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From $100 To Obama

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Mariama Mounir Camara

She used to be a constant fixture at her late uncle’s tailor shop.

Today, Mariama Mounir Camara is a fashion designer with an eponymous label and is the founder of an African handmade textiles and accessories company in New York.

“I would go and collect pieces of fabrics cut from [my uncle’s] customer’s clothes to dress my doll. I had made the doll out of papaya stem. I also always wanted my dress to be different from that of my friends during the holidays,” says Camara.

Guinea-born Camara is the fifth of eight children, from the Nalu tribe in the region of Boke. She went to the United States to visit her sister Tigui Mounir Camara, now founder of the Tigui Mining Group.

“My parents are hard workers who gave a lot to our community and country. I used to be in Senegal and I moved to New York in 2001 with only $100 in my pocket,” says Camara.

But she decided to stay on after she found love and got married.

“Like every other person visiting the US, I was excited to be in a land where people can make their dreams a reality with hard work. The transition was enormous because I was coming from Dakar, Senegal. New York City was bigger and faster-paced. Yet, I loved it because it is one of the fashion capitals of the world. Even though I was intimidated, I knew that staying here was a great opportunity to become free and become who I wanted to be,” she says.

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The family fashion bug was difficult to fend off.

“I always loved fashion without even knowing it was called fashion. I mean I grew up in Guinea, I had no idea what that word stood for then. My mother’s family was also very passionate about making prints. I would sit and watch them make fabrics. I really wanted to join them in the tie-dying process but I couldn’t because I was too young.”

It was after she moved to Senegal she finally understood the true essence of fashion. She founded Mariama Fashion Production in 2012.

“Seeing the success of women tie-dyers of Kindia, Guinea, and traveling to several African countries made me realize other artisans needed similar opportunities. I also realized African textile needed to be revamped into something fresher, with new colors and silhouettes, to compete with other textiles and be worn daily as every other print. I wanted to make African handmade textile accessible to the design world while creating sustainable jobs for local artisans in Africa and preserving their artisanal work,” says Camara.

Today, she boasts of being featured on Dream, Girl, a film on female entrepreneurs in leadership.

“My biggest achievement is being able to take my childhood passion and turn it into a career. Through hard work, I am able to continue the legacy of my family.”

She works with international brands and designers such as Tory Burch, Lemlem by supermodel Liya Kebede, and EDUN.

“We receive a lot of demand from African designers all over the world and really respect that because we now know our work is impacting the next generation of African designers,” she says.

READ MORE: From Monrovia To The Movies

Camara is also a humanitarian. She co-founded, with her sister Aissata Camara, There Is No Limit Foundation, to promote the dignity and security of women and girls, through entrepreneurship, education, and elimination of gender-based violence.

The organization has helped over 20,800 people in Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Burkina Faso.

“I am proud of the work. Mostly for being able to provide small interest-free loans for groups of 300 women in Kindia through the Association of Women Tie-Dyers project. I am also thrilled my younger sister Aissata Camara and I became the first people to introduce the work of Guinean artisans to the international market during New York Fashion Week in 2013 through our collaboration with designer Tory Burch. This collaboration was a huge success and attracted international media; it also resulted in First Lady Michelle Obama wearing our prints,” she says.

As Camara focuses on growing her brand, she encourages aspiring entrepreneurs from Africa trying to make it abroad to stretch their horizons.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from; what’s most important is where you expect to be. Dream big; believe in yourselves, and know the only limitations are those set by you.”

Camara carries Africa abroad.

Interview

Why We Need ‘Hard Cash In The Economy’

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Busi Mabuza, the Chairperson of the Board of the Industrial Development Corporation, on the BRICS summit and why we need to start talking as an African bloc.

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The Heroes Among Us

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Heroes exist in history, on celluloid, in pop culture or in these digital times, at the forefront of technology. These are the mighty who shine on the front pages of newspapers, as the paradigms of victory and virtue. But every day in public life, surrounding us are some of the real stars, the nameless, the faceless we don’t recognize or celebrate. In the pages that follow, we look at some of them, exploring the exemplary work they do, from the war zones to your neighborhood streets. They are not flawless, they are not infallible, but they are heroes.

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Entrepreneurs

The Ghanaian Who Brought HR Corporate America To Ghana

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Ghana is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies this year, according to the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the IMF. Its projected growth in 2018 is between 8.3-8.9%.

The Ghanaian workforce is young, with 57% of the population under the age of 25. This means millions of new graduates enter the workforce each year. One woman who understands the struggle that awaits this unsuspecting group in corporate Ghana is Human Resources (HR) entrepreneur, Rita Kusi.

Kusi is the founder and CEO of Keeping “U” Simply Intact (KUSI) Consulting, a marketing, training and recruiting company based in the United States (US) and in Ghana. She is also the Managing Director of threesixtyGh, a social enterprise company with an online presence showcasing innovative ventures in Ghana and the people behind them.

Born in Bolga, Northern Ghana, Kusi’s family gained access to the US through the US Visa Lottery in the early 80s. The family relocated to the US in 1991 where Kusi remained until 2013. And that is also where she amassed a wealth of experience working in several sectors.

READ MORE: Cracking the Code and Bridging The Gender Gap

After college, Kusi worked a number of temporary jobs, from telemarketing in Atlanta to door-to-door sales in Maryland. She even tried her hands at customer services and working in cafes.

“I think for me having held all these jobs opened my eyes and I realized especially what I wanted to do in corporate America,” says Kusi.

All these experiences came together when she applied for a new role as HR assistant. When she did not hear back from the company regarding her application, Kusi took the initiative and called the hiring manager.

“So my dad told me to call and get feedback and as I called my CV happened to be in front of the hiring manager and he invited me in for the interview. I knew nothing about HR but I was just really looking for a job and I ended up getting that job and it was the longest I ever stayed at any job so that was a sign,” says Kusi.

She had finally found her calling in HR but it was not until a nostalgic visit back home that she would merge all her US experience together, ushering in a new life as an entrepreneur.

There were no real training programs at the time focused on improving the quality of customer service in Ghana. Kusi seized the opportunity to provide quality HR training programs, which she hoped organizations would pay for. And they did. This was the birth of Kusi Consulting.

From training services, the company has morphed its offerings into recruitment services and Kusi is now diversifying into skills-training as well as business process outsourcing, where the company handles the pay roll function for other corporate clients. Her timing couldn’t be more perfect. Hiring the right people is critical for companies to reduce employee attrition and enhance returns from HR. Companies face challenges in accurately perceiving and assessing an employee’s quality attributes prior to hiring that employee. This problem is more pronounced in African economies, which involves novices who do not have prior work records attesting to their raw skills, learning abilities and motivation. And this is where Kusi comes in.

READ MORE: Remembering A Corporate Legend

She believes a specialist HR function is imperative in every organization to ensure maximum output by each employee. However, she has had some difficulty convincing corporate Ghana.

“It has been challenging operating here especially being a female because it is literally a man’s world and in this country, it’s all about who you know… There is that challenge of how do I make myself look older and more respected?” she says.

But ever resilient, Kusi refuses to back down. She hopes to create her own temp agency where she has skilled staff inhouse which she can outsource on demand to other companies. Her newly-formed team is just as passionate about the business and with that focus, she is rebranding her company to be a leader in HR not only in Ghana but across Africa.

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