Sandra Lopez: Value extends far beyond money

sandra lopez she leads africa

Group travel is in at the moment and X-Plaw Travel is one group-based travel company aimed at taking young South Africans outside their borders. Sandra Lopez is the Founder and Managing Director of the Pretoria-based company,

A firm believer in the power of “Africa by Africans”, through X-Plaw Sandra focuses on African destinations first for tourism and travel. Although it took a while to discover her passion, when she found it Sandra would work 9 hours after her day job building X-Plaw.

As Sandra grew up in an organisation for orphaned and abandoned children, she’s also passionate about giving back through her travel initiatives. Read on to find out how Sandra’s grooming a generation of travel-hungry South Africans.

How do you think X-Plaw Travel will disrupt the African travel industry?

By bringing great affordable quality valued tours and experiences to our customers. This is and has always been our mandate.

I believe that value is something which extends far beyond the monetary. It includes but is not limited to the type of service you give to your customers, how much you engage with them, how much you allow them to feel part of what you are building and how much you allow them to connect with the people they meet on these journeys.

Education is also a key factor for us, most of our travellers have not travelled outside of their home towns or outside of South Africa. For them to experience going out of the country for the first time with us, is an experience that even we get to appreciate with them.

In most instances, they return from these tours richer in knowledge having learnt something totally new about a different country and its people.

Why do you think young people should explore Africa more?

I am a firm believer of “Africa by Africans”, we are the only ones who have the power to change how our continent is perceived by the outside world. We are the only ones who can tell our stories better.

I feel that in many ways, Africa is being misrepresented by the global media. Half the time, this forces people to forget the beauty that surrounds us, sometimes even by ourselves.

Travelling thus gives us an opportunity to understand ourselves better as a people, our roots, our cultures, our heritage. It also paints a picture which allows us to understand vividly that we are all connected as Africans and as a human race in some way or the other.

Only when we are fully comfortable and confident with who we are, will it become much easier for us to invite other young people from other countries to experience this diversity with us.

How have you combined giving back initiatives with your travel company?

Giving back has always been at the fore of what we do as a company. It is actually something that is very personal to me. All our tours have give back initiatives tied to them.

On a 5-6 day tour for example, one day is dedicated to enriching the lives of the less fortunate. In countries where we are not able to actively engage in these initiatives due to certain constraints, we pledge the funds to local projects in South Africa.

We have also just launched the “One Traveller, One Child” initiative. Where for every traveller who tours with us, we will send a disadvantaged kid on a weekend camp educating them about nature, travelling and most importantly about themselves.

Hopefully in a few years, we would be able to look back and realise that we have groomed a generation rich with an appetite for travelling.


What did you have in place before you quit your engineering job to focus on X-Plaw?

A lot of things actually. An idea, passion, a sketchy plan and a few Bible verses, but mostly I had will power & determination. Nothing beats the will to want to succeed and see something grow from an idea into something tangible.

Every day after my 9-5 job, I would get home to read, research and work on X-Plaw for an additional 9 hours. This went on for a full year until I decided that I was ready to let go of one.

In what ways has your childhood shaped your passion today?

As a kid I was an all-rounder and an overachiever, which meant that with most academic subjects or activities I participated in, I excelled. This actually made it quite hard for me to discover what I truly was passionate about.

I grew up in an organisation called the S.O.S Children’s in Ennerdale, south of Johannesburg. It’s an organisation for orphaned and abandoned children. As ironic as it sounds, we were raised to believe in ourselves and to always extend a helping hand to others less fortunate.

We were extremely fortunate growing up at the village. After school we were kept busy with sports and extra mural activities. During school holiday we were fortunate enough to travel or go out camping.

This, in many ways is how my love for travelling started. However, I only truly discovered my passion for it much later in life.

In your opinion, what is needed to successfully travel in a group?

An open and curious mind. Travelling with an open mind gives you perspective, you see the world through different eyes, you appreciate things more. In some instances, you get to understand how little others have.

You also learn to be patient, as time almost no longer defines your schedules. You get to slow down and enjoy the moments.

Stay curious, by doing so you learn to expect the unexpected. And most of all, you learn something new every day.

Hey South African #MotherlandMoguls, the SheHive will be in Johannesburg from November 3-6. Find out more here.

Aina Fadina: I wanted to see a change in mainstream media

aina fadina i for africa

In a time where virtually anyone can discovering their production skills using their mobile phones, webseries have become a means to address the lack of diversity in mainstream media. I for Africa is one such series that features and celebrates African-inspired innovators across different industries. Its founder, entrepreneur, fashion model and creative director, Aina Fadina recently chatted with SLA about the series, which is now in its third season.

What was the spark that leads you to create I for Africa?

Living in NYC, I was surrounded by so many talented and innovative creatives, entrepreneurs, and innovative thinkers inspired by Africa, and I thought they needed to be celebrated. As I traveled around the world, I noticed the same examples.

I realized there was something here. I felt that it was important to change the narrative of what mainstream media was reporting about Africans and immigrants. It’s important to change the narrative of our stories and the people telling African stories around the world.

With so many web series, how do you stand out?

The engagement with guests on the show is in a very relaxed format that draws the viewer in to the conversation. It is a conversation between two friends talking about what inspires them and motivates them to be pursuing their ventures.

Additionally, the program highlights the transatlantic journey of people from different ports inspired by Africa.

What defines someone inspired by the African continent? How do you brainstorm episodes and people to interview? Have you faced any difficulty finding personalities to talk to for the series?

Someone inspired by Africa is in the manner in which they choose to celebrate the continent through their creative ideas. It’s the connection of the heart and soul to the continent.

With coming up with episodes, I reflect on who I am inspired by personally and professionally. My finger is always on the pulse of what is happening, so it makes it quite easy to think about who to interview. Finding someone to interview is actually quite easy for me. I have a lot of friends who have recommended other creative friends. People have been very kind to say yes.

There are so many dope people doing phenomenal things, so brainstorming is quite easy. An interview depends where I am, if I am able to connect to the people, and if they have a project coming out.

Overall, coming up with a list of people isn’t challenging at all because there are so many creatives inspired by Africa.

Did you have to learn any new skills to host a web series?

I have experience modelling international. For modelling, I took commercial acting classes, which allowed me to transition to hosting. I have developed an acute understanding camera presence, engaging with people in the same space and how to engage with the camera.

What has been the one I for Africa episode that stands out to you?

They all stand out for me, every person I have interviewed has inspired me in so many ways.

If I had to choose, perhaps it’ll be the first ones I shot in South by South West. Once we were done, I realized this is what I wanted to do. It also showed me that the path of content production wasn’t an easy one, but I wanted it. I wanted to see a change in mainstream media, rather than complain about it, I needed to create a solution. Taking that first step to create something is what stands out to me. Starting something isn’t hard; the challenge is how you chose to continue.

As someone who travels a lot for work, which African city holds the most cheerful memories for you?

Tough one…I have loved every African city for various reasons. Lagos fills the core of my existence. Cape Town challenged me the most from a psychological perspective. It was there that I met two friends —who became brothers— who welcomed me with open arms. Accra speaks to my soul. Cotonou brings beautiful childhood memories.

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

7 inspirational websites you need to follow

Arese Ugwu

The most beautiful thing about being a young professional or career woman today is that your knowledge isn’t limited to what you can find in your neighbourhood or community.

The digital world allows you to connect with experts and information from across the globe. Whatever issue you think you might have, there are probably 100 or so websites that can help you solve your problem.

While there are over a too websites we love, here are 7 of our favourites that help us stay informed, motivated and ready for whatever life throws at us.

1. Smart Money Africa

The Smart Money Movement is championed by financial guru Arese Ugwu. Her website provides a platform for young people to learn to manage their finances better by knowing their net worth and prioritizing the accumulation of assets over frivolous spending.

In other words, being smart about your money. Keep an eye out for the blog, the Smart Money Workshops and the Smart Money Journal. They will literally change your life.

You’re welcome.

2. Minding Her Business

Young? Ambitious? Fabulous? Ready to move to the next level of all-round wellness? Then you need to be minding her business. Starting out as a series of motivational quotes on social media, MHB evolved into a practical guide for the modern woman in the form of an e-book covering financial success, self-confidence, love and relationships.

Navigate the site to get inspired by Ivy’s story, keep afloat with the blog and to get acquainted with the book.

3. Ms Afropolitan

If you’re searching for a space to address your feminist woes and reaffirm your womanhood in the African context, then this is your destination.

Through its blog articles, this website dissects topical issues such as colonialism, race, politics and what it’s like living in Diaspora. It offers strong, powerful, relevant messages for women of colour.

4. Haute Fashion Africa

Haute Fashion Africa is basically the fashion portfolio for the modern African woman. This website is on top of all that’s happening in the African fashion stratosphere.

We’re talking all the fashion trends, the major fashion shows in different African cities, profiles on designers, stylists and models.

5. Food and the Fabulous

This lifestyle website showcases cuisine and culture from all over the continent and the rest of the world.

Award-winning South African journalist, Ishay Govender-Ypma takes you on a journey with the Food and the Fabulous Food tours introducing you to Cape Town’s mouth-watering dishes.

Many of these recipes are available for you to try out. You can also gain travel inspiration and take a dig at current issues.

6. Travel Africa Story

Sure you’ve heard the saying that one’s education is incomplete without the experience of travel. This inspirational site features travel experiences and highlights amazing travel destinations from across Africa.

If you need ideas for your next vacation, check out ‘Travel Tips & Trips’. With several helpful articles and feature stories on travel etiquette and fun things to do on your trip, it’s an amazing travel guide.

The best part? You have the opportunity to tell your own travel story and get featured on the site.

7. She Leads Africa (duh!)

Did you think we were going to leave this out of the list? Think again. SLA is arguably the #1 go-to website for young African females with a focus on getting started or improving their careers and business.

It’s a resource pool packed with power articles and insight from the co-founders and diverse team of editors and contributors. It also features practical tips and advice, webinars, access to career coaches and more.

The SheHive events which bring together the SLA community and industry leaders are hosted in various cities around the world.

Motherland Moguls, let’s get surfing! Share with us what some of your favorite websites are to check out. Besides us of course 😉

Moni Baruwa: I spend less time focusing on competition and more on differentiating my brand

Moni Baruwa - CountlessMiles

What do you do when you have the travel bug and just can’t get it out of your system? Well, you start a business of course! Moni Baruwa has visited more than 25 countries, lived on 3 continents and connected with people from all across the globe. Her travels and the path of self-discovery and development led her to start her very first business venture in CountlessMiles. CountlessMiles is a travel startup that aims to transform the African’s perception of travel by curating unique, cultural and fun destination experiences within and outside the African continent.

Moni shared with us some of her thoughts on the black travel movement, filling in the gaps in her startup toolkit and her jollof of choice. 

Why don’t you believe young Africans currently see intra Africa travel as an attractive option?

Traveling within Africa requires deeper introspection. Generally, the average young African’s idea of a travel destination has been focused on places where they can shop or conduct business, or show on social media and positively impact their social status. These historically have included locations in the UK, US, and Dubai. If a destination does not fit into this, then it is not seen as appealing. So our goal is not only to make intra Africa (and global) travel more attractive, but also to change the perception of travel as a whole to a means of learning and self-development.

Moni-BaruwaI’ll use myself as an example. When I started solo traveling, and not just to shop or take pictures, the experiences forced me out of my comfort zone, and I developed the boldness to take risks and think bravely in ways that even a college degree didn’t offer. I believe if more of our young people have similar cultural experiences exploring other regions, cultures and ways of life, and brought home the knowledge, we would see significant impact from the community levels to the economic level.

Additionally, and equally important, Africa travel is quite expensive and costs the same or sometimes more than the more “attractive” travel options like Europe, US and the Middle East, so young travelers often opt for this. It’s similar to the dilemma US travelers face when trying to choose to travel to the West Coast from the East Coast, as compared to spending less on a round-trip flight to Europe.

Black Travel has become quite a popular topic in the media recently with companies like Travel Noire and Tastemakers Africa getting a lot of media attention for providing young black travelers with other options for travel and showcasing another side of the travel industry? What is CountlessMiles bringing to the conversation and adding value to the industry?

This is a question I get asked a lot. It is quite amazing the work that businesses like Travel Noire and Tastemakers Africa are doing. For instance, Travel Noire has totally transformed the travel industry for black people.  I remember when I traveled, I didn’t see a lot of people like me – black and more so African, so this is good progress.

We have similar goals and missions in that we are changing the conversation with regards to blacks and travel. However, the approaches are quite different. Our goal at CountlessMiles is two-fold: we aim to not only change the average African’s perception of travel but also consciously add Africans to the “black traveler” community.  This group of travelers is typically different from the black traveler community because they have unique barriers to travelling including issues such as obtaining visas with a non blue/maroon passport, finding travel health insurance to name a few.

Moni Baruwa - CountlessMiles

When I traveled around Eastern Europe and I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, the guy at the immigration border gave me a dirty look because of my Nigerian passport. He almost gave me a hard time getting in, but because of my experience with similar issues, I was fortunately able to convince him otherwise. Similarly, in Vancouver, the receptionist at the place I stayed said he had never seen a Nigerian passport before, so they made a souvenir of my passport.  I was pleasantly surprised at that but it made sense, in part because of their own lack of curiosity, but largely because Africans haven’t fully embodied the essence of traveling the way the Europeans or Australians do, and have yet to reach that far.

This I believe makes CountlessMiles unique in its approach and impact – consciously encouraging Africans to travel the world in a unique way, while subconsciously opening up better tourism relationships with other countries and hopefully less visa hassles for Africans, especially West Africa. At CountlessMiles, we say “Your vacation starts with You”, because we focus on curating authentic personalized experiences for any African looking to travel, based on their budget and travel preferences. The primary service we provide, which is crafting a destination experience, is very customer-centric, while most of the competition seems to be focused on creating group trips that people can sign up for.

The travel industry across West Africa is very fragmented and has many small-scale operators. How will you identify the best operators that are able to deliver the experience your customers are expecting?

The great thing about experiential travel is being able to connect with the locals, the culture, and the new environment. This is the approach we take at CountlessMiles – visit the countries ourselves, get immersed in the culture, meet the locals and get information about the best offerings in the region, and build informal long-lasting relationships with potential partners. This way we are able to curate the best and most authentic experiences for clients based on first-hand knowledge and experienced recommendations.

Another useful resource that has worked particularly in West Africa is leveraging on our network across the region. Luckily through my travels and life path, I have been blessed to meet people who are key influencers in various West African countries. I am working with them to develop a list of the best operators that we can partner with, and with their connections, we are able to deliver high quality destination experiences for our customers.

Since this is your first startup, what are the hardest parts of getting your venture off the ground, and how are you looking to fill in the gaps?

The interesting thing I’ve realized about starting a business is that you think you’re the only one with the idea when you had that “Eureka!” moment, but then when you start trying to get things in motion and you do your research, you find that you have tons of competition. It also doesn’t make it any easier now that the travel buzz is starting to peak, and I am trying to build my brand.

This means working twice as hard as my competitors and thinking outside the box to really differentiate CountlessMiles. This made me quickly learn to trust my journey and stay focused on the big picture, because I realized that there will always be competition. With this in mind, I have been spending most of my time focusing less on competition but more on ways that we can differentiate the brand/business.

Another lesson I have learned about starting a business is that you can’t possibly know how to do everything in the business, except you’re God. I’m great at the strategy and technology aspects of the business, but not too experienced on the creative front. A trusted friend of mine volunteers her time to work on the creative and marketing aspects for the brand. Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without her help.

The final difficulty which most startups also face is the issue of funding. Not having enough capital to get some areas of the business started and growing faster is quite a challenge. I have had to bootstrap my way through so far, but I am constantly applying to entrepreneurship programs and competitions that provide seed capital for African startups. 

What’s next for CountlessMiles and what can we expect to see in the next 6 months?

CountlessMiles LogoWe are hoping to launch the business fully to the general public in a few weeks and send out social media blast to fellow African travelers, who want to curate creative content and itineraries for the site – so stay tuned.

We are also working to deliver fun and creative itineraries and other unique content for our readers for each destination. We are taking a city-by-city approach to launching content; starting from our top favorite cities around the world, so expect content to grow gradually. Right now we are finalizing travel content and itineraries for our first African city Lagos, Nigeria, since this is home.  You can also expect to see features from fellow African travelers about their experiences traveling the world.

Lastly, we are working on a key partnership within West Africa to integrate with a platform where travelers can get our exciting content on what to do in each city. As with any new startup that has a passionate and experienced travel team, I believe the sky is the limit in the next 6 months and beyond.

We asked Moni 5 quick questions about her favorite travel destinations and food tips:

What is your favorite place to visit in Africa and why?

I really liked Morocco because it was a birthday trip, so it was special and I was also extremely impressed by togetherness of the culture and tradition as seen in the market nightlife – Jemma el Fnaa.

Ghanaian Jollof, Nigerian Jollof or Senegalese Jollof?

Hmm, this is tricky because I haven’t tried Senegalese Jollof. So between Ghanaian and Nigerian – I’ll say Nigerian.

I am particularly a fan of Nigerian Jollof rice because I grew up on it, so I am ride or die. Ghananian jollof is a close second, especially when you add some shitto 😉

What SPF sunblock do you use?

I am a fan of SPF 50 Soltan Invisible Spray from Boots. I choose the highest SPF because we know our blessed Nigerian sun doesn’t smile, but sometimes I opt for SPF 30 (actually a tip from a dermatologist – SPF 30 and 50 don’t differ much).

Also, I love that it is price friendly and it gives me a golden brown tan that complements my complexion.

What’s your travel playlist? What international songs get you in the zone for a fun experience?

To be honest, I don’t have a travel playlist. Yes, my friends think I’m weird too. When I travel, I’m either zoned out reading a book or watching movies.

But I do have a couple of international songs that get me in the zone – I fell in love with Spanish music after living in Malaga, Spain for a few months. I like Me Gusta Tu by Manu Chao and Bailando by Enrique Iglesias.

Where are you off to next?

This is always exciting. I recently just mapped out how to travel within Africa without breaking the bank, so I am trying to decide between my West African mapped out route or my East African mapped out route. Seems like I’ll be choosing the West African route – The Gambia, Senegal and Mali.

Look out for the posts and content on CountlessMiles for this trip!

7 reasons entrepreneurs should travel for leisure

picha stock she leads africa

Entrepreneurial travel typically consist of meetings, conferences, summits, pitch competitions and networking events. As such, entrepreneurs rarely experience the places they visit. Due to their busy schedules, they miss out on interacting with residents, immersing themselves in the local culture, and sightseeing.  

Last week, I returned to Chicago from my trip to Colombia. It was a rich and fruitful month of travel as I visited seven different cities.

From my experience, I have compiled seven reasons entrepreneurs should travel for leisure.

1. You learn more about yourself

When you visit a foreign place you are pushed out of your comfort zone. This is the best time for you to see your “true colors”. Your reaction to different cultural norms, unexpected tough situations, and interactions with fellow travellers will reveal traits you didn’t know you had.

As an entrepreneur, it is critical to know yourself. This self-awareness will allow you to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, your effect on others, as well as areas that you need to improve on.

2. It opens your mind

People tend to assume that they are experts in life because they have a wealth of social, academic and professional experiences. Once you are exposed to a different environment and culture, you realize how the knowledge you have is limited. Travel helps shift your perspective.

It becomes clear that your way of thinking is not necessarily the only one or the best out there. As an entrepreneur you need to be open-minded. That way you will be able to collaborate effectively with your team, investors and even clients in order to fulfill your vision.

3. It boosts your emotional intelligence

Travel gives you the opportunity to meet diverse individuals with incredible stories. It enables you to gain a better understanding of others and become more sensitive to happenings in the world.  

Being book smart is necessary, but many of us forget about the experiential importance of emotional intelligence. Entrepreneurs need that to be able to understand both their workers and clients. The knowledge from books can’t help you relate to others through compassion and empathy, for example.

4. It fosters relationships

If you don’t trap yourself in a resort for the whole trip, then you will make new friends in the area you are visiting. You will be able to learn from and share knowledge with each other.

Through these new friendships, you may potentially meet a future business partner, mentor or investor.

5. It spikes creativity

Being stuck in the same daily routine can stifle your creativity. You may have “entrepreneur’s block.”  

Blocks hurt productivity which is the opposite of what an entrepreneur needs. Traveling exposes you to new aspects of life that will refresh your mind and inspire your work.

6. It increases motivation

Being exposed to a different socio-economic environment is a great motivator. For example, experiencing life in a developed country shows you that the possibilities are endless.

On the other hand, visiting a less developed country may motivate you to use your work for the betterment of society.

7. It is relaxing

Travelling for leisure is relaxing. You get to step out of your bubble and see what’s really going on in the world. It gives you an opportunity to do what you want, when you want, and how you want to.

It gives you a break from the daily grind. Detoxing your mind in this way creates room for great ideas to flourish.