Yasmine Bilkis Ibrahim: No Act of Change is Small

Yasmine Bilkis Ibrahim is an educator, feminist, social entrepreneur, blogger, and podcaster.

As an embodiment of all five, she believes in nurturing and stimulating young minds. Her philosophy is simple: no act of change is small; everyone has a role to play in their community.

This is reflected in her social business Ori from Sierra Leone or Ori which manufactures unisex shea butter-based hair and body products infused with essential and carrier oil.

This enterprise is set up mainly to support Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone where I serve as Founding Director since 2016.

Her educational background is in French and Global health and she has spent the past 5 years teaching in Sierra Leone. She has been involved in education, civic engagement, girl empowerment, and agricultural projects.

Yasmine loves writing, researching, photography, traveling, acting/playing drama games, watching movies and doing yoga.

She speaks to SLA on her aspiration to expand Ori and grow Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone into a training center in West Africa for girl child capacity building.


What motivated you to become a social entrepreneur?

I didn’t actually plan or aspire to be an entrepreneur ever let alone become a social entrepreneur.

When I left the United States in February 2014 and returned to Sierra Leone I didn’t have a job.

After 3 months of job searching I found one at a school in June 2014, however, Ebola engulfed the nation and schools were shut down in July 2014 after a national emergency was declared by the then-president.

During those 9-10 months of schools being closed, what saved me was private tutoring. I did that throughout and in April 2015 when the emergency was uplifted I started searching for formal employment and got a placement to commence September 2015.

Returning to a harsh job market in 2014, this catapulted me into entrepreneurship – @MinaBilkis Click To Tweet

From September to December 2015 my tutoring “side hustle” grew and it surpassed my salary — it was then I took a calculated risk and decided to quit formal employment and grow this newfound business.

I registered my tutoring/translation business as Mina Bilkis & Co in 2016 and started catering to teaching adults in the evenings who work in NGOs, offices and it expanded to private tuition classes as well.


The proceeds of the tutoring business I reinvested in buying photography equipment and a camera (as I mentioned earlier, I love photography) and added the photography division to my business.

In July 2017, I opened the shea butter business but at the time it was called Karité (French for shea butter) with the aim making it a social business so as to make Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone (which was founded in 2016) more sustainable and by designating 5% of our proceeds to Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone.

However, in early 2018 I decided to shut down productions for 9 months. Upon further research, I discovered that the name Karité was already trademarked. So I went back to the drawing board and in October 2018 Ori was born.

In March 2019 it was officially launched where our beneficiaries of Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone gave some of their testimonies of the program and how they have benefited from Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone.

Returning to a harsh job market in 2014, this catapulted me into entrepreneurship, moreover living in such a astoundingly beautiful country yet endures so much pain and suffering and is victim to the paradox “resource curse”, I don’t see how one wouldn’t want to help and build your community in your own way.

Tell us about your work with Girl Up Vine Club, and how it is impacting communities in Sierra Leone?

Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone or Girl Up was founded in January 2016 and operates at the government-assisted secondary school called Vine Memorial Secondary School for Girls (VMSSG) in Freetown at the Junior Secondary School (JSS) (middle school) level targeting girls ages 11-17.

We aim to promote the health, safety, leadership, and education of adolescent girls in Sierra Leone through community outreach, advocacy, and public speaking workshops.

Our main projects are Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM)/Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights (SRHR), Digital Rights and Sexual & Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).

We meet once a week for 90 minutes and discuss a topic of the week outlined in our monthly curriculum.

Our topics stem from social issues ranging from mental health, peer pressure, self-care, health and body rights, and feminism. Every year the new girls (who get inducted at the start of every year) are given journals to log in their thoughts and are given assignments on a topic discussed or are asked to research new words or expressions.

As English Language and speaking is an underlying issue for many, we do English classes often to strengthen their Grammar and Vocabulary so they are able to facilitate workshops or speak in public confidently in addition we offer internal public speaking and self-confidence building sessions.

So far, our beneficiaries have facilitated workshops in Kambia Port Loko, Moyamba and other parts of the country sensitizing, educating and engaging different communities in the scope of our aforementioned projects.

Do you have success stories of the girls that you’ve mentored so far?

In my 2018 Tedx talk entitled “Creating Safe Spaces in the Global South”, I highlighted my work at Girl Up and our success stories and our beginnings and mentioned the following girls:

Suad Baydoun

Suad Baydoun served as the first President of Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone. I met Suad in October 2015 at the US Embassy when I was co-facilitating the International Day of the Girl Child.

She was actually the reason why Girl Up was launched at her school. She was a Junior Secondary School student at the time preparing to take her middle school exam: Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) that upcoming academic year.

Three years she has blossomed to socially driven and motivated young woman. She has now taken her West African Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) waiting for her results to go to university.

She has founded her own safe space for girls at her senior secondary school — St. Joseph’s Secondary School and she is a TV presenter.

Mariam Jalloh

Mariam Jalloh was very timid and withdrawn when we first met three years ago and wasn’t academically strong.

She graduated as the highest-ranking student of her year and was also selected as class prefect. She aspires to study Accounting in university next year upon her WASSCE results.

She currently serves as our Co-Program Coordinator and Teen Advisor at Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone.

What are some challenges you faced while growing your vision for the organization?

To impact change — long-lasting and sustainable change it doesn’t come easy and anything easy I tend not to want (haha).

Nothing good comes easy I believe but sometimes you can also become fatigued by not seeing the fruits of your labor manifest sooner than anticipated.

A challenge starting Girl Up was deconstructing what girls have been learned and taught their entire life — which translates in the way they speak, think about/perceive themselves and surroundings and the way they interact with one another and loved ones.

Wanting to unlearn something as an informed person is one challenge, but educating others on how to is a different ballpark and that was a challenge at first in growing my vision and molding Girl Up Vie Club Sierra Leone.

There is no right or wrong way or answer to combat this and I am not someone who is easily defeated so I persisted and continue to persevere. I myself continue to unlearn toxic societal “norms” and patriarchal stratification.

What helps me is surrounding myself by like-minded people I can express my grievances to, laugh with and I partake in guided meditation sessions and do yoga to recharge and recalibrate myself.

As an organization, we learn and grow together so when we hit these hurdles in regards to

Identity isn’t stagnant, it’s dynamic as are human beings. We evolve. I have evolved and grown and will continue to do so – @MinaBilkis Click To Tweet

Do you have role models that have influenced your journey?

I would be doing my entire existence a disservice if I do not start with my family. I owe my mindset, strength, and determination to my parents but most importantly my mother — Dr. Aisha Fofana Ibrahim.

My mother is a feminist scholar and activist who teaches Gender Studies at both the undergraduate and masters level at Fourah Bay College (FBC) – University of Sierra Leone (USL).

It is with her love, encouragement, and support I am who I am and do what I do. So my mom has played an exponential role in my journey.

Outside of my family dynamic, I would say Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I am her secret child she doesn’t know about. Chimamanda is fearless and speaks her mind unapologetically (even if it is deemed “controversial”). I like that.

I also adore Oprah Winfrey. Always have as a child. She is the epitome of inspiration and motivation. I admire her business mindset and when I have my Ori and Mina Bilkis cap on, I say to myself “What would Oprah Winfrey do?”.

Also, I think of how she began her career and see how she has from TV and transcended throughout the decades and is relatable to all walks of life. I like that because I aspire to that.

Recently, I’ve been looking up to Rihanna as well. From a successful singing career to becoming a successful businesswoman with more to come.

Identity isn’t stagnant, it’s dynamic as are human beings. We evolve. I have evolved and grown and will continue to do so, therefore I like that about Rihanna. She’s unstoppable.


Join our Facebook Live on August 22nd to learn how to drive social change through your business/ Career. Click here to sign up.

FACEBOOK LIVE WITH JUDITH OWIGAR: HOW I BUILT MY BUSINESS TO DRIVE SOCIAL CHANGE (AUG 22)

What impact does your business have in your community?

It’s no news that companies take Corporate Social Responsibility very seriously. It’s like a magic door that opens up more opportunities and this is why. The world is ever-changing and businesses are looking for more ways to connect with their customers.

As a BOSS Lady, beyond making the $$$, you need to look at the bigger picture on how you can create a positive change in your community.

Listen To Me Hello GIF by Swing Left

Firstly, when your business is seen making an impact, it shows that you have an interest in social issues which will help raise your company profile, attract new customers and/or identify new opportunities.

Ain’t that the goal?

Get your business to impact your community and make a difference with these tips from @owigarj, founder of JuaKali Workforce on August 22nd at 12PM WAT! Click here for more: bit.ly/judithowigar Click To Tweet

Remember, being socially responsible is good for the bottom line.

If you want to learn how to create, craft and manage social change strategies, join us on Thursday, August 22nd, for a Facebook Live with Judith Owigar, founder of JuaKali Workforce, who’ll be dishing out tips to help your business aim for change.

Some of the topics we’ll cover:

  • How to discover what social issues are most relevant to you and your community.
  • 5 different ways your business can create a positive social change while you make profit.
  • Finding purpose and grit in social projects.
  • Impact vs Sustainability.

Facebook LIVE details:

Date: Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

Time: 12PM Lagos // 1PM Joburg// 2PM Nairobi

Watch Facebook Live with Judith:

Facebook Live with Judith Owigar – How I built my business to drive social change

She Leads Africa Facebook Live with Judith Owigar, founder of @JukailaWorkforce, shares her experience on how she built a business that is impacting communities in Kenya. Join the She Leads Africa community by visiting bit.ly/WelcomeToSLA

Posted by She Leads Africa on Thursday, August 22, 2019

About Judith

Judith Owigar is passionate about initiatives involving youth, women and all things technology. With a Masters in Applied Computing from the University of Nairobi, she’s the founder JuaKali Workforce, an online micro-jobs platform that connects young people to short term jobs in Kenya’s informal sector.

In 2015, Judith shared a panel with President Barack Obama of the U. S. and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. She is a 2015 East African Acumen Fellow and a 2014 international Focus fellow.

She has been named as one of the Top 40 under 40 women by the Business Daily newspaper in Kenya and has been recognized with the Anita Borg Change Agent Award by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.

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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Emefa Quashie: From beauty queen to farmer and social entrepreneur

emefa quashie
Mamagah Farms is an agricultural social project run by beauty queen Emefa Quashie Click To Tweet

It’s not every day that you hear the story of a beauty queen owning a farm. But the story gets bewildering when you notice that instead of just employing people to work on the farm (like some “modern” farmers do) she goes hands in and knee deep -getting her well-manicured nails in groveling dirt as she furiously uproots and plants, as she waters and nurtures and as she satisfyingly harvests and reaps.

Meet Emefa Quashie. A present farmer, social entrepreneur and an erstwhile beauty pageant winner. When she’s not furiously uprooting and planting on her farm (Mamagah Farms), she is lost in her studies for her MBA in Marketing or running Universal ChildCare Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports needy children.

SLA contributor Emma Kwenu Smith caught up with Emefa to get some insights on how to dominate in an unpopular agriculture career for modern young women and simultaneously use it to make a social impact.


Tell us about Mamagah Farms.

Mamagah Farms is a social project that mobilizes and empowers rural women farmers to adopt modern technologies in farming. We want to commercialize agriculture in rural communities in southern Ghana. Mamagah farms was established in 2015 with the main aim of empowering women economically through commercial farming and creating support schemes. These schemes create opportunities for smallholder farmers to improve their livelihood.

Currently, we work with female smallholder farmers in rural communities within the Southern part of Ghana. Simply put: We farm, we train and we support.

There are so many avenues for social entrepreneurship -why agriculture and what was the innovative idea behind Mamagah Farms?

I was born into a farming community, and my mother was a small holder farmer so I spent a lot of my days on the farm assisting her. Unfortunately, along the line I grew up with a warped misconception about agriculture. Growing up in a rural community, I always thought farming was for the poor and uneducated -after all, many folks there turn to farming to be able to feed their families and also make an economic living.

However, over time I came to appreciate the relevance of agriculture and numerous opportunities it presents to the youth. Mamagah Farms was born out of this realization. This is why I decided to take up farming –to send a message to the young women.

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Do you plan to diversify what you produce and expand to include other parts of the country? How are you preparing for this?

With over 200 acres of land in the Volta Region of Ghana, we specialize in growing and harvesting in maize and pepper. Unfortunately, and as is the same with any start-up, not having enough funds can slow down plans of scaling up. We are pitching for investors and hopefully, we would be able to work at optimum capacity, making full use of the land.

This way, we will be able to diversify our produce and grow a variety of crops to suit both local and international demands. Funding is everything especially for an entrepreneur who wants to leverage on technology to make farming simple and easier. There are plans to expand to other parts of the country and even West Africa.

Funding is everything especially for an entrepreneur who wants to leverage on technology Click To Tweet

How does your business as a social venture empower local women farmers?

Mamagah Farms is just like social entrepreneurship project. We apply business principles to solve societal problems. What we noticed is that there is potential for rural women farmers to cultivate on a bigger scale and learn the best farming methods which would ultimately impact their economic livelihood. Realizing this, we use the profit from Mamagah Farms for investments.

Apart from financially supporting these farmers to purchase inputs and commercialize their farms, we also partner with local organizations to provide training and extension sessions for these women. Most of the women who work with us are single mothers and while we want to fight poverty and promote empowerment, we want these women to have enough to afford to educate their children. An empowered woman means an empowered family and ultimately, an empowered nation.

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What challenges have you faced with Mamagah Farms and its related social projects?

My biggest challenge has been reorienting the minds of the local folks. As hardworking as they are, the tradition has created a certain mindset towards change. A typical example is technology. When you suggest the use of tractors, some believe that using tractors may disturb the peace of their ancestors. With such a mindset, how can we grow?

But it is not enough to recognize a challenge and leave it there. We take the women farmers through training programs, where we address these challenges. We show them concrete examples of how farming is done in first world countries and how we can get there. Culture and tradition can have a hold on people’s mindset, and it is important to give them the needed exposure in order to disabuse this mindset.

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Why should more women explore the prospects in agriculture in Ghana, and Africa?

In recent times, women are defying the odds and taking more risks in their careers. Why should agriculture and agribusinesses be any different? Can a woman not own a 10,000 acre farm and work on it herself, while managing others to work as well? Agriculture has never been and is not a reserve of men. Our natural disposition as women makes us more inclined to be the better farmers, we are nurturing and detail-oriented. This is an important quality.

There are several opportunities in agriculture we can take advantage of. From crop planting through to the distribution of produce, there are endless opportunities to explore. Food is a necessity. Africa has arable land and other resources, and there are always opportunities to meet the need for food produce.  If you get such an opportunity, why say no?

Agriculture has never been and is not a reserve of the man - Emefa Quashie founder of @MamagahFarms Click To Tweet

Aside farming, what are your other interests?

I study because I have to slay in my MBA.  Aside that, I love to visit the gym and play tennis. Having been a beauty queen myself, I enjoy beauty pageantry.


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