Afua Osei co-founder of She Leads Africa, talks about being a businesswoman and lifting up other women in the process.
You were born in Washington DC and then decided to move to Lagos, Nigeria — what impact did this move have on your career?
One fact about me is that I’m Ghanaian, but I grew up in Washington DC! I first visited Nigeria in 2012 when I did a summer internship. Moving to Nigeria full-time later on was challenging because my entire family lived in a different country.
I was in a space where I didn’t have friends, and I had to build a whole new network, but it was incredible and impactful. It was amazing for me, as a young African woman, to move to another country and get to learn a new culture and different ways of life.
It was definitely character-building, but it also just showed the similarities that we share whether we live in Joburg, Lagos or Nairobi. There’s so much that connects us as Africans. This journey has been a total blessing even though it had its challenges.
Tell us about your journey into entrepreneurship.
I never thought I’d become an entrepreneur. I first studied political science and planned on being in politics, running for office and helping my community. I later studied business administration. But what I realise now is that the thread that kept me going from working as a political consultant to a management consultant to now being a full-time entrepreneur, is that I was always focused on solving problems.
When I was working in politics, I was trying to get people to understand what my candidate was about and how they could help improve lives. I then became a management consultant, helping big companies to do research and come up with strategies to deal with their business challenges. This helped prepare me to become an entrepreneur.
My passion for solving problems gave me the push to start my business.
How did She Leads Africa (SLA) come about?
SLA came from an idea to connect young women to resources that could help them succeed. I first had the idea in business school in 2012 after visiting Nigeria for the first time. I saw so many smart young women who were passionate but there was a disconnect between the things they learned at school and what it really takes to be successful in the workplace or business.
I saw this as an opportunity to help them with the information and resources they needed. I worked on the idea for two years before it took off in 2014, and I also met someone who agreed to be a co-founder.
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What skills does a young entrepreneur need to get into emerging markets?
Empathy: Being empathetic is really important. I found that the more time I spend listening and trying to understand where people are coming from – whether they’re my customers, team members or potential partners – the better I’m able to solve their problems and create a solution that works well for everyone.
Hustle: You have to be proactive about creating your own opportunities. A lot of people will say they’re waiting for a mentor or someone to do something for them, but I would recommend a different approach. Think about how you can go out there, be creative and hustle.
Consistency: Many people are ambitious and have great ideas, but it’s important that you’re consistent in delivering a product, an experience or a service to people so that they can trust you and come back for more. This is more likely to grow your business.
Where SLA is concerned, what have been some of your proudest achievements?
My proudest achievement for SLA happened in 2016 when we were hosting our very first event in London. The reason it was so powerful is because, at the time, nobody in our company lived or worked in London, so bringing together a community of women who didn’t know us personally but were inspired by our brand, was so amazing.
The women who were involved were not our friends, they were just people who heard about us from the internet. That was our first time going to a city where we had no connection or community, but it was a sold-out event. It was such an inspiring and an affirming experience for us.
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What has been the best career advice you have ever received?
One of my managers had asked me to work on something and I said that it wasn’t one of my responsibilities and he was not impressed. He told me it didn’t matter whose responsibility it was, we were all supposed to step in and do the work.
So, I feel that we can all look at that value of taking ownership and always keep in mind that we’re all part of a team and we want it to be successful. But it doesn’t mean that you should be overworked or taken advantage of. If there’s an opportunity for you to step in and help people, then you should definitely do that.
What’s your long-term vision for SLA?
To become the number one content platform for millennial African women. There are so many incredible stories to tell, so much knowledge to share, so many opportunities to provide to smart young women and we want to be the platform that can deliver that.
We want to create content that changes lives and is fun and interesting. We want to grow the number of cities that we are in, so you’re going to see us more in South Africa, Kenya and Rwanda. We want to reach millions of women.
What’s the non-negotiable characteristic that every entrepreneur should have?
Regardless of your level, how many degrees you have, or your job description, you have to be willing to do the work! It doesn’t matter how many years I’ve been running this business, I’ll still sweep the floors, clean the table and create an Instagram post if that’s what needs to get done.
Humility is important, so let’s not forget that we’re here to serve!
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