She Leads Africa boosts women in the business ecosystem

She Leads Africa was set up to show that many African women were leading in business and in their communities. The initiative runs various programmes to build the profile of women in business across the continent.

She Leads Africa Afua Osei
Yasmin Belo-Osagie and Afua Osei are the founders of the She Leads Africa network, set up to change negative perceptions of African women. (Image supplied)

Melissa Javan
Two women who wanted to see fellow African women leading in business are now reaping the fruit of the initiative they started. Yasmin Belo-Osagie and Afua Osei are the founders of She Leads Africa (SLA), a community of about 300,000 women.

She Leads Africa is a digital media company with a purpose, they say. “It’s very important to us that we focus on not only reach but also on impact.

“Our recent Slay Festival in Lagos had more than 1,400 people come out for a day of innovation, culture and technology. It had 81 million social media impressions,” the women say.

They partnered with BBC Africa to host a Twitter chat for #SheHiveLondon and the broadcaster live streamed SLA’s SheHiveLondon event.

“We have also provided more than $50,000 (R661,458) in grant money to women entrepreneurs and provided training to 1,000 young entrepreneurs on business strategy, digital marketing and finance.”

Belo-Osagie and Osei started SLA in 2014, when both had full time jobs. It now has a staff of nine people, two of whom are in South Africa.

Watch Anjola Ogunsanwo explain the lessons she learned at the Slay Festival:

Their mission

SLA is a community that helps young African women achieve their professional dreams, reads its website. “With engaging online content and pan-African events, (the) vision is to become the #1 destination for smart and ambitious young women.”

An SLA event, #SheHiveJoburg, was held in Maboneng, Johannesburg, from 9-12 February. It comprised a series of workshops. Successful entrepreneurs gave insight into their journeys and provided training and mentorship to young professional women.

Besides sharing inspiring stories of African women, SLA shares guides on its site, such as 7 Cs for great communication; SLA’s career strategy guide; Holding on to your business, your day job and your sanity; and Starting a business: the very first step.

Watch Osei talk about how we should portray African women as individuals:

Women breaking stereotypes

Lebohang Monyatsi from Vryburg in the North West, is one of the South African women who features on the SLA website. She is the first South African woman in a wheelchair to be a runway model, and has also represented South Africa in wheelchair basketball.

She Leads Africa Lebohang Monyatsi
Lebohang Monyatsi challenges people who believe that differently-abled people such as herself are only good for office work and sport. “I intend on making people see that we are capable of doing other things.” (Image: She Leads Africa)

“The main goal is to break the stereotypes associated with people with disabilities in the fashion and entertainment industry, and to pave the way for those to follow and succeed me,” she said.

One of Monyatsi’s achievements is modelling for the Maboneng Fashion Week. “My goals as a model are to do international modelling, to inspire and be a role model, especially to those who think it’s not possible,” she told SLA.

Other South African SLA women

She Leads Africa Maphano Mohapi
Maphano Mohapi encourages youth to let their voices be heard and to break stereotypes. (Image: She Leads Africa)

Several other South African women feature on the SLA website.

Ronelle Steenekamp’s start-up RSA Consulting designs learning programmes for employees, advises organisations about learning and development projects and helps companies carry out more effective learning interventions.

Her motto is “Pray then slay”. “Before pursuing interests, goals and objectives, I pray. Thereafter I boldly pursue with positive energy and confidence; that’s the slaying part,” Steenekamp says.

Vuyi Zondi is a management consultant by profession with experience in strategy consulting to optimise business performance. She is also the founder of Corium Naturals, which sells products such as shea butter and African black soap.

Running a business is not smooth going at all times, says Zondi. “But what I learn from one, I can transfer to the other.”

Her advice is to do your research and read up from credible sources. “Reach out to the suppliers of raw materials, because they have a wealth of knowledge and guidance. Become a sponge, always soaking in new knowledge.”

Lauren Jacobs is in the church with her husband, and is committed to speaking out about issues such as domestic violence. She is also the author of three books. One of Jacobs’ achievements was teaching women in Ghana during a church outreach trip.

Her advice to aspiring authors is to forget about writing perfectly. “Forget perfection; embrace what you have to give. Write and write, challenge yourself. Do not copy another writer – we don’t need another Stephen King or Chimamanda Adichie. They are great but we need you.”

Social work graduate Maphano Mohapi is a nail technician and makeup artist with a spa business of her own.
In 2004, she was in an accident that left her unable to walk. This personal challenge gave Mohapi a new lease on life.

She told SLA that after graduating from university, it was difficult to find a job because of her disability. This led to her starting her own business.

Her advice is that people should not give up on their dreams. “Remember you have only one life to live. Getting a second chance in my life moulded me into a strong, beautiful black woman I am today,” Mohapi says.

How She Leads Africa started

In 2014, when they started SLA, Belo-Osagie and Osei said they wanted to see if they could find women interested in opportunities, and the response they got blew them away. “We launched our first pitch competition in May 2014 and within six weeks we had nearly 400 applications from more than 25 countries,” they say.

“We knew that there was a desire from young woman across the continent to see this movement grow and it’s been exciting building that over the past two years.”

Their aim is to work with African women across the continent and in the diaspora. “To date, we’ve hosted our SheHive bootcamps in cities across three continents and have members from more than 30 countries.”

Other highlights

She Leads Africa team
Members of the She Leads Africa team. (Image supplied)

In 2014 and 2015, SLA hosted pitch competitions in which entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to showcase their businesses before investors. Then, in 2016, SLA launched its Accelerator programme. The six-month long programme is designed to identify, support and fund the next generation of Nigeria’s brightest female entrepreneurs.

Participants receive access to business coaching, private sessions with investors and at the end pitch their business for cash and prizes.

In 2016, the SLA top entrepreneur was Angel Adelaja of Fresh Direct. The company produces premium organic fruits and vegetables hydroponically. Adelaja walked away with a 2-million naira (R83 000) investment.

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