My passion is Africa. My focus is to impact Africa, positively, through sustainable infrastructure, skills development, technology transfer, the empowerment of women and education.
I was raised in post-independence Africa, shattered by coups and dictators, by a single mother—a strong, independent, optimistic, selfless and loving African woman. She made many sacrifices to ensure that my brother and I received the best education and exposure to the world so as to grow into leaders. My mother pushed me to be the best I could be, helped build my confidence, nurtured my sense of purpose and grounded me in spirituality, which allows me not to fear failure. This historical time and my upbringing nurtured in me a strong consciousness of the role I must play in Africa. My motto is: “Dream big and execute bigger!”
For many years, and to this day, I worked 15-18 hour days—nothing great is achieved without hard work and 200% commitment. I am realistic and know that success doesn’t fall from the sky.
In 2010, I wanted to build a company. My skeptics thought I was crazy to leave a successful corporate career but it was a natural evolution of my career, and personal aspirations. However, setting up a company with limited means would be a different ballgame. I gave myself 18 months to make the transition from the corporate to the entrepreneurial world. During that time, I completed an executive MBA.
I did my homework, held focus groups, traveled for research, met with potential suppliers and created a 200-page business plan for Yswara, a luxurious tea brand. Then, I worked my butt off to make things happen.
As an African female entrepreneur, you face three challenges: namely challenges every entrepreneur faces regardless of gender and geography; challenges you face as an African entrepreneur and challenges you face as a female entrepreneur. Some of my greatest challenges were: not being taken seriously, access to finance, encountering the lack of skills and proper infrastructure, as well as balancing business and family.
At first, people did not take Yswara seriously; it was viewed as a hobby. The lack of potential investors’ confidence made it difficult to access finance, and the lack of seed financing and angel networks is an issue in Africa, but it is even more challenging for women. I had savings and the support of family and friends, who invested $280,000 in the project. This was just enough to get the business off the ground. Now that there is a global market for our product, we are raising money to finance our ambitious expansion plan. It’s not easy: there are too many female-owned businesses that have not grown beyond their potential because of lack of capital.
Balancing business and family remains a challenge for women; pregnancy, childbirth and infant care affect women in ways they don’t affect men. Running a household and caring for a family are time-consuming and demand a great deal. Often, female entrepreneurs are torn between commitment to the family and their business.
Despite all these setbacks, women need to persevere, and change societal perceptions that both can’t be done well. They should turn these challenges into sources of strength.
Fortune 500 estimates that only 1% of CEOs at the world’s top 500 companies are women. In Africa, this percentage is probably halved. Women should pursue leadership roles to challenge the status quo. I wish to empower Africans, especially women, to believe in themselves and understand that there are no limits to what can be achieved by applying the mind and working smart.
Women tend to be prisoners of their fears, spend too much time on the past or merely dreaming about the future, they forget to make the most of the present. Women must create a compelling vision for their life; own it; define the roadmap to execution; and drive the energies, talents and values necessary for success. As an entrepreneur, you must develop the ability to execute plans, solve problems and energize teams. Building a venture from scratch is not for the faint hearted, you need to be courageous, tenacious, perseverant and resilient. Never take no for an answer and always be solution-oriented.