Folks tend to say that women are their own greatest enemies, but I beg to disagree. Girls may compete with each other, but women, women empower each other.
Kofi Annan notably stated, “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”
And we are not waiting on the men to give us permission to empower ourselves either!
Actually, I am speaking for two, beautiful young West African women who are stepping up to ensure that for every Aliko Dangote, there are five Folorunsho Alakija’s!
Yasmin Belo-Osagie, 26, and Afua Osei, 28, are co-founders of She Leads Africa [SLA], a Nigeria-based social enterprise that equips female entrepreneurs in Africa with the knowledge, network, and financing needed to build and scale strong businesses.
Ghanaian Afua Osei is a Management Consultant who previously served as a Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia and is a graduate of the University of Chicago with Master’s degrees in Business Administration and Public Policy.
From the kitchen to the boardroom, Nigerian-Ghanaian Yasmin Belo-Osagie is a graduate of Princeton University with degrees in History and Finance, and a trained sous chef who worked in the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong.
She traded her apron for a suit while working in Mckinsey and Partners in Nigeria, where she met her would-be co-founder. Yasmin and Afua started working on the idea after realising the need for leading women in Nigeria and the rest of the continent.
“I remember growing up and thinking that there weren’t enough female role models who were achieving what I wanted to achieve.” ~[CNBC Africa]
According to Yasmin in an interview with Women Leads, “Investing in women reaps significant dividends for families and societies. Women tend to be investment multipliers: investing the majority of their income back into their families and communities. This results in better educated, healthier children who go on to be more productive, more prosperous citizens.”
Founded in 2014, She Leads Africa provides a platform to jumpstart female entrepreneurs from SMEs to pan-African industry leaders. It provides support for their ideas and access to professionals who can assist with advice and funding to turn start-ups into major business enterprises.
Less than a year after its establishment, Yasmin and Afua launched an entrepreneurship showcase competition which drew close to 400 applications from 27 countries and multiple industries, which is intended to be an annual pitches competition. The first was held in September 2014 and the winner of the competition, Cherae Robinson who created Rare Customs, the world’s only mobile app dedicated to booking and buying experiences in Africa by tourists, was awarded US$10 000. Second and third place winners received US$5000 and US$1000 respectively.
She Leads Africa has already recruited nearly 1,000 women-led start-ups into their network, going on 10, 000 in 2015.
For an organisation that is barely a year-old, SLA has notched some notable points. They hosted the first all female pan-African pitch contest, sponsored eight entrepreneurs attending an Investor Demo Day in Washington, D.C., established a partnership with Intel to conduct workshops for tech entrepreneurs, begun negotiations with Nigeria’s largest bank to create a low-interest lending program for female entrepreneurs, and started work on an online education platform that will feature African case studies taught by business experts.
Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, has earmarked $1m in low-cost loans for start-ups under the SLA umbrella, the founders were named amongst Forbes’ 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa with features in a number of reputable publications including Forbes, Black Enterprise, Fox Small Business, Fast Company, and Ventures Africa.
Challenges however are plentiful. The difficulties women face in being taken seriously, the struggle to stand out in a world where business is dominated by men, cultural constraints which prevent women from networking and the struggle to get financial backing.
Solutions: Networks, forums, and support structures created and run by women. See why I said women empower each other?
In her interview with Women LEAD, Yasmin Belo-Osagie gives very pertinent advice for women entrepreneurs: “Turn every moment into an opportunity and get out there and hustle. No one will fight for your success if you don’t. You’re creating something that doesn’t exist; that often times the world often doesn’t think is needed. You need to fight for relevance every day.”