Foodies Salone: Disrupting the Sierra Leonean hospitality industry

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

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


How I turned my passion for food into a business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How we started Foodies Salone

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

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

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

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

Lessons we’ve learned

Educating the market

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

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

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

Be patient with your monetization plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice for anyone looking to start a company?

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


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Yanoh Jalloh: Fixing severe disparities and health inequities in Sierra Leone

From developing reproductive health programs for young girls in Kabala Sierra Leone, to managing high level projects funded by the center for Disease Control. Yanoh Jalloh is well equipped to provide high quality research, programmatic and training expertise to organisations focused on health and development in African countries and the United States. Born to Sierra Leonean parents in the United States, Yanoh’s passion to contributing to healthy sustainable societies by providing evidence based research driven programs, tools and resources has always been evident. Over the last decade, she has garnered the necessary experience from working with local and international Non-Governmental organisations in Africa, to high level university research institutes in the United States.  In this  interview, Yanoh Jalloh shares her career journey with young women in Sierra Leone, and her hopes to inspire and encourage them along their own journeys.
Women interested in public health - do not get into this industry for the money. It is a field that can be riveting, emotional, draining, but very fulfilling - @YKayJ Click To Tweet 

Describe yourself in one sentence?

I am a motivated, skilled and experienced international development specialist with close to a decade of’ experience of working with hard to reach populations of youth and on projects in Sierra Leone.

What motivates you to develop healthier societies in Africa?

Though I was born in the states, my family is originally from Sierra Leone and I have always felt a compelling call to respond to the severe disparities and health inequities in Sub- Saharan Africa.

Tell us about your public health background and how it relates to your Sierra Leonean heritage?

I obtained my Masters’ in Public Health with a concentration in Global Health in 2012, in 2011 during my practicum experience, I started working on the ground in Sierra Leone with the NGO Helen Keller International. It was during this experience that I was able to hone in on my research and evaluation skills as I worked on a project which aimed to redesign the national child health card. I also evaluated a multi-faceted nutrition intervention that was being implemented in several clinics throughout Freetown, Sierra Leone. Since then, I have been working both domestically on abroad on both short-term and long-term projects that mainly aim to improve health outcomes. I have also worked with organisations in providing evaluation support and planning.

What are some career challenges you face?

I am in my early 30’s but I started working in this field in my mid 20’s. Age has often been a barrier and a challenge. When you are young, you often lose opportunities to candidates who may have more years of experience, but are not necessarily as seasoned as you in a particular skill. I am also told I look a bit younger than I am, so this has also been a barrier. Trying to balance a family and a young daughter has been so fulfilling but has also been a challenge. I have had to turn down opportunities as it conflicted with my family life, though I do not regret it, other opportunities that were more appropriate came along.

What are 3 things you have achieved in your field that you are proud of?

  1. Designing, leading, and teaching the first online Health Policy Course to MPH students at the College of Medical and Allied Health Sciences in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
  2. Developing health and sanitation courses for 300 youth in Kabala, Sierra Leone
  3. Leading alongside my amazing colleagues an adult immunisation campaign across New York City, during this campaign we partnered with 100 organisations and educated the providers about the importance of adult vaccines.

What advise can you provide to other women who want to go into health consultancy?

You will receive a lot of no’s before you receive a yes. I would also advise to be very flexible, early on I had to take on unpaid or very low paying opportunities to build my portfolio, you must use these opportunities to advance your experience and to build contacts as well as to network. Finally, do not get in this field for the money, it is a field that can be riveting, emotional, draining, but very fulfilling, you must get in this field because you want to see change. For the Women|Change|Africa Bosschiques Build Program in Collaboration with WCA Creatives & Nadia Marie &Co
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Christine Sesay: Make the right financial choices, choices that you can live with

When Christine Sesay decided to study mathematics, her parents were not enthused, as they believed she would never find a job in Africa in this career field.

Christine however did not want to part with her love for Mathematics so she convinced her parents to allow her pursue a career in Accounting and Finance which was an easy sell as they were very supportive of her decision.

Upon attaining a Masters in Finance, Christine went on to work with a construction /maintenance company in Dublin as an Account Assistant, then an accountancy practice where she progressed from the Real Estate accountant to the Financial Controller over a 4-year period.

At this time, she wanted to move back to Africa but there were not many jobs available so she had to take an Assistant financial controller role with an Irish Organization in Niamey.

Within 4 months, she was working in the capacity of the Financial Controller managing €5 million projects then progressed to take charge of all operations within a year.  

While working on a nutrition and livelihoods project in Niger, Christine was shocked by the abject poverty that people lived and her desire was to change the situation. But as there was a security situation in Niger, she had to move back to her birth country Sierra Leone where she started Africa’s Moneypreneur to bring about financial freedom to all Africans.

She believes that individuals would be more interested in talking money and finances when it is made easy and fun.  As a determined and driven leader who is passionate about wealth management, she wanted to make sure that her African brothers and sisters started taking money seriously.

When she started the financial literacy blog, she hosted a few events for women but no one attended as they were not interested. To overcome that challenge, she moved on to open a facebook page where she featured different women and hosted 12-days of Christmas challenge.

These different pieces created traction and landed her some features on a few publications addressing the different areas of finance, a workshop on business finance tips for teenage mothers at the Aberdeen Women’s Center, teamed up with SheVestor for their training materials and wrote several articles in magazines mostly locally in Sierra Leone.

Christine hopes to teach others how to implement effective financial strategies that support the lifestyle they aspire and deserve.


Christine Sesay’s “@AMoneypreneur” seeks to challenge Africa’s views about money & Poverty, and help individuals enjoy life Click To Tweet

What are your views about Africa and money? Do you believe our way of thinking has forced us into poverty?

 

Like most things in life, if we are not educated, we will tend to misuse it. Financial education is a major part of life in the western world as people are aware that until they make conscious decisions about what they want for their lives and start early, it will be difficult to live fulfilled lives.

For example, it’s almost second nature to see that after a man has worked for many years, he could have nothing saved up a pension for retirement. Instead of enjoying old age, they are forced to work for longer and sometimes end up dying miserably.

There are also choices that are being made in terms of choosing to make the right choice now, with the future in mind.

Personally, I started early! While studying finance, I learned how the multiplier effect works on finance saved over long periods. I made conscious efforts to have pension funds and also started a college fund for my kids (nope they are not here yet!).

How can we become financially free? Would you say being financially educated is the first step to financial freedom?

 

There are quite a number of areas that could be covered when we talk about financial freedom. I think even before we get educated, there is the need to have a shift in mindset. The way we think about our finances.

People consciously paint a picture of how they want to currently lead their lives and what the future needs to look like. Charting the course of your life, like anything else helps you decide what decisions you may need to make now.

Once that picture is clear, then seek financial education. Make the right choices, choices that you can live with. Avoid looking at what others have done and try to emulate those choices. Your risk appetites and pocket sizes may differ.

Why do you believe Africa needs a platform to challenge our views about money and poverty levels?

 

I find that at the moment we are comfortable. People are happy to continue working, spend without the future in mind and hope that a family member will eventually foot their bills.

Things are changing and as we are emulating the behaviors of others cultures we also need to develop our own culture when it comes to financial planning.  At Africa’s Moneypreneur, we want to be at the forefront of those changes.

We currently use our platform to:

  •       Provide financial advice for youth, start-ups and Women-owned business in Africa
  •       Developing communities for youth and women to engage them in making informed financial choices
  •       Sharing success stories relating to women in finance and in business
  •        Discussing personal stories relating to work-life balance and family, travel etc. to give a personal touch
  •        Introducing current events relating to the brand areas, like finance and pop culture events, Lifestyle etc.
  •       Embracing African roots and culture as it relates to finance management

With these efforts, we hope that the next generations of African families can help pull Africa out of poverty.

Knowing exactly what you spend your money on is important to have a solid financial plan and a healthy attitude towards your finances - Christine Sesay Click To Tweet

How do you intend to make discussing money and finance fun? What are you currently working on?

 

I think the first thing we need to do is get people comfortable. It’s like going to a dentist. Unless the patient is relaxed and comfortable, the dentist will not be able to proceed.

So we make our audiences feel comfortable by talking to them in languages they understand, discussing topics and issues they can relate to and most importantly listening and having an open platform for communications on topics they want to discuss.   

Over the years we have found that people want to talk about money, but sometimes don’t know where to start, so by opening the door, we let them know they are welcome to talk to us about money and we are willing the share our knowledge, experiences, and opportunities with them.

With regards to what I am working on, I am developing and expanding my digital footprints on social media. If you follow me you will experience me discussing topics relating to current events, business tip, tips for women in business to reach their highest potential.

I also share tips on my experience in finance, savings, giving back and other areas of career and finance through the following:

The Envelope System

With the envelope system (or what I sometimes call the clip system) you use cash for different categories of your budget, and you keep that cash tucked away in envelopes.

You can see exactly how much money you have left in a budget category just by taking a quick peek in your envelope.

Speaking Engagements

I also travel around the continent when I have time for workshops on Finance and career with a focus on finance and empowerment for women and youth

 

What steps do you take to help an individual enjoy life while making sound financial choices?

In life, if we want to the success we should strategic and plan. The same goes for making wise financial choices below are a few steps that can assist in making these choices.

One of the key messages around my work revolves around planning.  I believe once an individual is willing to plan (budgeting) they have taken the first steps towards cutting back or not spending and getting their finances in order.

Step 1: Where does your money go?

Knowing exactly what you spend your money on is important to have a solid financial plan and a healthy attitude towards your finances. I have created a product called the Envelope System.

This system helps you to monitor your spending whilst you see exactly how much and what you are spending money on.

Step 2: Financial Goals

Now ask yourself a simple question: “Where do I want to be 20 years down the road?” But avoid generic answers like, “I want to be rich.” Answer with more specificity.

Be realistic in setting out your goals and be specific. You want to succeed, not fail, and you can do that only if you start out with attainable, specific and realistic goals.

Step 3: Prepare for the unexpected with insurance

Do you have a family? If not, purchase yourself some disability insurance to protect your earning power. If you do have a family, you’ll want some disability coverage and lots of life insurance to protect your loved ones.

Adequate health insurance, auto coverage, and homeowners or renters’ insurance are also important. No matter your financial situation, insuring against the unexpected can help keep you on the right track should accidents create a financial burden.

Step 4: Start Saving

Here’s where guilty pleasures come back into the picture. The key to any savings plan is not income but outgo. In plain English, this means worrying about your expenditures, not just your paycheck.

Even if you earn a high wage, you can outspend your income — lots of people do. But if you control your outgo, on the other hand, it doesn’t matter how much you bring home, because it will be more than enough

Step 5: Begin to Build a Portfolio

After saving enough for an emergency fund, you should begin to look toward investing extra cash.

For new and seasoned investors alike, the easiest way to start building a portfolio is with mutual funds. One thing is, you can find mutual funds to match your particular risk tolerance.

Another is, they spread your investment risk. Last but not least, mutual funds give you professional money management — a great idea if you don’t have the time or expertise to go it alone


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Fatou Wurie: Using innovation as a tool to deal with Psycho-social development

Fatou Wurie is the founder of (SDP). She is also an AWDF 2015 African Women Writers Workshop for Social Change participant, an Imperial NEXTe Award Recipient for ‘Young Professional of the year 2015’ and Illumessence Women’s National Award Honoree 2016.

Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Forbes, MamaYe Campaign, UNICEF Innovations Blog, Amnesty International Digital Blog, The Journalist, and others. She is a passion-driven social activist, public speaker, and storyteller.

Fatou is committed to project design that employs creativity and advocacy for policy impact which is influenced by her background in strategic communications for development.


 During the Ebola crisis, I started an NGO that focused on looking at centralizing psycho-social health - @thefatoublog Click To Tweet

Tell us more about yourself

I’m from Sierra Leone. I have been working on different projects in general health, women’s health, and women activism.

During the Ebola crisis, I started an NGO that focused on looking at centralizing psycho-social health, women’s health, mental health as an intricate part of public health. We keep talking about service delivery and about fixing social institutions such as health care, but we don’t look at the fact that the country is in a constant state of crisis, and trauma.

We need to create safe spaces where people can access mental health services to be able to ensure that we can increase the efficacy of service delivery. So, I did.

I look at innovation and use it as a tool to deal with issues in health, education, and in gender issues through artistic means. So, I look at how we use tools to power our lives, especially African women’s lives and I try to broaden how we conceptualize and think about innovation.

I guess I am not a business women in the traditional sense of the term.

What inspired you to start the Survivor Dream project?

SDB was born out of complete frustration. I worked in the development space for about five years, mainly in the sector of regional health and reproductive health.

At that time, I was working as the gender and communication advisor for UNMEER. It was a very difficult time in Sierra Leone and I was frustrated with the development space. During the Ebola crisis and we were so overwhelmed that we were only focusing on breaking the transmission of the disease and getting more people to survive.

We really didn’t focus as much on what happened to them after they had survived. We would give them fifty dollars, a mattress, and a certificate saying: “you are a survivor”, meaning that people would now be able to interact with them.

I was interested in what happened after people had survived. We started the survivor dream project because we saw two gaps.

First, we saw that, due to their role as caregiver, women were disproportionately affected by the crisis and disproportionately unsupported when they survived the disease, so we wanted to focus women and young.

The second gap we identified was that apart from the people at the front line of the response, there wasn’t an actual national space for psycho-social support. People were surviving but they had no way to process what had happened to them. They had no means of dealing with internal trauma, PTSD, and anxiety.

That’s how the project was born. I do not come from that background, I just saw a need and I was frustrated. I talked about it with a friend and two weeks later we had found a space.

At the time, survivor conferences were held where they would provide food, give great speeches, do some artwork, and they would call it a day, which I thought was ridiculous. So, we just took twenty women we saw that was continuously going to the survivor conferences, and through a friend of mine, we gathered them and started working with them.

What we initially offered that was revolutionary was space for women, who had lost everything, to come to cry to think, and to deal with trauma. A space that has the tools to manage their PTSD, their anxiety, and their depression. A space where we could bring in professionals to facilitate workshops and to link them with the resources available at the time.

We tried to figure out the women and understand their issues. Their wants, their needs, and their demands are dictating what we offer while remaining as ethical as possible.

These are people minds, spirits, and hearts we are dealing with. We are not dealing with building hospitals. We are dealing with people’s core so we must be careful about how we went about creating and maintaining that space.

 

This period must have been very hard emotionally and physically. How did you survive it?

I always feel that during these types of conversations I have to take a step back and check myself. Many people were playing their part and we were all so depressed.

Unless you were in Sierra Leone, you wouldn’t understand. The entire country was in a state of shock. It was such a dark part of our reality, of our history. We had just come out of a cholera outbreak and a war. There were so many series of shocks that had daunted our community. And then the Ebola crisis came.

People at first were not believing it, until their aunts, their cousins, and doctors started dying. And we were wondering how we could this. How do you tell someone who lives in a small room with ten other people not to touch them?

How do you tell a woman whose mother is sick not to touch her? That is her mother, that is her husband, that is her daughter. You have to understand that this is a poverty-driven disease and it is poor people that are dying.

For me, it was a duty. I wasn’t there during the war, I am very privileged, so I live in a very different kind of Sierra Leone. There is no way I cannot give back to the community.

I am also a survivor of a different kind of trauma, so I understand what it means to be labeled a survivor, and to erase that label. In fact, I was very lucky and privileged to have the resources to deal with my own trauma. This is why I wanted to help my other Sierra Leon women with the resources to deal with theirs.

We, as an NGO, have a huge mission in terms of what we want to do. Our messaging and our programs have evolved over time and I think that moving forward we will be focusing on social innovation. We need to be able to look at mental wellbeing as a critical component of understanding public health in general, and understanding how to build resilient communities. Just because someone is doing well doesn’t mean they are resilient.

Those are the many reasons that influenced how I kept on powering through even when the women didn’t trust that I was doing this because I cared. They thought I was making money out of them.

 

Having come this far, what hopes do you have for the future?

If you look at the Survivor Dream Project and where it has brought me, it really is around innovating and finding a new and fresh way of looking at development, of empowering, and of creating resilient communities. It is a form of innovation.

We are trying to re-create a space that can function differently. You know, the old ways of doing things don’t work. We are therefore constantly having to find new ways to do the same things.

I want more West African women to talk about mental health, PTSD, anxiety, depression, trauma... - @thefatoublog Click To Tweet

In the future, we need to begin talking about how people function, their mental health, and their mental wellbeing. It is a conversation I want to pick up in West Africa, especially in Sierra Leone which has been in a constant state of trauma.

I also want to be able to link mental health and mental wellbeing as tools to reimagine how we do development and how we impact the lives of young women, girls, and maybe in the long-term boys as well.

The future is very much about positioning myself within a policy activism and mobilisation space where I can take this conversation to the next level, so that communities can freely talk about the vitality of their mental state and policymaker take it into account when they are building and designing service delivery, health care systems, and business enterprise initiatives.

I want more and more West Africans to talk about mental health, PTSD, anxiety, depression, the trauma they’ve experienced—especially women.

I see the trajectory of my future really going around wellness, health, and policy advocacy. But truly it comes down to enriching the lives of women and girls.

We want to continue to create safe spaces. We want to continue to build educational and business capacity for women who are survivors of all kind of trauma. And, we want to continue their stories not only with the tools for healing but also with the tools for advocating for what we believe is important—which comes back to mental wellbeing.

 

What advice would you have liked to receive when you were starting?

I actually received it and I didn’t listen to it, and now I wish I had listened.

Someone once told me that it was okay to not have it all figured out. It is okay to slowly build your project. Whatever you dreamed of and have a vision for, you should realize that sometimes it is going to take a long time to manage.

You must look at, hold, and nurture every block before you lay it. It might take two years or twenty years. It doesn’t matter how long it takes as long as you are working towards it.

Even though we’ve been open for three years we have been operational for one and a half year out the three, and that’s okay.

For the longest time, I thought I was a failure, but I am not. Because it is something I am passionate about, it is about the work and the community, I can’t set a deadline on it.

It is okay to take your time to build your vision and to design the change you want to see. You must be patient and kind with yourself in that process.


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The Aspire story: Showcasing the beauty of mentorship and power women in Sierra Leone

Africa has a growing population of girls who need constant support in terms of guidance and counseling. They need to be handed on the blueprint for leadership, confidence and self -esteem mostly through role modeling.

Our societies need to share our stories of our successes and failures so that our girls would be challenged to lead better lives. We are looking at changing the narrative to create a scene were girls will seek to accomplish their goals and aspire to be like the leading women in Africa, this can only be achieved through mentorship.

The Aspire story showcases the beauty of mentorship and inspires women around the world to work together. Click To Tweet

In 2016/2017 a powerful collaboration between Power Women 232 and Girls Empowerment Sierra Leone was established.

Power Women 232 is a network for women professionals in Sierra Leone. The network aims to bring professional women and entrepreneurs together to promote career advancement and development in all fields, through networking, leadership development, social events and community service 

On the other hand Girls Empowerment Sierra Leone nurtures and enhances the leadership skills of young girls to become effective advocates and social change agents in their communities.

In August 2016, they launched ‘ASPIRE’ to mentor secondary school girls from various schools in Freetown.

The program was in the form of large group workshops, small group mentorship and experiential field trips focusing on 3 C’s – Communication, Community Development, and Career Exploration.

The aim was to directly impact the lives of 30 young Sierra Leonean girls by providing them with the skills, resources, and networks to become leaders and change agents in their communities.

All 14 Power Women mentors were assigned to 3-4 girls each; they were matched by specialized questionnaires in hope to create best-fit relationships; each power woman played a big sister role spanning a yearlong of camaraderie.

Field trips to tourist monuments, spending the day at office and centers that were their career of choice. Trips to the bank, the airport, hairdressing saloon and early learning centers.

The girls had an opportunity to catch a glimpse of their real-life sheroes in their most vulnerable states behind closed doors, in the comfort of their homes and the rigidity of their corner offices.

The women shared their daily life struggles such as multi-tasking, fighting to succeed in male-dominated careers, handling a full day’s job when on their period. The discussions ranged from discussing boys, dancing, cooking, to books and music.

Most importantly the program allowed them the chance to learn new skills, ranging from topics such as:

  • Utilizing journaling and writing as a means of telling our stories
  • Utilizing resources to effect and change our future
  • Budgeting & Fundraising
  • Savings and investing for our future
  • Conflict Resolution and effective communication  
  • Building and maintaining peer positive relationships

The focus on teambuilding, communication, and self-esteem helped develop positive behavior within the group of girls that were mentored. Mentor mentee relationships encouraged some of the girls to aspire to remain dedicated to their academics as well as seek further mentor relationships due to some of the strong relationships that were cultivated.

The partnership between Power Women232 and GESSL is a reminder of how powerful women are when they work together. This relationship has garnered more interest in girls and Power Women 232 has taken on education, health and empowerment for young girls as their community service project for 2017/2018.

The project was launched with a donation of 200 power hygiene packs and hygiene information booklets to adolescent girls at The Beheshti Islamic Secondary School in Freetown.

Their aim is to provide 500 more packs to young girls across Sierra Leone and introduce sustainable hygiene practices.

The group did their first fundraiser hosted by Ms. Anita Erskine on  Saturday 18th November 2017 during their 2nd Annual Networth Ball an event that attracted the movers and shakers in Sierra Leone’s business environment with a  good media coverage which includes been featured on Bella Naija.

One cannot deny that the Aspire story showcases the beauty of mentorship and inspire women around the world to work together.

 


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Agnes Bangali: I want women in Africa to live better lives because I was born

Agnes Bangali
I’ve been asked if I'll give up my job & take up photography full time. I always answer with a NO Click To Tweet

Meet Agnes Bangali, the Power House Millennial and youth leader whose drive and passion exceeds her years. She graduated from the Connecticut College in the USA with a double major in Biology and Gender and Women’s Studies and now works for the United Nations Population Fund as the Programme Associate for Adolescents and Youth programme.

Agnes is currently the Acting Executive Director for STEM Women Sierra Leone, an organization geared towards increasing female representation in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. She is the founder of Women’s Empowerment Networking Association, a young organization seeking to increase women’s participation in politics and governance.

Also, Agnes is the founder and CEO of Poise Photography, one of the very few female-owned media enterprises in Sierra Leone. She is passionate about women’s health and empowerment.


How do you juggle working in a full-time position in one of the World’s most trusted Organizations and managing a start-up?

My work is very important to me, and I’m very passionate about it. I’ve often been asked if I will one day give up my job and take up photography full time, I always answer with a firm no.

I love my job; I believe in the work we do to empower women and save lives, and I believe we’re making a difference. So, my job is always paramount. The good thing is, my work broadens my horizons. I get the chance to do photography as part of my work, and I often get the opportunity to photograph people and places I would not otherwise have been able to outside of my work.

So how do I juggle the two? Well, I do most of my photography work on weekends, or in the evenings after work, or when I am on leave. I tell people that I work seven days a week: Monday to Friday at one job, and Friday to Sunday at the other. I love it though. It keeps me energized.

I also have two employees that work with me on a part-time basis. One is a professional photographer, and the other is an apprentice in training. Most times when I get a photography job that falls on a weekday, I send my assistant to cover the event. He takes great photos, but I always edit the pictures. Every photographer has their own style of editing that gives their work a distinct look, and I want to my style of photographs to be consistent with my brand, regardless of who took the photo. Hence every Poise photo has the “Mimi touch” even if I didn’t take the photo myself.

I tell people that I work 7 days a week: Monday-Friday at one job, and Friday-Sunday at the other Click To Tweet

If you were given the opportunity what two things would you do to change the climate of women’s health in Africa?

I would give women a choice over their reproductive lives, and fight to end maternal mortality and morbidity. I’m passionate about women’s reproductive health. Many women do not have a choice over how many children they have, or when they get pregnant, or whether or not they should have a baby. Such choices have life-long and sometimes fatal consequences on a woman.

A 14-year-old falling pregnant accidentally might die during delivery or a botched abortion. Or she might end up with obstetric fistula, a debilitating injury that leaves women incontinent after childbirth. A 16-year-old not having a say over whether or not she wants to have a child might result in her dropping out of school, and not achieving her full potential.

As women, our reproductive choices have an immeasurably significant impact on everything else we do. Our standard of living, length, and quality of life all depend on these choices. Women should have the power to choose what they want for themselves, as they will be the ones bearing the consequences.

I will also work to reduce maternal death. It’s the 21st century and no woman should die giving life. The fact that this still occurs is a great injustice. Because of our biological makeup, pregnancy is something that most women cannot or will choose not to escape. Women should not die performing their biological function. Maternal mortality has severe economic, social, emotional and psychological consequences on communities, and I believe it is one of the factors hindering national growth.

In your view what must be done to reduce teenage pregnancy in your home country, Sierra Leone?

The root causes of teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone are numerous and interconnected. However, I believe the three main factors causing high rates of teen pregnancy are poverty, cultural norms and lack of knowledge on sexual and reproductive health issues.

Since poverty and the practice of female circumcision are both deeply entrenched in our society, addressing them requires long-term planning and significant resources. Hence to address teen pregnancy in Sierra Leone I believe we should start with some short-term goals, which include increasing knowledge on how to protect oneself from unwanted pregnancy.

It is unlikely that once sexually active, a girl will revert to celibacy. Therefore it is best to make SRH knowledge and services easily accessible so that her actions will not have life-long consequences and she can achieve her full potential. Teens should know where and how to access family planning, know about the dangers of unprotected sex and be able to withstand pressure to engage in sexual activity if they are not yet ready.

With regards to tackling poverty and child marriage, this will require joint efforts from government, the private sector, the national and international development partners and communities themselves. Any anti-poverty intervention is a strike against teenage pregnancy. Any action towards gender equality is a step towards eradicating child marriage and teen pregnancy. Communities need to be engaged and involved in such efforts, so they can take ownership of the processes rather than being only beneficiaries.

How will you describe a young African woman that is empowered?

An empowered African woman is one that has a voice and the freedom to make her own choices. She is not disadvantaged in her community because she is a woman; she can survive on her own and take care of her loved ones and is equipped to recognize and take advantage of opportunities that come her way.

An empowered African woman is one that has a voice & the freedom to make her own choices Click To Tweet

How does your role in STEM influence young girls in deprived communities?

STEM Women reaches out to underserved communities by holding sessions with school-going children to talk about the benefits of science. We seek to inspire young girls to aspire to do great things, using science and technology as a tool to break the cycle of poverty in their communities.

I try to design activities that ensure that the most vulnerable girls are reached with our programmes. STEM Women is currently about to start a project that will involve talking to girls in several communities in all four regions of Sierra Leone about science, education, empowerment, and technology. Not only will we be inspiring these girls, we will also mentor them to ensure they continue their education and be role models in their communities.

What triggered your interest in opening a media company? Why Poise Photography?

I like to do things in the correct manner. I was taking pictures and getting paid for it, so I decided to register my photography venture as an official business. This inspired me to take it more seriously and push me to strive for growth. I envisioned having a business that provides employment for numerous young people, including women. I enjoy photography very much and I want to use that passion to bring happiness to my clients and employment to others.

The name Poise Photography conveys grace and elegance and describes both the photographer and the client. When you see me in action the name will make sense.

How do you plan on sustaining your brand to last for the next generation?

My growth in photography so far has been fueled by personal research and lots of practice. In order to make this a sustainable brand I intend to study photography formally, and develop a proper business strategy and growth trajectory for the enterprise. I intend to employ more staff, open several studios and make photography a part of everything I do.

Ideas survive because knowledge and passion are passed from one generation to another. The only way what I’m creating will survive is by passing on the passion and knowledge to those that come after me. One day I might even open a Photography and Media school in Sierra Leone.

The only way what I’m creating will survive is by passing on the passion and knowledge Click To Tweet

Which women entrepreneurs inspire in you in your local country?

Young women like me who have been bold enough to step up to the challenge of entrepreneurship. It’s not an easy thing to run your own business, and I’m inspired by the many women that are stepping up to the challenge every day. Women like Marian Kaikai of Madam Wokie, Alitta Ansu -Katta of Eat Smart, Ariana Oluwole of Narnia Daycare, Melford Marah of iGro, Yakama Manty-Jones of Crystal Clear Water and much more.

How do you want to be remembered as and why?

I want to be remembered for the impact I make in the lives of women in Sierra Leone. Even with photography, it is a tool for telling the stories of women, giving a voice to them, helping us to see the world through their eyes. I want women in Africa to live better lives because I was born.


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

Facebook Live with Edleen B. Elba: Steps to landing your dream job (June 30)

Year after year, companies, and recruiters change their job eligibility requirements, expecting job seekers to acquire some certain skills – first class degree or not.

Whether you’re a fresh graduate trying to jumpstart your career, or an oldie in the job market looking for better opportunities, we have one question for you.

Are you fully prepared for your next interaction with a recruiter?

To help you get started, we’re bringing you this Facebook Live session with Human Resources expert Edleen B. Elba, on Friday, 30th June. She’ll be sharing some insights on job search and how young professionals can land their dream job.

Edleen owns and manages JobSearch, a human resources management company based in Sierra Leone, which provides recruitment, skills development, and human resources advisory services to clients of all sizes and within all sectors.

Looking for a job? Learn the do's and don'ts for job seekers from @JobSearchsl -(June 30) Click To Tweet

Register below to gain access to this opportunity.

Some of the topics we’ll cover

  • How and where to find a job
  • What employers really look for in applicants
  • Principles to remember: The do’s and don’ts for job seekers
  • Top 7 career fields in demand
  • Case study: Persistence and determination

Facebook Live Details:

Date: Friday, June 30th, 2017

Time: Freetown 2pm // Lagos 3pm // Joburg 4pm

Place: facebook.com/sheleadsafrica/

Watch here:

“She Leads Africa Facebook Live with Edleen B. Elba (Founder of JobSearch in Sierra Leone): Steps to landing your dream job. Join the She Leads Africa community by visiting SheLeadsAfrica.org/join!”

Posted by She Leads Africa on Friday, June 30, 2017

About Edleen

Edleen B. Elba is the founder of JobSearch, and a Chartered Human Resources Analyst, with almost a decade of Senior management experience within the private and public sectors 

She started her career in 2003 with KPMG, working in the Advisory departments in Sierra Leone and Ghana. In 2005, she created the Human Resources & Risk Management departments at KPMG and managed both for 3 years.

Over the years, she has acquired skills which include financial management, strategic human resource management, strategic risk management, presentation, software applications, team leadership, time management, effective communication, assertiveness, negotiation, and analytics.

Edleen is also the Chairman of the MEPS Trust Well Woman Clinic fundraising committee and a member of Heaven Homes’ fundraising committee.  She is passionate about skills development and women’s empowerment.

Carol Bangura: Operating a non-profit organisation and empowering girls

Top skills you need to run a non-profit org from Carol Bangura, award-winning advocate Click To Tweet

Carol Bangura is an educator, advocate, philanthropist, and a published author. Carol’s professional experience includes creating culturally and linguistically appropriate education and social integration programs in the Greater Philadelphia. She’s done this for diverse immigrant and refugee women and children from countries including, but not limited to Sierra Leone (her country of birth), Liberia, Haiti, Ghana, Turkey, China, Jamaica, Mexico, and Iraq.

Carol has created education initiatives for girls exposed to school related gender-based violence (SRGBV) in Sierra Leone. As someone who has worked in the non-profit sector, Carol is open to providing insight to others. Here are key takeaways from Carol Bangura’s experiences in the non-profit sector.


Carve out your niche

“The key piece of advice is to carve out your niche.

As women, we are natural nurturers and want to save the world. My brand centers on empowering girls through education and social initiatives.”

Carol Bangura has been able to create a cost-effective method of purchasing new books and shipping them locally within the US and internationally to Sierra Leone.

girls_schoolswithoutbordersCarol shipped the first set of books internationally to Sierra Leone in 2007 and has cultivated relationships in Sierra Leone and in the Greater Philadelphia area. Although she ended her program formally in other countries and in the United States, she still conducts informal book donations to girls (and boys) locally with partner organizations.

#MotherlandMogul Tip: First take some time out to discover how you want to improve lives. What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? Once you’ve outlined this, think of ways you can join your passion with helping others.

The two skill you need to successfully run a non-profit

“The skills needed in the beginning are fundraising and the ability to have doors close in your face! Everyone will not believe in your dream, you have to believe it yourself.

Starting an organization takes funds. And when you’re ready to implement projects, they must go through the phases of planning, implementation, and evaluation.”

In a nutshell, you should answer the questions,

  • What are you going to do?
  • How are you going to do it?
  • After you’ve done it, how would you determine its success?
Carol Bangura: Soon after launching your non-profit create a strategic and financial plan. Click To Tweet

Registering a non-profit organisation

“Documentation varies from state to state; and country to country. Research should be conducted to determine what is needed to register an organization.

There isn’t a one size fits all checklist to start a nonprofit because it depends on the type of organization, its location, board structure, etc.”

Carol’s organisation is registered in the United States and though she operates in Sierra Leone, she’s not familiar with what’s required there.

In the US, every state has its own rules and then every municipality does as well. The federal government requires a 401c determination but that process is very complicated and Carol has done it in the past for others as a consultant.

#MotherlandMogul Tip: If you’re based in Nigeria, Ivie Eke shares 3 major points on starting and sustaining an NGO here.

What do first after launch

“Prior to launching and/or within the first six months to a year, a strategic plan should be created. You will also need to create a funding plan.”

The key to doing this was trial and error. For years Carol wrote grants before finally obtaining unrestricted funding to carry out her GIRLS! project.

“Grant writing is daunting due to the checks and balances, but it’s not impossible to do on your own.”reading_schoolswithoutborders

Carol identified planning, implementing, and evaluating as the most important skills to hone to perfection.

Final words from the brilliant Carol Bangura;

“Nothing comes easy, especially for us as African women who choose nontraditional roles and have the audacity to step out of the box.

The pain of my past as a victim of gender-based violence fuels my passion; without passion in what can be a thankless job, you’re more likely to be burned out.”


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

 

Aminata Dumbuya: When preparation meets opportunity, success happens

Aminata Dumbuya: Opportunities abound in energy access. There are over 600 million Africans living without energy Click To Tweet

Aminata Dumbuya was living a privileged and comfortable job in California, USA. She had a cushy corporate job and was steadily climbing the corporate ladder. Yet, she was restless and hungry to do more. This hunger is what prompted her to return to her homeland, Sierra Leone.

12 years later, Aminata is deeply involved in the renewable energy sector. She runs the Sierra Leone Power for All campaign, which works with the support of the Ministry of Energy. When she’s not doing her part to ensure that sustainable energy is available to all, Aminata Dumbuya works with Masada Waste Management Company.

Remember our list of unsexy business ideas that could make you money? Yeah, well with Masada, Aminata oversees the collection, management and conversion of waste to energy in Freetown, Sierra Leone. On top of that, Aminata owns Pinnacle Marketing Consultancy Group which supports businesses in specialised marketing.


Tell us about running a campaign for an international organisation. Those are notoriously hard to get, any advice on other women interested in this field?

Power for All is a global campaign that advocates for decentralised renewable energy as the fastest and most affordable way to energy access. It is steered by and has a partner coalition of civil society organisations and private companies that see energy access as
imperative to ending energy poverty. I have been privileged and fortunate to be a part of this global team!

I drive and run the Sierra Leone campaign by working with and supporting the government through the Ministry of Energy to enact policy. The private sector companies build the market; civil society organisations include energy access in their sustainable livelihood work. We are pushing awareness and behaviour change on the sector.

Aminata Dumbuya: Moving back home to me is to be part of the economical transformation happening on the continent Click To Tweet

With my previous work in the energy sector and dealings with both the government and private sector in the country, I was well-positioned to take advantage of this opportunity when it came up. Since I was prepared early on from my previous work, when the opportunity came, it was a match.

My advice to women interested in the field is to look at the opportunities that abound in energy access. There are over 1.2 billion people globally without energy access, and of this 600 million live in sub-Saharan Africa. So with these appalling statistics, there are opportunities in this field to make real impactful change.

My advice is, to engage early on with the relevant stakeholders, be it government and or civil society groups. Do necessary research in your locality on how energy access issues are handled, and then where there are opportunities for you, get involved. Also, having formal education and relevant work in the field will help as well.

You currently run/are involved in many projects, can you tell us about them?

Yes, I am. In addition to running the Power for All Campaign, I am also a partner and Project Manager for Masada Waste Management Company, SL, LTD. Masada entered into a contract with the Government of Sierra Leone in 2013, to collect, manage and convert waste to energy/electricity for the Municipality of Freetown.

The company has over 300 employees and continues to grow. Masada represents and embodies my reason and purpose for moving back home; which is to be a part of the social and economical transformation happening on the continent.

I also own and give strategic guidance and direction to Pinnacle Marketing
Consultancy Group, (PMCG) a marketing firm that I started in 2008 with the focus of
supporting businesses in specialised marketing and sales to build their brand and expanding their client base. And also, I own Business Services International (BSI), which is a serviced and virtual office outfit that provides office solutions to its clients.
ami-dumbuya-1

Are you ever worried about any conflict of interest in working with several businesses? If not, why?

No. Since I was a teenager at the age of 16, I started off working 2-3 jobs while I was still schooling. Though part time, I still was able to diversify and work on several jobs then.

Over the years, I have learned the art of delegation and managing effectively, and strategic partnerships. That has been the key for me in having several businesses and projects. Especially with the economical fluctuations as well as the myriad of opportunities that are in Africa, one must be agile and nimble to take advantage of them, if possible.

I never believed in putting your eggs in one basket. Having a diversified revenue stream is very important as well.

Aminata Dumbuya: With the economical fluctuations, one must be agile & nimble to take advantage of opportunities Click To Tweet

What drove your decision to repatriate to Sierra Leone? Has much changed in the years you’ve been back?

The single-most entity that was responsible for my move back home was and is the passion and conviction I attach to being a part of the transformation happening back home. I believed I was essential to that process, and that I can contribute in meaningful ways.

I was opportune, privileged and comfortable back in California; with a cushy corporate job with high prospects of climbing the corporate ladder. Yet, I was restless, I was torn, I was hungry and wanted more. It was a spiritual calling, I needed to be living on purpose! That meant I had to be back home, in Sierra Leone.

Has a lot changed over the 12 years I repatriated? Well, there is an adage that says, “the more things change, the more the stay the same” and that just about sums up my response to that question. There is still a whole lot to be done, the needle has yet to move in drastic ways that translate to an elevated social conscience. I still have hope that change is on the way, real transformative change that will allow us to embrace and take real advantage of the opportunities that abound on the continent.

Aminata Dumbuya: The move back home afforded me the freedom to bring out my entrepreneurship! Click To Tweet

What have you enjoyed most about living in Sierra Leone since you moved back?

I have enjoyed my growth —both spiritually, professionally, and psychologically! The journey has been very rewarding on so many different fronts.

The move back home afforded me the freedom to explore, to develop and bring out my entrepreneurship! And for that, I am most grateful!ami-dumbuya-22

What is your personal mantra and why? How do you ensure that all you do is aligned with it?

“When preparation meets opportunity, success happens!” I always prepare ahead of time; I do my homework!

Also, I believe that success is defined not by how much you have accumulated for yourself, but how you elevate those that are around you as well. I have
been blessed to have touched lives and share my success with those that I have worked with. Some have gone to start their own businesses, others have advanced in their careers and personal exploits. When I see and hear of their successes, I am even more inspired to do more.


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

Ariana Oluwole: The idea for Narnia Daycare came after I gave birth to my son

Ariana Oluwole - Narnia Daycare was born out of a desire to cater to the needs of children Click To Tweet

When Ariana Oluwole shared tips on what you need to get into the caregiving business, she was speaking from experience. Ariana runs her own early-learning centre, Narnia Daycare in Freetown, Sierra Leone. When she became a mother, Ariana faced difficulties finding a daycare that would provide her son the spiritual, physical and intellectual care he needed. She also had to deal with balancing work with motherhood.

Ariana turned her problem into a solution by starting Narnia Daycare regardless of her academic background in Biological Sciences. To make Narnia the answer for working families in Freetown, Ariana went on to acquire a diploma in early learning. Ariana Oluwole is making real her passion for making children holistically happy through Narnia.


Why did you decide to start Narnia? How do you plan to ensure that Narnia’s standards remain consistent?

Narnia Daycare was born out of a desire to cater to the needs of children; before birth, at birth; babyhood and toddler stages with a holistic approach. The idea for Narnia Daycare came to life after I gave birth to my son.

As we all know, there are so many challenges a career woman faces after giving birth. Maternity leave is very short. Adapting to the routine and pressures of the workplace coupled with the endless thought about your child’s welfare when you are away…I saw the problem hundreds of working mothers and parents faced every day.

I knew the values of social interactions in children and wanted my child to have a great start. So, I searched Freetown, looking for a beautiful place to enrol my child in. I wanted a place that would not only care about the physical but that would also be a place where spiritual and intellectual needs are met. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything that matched my expectations. Narnia was the most needed answer for working families.

At Narnia, we have documented every process in our daily routine. We have a supervisor that ensures that everyone works within their roles. CCTV Surveillance not only helps in securing our space but helps track our work. We review the camera frequently to ascertain procedures are been followed at each point.

Added to that, we have a proper reporting structure to maintain communication and follow up right through. We pay attention to details and review our standards to match the current needs of our clients. When you have a blue print for all of your processes, and clear expectations laid out for staff and customers, you are guaranteed a consistent output always.

Your background is in the sciences. How did you bridge the gap between working in a field that is different from your academic background?

WOW! I wish I had a straight answer to that myself. I always liked being around children, caring for them and making them happy even as a child myself. Therefore transitioning into the care-giving and educational field was not very difficult. In fact, I found great similarities between my field of study (Biological Sciences) as it covered the study of living things including man and its processes. This helped me with the knowledge of how cells, organs and systems function in the human body.

Ariana Oluwole found great similarities between her science degree and running a daycare centre Click To Tweet

Combined with other vital modules, this added a deeper insight to my daily routine with the kids at the centre. I can tell if a child was undernourished by the bodily signs he/she exhibited. I can detect minor issues in development and growth, and bring this to the attention of the parent to refer for specialized help.

Overall, a background in sciences provides you with the thirst for research, exploring systems and finding solutions. This has given Narnia an edge over its competitors in terms of been open to adapting to a changing environment and the learning needs of children. Besides, I have moved on in advancing a career in early learning having acquired a diploma in early learning with NTC educational program.

ariana-oluwole-3
Photo credit: Mimi Bangali

As a writer, where do you find time to write with all your hustles?

Writing is my hobby; it brings me so much joy and helps me relax. It’s like a soothing therapy.

Interestingly, as long as I can open my eyes there is always some information that I record in my little notebook. During the weekends my most precious moments are spent writing.

Ariana Oluwole - In a fully rebuilt Sierra Leone, every child would be loved Click To Tweet

What do you imagine a fully rebuilt Sierra Leone will look like?

A fully rebuilt Sierra Leone will be a society where the right questions are asked. It will be where the desire to solve problems is commonplace and the now high dependency on aid becomes one of independence and growth.

There, an educated/well-informed farmer will have better alternatives to control pests and improve yield. An educated carpenter/well-informed carpenter would create furniture matching world class standards, the list of better opportunities would be endless. In that Sierra Leone, every child would be loved, they would have access to food, water, shelter and education.

ariana-oluwole-2
Photo credit: Mimi Bangali

What life-changing principles do you believe all #MotherlandMoguls must have?

All Motherland Moguls must have integrity. They must be open, honest and fair to oneself and to others. Make use of the golden rule too; do unto others the same that you want them to do unto you.

Be open to CRITICISM, it helps you grow and be better. It helps you turn your weaknesses into strength and power.

Also important is persistence, be ready for obstacles. Reach out for your highest dreams and if you FAIL; rise again and do it over.

Ariana Oluwole - Reach out for your highest dreams and if you FAIL; rise again and do it over Click To Tweet

What sort of motivational values should all young women be mindful of?

Young women must be ready to set big dreams for themselves and be relentless in achieving those dreams. They must be ready to seek for advice through the right channels (great mentors), discover their own pathway and design their destiny.

They must be open to change and to finding the questions to the answers; rather than answering the same questions that have already been solved.


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