs, a Rwandan brand specialising in jewellery, home décor and accessories that fuses Rwandan traditional craftsmanship and global contemporary design.

Teta founded Inzuki Designs out of a combined passion for design, style and everything Rwandan. Her brand seeks to transcend traditional Rwandan design and customise it to suit a modern and international market. What started a few years ago as a hobby designing jewellery for herself, has since grown into a dynamic brand selling beyond Rwanda’s borders. 

You quit your job as a land planner to start a jewellery business, which you had no background in. How difficult was it to take that leap?

It was not easy at all in the beginning, but I was really excited about finally taking the leap to be fazed by the hurdles I faced.

I learned by doing, made a lot of mistakes and learned from those mistakes as well.

Teta Isibo started out designing jewellery for herself, now @InzukiDesigns is dynamic brand Click To Tweet

Do you think there’s an interest by African artists to break away from the touristy art and crafts?

Presentation is really important in retail, it can make a whole lot of difference in what people perceive the value of a product to be and in how much they are willing to pay for it.

As much as there will always be a need and a love for the conventional arts and crafts market, there is so much potential for African artisans to increase the value of their products through better presentation and I think there is certainly a growing interest in that.

Inzuki Designs Jerwellery. Photo: Gael R. Vande Weghe
Inzuki Designs Jewellery. Photo: Gael R. Vande Weghe

Inzuki Designs works with roughly 10 local cooperatives. Why was it important for you to partner with these cooperatives?

The whole essence of our business is the fusion of Rwandan traditional and global contemporary, and the traditional comes from the skills of local artisans.

They are therefore an intrinsic component of our business. Their craftsmanship is a unique skill that we as a business greatly value. I wouldn’t be able to be in this business without them.

Teta founded @InzukiDesigns out of a combined passion for design, style and everything Rwandan Click To Tweet

What was the biggest mistake you made starting out, and what lessons did you learn?

Trying to do everything by myself, the designing and creating, the marketing and branding, the admin., the day to day running of the business. My logic was that I didn’t have money to hire staff so I had to do it by myself.

But that sort of thinking can be a costly mistake and stunt your growth. I learnt that you grow so much faster if you have the right people on your team.

Inzuki Designs Jewellery. Photo: Journal.rw
Inzuki Designs Jewellery. Photo: Journal.rw

If you were to choose one colour that represented Inzuki Design’s ethos, which would it be and why?

I’ll go with yellow. Inzuki means bees and yellow is our brand colour. It’s a bright, happy, bold colour. It’s the colour of sunshine and it symbolises joy and energy among other things. It also happens to be one of my favourite colours.

Teta Isibo: I learned by doing, made a lot of mistakes and learned from those mistakes as well Click To Tweet

What does the future hold for Inzuki Designs?

We are working on expanding our home décor line, getting into apparel, starting a line for men and for kids as well and finally getting our online store up and running. Our vision for the future is to become a contemporary African lifestyle brand with a global reach.

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