The professional job field is male dominated; nothing new there, just stating the obvious. It's still very common to walk into a company board room and find it filled with a majority of men. Across Africa, until today, women only hold 12.7% of board directorship positions and 30% of companies have zero women on their board.
Changing these figures can only come about when like-minded women come together with a goal to change the narrative.
In 2014, two women decided to tackle these figures and hence the start-up of ' She Leads Africa,' a women's social enterprise that’s building a community of tens of thousands of women across Africa to actively support young women in their journey towards professional & leadership success.
Black Ballad had the opportunity of speaking to one of the co-founders, Afua Osei, to understand She Leads Africa's mission.
The platform founded by Yasmin Belo-Osagie and Afua Osei seem to be on the brink of something special and that may be in part to the founder's unwavering belief in black women and their ability to reach levels of excellence, even if society tries to tell us something different.
BB: Why do you believe in black women? Especially when no one else does?
AO: I think that people that don't believe in black women should be asked why they don't and what's wrong with them? At SLA (She Leads Africa) we believe that young black women can achieve incredible things for themselves, their communities and their countries. It’s our core fundamental belief. You can't sit with us if that isn't one of your core values as well.
The two co-founders started up the platform when they won $10,000 from a competition in Lagos, with a cheque that was presented to them by Aiko Dangot; also known as Africa’s wealthiest man. This investment has established a global community of more than 30,000 members across African and the West, all within the space of two years.
BB: Why do you think She Leads Africa is such a necessary platform?
AO: SLA started because we never saw young women like ourselves presented as credible business leaders. At pitch events with investors, we'd rarely see young women on stage and in the media, all of the top entrepreneurial leaders touted are men. However, we knew there had to be other young women like ourselves who were building incredible businesses that had the potential to go global. We decided to test out our theory with a pitch competition for women-led businesses and after 6 weeks, with more than 400 applications, we knew we had found something.
BB: How were you and your partner (Yasmin Belo-Osagie) able to create such an effective space?
AO: I think SLA is effective because we're authentic, consistent and we listen. We're building a community and company for people like ourselves so we understand the challenges young African women face and we're really committed to helping them solve those challenges.
Secondly, delivering a high-quality experience to our community is really important for us. Whenever you walk into an SLA event, you know that we've tried to deliver a high-quality experience with top notch speakers and professional services.
Finally, we listen to our community. We take feedback very seriously and integrate it into our daily work. I personally read every single Facebook and Twitter message we receive from our community to make sure we know what's going on with them and how we can best serve them.
BB: What obstacles you’ve faced and how you’ve been able to overcome them?
AO: One of the major challenges we face is convincing potential partners and advertisers of our value as a company and the value of the community we represent. Often times when people think about programs focused on young African women, it's from a charity or NGO perspective; That isn't how we are approaching it, so we spend a lot of time educating people on the power and potential of the community we're tapping into.
Secondly, building a startup is hard in Africa and some of the legal and financial hurdles don't make it easy for entrepreneurs at all. It took us nearly nine months to register our business and four months to open up a bank account. The bureaucracy in the system really makes it challenging for young entrepreneurs to get started with their business.
One popular aspect to the She Leads Africa initiative, is their SheHive boot camps, which create an atmosphere of focus, where a group of like-minded individuals can train under intense conditions in order to learn the skills needed to achieve future goals.
BB: What makes the ‘SheHive’ boot camps different to other business retreats and seminars?
AO: SheHive is all about learning practical skills and making relevant connections. It's actually a bootcamp because we expect attendees to put into practice immediately what they learn in the sessions. In fact we actually send people out into the streets to test out their pitches and people have actually secured clients from that exercise!
Additionally, we focus on bringing together smart ambitious women of African descent. Often times when these young women get together for cultural events the focus is on food, music, and fashion. However, we're providing attendees the opportunity to talk about their business, careers and professional dreams with other young women who understand the pull between traditional and trying something new and having global ambitions.
The SheHive boot camps hosted by 'She Leads Africa' are specifically tailored for engaging and encouraging African women to achieve excellence in their businesses and careers. Having already being held in Accra, Lagos, Abuja and New York, the professional boot camp has gathered 450 attendees. Its next stop is London.