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Fashion Bloggers Signing Off In Style

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It’s a grey and drizzly afternoon on London’s Brick Lane, but in the colorful Cereal Killer Café, the Berhane twins snap, crackle and pop with a fizzy brand of good-natured irritation.

They’re telling stories in British Sign Language about the challenges that led them to create Being Her, their vibrant, globally-popular fashion blog, an internet and Instagram sensation that has propelled them to celebrity status in their native Eritrea.

“In the fashion world, we still feel a bit invisible and side-lined,” says Hermi (whose sign name is Curly Hair, a gesture like a flowing river).

“But it’s funny, because slowly their attitude has changed… They look at our story and the work that we’re doing, and it’s starting to inspire them.”

The twins fell suddenly and profoundly deaf at seven years old, on the same day, because of an undiagnosed illness, and their mother rushed them to the USA and UK in search of an answer.

It was in Brighton, on the English south coast, that their worlds eventually opened up through sign language.

“We found our identity at boarding school,” says Heroda (sign name: Long Eyelashes, the panache of an elegantly scooped finger).

“Sign language was so beautiful, and the deaf community just became our family. Within the hearing world, it can be very lonely. As soon as we were in that deaf world, we fitted in – it was where we belonged.”

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Both studied fashion design at the University of the Arts in London, but often felt isolated and misunderstood.

“We were determined to get through the course, we really wanted to stick at it, so we focused on the work,” says Heroda. “But it really affected our confidence. We were viewed as ‘less than’; they doubted we could achieve the same as them.”

After a series of knock-backs after graduation, when the twins experienced rejection at the job interview stage or being passed up for promotion, they had had enough. Their blog was born, the success of which still fazes some members of the hearing community.

“They email us telling us they can help us to hear and be more successful,” Hermi says. “And we’re like, ‘Hello? We’re successful bloggers! Can you not read?’ Just because we are deaf, they think we’re dumb.”

Hermi Berhane Being Her fashion blog

Hermi Berhane (Photo by Aneesa Dawoojee)

The blog (and its Instagram account) is a giddy celebration of joyful vibrancy and individuality; while they insist their photographs and style selections are not meticulously planned, their fashion shoots pulse with a focused understanding of contrast and color. There’s even a hilariously spooky Halloween photo story, with the undead twins accessorized with matching zombie-babies.

With representation by The Presley Group in Los Angeles recently secured, the future for the twins looks as bright as their outfits (they’re as effortlessly stunning in jeans and sparkly motorcycle jackets as in heels and flowing geometric tribal prints).

“Our aim is to have a brand, we want to have collaborations and sponsorship,” says Heroda. “And we want to do some motivational speaking for people with disabilities, just to show them that they don’t need to have low self-esteem, they can be confident in themselves.”

It is touching that almost by way of illustration, the twins turn and address each other with their signing when they respond to these questions – a sisterly feedback loop of affirmation and reinforcement.

“Within the deaf community there are so few role models that other deaf people can look up to,” Heroda says. “So we really want to be there, to be able to support people, so that they can look up to somebody and think, ‘oh yeah, in the future, I can do that, I can achieve my dreams’.”

READ MORE: Karlie Kloss – Coding’s Supermodel

In tandem, they also hope for more understanding of deaf awareness in the hearing world.

“Signing is physical, it’s visual, it relies quite a lot on facial expressions and a positive vibe,” says Hermi. “So that’s one of the aims of our blog – we want to educate people on what sign language means, and give them a sense of deaf awareness. People need to be more open-minded. That’s been a problem for so long and it just still seems to be there. Not just in the fashion industry but within the work culture in offices, and all sorts of places.”

“A while ago, we met someone who told us they had seen us on Instagram, and started to learn sign language because of us,” Heroda says. “And that’s really so important. I used to be so shy. I would always hide and put my hair over my ears. Now I feel so optimistic.”

Heroda Berhane Being Her fashion blog

Heroda Berhane (Photo by Aneesa Dawoojee)

Their escalating popularity in Eritrea, and its neighbor Ethiopia, is also having a constructive impact.

“They are very supportive of us,” says Hermi. “Because in Eritrea, there isn’t much awareness about disabilities, and sometimes they think deafness is associated with evil. We’ve been able to show them deafness in a new light, and now they’re like, ‘oh wow! Those two twin girls!”

They are terrific company; there is an infectious air of mischief about them, and it flourishes in their blog as an essential ingredient in their charismatic energy.

“If you’re feeling a bit down, and you see somebody whose lives look happy, it draws you to them,” says Hermi. “And we hope that’s what our followers see in us every day.”

It’s time for the shoot (in which they will giggle and tease each other throughout), but they say they want to wrap up with a resolute message, a provocative takeaway for a new audience.

“Being deaf isn’t a barrier,” they say, shifting in their chairs, outwards towards the world. “And neither is being scared.”

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Get Set Mo!

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Morongoa Mahope feeds her love for extreme biking with petrol and adrenaline. The funds for her pet passion come from her nine-to-five accounting job.

About 10kms north of the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in South Africa is another racetrack, where superbikes and sports cars are noisily revving up their engines, getting ready for a practice run on a cold Wednesday afternoon in Johannesburg.

At first glance at the Zwartkops racetrack is a melange of male drivers and mechanics.

But also revving up a superbike, the one numbered 83, is Morongoa Mahope from Mahwelereng in the Limpopo province of South Africa.

READ MORE: ‘From Zero to Hero’: The Queen Of The 800 meters Caster Semenya

She is about to clock 270kmph on her black bike, tagged #Mo83 in pink.

When she is not burning rubber on the racetrack, Mahope is an accountant working for an advertising agency in the city.

“When I started [superbiking], it was mainly only for leisure because I love the sound bikes and cars make. I’m a petrol head and just wanted it to commute to work,” she says.

Morongoa Mahope

Her journey started in 2013 when she convinced her husband and family about buying a superbike. Her family was initially apprehensive and viewed superbike racing as dangerous.

Her husband finally relented and Mahope went for a day’s training to see if she really would be interested in the bike before investing in it. The 36-year-old sports fanatic succumbed, and indeed pursued her wish.

“I still have my first bike; it’s a green and black Kawasaki Ninja 250cc. I was just using it to [go to] work until I met a biking club, the Eagle Bikers Club Limpopo,” she recalls.

Mahope was riding with the club, doing breakfast runs between Johannesburg and Limpopo; but, in 2015, they took a trip to Nelspruit in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa.

READ MORE: Making Up For Millions

Navigating the mountainous, curvy roads, Mahope was overtaking men with her small 250cc bike at the bends.

She was then goaded by her fellow riders to try the racing circuit.

“I went to the track and met a superbike racer; Themba Khumalo, and I started following his journey. I spent more time on the track, practising so I could start racing in 2016. The love for the sport was getting deeper and deeper,” says Mahope.

Khumalo, a professional superbike rider who has raced in the European Championships, says he met Mahope at Zwartkops and it was her first time at the track, and she was quite fast at the corners.

He went up to her to introduce himself because it was rare to see a black woman on a racetrack.

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“I then took her through the fundamentals of racing and the basics; the type of bike she would need and the equipment. I could see how committed she was and how quick she was learning, and her lack of fear. She was going farther than where she was,” says Khumalo.  

However, her male counterparts were not impressed with her pace on the track; they remarked negatively about her. But Mahope didn’t let the minimizing comments derail her mission.

Unfortunately, Mahope was involved in an accident during training on Valentine’s Day in 2017 and fractured her clavicle before her first race. That took her off the bike for six months.

She joked about the incident with friends, but they persisted and told her it’s an unsafe sport. That encouraged her even more; she wore her helmet and gloves, clocking higher speeds than ever before on her superbike.

Indeed, it was a learning curve. A few months later, she was invited to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe to race.

READ MORE: Shopping for ideas

Her first official race was the same year as the injury; it was a club race in Delmas, Mpumalanga, at the Red Star Raceway. She had never been on the grid nor practised how to stud, but for her, it was more about the experience despite the shivers and nerves.

“I finished the race and I was second last. It’s part of how you start but you will improve to be better. And now, I have lost count of the races I have competed in,” she says.

Mahope is racing in the short circuit series for women who use the 250cc, being the only black woman to participate. She also participated in the Extreme Festival tour series, a regional race in which she used her Kawasaki Ninja ZX600cc, racing men with bigger and louder bikes.

“I am the first black woman to be in the grand prix and the challenges that I faced were having to teach myself a lot of things. I had to learn how to ride on the track, the speed, the decelerating, all was new to me. I wasn’t helped.”

Mahope started at a late stage with the sport, and had to put in more time and effort in a short period to get to where she is currently.

READ MORE: Linda Ikeji : Nigeria’s Queen of content raking in millions

Today, she assists women who are starting with the sport.  

Sadly, in South Africa, there is no national league for women to race and represent the country despite finishing in the top three in the 2019 races.

With all her achievements thus far, Mahope’s salary sustains her motorsport passion.

“Racing is very expensive; the more you practise, the more you get better and the more you spend money. On practice day, I spend about R3,000 ($206) and would practise twice a week at different tracks. In total, I would spend R18,000 ($1,235) a month for the track excluding the travel costs to the track and race day,” she explains.These costs cover tyres, fuel and entrance to the tracks.

A sum of about R40,000 ($2,744) can get you geared up for the bike and track.

It just shows this daredevil accountant can balance both the books and the bike.

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Africa’s Most Dynamic Thought-Leaders, Industry Game-Changers And Icons Of Social Activism Set To Feature At The Exclusive FORBES WOMAN AFRICA 2020 Leading Women Summit

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Africa’s most dynamic thought-leaders, industry game-changers and icons of social activism are set to feature at the exclusive FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit presented by Mastercard (#LWS2020KZN) and hosted by the KwaZulu-Natal government – taking place at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli ICC Complex in Durban on Friday, 6 March 2020.

For the 5th edition of this globally-renowned event, panellists and speakers will engage with the impactful 2020 theme, ‘The Ceiling Crashers 2.0: Power with Purpose’. The day’s thought-provoking discussions will be followed by the highly-anticipated FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Awards Gala Dinner which celebrates the continent’s most influential female ‘ceiling crashers’ across a number of key categories. 

“The FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit has grown to become one of the biggest female-empowerment events, boasting a high calibre of attendees and unparalleled speaker line-up,” said Renuka Methil, Managing Editor of FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.

“This promises to be the biggest instalment yet, featuring female pioneers and path-breakers across the continent. Audiences will be exposed to dynamic discussions about the growing the number of women in leadership – something government and business really need to factor into their strategies. We will also get to grips with a new discourse that focuses on dismantling power structures and the need for truly inclusive cultures in business and society.”

This highly-anticipated event, which is hosted annually in honour of International Women’s Day, is expected to draw an audience of around 1 000 leading women. Through hard-hitting talks, fireside chats and insightful panel sessions centred on ‘ceiling crashers’, attendees will be inspired to make meaningful changes within their own industries, secure in the knowledge that they have the support of these innovative allies. This year’s programme promises an influential mix of leaders in healthcare and business; advocates of social and environmental activism; award-winning artists and internationally-renowned stateswomen.

For the first time, FORBES WOMAN AFRICA will be releasing its own list of ‘Africa’s Most Powerful Women’, many of whom will be attending the summit. The list will be published in the March issue of the magazine, outlining those who have been leading ideas and industries while purposefully contributing to nation-building and positively impacting the lives around them.

The FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Awards Gala Dinner, which is hosted the evening of the summit, is an opportunity to recognise the trailblazers and role models who have created a new narrative within their industries. By challenging authority and ‘old school’ traditions, they are enabling future generations to live in a better and more equal world.

Beatrice Cornacchia, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications, Mastercard Middle East and Africa, said: “African women are a vital source of innovation, prosperity, and economic growth. Yet inequality and exclusion still hold women back in many aspects of their everyday lives – from growing their businesses to having the financial tools to participate in the formal economy; from joining the C-Suite to following their passions. We are proud to partner with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA as we believe that it is only by bringing diverse perspectives to the table that we can unlock Africa’s possibilities to women.”

Managing Director of the ABN Group, Roberta Naicker, said the organisation was excited that the KwaZulu-Natal government would, once again, play host to this illustrious event, which serves to highlight the continent’s most influential female leaders while also shining a spotlight on this beautiful region. “A summit of this calibre showcases that KZN is being positioned as a world-class events’ destination. We are excited to have renowned speakers and attendees will get the opportunity to engage on hard-hitting issues during the summit, while also affording them the chance to enjoy the many recreational tourism sites and activities for which KZN is renowned.”

Tickets to the exclusive 2020 FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit and Gala Dinner are available at a cost of R3499, available through Webtickets (https://www.webtickets.co.za/v2/event.aspx?itemid=1496991848). Tickets are limited and interested parties are urged to book early to avoid disappointment. There are also select opportunities to get involved with the event sponsorship, exhibiting at the on-site marketplace or by sponsoring a mentee. Please visit website for further details.

The 2020 FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit is presented by Mastercard (@MastercardMEA) and hosted by KZN Provincial Government (@KZNgov). Keep updated on all the latest news and announcements on Twitter @LWSummit and join the conversation using the hashtags #LWS2020KZN #DOKZN.

Contact details:

Office: +27 (11) 384 0300

Sponsorship and exhibition opportunities: [email protected]

Media partnerships and press accreditation: [email protected]

Event-related queries: [email protected]

Website:www.Leadingwomensummit.co.za

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Female tech entrepreneur helps SMEs automate their human resources

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Chika Uwazie helps small and medium businesses find the right people and scale up with more sophisticated human resource systems in Nigeria’s booming economy.

Nigeria is projected to add no fewer than 200 million people to its current population of 196 million between 2018 and 2050. The country is also expected to surpass the United States (US), according to a 2019 Nigerian economic outlook report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). With such a swell in its population, the need to find the right talent has become a strategic imperative for organizations.

That is where Chika Uwazie comes in. The 31-year-old tech entrepreneur helps SMEs automate their human resources (HR) tasks to ensure they have the right processes in place to help them scale and be successful. Her own journey to success has been far from easy. The Georgetown University graduate, who spent 10 years as a competitive cheerleader in the US, made the decision to relocate to Nigeria after her little sister died due to complications from sickle cell anemia.

“When everything happened with my sister, I was at a crossroads. I had finished Georgetown and when you finish from a big school like that, you go into consulting with one of the big four. I said I don’t want to do that because that was not enough. I used to always get excited and light up when I spoke to my sister and we spoke about potentially starting something in tech and building a tech company,” says Uwazie.

Chika Uwazie. Photo provided

After her sister’s death, Uwazie decided to take the leap and build a company that was not only profitable but also made an impact. She started a tech company called TalentBase, a HR software company that provides an affordable and easy-to-use HRM platform solution enabling HR managers and growing businesses to simplify and organize their HR processes. Uwazie was determined not to let the vision she shared with her sister die. But first, she needed funding. 

“As you know, it is very hard for black people to raise money in the US, the bars are extremely high. I felt it would not necessarily be easier in Africa but I felt I would have more support if I came back to Nigeria to start a tech company and so that is why I came. And I felt like I wanted to have an impact. Tech is so oversaturated in the US and I felt like in Nigeria, there are so many things that need to be done.”

After almost a year of knocking on the doors of prospective investors, Uwazie got her big break through a colleague at Google who connected Uwazie with 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, which provided funding and support. The program required Uwazie to stay in San Francisco for six months, after which she was able to successfully raise more angel investment a year later to scale her business. This year, Uwazie stepped down from the CEO position at TalentBase to move on to her next venture, Career Queen.

“In Africa, and not just Nigeria, there is a human capital problem. Throughout the time I was running TalentBase, everyone kept complaining to me about how it was difficult to find good talent and this is why I started Career Queen, which is my second wind of entrepreneurship. It has been a crazy growth cycle and I didn’t realize how challenging recruitment is in Africa,” says Uwazie.

She spends most of her time recruiting C-suite executives and executive assistants for organizations in Africa, with a particular focus on women. And according to Uwazie, the numbers don’t lie.

“It has been proven, companies that hire women are 30% more profitable than those who do not have women in the team. The aim is to also get women a seat at the board table. A huge part of my vision now is starting this movement among women, making an impact in organizations and finding great talent for organizations.”

Only if there were more who thought like her.

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