African entrepreneurs reveal the toughest situations they’ve had to deal with

How we made it in Africa asked some of the continent’s most dynamic entrepreneurs to share the toughest situations they’ve found themselves in as business owners, and how they overcame these challenges.

1. Tumi Phake, founder and CEO, Zenzele Fitness Group

Zenzele Fitness Group is a South African gym management business which operates fully-equipped health clubs for, and in partnership with, various large companies and universities.

“The toughest situation was being able to source funding and meet my deadline with a client to be able to open on the specific date. I remember about a year ago, it was a very tough situation, because banks at the time had a very slow turnaround time because of my lack of track record and lack of proven concept. Sometimes it would take three to six months to source funding – just back and forth of wanting additional information. The client didn’t even know. From the client’s point of view, everything was perfect.

“How I mitigated it was I spoke to my suppliers who I was buying equipment from, and they trusted me – so they actually delivered the goods before I paid them because they trusted that I would be able to pay for the equipment. On the day the stuff was delivered, I think the money was just confirmed – I hadn’t physically paid my suppliers. But my suppliers went and installed the equipment. And normally people wouldn’t do that. I actually had no deposit, I had put zero deposit on the deal. But they still took the risk to install the stuff – this was R2m (US$138,000) worth of equipment. I think I paid them a week later.

“I think it is all about creating good relationships and people trusting you, because you will find yourself in situations like that where you can’t deliver things on time and people that trust you will back you up, they will support you because they know at the end of the day you’ll stick to your word. When you’re first starting up as a business, when people invest in the business, they also invest in the person.”

2. Raphael Afaedor, CEO, is an online retailer that allows users to shop from supermarkets and retail outlets across Lagos, Nigeria.

“It’s difficult to talk about a particular group of experiences being the toughest because every week comes with incredibly tough challenges. Many a times, I wake up thinking this week is when it all ends – the week when I will be unable to make payroll or some other important thing breaks. But I learned that companies die when the entrepreneurs give up, not when the entrepreneurs are executing. So I wake up and forge on and somehow things sort themselves out.”

Read the full interview:

3. Trevor Gosling, CEO, Lulalend

Lulalend is a Cape Town-based online lending platform for small businesses.

“When I left investment banking to pursue entrepreneurship I made sure I had a six-month runway in terms of personal cash flow to keep me going. Little did I know that it would be 18 months before I would see my first pay cheque from my startup. Those were some dark days but taught me to live lean, which I encourage every entrepreneur to do.

“Don’t be afraid to eat dirt and get uncomfortable for a couple years because the pain will all be worth it.”

Read the full interview:

4. Henri Nyakarundi, CEO, ARED

African Renewable Energy Distributor (ARED) is a hard-tech company based in Rwanda and Uganda. It developed a business-in-a-box solar kiosk that offers customers phone charging and airtime top-up services, wifi, an intranet with free digital content and a Bluetooth printer. ARED leases the kiosks out through a franchise model.

“The toughest thing for me was finding money to develop the technology. That was extremely hard. It took a long, long time – it took me almost two years to get that done. And because the technology was complex it was very expensive.

“The way we overcame that, and the strategy we implemented, was partnerships. Because to develop a technology you need grants mostly, you can’t get a loan to develop a technology because it’s a long-term investment – there’s no quick return. If you get a loan, they want their money immediately. If you get a equity investor, it’s a little bit more complex, because most investors now don’t want to invest in research and development. They want to invest in an existing company that already has revenue.

“So, the only things we had left were grants and competitions. So those are the two strategies we did. For competitions, we applied and we won, so far, 10 international competitions. The second strategy was finding grants. Unfortunately, in Africa there are no grants. And what I mean by no grants, there are no grants that are financed by African governments. One-hundred percent of all the grants that exist on the continent are funded by European or American governments or enterprises, or companies. So, unfortunately, those organisations don’t give directly to African entrepreneurs. So we had to partner with European organisations and NGOs, to channel some of that funding for our research and development. So those are the two key strategies we were able to implement to solve that problem.

Read the full interview:

5. Lexi Novitske, principal investment officer, Singularity Investments

Singularity invests in visionary entrepreneurs in technology-enabled, early-stage companies in sub-Saharan Africa.

“When I first moved to Nigeria I faced tremendous disapproval and biases from family and friends. My parents worried for my safety while my mentors were concerned that my promising career in the investment world would shift into charity work. While these anxieties were driven by genuine care and unawareness about Nigeria, the lack of support behind my decision to dedicate my career to growing African investments made the choice much harder.

“Likewise, driving the launch and growth of Singularity Investments as a young, female outsider has drawn its own judgment locally. I regularly encounter questions like: Are you committed to long-term development or just here to cash in? Will you ever understand the culture where your investee companies are doing business? Are you strong enough to fight for your investee companies against difficult regulatory environments and dominant industry players?

Read the full interview:

6. Bruce Dube, MD, Nine80 Digital

Nine80 Digital is a pan-African digital media publishing company. Its presence includes South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

“Being bankrupt and in debt was a tough phase of my entrepreneurial journey that impacted many personal and professional relationships negatively.

“I overcame the challenge by adopting a more frugal approach with the overall business model, [thereby] fostering a business that focused more on giving value to consumers at lower costs by stripping down all the excess that doesn’t speak to the core of the business and translate to revenue growth.”

Read the full interview:

7. Deepa Dosaja, CEO, Deepa Dosaja

Deepa Dosaja is a Kenya-based fashion house that has dressed global stars, including actress Lupita Nyong’o.

“There have been many…

“The one that comes to mind immediately occurred during the recent general election period in Kenya. Many businesses were severely impacted by this, including mine.

“We experienced a terrible downward spiral in sales from August to December 2017, with this came many challenges.

“I am proud we managed to retain all our staff – both sales and production – and maintained our headcount.
While the lack of domestic sales hugely affected our bottom line, [we] were supported by our foreign-based clientele.

“Obviously, the uncertainty during this period reiterated to me the importance of continually forging strong bonds with clients and the challenge of converting clients into long-term relationships once they have left Kenya.”

Read the full interview:

8. Jason Njoku, CEO, iROKO

iROKO is a multimedia company that provides paid-for, on-demand Nollywood content to audiences worldwide.

“In 2015, it was abundantly clear that we were ‘losing Africa’. By this I mean that most of Africa could not stream and therefore watch iROKOtv content because our customer base couldn’t afford or didn’t have access to reliable broadband required to watch our content.

“So, as a company, we had aggregated an incredible and peerless catalogue of Nollywood content – as well as producing our own original TV series and movies – but the majority of our potential audience simply couldn’t access it. No access means no subscriptions.

“While we started as a diaspora-focused platform, the goal was to grow our audience aggressively in Africa, starting with Nigeria. So I had to take the tough decision of switching off the streaming capability of iROKOtv and rebuilding the product from scratch into a mobile-focused app that allowed for downloads.

“This was time and resource intensive – we had to hire and train international tech teams, go back to the drawing board in terms of product design and UX, and we also caused some small confusion among our customers, which led to a drop in numbers, at first.

“It was painful all round, in terms of redirecting resources for the new app, time and energy spent on building and product-testing, and then the difficulties of educating our audience about the app. The pain was short-lived, however, as within a few months, we saw our Africa number soar and mid-last year, we saw Nigeria become our number one subscriber base.”

Read the full article:

Business Lessons From a Refugee Turned Youngest African-American IHOP Franchisee

If you have ever had a bad day or thought that your circumstances couldn’t be changed on your entrepreneurship journey, you’ve got nothing on Adenah Bayoh. As a young girl, war forced Bayoh from her home country of Liberia and into a refugee camp. She eventually immigrated to the U.S. and about a decade later, became the youngest-ever African-American franchisee of IHOP.

Be sure, though, we’re talking about more than just pancakes and blueberry syrup. Bayoh has diversified her business portfolio to include $200 million in urban redevelopment projects. Not to mention she’s also a mother. Pretty impressive.

Bayoh was kind enough to share some insights on her own background and how you can learn from her own secrets of entrepreneurial success.

Work ethic is the key to success.

Bayoh’s biggest entrepreneurial inspiration was her grandmother, who instilled in her the notion that nothing can replace hard work. “There is no substitute for hard work. You have to put the work in if you want to be successful. My grandmother would always say: ‘You have to wake up before everyone else gets up and do more than everyone else.’ I watched my grandmother navigate her way through almost any challenge because of her willingness to put in the work.”

That spirit encompasses Bayoh’s actions today and is something that you can harness, regardless of your circumstances.

Being a victim — or not — is a choice.

On escaping the civil war in Liberia, Bayoh explains, “Adversity puts you at a crossroads — you can allow it to victimize you or propel you. Escaping the war made me hungry for opportunity. I figured out that there was no problem for which I could not find a solution if I dedicated all of my efforts and smarts to it. So, I bring that tenacity, work ethic and commitment to everything I do.”

Remember, you can always be a victim of your circumstances or you can let those challenges build you up and be the fuel that propels you forward.

See possibilities, even in tough situations.

Due to the aforementioned war, Bayoh was in a refugee camp in Sierra Leone at age 8. It’s there where she first acted upon her entrepreneurial instincts. She explains, “My cousin and I would go back to Liberia to get local vegetables and then cross back into Sierra Leone and sell the vegetables to the people in our camp. I learned that there is always opportunity even in the worst possible circumstances.”

That vision to see something where others do not — and to act — stays with her today. “I see possibilities everywhere; I think being young … gives me more flexibility to take risks.”

Ignore the naysayers and gain confidence through preparation.

Being the youngest-ever franchisee of IHOP at age 27 is an accomplishment, but that doesn’t mean Bayoh didn’t encounter some naysayers. She says, “I think my ability to run a successful franchise was met with some doubt. However, my biggest issue was getting over my own insecurities. It is often not about what the world projects on to you but rather what you internalize. I worked my way through it, I did as much research and preparatory work as I could to build my confidence. I also relied on the expertise of those with more experience than me; I sought their counsel and help. The more I learned about the business the more comfortable and confident I became.”

When others, or you, have doubt, stack the odds in your favor and build up your own confidence through thoughtful preparation.

Get creative.

Bayoh’s first foray into real estate was done through some creative financing. “After college, I was working at a bank and decided to purchase a three-family home as an investment. I lived on the first floor and had tenants on the other floors. The rent from my tenants covered the mortgage payments leaving me with more cash flow.”

She used excess cash flow for her next investments. She also advises that, “if you get stuck, you must be willing to revisit your ideas and assumptions and be willing to change them. Flexibility is key.”

Give back.

After Bayoh immigrated to America, she grew up in low-income housing called Fairview Homes. She says, “There were many of us there that were working people who wanted better quality businesses in our community, but better restaurants and grocery stores did not think there was a market. So, I decided that I would bring better quality goods and services to urban markets and pay employees more money and provide them with benefits.

“Through this model,” she continues, “ I saw a way to benefit the community on two fronts:  giving them access to quality services and improving their economic conditions, which makes them better able to afford higher quality goods and services.”

You can always look for ways to have your success be in stride with making others successful at the same time.

Don’t over-task.

As an entrepreneur that also has a family, work-life balance remains a challenge. “I work hard to balance both and try not to over-task myself,” Bayoh says. “Being an entrepreneur is part of my identity just as being a mother is. I try to teach my children by example. I don’t try to do it all; I have a great support network on which I rely. My primary goals are to run successful businesses and to raise children who are well adjusted and socially-conscious.”

Bayoh has created her own success inspired by her life challenges instead of being held back by them. I hope that her wisdom can help you achieve your next goals and successes.

A salute to the Cameroonian tech entrepreneur: Tonje` Bakang

Tonje` Bakang is an exciting innovator who created an Afrostream that represents the black audience. His idea is to bridge the gap in lack of content concerning black films and shows wherein other streaming services fail to offer.

Afrostream is a video-streaming company, which is increasingly becoming the next Netflix for African and African-American audiences. Afrostream also offers a live stream Television, which includes a French language version of the African-American channel BET. This service, which provides and offers a mix of Afro-American, Caribbean, African and French content for a monthly fee, is also going to be available in most parts of the African countries. Afrostream’s content is currently in negotiation deals with Disney, Warner Bros, Lionsgate and other local broadcasters in order to expand their streaming services.

The response of the audience came as a remarkable achievement after having 2,000 people signed up to Afrostream before its launch, breaking boundaries and limitations from an African global perspective. Shortly after the launch, Afrostream earned an estimated US$100,000. Afrostream opened its doors to a content hungry target market and is now readily available in, Nigeria, France, Switzerland, Senegal, and other countries.

The Cameroonian and French entrepreneur has considered that there are numerous parts of the world where the cost of data and availability of Telecoms is an inevitable saga, which moved him to take an initiative in teaming up with a telecom operator Orange. which is one of the listed major investors in achieving and providing proper internet quality and Wi-Fi for a better stream of movies, series and other relevant content provided by Afrostream.

Afrostream curates its offering of entertainment through a broad-based production that people need to look out for, the production company is currently working on a Nigerian-set drama featuring; “ a young poor guy who ends up by accident with a rich Nigerian family” , in addition to that with a bigger budget, there will be a project set among Nigerian diaspora in the UK. The projects are an expansion of African content production.

Bakang’s goal is to expand the reach of French-speaking African regions, as well as that of English-speaking markets, but he insists that the onward objective goal, in five years’ time is to increase subscribers in Africa by putting all their focus and energy on Africa.

Tonje`Bakang wants to gear his enterprise towards developing and expanding Afrostream into a fully functional production studio. His goal is to provide African and African diaspora films to its subscribers across the globe.

Betty Irabor shares Inspiring story of how Mai Atafo left his 7-Figure Job to Follow His Heart at Genevieve Magazine

CEO of Genevieve Magazine Betty Irabor has shared how designer Mai Atafoleft his high-paying job for the role of fashion editor at Genevieve Magazine.

In an Instagram post titled: “This is how to be INTENTIONAL,” Irabor wrote about how when Atafo first approached her and she said she couldn’t afford him.

He however told her it wasn’t about the money, that he needed to follow his heart.

Irabor ended her post with: “Nothing moves until you move! How badly do you want IT? Then what are you waiting for. Go on, stir things up. You have wasted enough time already!”

See post below:

This is how to be INTENTIONAL.
Ohimai Atafo @maiatafo left a 7 figure paying job as Brand Manager of Guinness Stout to chase a fiery, burning passion in Fashion In 2010. When he called me that year to say he wanted to freelance as Genevieve fashion editor, I told him we couldn’t afford to pay him. He said it wasn’t about the money. “I realised that if I didn’t make a move to follow my heart and make a living out of my passion I probably wouldn’t have another chance. This was because if I got a promotion at work I most probably wouldn’t be able to push on with both careers and one would definitely suffer. I also figured that after over 8 years in marketing if the fashion dream failed I could always get a job in brand management with my experience”. He explained. So Mai came on board as the Fabulous Fashion Editor of Genevieve on a monthly allowance of N250k. Some of his fashion ideas were too crazy for us but hey we probably needed some crazy in our fashion editorials. We hit some and missed some. And that was ok too. At Genevieve, he was just another regular member of the GTEAM and not the boss guy from the corporate world although he was cruising into the office in a Merc Jeep! He ate “mama put”with his team and ran errands when called to do so. By the time Mai left two years later, he was well on his way to becoming who he set out to be in 2010. He knew what his end game was and he didn’t leave anything to chance, he worked towards it and knows that even now he is still work in progress. So how intentional are you in the attainment of your goals?? Still standing by the poolside and testing the waters with your big toe or still Praying without actions or Waiting for the mountain to come to you and Blaming everyone for your lack of drive? Won’t or can’t take a risk?? Ok, here’s the thing; Nothing moves until you move! How badly do you want IT? Then what are you waiting for. Go on, stir things have wasted enough time already!
#Bestrategicwithyourplans! #Go bold! #Shewhodareswins#dontjustsetgoalsscorethem

How A Former Wheel Barrow Hustler Made Over $1 Million From Just $200

Poor beginnings never defines the future of any man or woman. It only shows the reality of their starting point, highlights the type of efforts they’d need to put in, and shows them, through the story of others likewise, that a man or woman’s life accomplishments not only lies in his or her decision to try, but in their ability to position their minds for success, no matter what setbacks they face.

This is the success story of Fomba Trawally, a Liberian who lost his parents, traded in a wheel barrow, fled his country because of a war, came back years later, started a petty business with just $200, and ended up building a million dollar company in the process.



The Early Life And Education Of Fomba Trawally
Fomba Trawally was born in 1971 to poor parents in Liberia. Growing up, he attended the Voinjama Public School in 1975 and subsequently the Kakata Islamic Training School in 1981.

In a bid to successfully have a formal education, his mother, Kumba Beindu, toiled day and night to sell peppers and aubergines, so she could feed her children and try the little she could to pay for their education.

His Trials
His dreams of someday becoming a college graduate came crashing when his mother died sometime in the 1980s. Fomba Trawally, devastated and confused, had no choice but to drop out of school. Being the eldest son, he had to fend for the family by selling shower slippers in a wheelbarrow.

Another travail struck again, but this time it was a civil war, and he and his family had no choice but to flee Liberia for The Gambia as refugees in the year 1989.

The Start And Growth Of Kumba Beindu And Sons

Biography And Success Story Of Fomba Trawally

Image Source:

After living and hustling in The Gambia for two years, Fomba Trawally returned to Liberia in the year 1991. He arrived his home country with $200 he had partly saved, and borrowed during his time in Liberia.

Upon his return, Fomba Trawally realised there was an urgent need for rubber flip-flops in the capital city, Monrovia, because a lot of people largely walked barefooted since the war had passed. Immediately, he capitalised on this business opportunity and started selling affordable flip-flops to the populace.

He used the $200 he had gotten to start a business called Kumba Beindu and Sons, which he named after his late mother who did everything she could to see her children have a better life before passing away.

In one year, his business grew exponentially from $200 to $3,000 dollars, which was a substantial sum at the time.

Fomba Trawally grew his revenues steadily, and by the year 2005, he had three retail stores in Liberia selling items like paper and cosmetics imported from various countries around the world like China, The United States, Turkey, and Ivory Coast.

His Business Today
Biography And Success Story Of Fomba Trawally

Image Source:

Today, Kumba Beindu and Sons has a factory called National Toiletries Incorporated, which is Liberia’s first paper and toiletry products manufacturing factory.

His factory supplies products to over 1,500 businesses within Liberia, exports to neighbouring countries like Guinea and Sierra Leone, and rakes in an excess of $600,000 yearly in revenues.

To Sum It All Up
In a country of about just 4 million people, Fomba Trawally’s success is remarkable. His accomplishments despite the poor upbringing he had and the travails he faced through his life, is a sign that anyone going through any form of disappointments or challenges in life can find success if they’re smart, hardworking, and prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.

These are the top 10 African Countries to invest in 2018

Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) has released its 2018 edition of Where to Invest in Africa. The report assesses the economic outlook and investment opportunities in Africa. In this seventh edition, there are significant changes in the top 10 African nations to invest in and some warnings for the future economic outlook across the continent.

According to Nema Ramkhelawan-Bhana, African analyst of RMB, “Africa’s importance to the global economy is reflected in a number of noteworthy publications that have been distributed by respected organisations in recent years and we understand that no two businesses are alike and that they regard macroeconomic, political, social and operating variables differently.”

Governments are gradually coming to the realisation that diversification is necessary to foster meaningful growth. But transformation cannot be achieved in isolation. Structural reforms and greater private sector participation are crucial to unlocking Africa’s potential. RMBs analysis of sectoral developments — specifically in the spheres of finance, infrastructure, resources and retail — strongly support this point of view.

Top East African investment destinations

Despite significant socio-political instability negatively impacting the country’s business environment and investment potential, Ethiopia has jumped up one spot into fourth as compared to fifth in the previous sixth and fifth publications. If stability came with economic progress, the now East African largest economy could have ranked higher.

As a result of Ethiopia’s economic gains, Kenya has lost its placing as the region’s largest economy and moved down to sixth on the investment ranking. However, Kenya is still one of the continent’s strongest economies but it comes with frailties that highlight many of the key issues facing African nations: corruption, ethnic divides, political instability and rising debts.

Also, Tanzania is now one of Africa’s most exciting investment destinations climbing up to number seven in this year’s ranking. Tanzania is hot on Kenya’s tail and it won’t surprise many to see it also overtake the region’s former leader.

Next, another one of East Africa’s hottest prospects re-enters the top 10. Rwanda claims the eighth spot in this year’s report as the country continues to demonstrate ongoing growth and diversification.

Top West African investment destinations

Ghana, previously on fourth, slipped to fifth whilst remaining the most attractive investment destination in West Africa. Despite a myriad of economic challenges, the country labours on as it slowly rebuilds confidence in its processes and policies under the watchful eye of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Côte d’Ivoire also slips down to tenth from eighth in 2016. After years of political paralysis, the world’s top cocoa producer has earned its place in the sun, supported by a booming economy, an emerging middle class, robust infrastructure development and an improved business environment.

Nigeria does not make it into the top ten for the first time since the report’s first edition in 2011.

Top North African investment destinations

Egypt for the first time unseats South Africa as the leading investment destination in Africa as it has tried to succeed in consolidating part of the economic gains accumulated in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. However, the country’s operating environment could have been an inhibiting factor as Egypt’s rise has to do more with South Africa’s decline.

Morocco is hot on the heels of its North African peer, holding steady at number three for a second consecutive year, buoyed by solid economic growth, favourable geographic positioning, sturdy infrastructure, strong regulatory policies and a stable political setting.

Tunisia displaces Algeria from the rankings, making it as the ninth most attractive investment destinations in Africa.

Finally, South Africa falls to number two on the list, losing its coveted spot as a result of faltering growth outlook and uncertain business environment. Despite the streams of negative news, the country remains a bastion of institutional integrity and continues to boast as one of the best-operating environments in Africa.

Below are the top 10 African countries to invest in 2018:

  1. Egypt
  2. South Africa
  3. Morocco
  4. Ethiopia
  5. Ghana
  6. Kenya
  7. Tanzania
  8. Rwanda
  9. Tunisia
  10. Cote d’Ivoire


Here’s what’s happening to African jobs – in 5 charts

Africa’s young people are much more likely to have passed through the continent’s formal education systems than their predecessors. With that comes a challenge for leaders of business and government to provide them with the opportunities to apply their skills. More than that, to ensure their skills can help them thrive in the changing world of work. A new report by the World Economic Forum has uncovered 5 key facts about the future of jobs and skills in the region

1. Africa’s young people are better educated

At current rates, 15 to 20 million increasingly well-educated young people are expected to join the continent’s workforce every year until 2030. This poses a challenge to governments and businesses: how can they make the most of the talent of this up-and-coming generation, at the same time as ensuring that more young people receive secondary and tertiary education than currently predicted?

2) Africa could make more of its human capital

Africa’s demographic dividend creates a huge opportunity. Yet African countries continue to lag behind their neighbours in making the best use of their people’s talent. The World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index, which measures the extent to which countries optimize the well-being and productivity of their workforces, finds that Africa, on average, only captures 55% of its full human capital potential, compared with a global average of 65%.

Image: World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index

3) Africa’s education systems need to catch up with the needs of today – and tomorrow

Today, there aren’t many African employers who rate the ability of their countries’ education systems to prepare future workers for the needs of the global economy. To develop this pipeline of future skills, Africa’s educators should begin by encouraging critical thinking, creativity, cognitive flexibility and emotional intelligence, as opposed to rote learning, to anticipate the way people will increasingly work and collaborate.

Image: World Economic Forum Executive Opinion Survey

4) More Africans are university-educated. Demand for STEM and ICT skills continues

Within the – still small – pool of tertiary-educated Africans making up the continent’s white-collar workforce exists a wide range of STEM and ICT specializations: 16% of the continent’s tertiary-educated workforce have studied Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction; 11% ICT and 11% Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Statistics. Fast-growing professions on the continent include the creative industries, food technologists, 3D designers and data-centre workers, as well as people working in care, health and education. In fact, strong demand for STEM and ICT skills exists across a wide range of Africa’s industries.

5) Africa should match today’s skills to tomorrow’s jobs

While a number of African countries, at least for now, are still less exposed to the job disruptions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (which we measure through the spread of latest technologies and diversification of local labour markets), they must not waste this window of opportunity for engaging in reforms. Indeed, these countries’ current capacity to meet the requirements of future jobs leave little space for complacency.

In other countries, exposure is higher, including South Africa and Kenya, and there is no time to waste when it comes to reskilling and upskilling. The World Economic Forum’s Africa Skills Initiative, a part of the broader efforts of the Forum’s System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Education, Gender and Work, serves as a platform for such action.

Africa’s capacity to adapt, and exposure to jobs


[Girls & Woman] These powerful African scientists are changing the world

As the UN states, both science and gender equality are crucial for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Yet, despite efforts to ensure gender parity in science, discouragingly, the proportion of women in science, technology, engineering and maths — STEM — is quite low and reports of gender discrimination in these sectors are still rife. As rightly stated by UNESCO, there is a gender gap in science and according to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women.

The international community pledged $2.3 billion to fund the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) just last week in Dakar, Senegal. This will go towards getting more of 130 million girls currently out of school into classrooms — and perhaps even go to ensuring that many more girls have the opportunity to study STEM subjects. But our work is not yet done as we need to keep ensuring that all children, especially girls, have access to quality education.

One opportunity to further this agenda is at this year’s G7 in Canada, which will focus heavily on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The G7 should ensure that gender gaps in STEM education and employment are narrowed. Just think: If we got more women in science, this could transform into greater gender equality in incomes and better economic prospects for them and their families.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could have more female Elon Musks, more female Mark Zuckerbergs, or more female Stephen Hawkins?

So why not inspire our future budding female astronauts, physicians, mathematicians or researchers by showing them that some powerful women are already paving the way? Let’s take the time to learn about and appreciate these ten African women who are breaking glass ceilings and carving a better future for girls and women in science:

1. Wangari Muta Maathai

Dr. Maathai, the first female professor in her home country of Kenya, was also the first African female recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1977, Dr. Maathia started and led the Green Belt Movement, which aims to counter deforestation. The campaign encouraged women to think ecologically and to plant trees in their local environments, leading to the spread of the movement to other African countries. Dr. Maathai passed away in 2011, but thanks to her efforts, more than thirty million trees have been planted.

2. Quarraisha Abdool Karim

Professor Karim is a South African epidemiologist who specializes in infectious diseases; is the vice president for the African Academy of Science, Southern Africa; and the foreign associate member of the Institute of Medicine (IoM) of the National Academies. Most notably, Prof. Karim was awarded the top U.S. breakthrough prize (Twas-Lenovo Prize) for developing world scientists and was also awarded South Africa’s highest honour, the Order of Mapungubwe, for her work in fighting the HIV epidemic in South Africa. Her scientific discoveries have contributed not only to better treatment but also to make women more self-reliant in risk prevention.

3. Francisca Nneka Okeke

Professor Okeke is a Nigerian Professor of Physics at the University of Nigeria and the first female to head the university’s faculty of physical sciences. Prof. Okeke is the recipient of the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Award for her significant contributions to the understanding of climate change. She’s advocated for the further inclusion of women in the university’s department, which led to the employment of three new female faculty members. Prof. Okeke continues to encourage girls and women to participate in the development of science and technology.

4. Ozak Esu


Dr. Esu was named one of the Top 50 Women Under 35 in Engineering in the UK by The Telegraph and was shortlisted in the top six finalists of the IET Young Woman of the Year Award last year. Showing that women can and do contribute to their societies, Dr. Esu became an engineer in order to fix Nigeria’s energy problem. Her passion for sustainable engineering development will see her cement her place as one of the truly inspirational female engineers shaping our world today.

5. Margaret Mungherera

Dr. Mungherera was a Ugandan psychiatrist and served as president of the Uganda Medical Association. Quite significantly, she became the first female president of the World Medical Association — elected as such by 50 national medical associations worldwide. She had ambitions of entering the medical field from childhood and has spoken of the challenges faced in the field and the need to believe in yourself to achieve your dreams.

6. Alta Schutte


Prof. Schutte is a South African hypertension and heart disease specialist whose main motivation is to alleviate the burden of HIV infection and non-communicable diseases of black communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. She obtained a PhD in Cardiovascular Physiology at age of 24 and continues to work as part of the Hypertension in Africa Research Team (HART), to discover ways to prevent Africans from developing hypertension.

7. Sherien Elagroudy

Dr. Elagroudy is an Egyptian professor of environmental engineering. She became interested in helping her country’s economy and environment during university, where she became involved with a group that was looking to start a campus-recycling program. They successfully implemented a program that allowed tonnes of recyclable materials from landfills to be reused. Dr. Elagroudy’s commitment to the environment has been recognized: She was awarded the Best Young Scientist award from an Egyptian university, received the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science, and was honoured as a young scientist at the World Economic Forum in China.

8. Dr. Julie Makani


Dr. Makani is a Tanzanian researcher and one of the most prominent hematologists in Africa. Her work on anaemia and sickle cell disease has led to new understanding of the illnesses — and led to her being awarded the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellowship for promoting excellence in biomedical science in Africa and the Royal Society Pfizer Award.

9. Jamila Abass


Ms. Abass is a software developer and the CEO and founder of M-Farm, a Kenyan mobile software company that aims to provide smallholder farmers with vital market information and reach consumers via SMS. Thanks to Ms. Abbass’ technology, her fellow countrymen and women can be lifted out of poverty and gain plenty of opportunities in commercial farming.

10. ‘The Restorers’ (Stacy Owino, Cynthia Otieno, Purity Achieng, Mascrine Atieno, and Ivy Akinyi)

From left: Stacy Owino, Purity Achieng, Ivy Akinyi, Synthia Otieno and Macrine Atieno outside a classroom. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Technovation

Last but by no means least, these five bright tech-savvy young teens prove that age is nothing but a number. They invented an app, I-Cut, to end FGM in Kenya and call themselves “the Restorers,” as their mission is to restore hope to hopeless girls.  The most amazing part of their story? They were flown to Google’s HQ to showcase their invention, which will no doubt help many girls and women end this discriminatory practice and see girls go to school. They all want to pursue a career in STEM and we are definitely rooting for them!

So what are you waiting for? Pick up those science books and let’s change the world together!


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Talks Beauty, Femininity and Feminism

Perhaps the most unexpected fashion icon of the year has just added another glossy credit to her name. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian-born novelist and feminist known for novels like “Americanah” and “Purple Hibiscus”; recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, the O. Henry Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award (among others); and author of a viral TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists,” which has been viewed over three million times since its delivery in 2012 as well as sampled by Beyoncé, is now the face of No7, the makeup brand owned by the pharmacy chain Boots.

This follows her front-row appearance at Dior’s spring runway show, where she was both guest of honor and inspiration — printed across one of the T-shirts was the title of her TED talk — as well as her inclusion on Vanity Fair’s International Best-Dressed List.

Though her feminism may seem at odds with this embrace of the fashion world, Ms. Adichie has argued, most recently in a letter she posted to her Facebook page about raising a daughter, that diminishing things that are considered feminine, such as makeup and fashion, is part of a culture of sexism. As to why, consider the following. (The conversation has been edited and condensed.)

How have your feelings on makeup evolved?

In general, the cultures that I know — Nigeria, the U.S., the U.K, Western Europe — all largely judge women quite harshly for appearances. But in Nigeria, there’s a slight difference. There isn’t much of a judgment if you’re an accomplished woman and seem to care about your appearance.

But I do remember that when I moved to the U.S. — and I think maybe there are different standards for people who are supposed to be particularly intellectual or particularly creative — I very quickly realized that if you want to seem as a serious writer, you can’t possibly look like a person who looks in the mirror.

Why do you think things that are associated with femininity, like fashion and beauty, are not taken seriously?

It’s about a culture that diminishes women. The things we traditionally think of as masculine are not things our culture dismisses as frivolous. Sports, for example, we think of as masculine. It’s something that our culture takes quite seriously.

I think it’s part of a larger picture of a world that simply doesn’t give women the same status that it gives men. There are many examples, and some have more serious consequences. All over the world, there is violence against women, and many cultures have ways of justifying it or minimizing it. But I think you can actually draw a line from that to other feminine pursuits that culture diminishes.

Why did you finally decide to wear makeup, no matter what people thought?

It’s getting older. You realize there’s very little time for rubbish. You realize life is short, and it’s so much better to be who you are. When I was younger, I didn’t have the sense of self to do that.

But it’s interesting because even when I didn’t wear makeup in the U.S., I wore makeup in Nigeria because I wanted to look my age and not too young. In Nigeria, in particular, it was easy for men to dismiss what I said because they thought I looked like a small girl. I remember seeing a man at the airport after my first novel was published, and he looked at me, quite quizzical, and said, “You look like the writer.” And I said, “Well, I’m kind of her.” His face fell. And he said, “I didn’t think the writer would be such a small girl.” There was such disappointment on his face.

At some point, I wanted to be who I am. And who I am is a person who enjoys, from time to time, putting a bright color on my lips.

What are your thoughts on the #nomakeup movement, exemplified by both Alicia Keys and, more recently, Hillary Clinton?

Women have choices to make. When you’re not feeling good, you don’t have the energy to do your face the way you usually do. I really respect Alicia Keys’s choice not to wear makeup because she felt it was a mask. And she feels now that she’s more truly herself. I think, “Amen to that.” If makeup feels that way for you, then don’t do it. We have to allow women a multiplicity.

Why do you think we don’t?

I think people will judge appearance. Humans are visual beings. We notice because we have eyes. What I would love to see changed is the baggage we bring to those judgments. When we see a man who’s well dressed, we don’t assume that he must be shallow or he must not be a serious person.

Talking about men is helpful because we can then say, “If this woman who we are judging were male, and everything else stayed the same, would we judge her the same way?” I think that would be a fair way to think of it.

A lot of this is especially important to teenagers and women in their 20s. If you were speaking to this group directly, what would you say?

There’s no such thing as perfection. Originality is a beautiful thing. I think it’s much harder now than when I was younger because we didn’t really have the internet. I would say don’t watch too many of those beauty YouTube or makeup videos. They use way too much product. There’s a lot the industry can do. It’s important to have a much wider range of what’s considered beautiful.

Why did you decide to attend the Dior show at Paris Fashion Week this fall?

As a writer, I sort of think of myself as anthropologist. I thought I might be able to collect material. No, but I really went because I really admire the new Dior creative director. She’s such an intelligent, thoughtful, interesting, honest woman. She’s really just my kind of woman. It seemed strange to me that this great, storied fashion house caters to women, and a woman hadn’t been a creative director before.

Will you continue to be a presence in the fashion world?

If you were raised by Grace Adichie, my mother, you had better be interested in fashion. From the time I was a little girl, my mother would dress me up. She would put some of her jewelry on me. I’m a bit of a shoe fiend. I make no apologies for it. The first makeup I used was my mother’s lip gloss. I remember putting on a lot of it, so it was quite shiny. She didn’t mind at all. She said, “You look like you ate hot jollof rice and didn’t wipe it off.”

There’s a part of me that likes shoes, and likes dresses, and likes makeup, and likes books, and likes to write. I think that’s the case for many women. But our culture makes us think we have to choose slices of ourselves that we’re comfortable showing the world.

Do you consider fashion and makeup entry points to a wider audiences?

I decided to do this No7 thing because I thought it might be fun, and then they will give me free makeup. And I’m always up for free things. It wasn’t a carefully calculated thing. It was actually just my being blinded by the selfish overwhelming love of makeup. But I have to be honest, there were times when I thought, “Well, what have I done?” I wasn’t quite aware of how many pictures of me would be out there. It makes me feel a little vulnerable. I told my friends to stop sending me pictures of when they see me at the bus stop in London or something. It’d be very dishonest to say it’s all wonderful. It’s not so much a question of regret. But it does come with feelings of vulnerability that can be uncomfortable.


Feyi Olubodun on what international brands get wrong about the African consumer

“I argue very strongly that sophistication and westernisation don’t mean the same thing. You can be sophisticated and not be westernised.

“For the past couple of years the recession in Nigeria has been rough. Lots of agencies closed down and those that didn’t were in the negative for quite a while,” says Feyi Olubodun on the state of the industry in Nigeria.

On a recent visit to Cape Town, the CEO and managing director of the biggest and most creatively awarded ad agency in West Africa, Insight Publicis Nigeria, said that things are looking a bit more hopeful. “By the end of last year things started improving. We’ve seen a couple of agencies picking up and coming into the business.”

But there are other factors in Nigeria, like legislation that kicked in about three years ago against advertising alcohol before 10pm, that are pushing brands to go digital and to rely less on traditional advertising.

“That has changed the landscape in the kind of work that we’re doing for clients. Even though we still do some of the traditional work in terms of TV production, you have to wait until 10pm, there is nothing much you can do until then. It sort of changed everything significantly.”

Besides regulatory problems and changes in the industry, Olubodun has also recognised that there is a fundamental disconnect between how brands working on the continent understand and relate to their consumers.

And after four years of speaking on the issue, he’s released a book called The Villager: How Africans Consume Brands, to try and address some of the misunderstandings. Some include case studies like the one illustrated in the book where an American airline served a flight full of Nigerians jollof rice that had large pieces of okra in it.

“In Nigeria, to put okra in jollof rice is unheard of; it is the ultimate signal of poverty and lack in a family. Nigerians don’t eat okra with any form of rice. I was tempted to explain to the Americans that this gaffe was the equivalent of putting real dog meat in a hot dog. You have to understand that to the African mind there was no justifiable reason for this,” he says in the book.

This is just one of the many anecdotes peppering the book, which took him about a year to write. He says what he tried to do with the book was to articulate a framework which argued that the African consumer is a villager and the village is a psychological construct and not a physical place.

“That framework has eight components that make up the mind of the consumer. I say that if you understand that framework and you’re able to put it to use, you will be able to connect better with the African consumer.”

Some of the frameworks include religion, herd mentality, the role of community, the need to signal our value in life. He says that a lot of international brands tend to have the wrong assumptions about the African consumer, especially those in the middle-class.

“There is an assumption that because the middle-class in Africa is internationally exposed, they’ve travelled abroad and they’ve seen things, therefore they would be triggered by Western cues and that is incorrect.”

He continues: “as my friend GG Alcock says: ‘Africans are modernising not westernising’. Just because I have travelled to so many countries in the world doesn’t mean that I have become a white man.”

Olubodun started his career wanting to be a medical doctor. But after four years of medical school, he studied psychology and worked as a data analyst, market researcher before joining the agency’s strategy department and moving up the ranks to his current position. For him the future of the industry is in content.

“The future of digital and advertising in Africa is content because Africa is a storytelling continent,” he says.

But you can’t think of the future of anything digital without taking the youth, a big part of the continent’s population, into consideration. He agrees, adding: “The young African population are generally facing this tension of globalisation, which is making the world a smaller place. At the same time, there is the tension of identity.”

He says that young people are discovering that if they can do more or less the same things as their counterparts in France on social media, it is their cultural identity that gives them a sense of uniqueness and authenticity.

“Unfortunately in the past two or three decades, as Africans, we haven’t properly framed our culture for what it is. We’ve spent a lot of time looking to the West for our own definition. We’ve looked down on our own culture and felt that our own culture is inferior because we don’t have the same kind of rules and technology that the West has.”

He adds: “But I argue very strongly that sophistication and westernisation don’t mean the same thing. You can be sophisticated and not be westernised. We need to hold our cultural identity very, very dearly and draw our authenticity from that while, at the same time, evolving ourselves so we can play significantly on the global stage.”

You can order Feyi’s book on: