“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”
― Coco Chanel, The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman
” Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness.” – Napoleon Hill
They say whatever you give a woman, she makes great. The African business world is experiencing phenomenal changes, changes being championed by women. From the richest black woman in the world being African, to the women in business movements across Africa; one fact remains, women are pushing the boundaries, and they are upping the game and bringing more to the table than their looks.
Today’s Inspiration Africa interview talks to Yasmin Belo-Osagie; Yasmin is a young, vibrant and Forbes celebrated achiever whose determination to ensure more women are recognised and given their rightful place in the business world saw the birth of the She Leads Africa organisation.
Here’s what she had to share:
Can you tell us a little bit about Yasmin Belo-Osagie and the She Leads Africa program as a platform you represent?
My name is Yasmin Belo-Osagie. I’m half Nigerian, half Ghanaian. I grew up in Nigeria until I was ten and then went to boarding school in England for 8 years. After this I went to Princeton University where I majored in history and minored in finance. Following this, I took a year off and spent 6 months at culinary school (Cordon Bleu in London and Paris). During this time I spent 2 months in Hong Kong working in the pastry kitchen at the Mandarin Oriental. After which I moved back to Nigeria where I started working with McKinsey and Co, a management consulting firm.
Entrepreneurship is going to be the broad based driver of economic growth in Africa. And whilst development organisations and institutions have been focused on empowering low income African female entrepreneurs, very little attention has been paid to the dearth of female business leaders across the continent. She Leads Africa aims to empower the women who have the ambition to be the business leaders of tomorrow, creating organisations that will hire millions of young Africans and promote development across the continent
Before She Leads Africa was birth, you worked as a Management Consultant for Major Multinational corporations and also a sous-chef in Asia, looking back; at what point did you decided to support Women Entrepreneurs? What moment or events Inspired She Leads Africa?
8 months ago I’d just broken up with my boyfriend. I was a little depressed and had a lot more free time. On the flip side I’d been in Nigeria for a little under a year and a half and was actively looking for some type of community/ service oriented activity to take part in.
I happened to run into Afua at the WIE conference. We’d known each other for a year whilst at McKinsey but really weren’t that good friends. She mentioned that she’d been thinking about doing a pitch competition for female entrepreneurs but really hadn’t had the time to put it together. I thought it was a great idea and said I’d like to get involved.
I didn’t hear back from her for a couple of days so I started calling and texting her to push to get started. At the time we really just thought SLA was going to be about an annual pitch competition and nothing else. However after the reaction that we got from people and the success of the event we realized that we had something much bigger on our hands.
A lot of people criticize rich kids when it comes to business, they claim everything gets done and is easier, do you ever feel like people don’t give you the chance to show your expertise and prove that you are well capable beyond the trust fund kid stereotype? How did you get the right people to listen to you and buy into the idea of She Leads Africa, especially most of the accomplished business pioneers on the panel of Judges at the recently concluded She Leads Africa funding program?
Not really. It’s important to make sure that you don’t give people a reason to question why you’re at the table. That’s why it was important for me to go to a good school and gain experience at a world class firm. When I ask people to trust in my expertise I’m doing so as a graduate of Princeton University, the top university in the world, and a former employee of McKinsey & co, the world’s leading management consulting company and not as the daughter of Hakeem Belo-Osagie. Frankly I don’t spend a lot of time talking about who my dad may or may not be because I don’t see how it’s relevant to my competency as a professional.
We tried to develop 2 persuasive arguments for SLA: one is economic and one is developmental. 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
More generally, female consumers are a woefully underserved market in Africa with very few businesses catering to their needs. I find that entrepreneurs tend to create products for people they understand. More female entrepreneurs will mean more goods and services for female consumers which means more consumption and ultimately higher rates of economic growth
What are some of the vital business lessons you have learnt from your father, Hakeem Belo-Osagie that you intend to pass on to your children?
Work hard. Build a strong team. Do something that matters. Stay humble.
You were recognized by Forbes Africa as one of 20 young and influential women in Africa, how does it feel to be recognised at such a young age and does this put you under any pressure to keep up with the world’s expectation of you?
It was definitely exciting to be acknowledged but I think it’s important to spend less time thinking about what accolades you’ve received and more time thinking about the actual work that you’ve delivered. We’re still a very young company and I want to make sure we don’t get distracted by the “effizy” and make sure that we deliver real impact
I worry less about the world’s expectation of me and more about the my expectations of myself. That said I really don’t think that the world is looking at me. I’m not that famous.
With your experience from the first edition of the She Leads Africa funding competition, what are some of those things you noticed that were peculiar to the winning businesses and what do you think more women should know about doing business from your own perspective?
The strongest entrepreneurs are those who really understood their business and their markets and had a clear sense of where they wanted to go. They understood their numbers and knew what investors were looking for.
I find that a lot of entrepreneurs focus too much on their “cool” business idea and spend very little time thinking about the economics of their business. This is not going to get you money from investors
I think as follows – an investor needs to send their kids to school. They need to buy presents for their husband/wife. They want to go on holiday and generally enjoy life. Most of them don’t care about how cool your business idea is. What they care about is your ability to make their money grow. So you need to show them that you’re the person who will make them millions. The only way you’ll be able to do that is to show that you understand the economics of your business and understand how to confront the many challenges that will face every growing business.
What are your thoughts on the “winner” business of the She Leads Africa program, rare customs?
Cherae had a great business idea that’s going to promote tourism to the continent. What I respect the most about her is that she knows how to hustle. We get loads emails from Cherae asking for help/ advice in a number of areas. She knows how to get out there, hustle and effectively leverage her networks.
She Leads Africa has a Co-founder, Afua Osei; how has it been having her as a partner and why did you decide to start the program based on a partnership?
Afua’s a great co-founder. She’s smart; works hard and most importantly I trust her instincts. I would actually never start a business by myself. It’s way too much “wahala” and stress for one person.
If you had to describe your experience with Co-founding the She Leads Africa program in 8 words, what would they be.
It was a struggle; it’s still a struggle
You are an Ivy League graduate, what are your thoughts on education, should more people go into entrepreneurship trainings rather spending 4 years at the university, especially when they are sure they want to go into business?
I think everyone is different. I studied history at University and absolutely loved it. I would not have wanted to do entrepreneurship training because I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur so the rest of my life would, in essence be entrepreneurship training. I think it’s important to have a broad education with a wide range of interests and hobbies. Often times this diversity means that you see things in a unique and interesting way. Steve Jobs took calligraphy classes at school. In his words “None of this had any hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would never have multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.”
Who are some of your mentors in the business world and why?
Yaw Agyenim Boateng – A Ghanaian colleague from Mckinsey is probably one of my most formative mentors. Very early on in my career he believed in me and was always ready to carve out time for me and my problems.
Lastly, what are those things you’d like to be remembered for in 20-30years from now?
As a helpful and humble person who built a strong institution.
If you missed the previous parts of the 15 Questions with the CEO series, please click here