If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation)” – Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey.
As a big believer in female entrepreneurship and empowerment on the African continent, Yasmin Belo-Osagie (26) saw a gap to create a space for young women to become movers and shakers on the continent.
In 2014, on her return to Nigeria after completing her studies in the US, Belo-Osagie seized the opportunity to form her own start-up, together with Afua Osei. They called it She Leads Africa.
The business serves as a platform on which young women across Africa can create and share entrepreneurial ideas. 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.
“[This is] an opportunity to create a brand that’s an inspiration for women … Women need to realise that their horizons are unlimited and they can go far beyond their expectations through hard work, grit and perseverance,” she says as she describes some of the success stories that She Leads Africa is beginning to create.
Belo-Osagie and her partner hit 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.”
The enthusiasm for her organisation is palpable when Belo-Osagietalks about the potential of women leaders taking Africa to new heights through their businesses.
Another feature of She Leads Africa is an annual pitches competition. The first was held in September 2014. The organisation offered young women the opportunity to enter their start-up ideas and pitch them in front of other young women and a panel of judges. 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 which will be used towards growing her business. Second and third place winners received US$5000 and US$1000 respectively.
However, establishing She Leads Africa has not come without its fair set of challenges. Reflecting on her own experience as an African woman, Belo-Osagie talks about the difficulties women face in being taken seriously because in many cultures they “are seen as vulnerable but many of us are strong, smart, well-travelled, and cosmopolitan”.
In a world where business is dominated by men, cultural constraints prevent women from networking, Belo-Osagie highlights that women should create their own networks and forums where they can meet each other and develop each other. Another issue is getting financial backing for female headed business ventures. She explains that finance will always be a challenge for start-ups, “banks need to become more creative with their lending” especially when it comes to women.
By watering the seed of undiscovered young women with bright ideas, Belo-Osagie hopes that She Leads Africa will become a symbol of female strength for women who are not afraid to break through social, cultural and financial constraints.
Belo-Osagie attended Princeton University and completed degrees in history and finance. Her love for cooking led her to attend culinary school and become a sous chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong before coming back to Nigeria to enrich women through her organisation.
Initiatives like that of Belo-Osagie are recognised and celebrated on days like International Women’s Day.