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‘Who Are The Women To look Up To?’

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Afua Osei and Yasmin Belo-Osagie were lucky they shared the same vision when over a year ago they launched She Leads Africa, a social enterprise supporting female entrepreneurs on the continent.

They had both previously worked for women’s causes, though in different capacities. Osei, a Ghanaian, had worked with women keen on running for Congress in the United States (US), while Belo-Osagie, whose parents hail from Nigeria and Ghana, had led the women’s mentorship initiative during her tenure at management consulting firm McKinsey in Lagos.

After a year of toying with the idea, they put in motion a She Leads Africa pitch competition in Lagos, inviting over 200 sound entrepreneurial ideas from African women and assessing them to provide crucial support and financing.

“Getting involved in the technology and start-up ecosystem in Accra and Lagos showed me that the need for advice and resources [among] young women wasn’t exclusive to the corporate track. Young women looking to build companies were faced with an environment that was neither friendly nor encouraging. When I connected with Yasmin, we knew this was the right time to pursue She Leads Africa,” admits Osei.

“I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur. However, each time I asked myself, ‘Who are the women I can look up to in this quest?’ I realized there were just not that many of them,” echoes Belo-Osagie.

The first hurdle they encountered was that the women they met had great business ideas but no business education to know how to execute them, especially when it came to sourcing funding.

Other areas of concern for the founders continue to be stereotyping and networking issues. They saw that in Africa, small and medium enterprises are headed by female entrepreneurs who believe they can only go so far.

“We want people to understand that greater female participation in the economy is a good thing and it’s not just a moral argument. It’s a developmental and economic one,” says Belo-Osagie.

In their own lives, the cofounders have donned many professional hats. But all roads finally led them to Lagos.

Belo-Osagie had varying interests (law, finance, journalism) and explored them at college. She graduated cum laude in history from Princeton University in the US.

“I also had interests in non-academic work and soon made my way to Le Cordon Bleu [famous culinary school] in London and Paris, and then went off to work in Hong Kong at the Mandarin Oriental,” she says.

After that, she joined McKinsey as a business analyst in Lagos, leaving it eventually to focus on She Leads Africa.

“I am not driven by money,” says Belo-Osagie. “I am driven by the opportunity to solve interesting problems related to Africa. I would also like to get into public policy one day.”

Osei on the other hand graduated cum laude from Allegheny College in the US, and served as a political consultant providing strategy and communications expertise to political campaigns across the US.

Mid-way through the political campaigning, she also served as a Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia and worked for the US’ First Lady Michelle Obama in her research and communications teams.

She took time off to pursue a Master’s in Public Policy and Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Chicago and thereafter moved to Lagos to work for a management consulting firm.

“I am passionate about business and social innovation, its ability to empower and unite people to create value for a bigger vision,” says Osei.

They focused the pitch competition on four key groups: young entrepreneurs, investors, impact-driven foundations and high net-worth individuals, offering 10 finalists a platform to grow their existing networks and gain industry-specific knowledge.

Cherae Robinson, CEO of Rare Customs & Tastemakers Africa, who emerged competition-winner with $10,000 in support of her business, says She Leads Africa closes a critical gap for Africa-focused female entrepreneurs.

“The mentorship, the confidence, funding and continued support I have received after the competition has contributed to my fearlessness in building a multimillion dollar business,” says Robinson.

Taffi Woolward, CEO& Co-founder of Thando’s, also a finalist, says through She Leads Africa, she was invited to present her company at the Diaspora Demo Day held at the World Bank in Washington DC.

She Leads Africa has aggressive pan-African plans and for the young founders fronting it, there is no better time for it than now.

Entrepreneurs

IN PICTURES | Truck Entrepreneur Drives Style Movement

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Collaborations are key for the development of Africa’s sports economy


On a busy road in Soweto, in the southwest of Johannesburg, taxis go about their daily drill, stopping to pick up passengers outside the apartment-tenements of Chiawelo. Here, a truck of a different kind is stationed next to an old container and a car wash.

It’s owned by Siyabulela Ndzonga, a small entrepreneur dabbling in fashion, who has turned it into a concept store, on wheels.

Ndzonga,who brands himself Siya Fonds (S/F) – after a nickname his mother gave him as a baby, has been associated with the South African Fashion Week and with reputed designers such as Ole Ledimo, the founder of House of Olé, and stylist and fashion guru Felipe Mazibuko.

I didn’t even study fashion but it’s interesting how I’m actually making an impact and contributing a lot in the fashion industry, says Ndzonga. 

It was around 2011, when he sold second-hand clothes on the trendy streets of Braamfontein in Johannesburg, where only the cool kids would hang out.

“I was big on thrifting; selling second-hand clothes. I would thrift, resell,thrift, resell.”

His hard work earned him a stall at one of the flea markets in Johannesburg. At this point, Ndzonga was still employed at a retail store. After work and on weekends, he would be hustling on Johannesburg’s streets, all for the love of fashion and because people loved his work.

Ndzonga saw a business opportunity, quit his retail job and registered his brand in 2013. Later that year, Toe Porn socks contacted him and requested he consult for them.

“Brand consulting means that I come in and take their clothes and use them to translate the current fashion trends, translate them to how I think [people]should be dressing in terms of fashion. I actually became a designer because I set trends before they would trend. I would set the tone, narrative and navigate where fashion should go in the whole world, not just in South Africa,” he says.

His fame slowly grew and he started making clothes for others, traveling by taxi to CMT (cut, make and trim) factories in Germiston, 42kms from his hometown. 

“In 2015, that’s when I really saw that I am growing as a brand and that’s when I started consulting for international brands like Palladium Shoes, Fila and Ben Sherman.”

The business grew but he had to travel to others parts of country and that exercise was taxing.

He stopped making clothes and paused his business.

“The whole of 2016, I focused on consulting and saved money to set up a truck. I needed a store so people could come in and purchase Siya Fonds from the truck. This whole thing of delivering is not me, I can’t do it,” says Ndzonga.

“I initially wanted a container, but the truck was a better, fresher alternative. I’m not the first to do it, but I’m the first in Soweto. I set it up and people love it because it’s bringing popular culture to Soweto. I had to trust myself that’s it’s going to work and it did.”

The truck had been lying unused when Ndzonga purchased it, and he overhauled it with a lick of paint and an infusion of color and character.

I got another truck to pick it up and bring it to the current location in 2016.

In March 2017, the truck was launched as a concept store and he called it Block 88, as it encompasses other brands as well.

“Business was not so great after the launch. It only picked up after a few months of selling a few international brands that I consult for. We had seven brands in the store.”

He sells t-shirts, caps, jackets and jumpsuits. A two-piece suit sells for R1,400 ($97).

The next step for Ndzonga is to have stores in all the neighborhoods in Soweto and major South African cities.

Since the inception of his truck, he has also injected some vibrancy into the community.

He organizes art development programs and conversations around social issues on Fridays outside the truck, gathering youth and children.

“Conversation Fridays is like TED-talks. It’s bringing conversations to the township instead of having them in the city or suburbs and speak about what creatives are facing in the creative space and industry,” he says.

Now, he works as a consultant with a consumer agency and collaborates on a number of brands, also doing research for them. As the hustle and bustle quietens down at sunset in Soweto, Ndzonga’s trendy truck shuts shop. Tomorrow will be another day as a beacon of hope and vibrancy on a Soweto street.


Siyabulela Ndzonga of Siya Fonds. Picture: 
Motlabana Monnakgotla

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Two’s Company; 30 Under 30 Alumni Collaborate

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Under 30 alumni, born on the same day and with similar stories of entrepreneurship, are collaborating to disrupt industries and shape the future of Africa.

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The Impact Investor

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Norman Beaulieu has an innovative business approach to community development in Africa, regenerating degraded land and providing solutions to mitigate climate change.

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