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Sandra Awino Odino – Talks About Being a Model & Entrepreneur in Kenya

From frequenting Kenya’s high-fashion runways, interior designing and owning her own hair extensions brand, professional model and entrepreneur, Sandra Awino Odino, tells us about her journey to becoming the power house that she is.

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Sandra Awino Odino

From frequenting Kenya’s high-fashion runways, interior designing and owning her own hair extensions brand, professional model and entrepreneur, Sandra Awino Odino, tells us about her journey to becoming the power house that she is.  

Sandra Awino Odino

Tell us about your journey in the modelling industry. When did you decide you want to be a model and how did you manage to break into the industry?

I started modelling when i was in high school and after high school i got scouted, trained and signed to a modelling agency. Afterwards, I went for A LOT of auditions and finally booked my first runway show which was an international show and the rest is history.

What do you enjoy most about being a model?

I enjoy dressing up, taking pictures, walking down different runways, traveling, meeting new people and bringing a designer’s idea to life.

What are the highlights of your career? What big events have you taken part in and which designers in Kenya have you worked with?

I got to work for African Fashion Fair , Swahili Fashion Week, The AngelsHair Show, Kenya Fashion Week, The Wedding Fair by Kempinski, Afro Hair Show, and The Blue Economy Fashion Show, where I got to meet the President of Kenya and other dignitaries from around the world. I have worked with some of the best designers such as Chela Seurei, Sally Karago, Lucy Rao, Peggy Onyango, Shenu Hooda, Sharon Wendo of Epica Jewellery, Neema Nkatha, Idah Aluoch, Aisha Rotich, and Loise Adhiambo, just to name a few.

What are the challenges faced in the modelling industry in Kenya and what do you think can/should be done to improve on those?

Some of the challenges I face in the modelling industry are that the pay is not so good, or sometimes we don’t get paid at all, scarcity of the jobs etc. I think the modelling agencies should protect models by getting them legitimate jobs which would extremely help the models to become financially independent. Agencies should also stand up for models and fight for their rights.

I also wish that international agencies would do more recruitment of Kenyan models, because the talent here is abundant. Most of us want to go international, but breaking through that glass ceiling is very tough. It would be really great if more international agencies came to scout in Kenya.

Sandra Awino Odino

You also work as an interior designer. Tell us more about that. When and how did you get into that industry? What kind of services/products do you provide?

Yes I work also as an interior designer and it has always been my passion to beautify spaces and transform houses into homes. I studied interior Design at El Interior Designers and afterwards I started practicing it. The services i provide are soft furnishings, consulting, wallpaper installation and upholstery.

Apart from being a model and interior designer, you also own your own brand of hair extensions. Can you tell us how that came to be and what inspired your decision to start selling your own hair extensions? Do you produce them or do you have a supplier? Who is your target market?

Yes my hair extension line is called Rubellite Extensions and I have had the idea for almost a year now. I decided to take a leap of faith and I did it. What inspired the idea of my hairline is that I wanted women to look great. Hence, if you are called for an impromptu event, you can simply lay your hair clip-on of my extension and you are good to go. I have a supplier who provides me with the extensions and my target market is ladies who are 18-60 years old.

Rubellite Hair Extensions
Rubellite Hair Extensions Campaign

In April this year you embarked on an extraordinary project which was photographically documenting how black women are normally not used by big companies in Kenya when advertising cosmetics. Can you tell us more about that project and did it achieve the desired results?

For some time I noticed that various companies in Kenya were using only white models on their billboards, and so I called some of my friends and we came up with a mood board. We then did a photoshoot which we wanted people of colour to relate to, and the outcome was OUTSTANDING. Unfortunately we did not get the results we were hoping for because soon after, the pandemic had hit the country hard and there was a total lockdown. So we have had such a hard time pitching our idea to the targeted companies. It was an exciting experience though, and I learnt so much from it.

You are an enterprising woman. What drives you and motivates you to be so entrepreneurial and how do you balance your business ventures and your personal life?

My drive and motivation comes from my mother; she is an amazing role model and she inspires and encourages me to not stop until I achieve all my dreams. My family is very supportive of what I do so it makes it easier for me to balance my business and personal life.

What are your parting words for the young African upcoming model and entrepreneur?

Put God first! If you can’t stop talking about it, don’t stop working for it. Believe in yourself and NEVER give up.

Follow Sandra on IG @lasandrah254 and @rubellite_extensions

Image Credits

👗: @afrovazidesignhouse; 📷 @afrikanfilmstudio, jkiragu; Jewellery 💍: @Frankartscreations; 💄: Mutisya H, Sharon Atieno, mdeizimakeup; Hair: @rickykish

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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Dr. Ismail Badjie (Pharm.D) On His Career Choices, & The Birth of InnovaRx Global Health In The Gambia

The future is technology and health simply will not exist in the now and the future without it.

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Dr. Ismail D. Badjie, Pharm.D

After working in the United States for a number of years and realising the difference that technology brought to the healthcare sector, Dr. Ismail Badjie was keen to take the knowledge he had acquired back to his home country. Having seen the dire necessity for innovative approaches to the delivery of healthcare in The Gambia, it soon became a dream of his to start a company which would serve as a bridge between modern healthcare solutions and affordable access locally, enabling wide-spread access to quality and affordable care to all Gambians and subsequently, to the surrounding West African Nations.

Read on to find out how the 35 year old Gambian national was able to make his dream a reality.

After graduating high school in The Gambia, you went on to do your undergraduate degree in Chemistry in the United States in Tennessee. Why did you choose to do chemistry, and what did you major in? Did you already know that you wanted to work in pharmaceuticals? What career options did you have in mind at the time?

Funny thing is, I left for Tennessee State University to study Civil Engineering, but changed my major two weeks into university. Science and Chemistry in particular always came easy to me in High School, and I had a healthy amount of curiosity in healthcare which led me in that direction. I felt Chemistry with a minor in biology was a great foundation degree for a profession in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy or science research.

“Similar to many professional schools in the medical field, the Doctor of Pharmacy program is a 4-year program I transitioned into immediately after the completion of my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry.”

I got exposed to the Doctor of Pharmacy program (PharmD) which immediately aligned with my desire to choose a career in a field with tremendous potential for impact, not only in the United States but also in Africa. The over-commercialization of pharmaceutical products in Africa has removed the emphasis on the clinical aspect of the field designed to be gatekeepers for the safe administration of medications to achieve positive health outcomes (which I was passionate about).

After graduating with your first degree, did you do a Master’s degree before going on to your Ph.D.?

Similar to many professional schools in the medical field, the Doctor of Pharmacy program is a 4-year program I transitioned into immediately after the completion of my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry.

You then went on to do a Doctorate Degree in Pharmacy in Indiana, before going on to practice as a pharmacist in the US. Can you tell us briefly (in layman’s terms) what your Ph.D. work focused on?

Attending a Top ten PharmD program in the U.S at Purdue University (Indiana) truly enriched my career development and prepared me for a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of individuals. The Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) is a four-year professional degree. The classroom, lab, and experiential requirements provide students with the educational background to enter any field of pharmacy practice such as community pharmacy, academia, industry & manufacturing, nuclear pharmacy, hospital pharmacy and more specialized clinical pharmacy .

My four-year training included nuclear pharmacy training and elective specialization in organizational leadership and supervision. We leave the program with comprehensive knowledge on the origins and makeup of medication including the research on safety and efficacy that goes into the manufacturing and approval process to a more high-level clinical application and distribution of medication to elicit positive health outcomes. The full spectrum of skills gained allows PharmDs to be integral parts to a variety of industries.

Image: Dr. Ismail Badjie

What is the difference between someone who does an undergraduate degree in pharmacy and goes straight to practice, and someone in your position? What professional advantages do you have over that person?

The U.S no longer offers any undergraduate degree in Pharmacy. All programs now are designed as a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree that requires a 6 to 4 year commitment. This is something that separates the profession’s integration into the health ecosystem compared to other parts of the world.

One of the major professional advantages in a PharmD program is the focus on clinical expertise across diverse fields which counters the more traditional narrative of only being labeled as “dispenser”, “chemist” or “druggist”. I spent my entire final year of the PharmD program on clinical rotations working in the field across various specialties such as Infection Disease, Ambulatory Care, Community Practice, Pharmacy Compounding, medication safety, and hospital inpatient clinical care just to name a few.

Can you tell us about the birth of Innovarx Global Health (IGH); what inspired you to start such a company, and what products and services does InnovaRx provide?

Innovarx Global Health was formed to level the playing field in access to quality healthcare services in Africa. Being a Healthcare professional practicing in the United States gave me firsthand knowledge on how technology was transforming healthcare delivery, and how huge the disparity was between the west and the African continent.

Image: InnovaRx Logo

My Grandmother died when she was 56 years old from complications of diabetes and hypertension, which robbed us (her grandkids) of so many memories and moments of joy. I truly believe her living in the Gambia with poor levels of access to quality healthcare should not have determined a lower life expectancy. That wasn’t only her reality but that of many of our loved ones on the continent who for decades, have faced significant challenges while simply seeking a better quality of life. We therefore built the company to provide basic preventative healthcare and disease stage management services while leveraging technology in point-of-care testing diagnostics, electronic health record system, and prescription medication processing to deliver customized care in the most convenient and affordable way.

Our flagship delivery service Wellness on Wheels (W.O.W) was designed as a logistics tool that removed barriers of transportation and from inception, allowed the company to deliver products and services bedside to people’s homes all over the country. I believe IGH has revolutionized the way people consume healthcare, where a patient who lives in the furthest part of the country (6 hours away) can have a loved one living abroad sponsor their care, and have the same medications in circulation in the U.S delivered at their doorstep. Our e-commerce platform has also allowed for over-the-counter medications, health and wellness products such as vitamins and supplements to be accessible to customers all over the world for purchase and delivery as early as a 60 mins turn around in most parts of Banjul.

Image: Wellness on Wheels

You mentioned that while planning on the inception of the company, besides the experience gained from your own workplace, you also travelled around the world to see how different companies carried out the services that you wanted to provide. Which countries did you travel to, and what stood out for you, which you really wanted to emulate back home in The Gambia?

I realized early that doing market research only in The Gambia was inadequate to solidify an integrated matrix of healthcare solutions, so we set out to key countries such as India, Germany and UAE. India gave us valuable insights into understanding the generic drug global supply chain market and how much revenue the country was generating through medical tourism from Africa. Over a billion dollars leaves the continent every year because of medical tourism, which stems from a pervasive lack of trust in our health systems.

The amount of Indian medical professionals trained at the best universities who returned home to provide specialty care to their citizens also inspired me. UAE was a perfect example of a country that embraced innovation and technology to propel all sectors, especially healthcare. The ingenuity and value creation in the healthcare sector is something I definitely felt the continent was also fertile grounds for. From the offset, we were intentional about creating a global company with the best ideas, and chose Africa as our first market instead of creating another “Less than” or “African Version” of a healthcare company.

You started doing research for launching the company in 2015, but only started operating in The Gambia in 2019. Besides doing research, what other facets of the business were you working on and preparing for during those years?

Unfortunately, bureaucracy can always impede any process in Africa that requires licenses and necessary registrations to get up and running. The Company was operating as a consulting company while attacking the daunting task of raising capital to start a business in Africa. The small market size of the Gambia as a pilot country made seeking investment even more challenging, especially for a business model that was the first of its kind. Human capacity is also another obstacle that adds to the process. Finding the right talent to understand and execute the mission and vision of a company in Africa requires a level of patience and constant allocation of resources to train and recruit that we still go through.

How did it feel to finally see your dream of setting up a tech-based healthcare solutions company in West Africa come to life in 2019?

It’s truly something magical anytime you see ideas that were simply sticky notes in my apartment manifest into a fully functioning entity now serving thousands of people. The magic however is ever so fleeting, as the waves of interchanging emotions instill a constant measure of cautious optimism required to always maintain faith while having the discipline to confront our current reality at any point. Africa is not short of great ideas, the greatest challenge in creating a successful business always lies in the consistent execution of said ideas.

What challenges did you face whilst preparing to launch, and how did you overcome them?

I think a lot of the challenges faced pre-launch had mainly to do with raising capital and working through the bureaucratic process of getting legally registered. The former (Fundraising) is a never-ending process we are still working on. Remaining committed to our “WHY” and exercising patience through building relationships always helps navigate the ecosystem. Establishing the right local partnerships also help in the general process of planting some roots in the ground .

“The market will always follow where the best value is created and executed consistently.”

Most of the products sold at your pharmacy division are sourced in the United States. Do you face any obstacles in getting them to the Gambia, such as maybe high import duty?

Most of the obstacles result from high logistics costs, especially when using air freight options. The wave of COVID in 2020 when the country was shut down was especially a trying time for the company, having a nation of people depending on the company to source products while facing exorbitant shipping costs. The Government of the Gambia does provide some tax holidays which ease the burden on otherwise high import duties. Most of the costs arise from the product registration process mandated by the Nation’s Medicines Control Agency.

You stated that Sub-Saharan Africa has a pandemic of counterfeit medication which is a billion-dollar industry, and in West Africa, almost 20-30% of the medication is counterfeit. As a pharmaceuticals provider, how do you avoid sourcing counterfeit medication?

Our decision to source medications only from the U.S is mainly based on the safety net of minimum quality standards required by the FDA. I think the African market is yet to make demands for only medications with safety profiles fit for sale in western markets, a non-negotiable. With our quality control infrastructures not readily available, the U.S sourcing allows for a level of assurance being infused into all our products. I think the continent is making strides in building our manufacturing capacity which will change the dynamics of our sourcing in the near future. From a pharmacist’s perspective, we just need to ensure every product dispensed to African citizens would always be safe, effective and with equal clinical potency to deliver positive health outcomes.

Your main clients are the diasporans who buy medication and healthcare supplies online from you for their family members back home in The Gambia. What marketing mediums do you use to reach your target market?

Social Media has truly been a game-changer for us in terms of reaching our target customers who live abroad but sponsor their loved ones’ health care in the Gambia. The country saw over $500 Million in remittances in 2020 alone which truly creates a new definition of market size not limited to the feeble spending power in the country. Our active engagement with Gambians in the diaspora from day one has allowed them to align with our mission of providing the peace of mind they desperately seek when it comes to the health and wellbeing of loved ones. The novelty of our services also gives us the confidence that “Word of Mouth” marketing will always be the greatest avenue to slow and organic growth, especially in our infancy as a company.

As a tech-based company, how do you overcome ‘typically African’ problems such as inconsistent power supply and bad network connections?

Well from a balance sheet standpoint it just adds to the cost of doing business. Getting back-up systems for electricity and the internet is unavoidable, but we are much closer to cheaper and more stable systems today than we were decades ago. It just creates a scenario where your product may be years ahead of the market, but also goes back to building companies despite the challenges and not attenuating your idea because of the “Typical African” problems. The future is technology and health simply will not exist in the now and the future without it.

As the Gambia is a very small country, you are actually able to service and deliver products to your clients across the whole country from just your one branch, making you a leader in that category. How have your competitors reacted?

Good ideas that enter any market simply create tension. Every player in the market will have to make a decision whether to adapt or die. We tend not to focus on the reaction of competitors because our business model differs greatly from the status quo. Nonetheless, we welcome enhancements and innovations of their own, which will also add tremendous value and the customers will always benefit. It does not have to be only one solution. The market will always follow where the best value is created and executed consistently.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your ability to import healthcare supplies from the United States?

I would like to believe the worst is behind us now, but absolutely. We went through a period where certain items like PPE, hand sanitizer, certain medications etc. were scarce, but we adapted accordingly. The company played a pivotal role in the country manufacturing hand sanitizers in-house, which allowed for great collaborations with the Ministry of Health and the Pharmacy Council of The Gambia. We have a great relationship with distributors free of middlemen, which always allows us to source products consistently.

You have in-house doctors that do consultations with patients, and you also do tele-medicine where patients can consult virtually with your team of specialist doctors who are abroad. How has this service been received by the locals? Are they embracing technology and jumping on board?

I think with most new technology you always have your early adopters that embrace the technology and receive it through the lens of the convenience it provides. The Telemedicine services was a timely intervention during the COVID peak which solidified its application as a healthcare solution of the future. So we still have some growth opportunities in adoption that will expand, especially with the key partnerships we have with specialty doctors all over the world.

You stated a very sad fact, that there are about 9000 Gambians to one doctor. Why do you think this is so, and is the government doing anything to curb the disparity?

A couple of factors come into play when analyzing the low physician density. Healthcare professionals struggle with some of the lowest wages in the region that provide little incentive to turn down opportunities to practice medicine in more advanced countries for more pay. The first intervention should focus on increasing doctor salaries and making a commitment to their continuous development.

I think the Government has made massive strides in sustaining a pipeline with the Nation’s Medical School, but with the number of years it takes to complete training and further specialization, only a seismic shift in reverse migration can fill the gap. This, however, necessitates technology as the only viable option short term of closing the gap. Embracing telehealth service can have an immediate and exponential impact especially in a country that does lack doctors but have an abundance of qualified nurses that are the bedrock of most health systems in the country.

You are already doing an amazing job providing easy access to affordable healthcare, but are you doing anything as Innovarx Global to give back to the community, especially the youth?

Incorporating a Corporate Social Responsibility was of great importance to the company from day one. We saw the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes and hypertension, and sought out to help democratize access to preventative service in that area by launching our “What’s your number?” Health campaign. The WYN campaign leverages the company’s wellness on wheels to find communities in need and offer free health screening for the two most prevalent NCDs.

Image: InnovaRx Health Specialist with a patient

To date, the company has screened close to two thousand Gambians at no cost and in some cases in remote areas of the country several kilometers away from rural health centers. I think our greatest contribution to the youth has been in the talent development and hiring of young people at all levels of the organization. This has allowed our youthful exuberance to influence advocacy on subject matters like mental health and sexual and reproductive health, which are often highly stigmatized in African Societies.

Lastly, what words of advice would you give to a young African who would one day like to be as successful as you are in the pharmaceuticals industry?

Success is subjective and a never ending journey, so I would advise them to not ascribe a final destination to the perceived notion of reaching a peak. I believe I was fortunate to have a level of exposure, education, skills, and opportunities that allowed me to will the company into existence with a group of like-minded individuals.

The profession of Pharmacy is extremely diverse and is designed to work in harmony with all other healthcare fields. Young Africans (women especially) should follow their passion in the healthcare space and take advantage of all opportunities of apprenticeship and structured goal mapping along the way. Patience is a virtue and must be applied to every aspiration of creating value in any given ecosystem. Make a commitment to courage, accountability and continuous growth because we live in a very competitive world and one’s evolution should never come to a halt. Lastly, internalize the mere fact that yes, we (Africans) deserve better, but we have to create it by being the very change we seek.

Connect with Dr. Ismail through his Instagram @drismailbadjie, or visit his website, https://www.innovarxglobal.com/.

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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Fady Hocheimy – On Running One Of The Gambia’s Largest Business Empires, & Making His Own Chocolate

I am who I am because of the knowledge I have learnt from others, therefore sharing what I know is important.

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Gambian Entrepreneur Extraordinaire, Philanthropist and Chocolatier, Fady Hocheimy

Fady Hocheimy was born and brought up in The Gambia, and moved to Lebanon as a teenager to continue his studies, completing his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Business Administration. Upon his return to Gambia in 2003, his father had built a large empire, and it was now Fady’s responsibility to make sure the business did not just continue to operate, but also continued to grow when his father retired. Businessman by day, and chocolatier by night, read on to learn more about this intriguing entrepreneur and philanthropist.

You completed both your degrees at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. What or who inspired your decision to study Business Administration? Did you always know from a young age that you wanted to become a businessman? 

Growing up seeing my father running MFH Group in The Gambia, I always had an interest in business. It was somehow natural that I would eventually study business at university level. Of course, my father did encourage me to take that path, as part of him had always expected me to come back and assist him in running the company. I did not enjoy all the courses in business school, but my favourites were always the marketing ones. 

Image: Fady Hocheimy

“Businesses are run by people, therefore I invest much of my time training my team and creating leaders.”

On finishing school you moved back to The Gambia to take over the family business, which you have been running for the last 5 or 6 years since your dad retired. Can you tell us briefly about how the MFH Group was founded and what products and services the company offers? 

MFH Group was founded by my Dad at a very young age in 1970 from very humble beginnings. It all began with a small Banjul Pharmacy store in Banjul, the capital of The Gambia. With time and dedication, he managed to grow the business slowly. In 1988 he began Sunu Kerr, which means ‘Our Home’, in the local language of Wolof, and sells home goods such as paints, kitchenware, garden and handy tools. In 1991 he became the sole distributor for LG electronics in The Gambia, and in 2000 he established King Food, our Food & Beverage subsidiary. Today we represent global brands such as LG, BASF, Tramontina, Bells Healthcare, Remedica, Munchee, Foster Clark, Vega Foods, and Indus Life Sciences. The MFH Group employs 180 people. 

Image: Fady Hocheimy

Besides educational qualifications, from your experience in business thus far, what else can you say is needed by an individual to run such a big and successful company with up to 180 workers? 

I believe one’s personality is more important.  Nowadays knowledge is easily accessible, if you look for it. I believe the following key principles are essential though: Discipline, productivity and fun. One must be passionate and determined about what they are doing. Moreover, in order to run a successful business, a great team is needed. Businesses are run by people, therefore I invest much of my time training my team and creating leaders. A big business must have structure, where everyone knows what their role is.

What business qualities do you admire about your father, and up to now still emulate in running the company?

I have learnt so much from my father. To begin with, I learnt to be humble and honest. People like to deal with those who they can trust and relate to. I also admire his ability to connect with people, to speak their language and understand them. His ability to understand what products people need is amazing, and that is something I try to emulate every day. 

Image: Fady Hocheimy

Being an entrepreneur also requires a lot of long hours and a lot of travelling. How do you balance being an entrepreneur, a husband and father, a philanthropist, and so much more, and still manage to find time for yourself to rest and do what you enjoy, and be happy?

When you enjoy what you do, time doesn’t exist. You make time. Most importantly, I am very organised. That is the only way I can manage everything in my life and still smile. I also learnt, through meditation, how to divide my mental time and not just physical time. You must be present in everything you do, physically and mentally. And lastly, I have a great team at work and a great wife, who has been very supportive of everything I do. I am a better man because of my wife. 

About 13 years ago, a friend of yours gave you a cocoa plant as a gift, and only in early 2018 after forgetting about the tree all these years, and almost cutting it down after seeing it as ‘useless’, you decided to try your hand at chocolate making. What motivated you to give it a try?

I like challenges, so this was a challenge. And once I read that West Africa exports 70% of the world’s cocoa, I had to do something with my tree.

Image: Fady’s Cocoa Tree

How was your first attempt at chocolate making?

My first attempt at making Chocolate was to surprise my wife for Valentine’s.  I figured out a way to make it, even though it did not taste good at all. Of course, she was nice about it and pretended it tasted good, and we both laughed. But because I never give up, I kept on researching, and I made sure that this adventure doesn’t just go to waste. It was very new and it looked somehow like chocolate, but did not taste good. I continued to improve on it each time, and eventually got the right machines and with more knowledge, it just got better and better. 

Initially, you were giving out the chocolate for free for people to try out for about 2 years, but as your skill in chocolate making has greatly improved, you are now selling it at your supermarket. Seeing as you are already so busy at work, when do you get the time to make chocolate to sell at your shop?

I work on my chocolates in my kitchen at home mostly at night after 8pm once my kids have gone to bed. It’s the only free time I get, but I enjoy every minute of it.

Image: FH Bites Chocolate
Image: Fady Hocheimy

Ghana and Ivory Coast alone export 60% of the world’s cocoa, and you are keen on getting Gambia to become one of West Africa’s cocoa exporters. How do you plan on making that dream a reality, seeing as right now you are the only person growing cocoa in your country?

By sharing what I am doing I hope to get more Gambians involved in growing Cocoa. Currently I sell seedlings to whoever is interested, and I train them on the growing and pruning techniques. 

You are not only a trailblazing entrepreneur, but you also have a heart of gold, taking part in many activities organised for the youth and giving back to so many good causes. Why is it important to you to be involved in philanthropy?

When we promote the welfare of others, we all benefit. I am who I am because of the knowledge I have learnt from others, therefore sharing what I know is important. I find great joy when I connect with young people, especially considering that Gambia’s population is mostly young. When you do good, good will always come back to you. 

Besides business and chocolate which are your biggest passions, you are also very passionate about Africa, and as you said, “Africa is very rich, but it is poorly managed.” What do you think we can do as young Africans to change things around for ourselves, without waiting for governments to change things for us? 

First is education; not just in schools, but about life and opportunities. Let us learn from others and see how we can apply that knowledge in Africa. Moreover, we need to be disciplined and productive. There are no shortcuts to success. We must realise that we can make it here. Surely, we need leaders who enable and encourage Africans to grow and make the best use of our rich resources. 

What are your parting words for the young African who would someday like to become a business mogul like you?

I am humbled. Let me say that water tastes better when you’re thirsty, and so do the pleasures of life. We have to work hard and work smart. Keep learning and looking for opportunities; they are everywhere, but they come to those who seek them. We don’t know what we love until we find things we like. Go out there and enrich your experiences every day. 

Image: Fady Hocheimy

Connect with Fady on Twitter, @fadyhocheimy, and follow his chocolate-making journey on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, @fhbites.

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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South African Designer, Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe, Talks About Her Trendy Brand, “#IKnit”

Upcoming Civil Engineer and creative Busi Shordy Nyembe talks about her trendy fashion brand, #iKnit.

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Image: South African Designer, Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe

Some may think of hand-knitting as a skill or an art which is long outdated. Having learnt the skill from her grandmother, the young and talented creative and upcoming Civil Engineer has modernised the trade, and is making fashionable pieces which appeal to the younger generation.

Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe

There’s so much to say when summarising who I am and what I do… but briefly, I’d say I’m a creative at heart. Born and raised in Orange Farm and 27 years of age, I’m a full time Civil Engineering student at South West Gauteng College, a singer-songwriter, a Craft Designer, a gym fanatic, and an entrepreneur. I believe in dreams, and the sky is the limit.

Living and spending lots of time with my grandmother had me learning to do everything that she would do with her hands. My Gran used to knit duvet covers from wool, and door mats from plastic. As she would knit, I would be right there next to her, learning the craft. I remember when I was in grade 5, we had an Art & Culture project to make something hand-made; I made a colourful beanie and got full marks for it. 

#IKnit Designs: Muse – IG @Czah_themodel; Photographer – IG @Jusicenasphotography

Busi says she hand-knits all her designs, and they are inspired by the current diverse fashion trends, since her clients buy her products and wear them with other clothes that complement them pretty well. ”The patterns of my designs are made with the right size needle, so they come out beautifully. When my clients place an order, they get to be part of the design process. They get to pick their own wool colour which they would love their designs in, and that makes it special enough for them, and they have an input in the creative process. For instance, they can decide if they would like to make the ballet longer, or the socks shorter.” 

I make my designs modern by using modern wool colours and knitting patterns that complement clothes worn in the modern day era. I also do a lot of colourful stripes because they are currently the in-thing. I cater for everybody, both the young and old market, and I also have designs for kiddies.

#IKnit Designs: Muse – IG @Czah_themodel; Photographer – IG @Jusicenasphotography#IKnit Designs

Growing up in Orange Farm within a close-knit community where almost everyone knows everyone, definitely made it easier for me to get a clientele for my products. When I was starting out the business, the marketing medium was word of mouth, and most of my clients were from Orange Farm, including people that I knew personally. It’s only when I posted on Facebook and other social media platforms that I reached a broader clientele. 

Right now I use all my social media platforms to market my products. That’s where I upload my work and that’s also where my clients post and tag, showing appreciation for my skills. Many other people see the posts, love the products and place their orders. This means of advertising is very effective and my business is definitely profitable, and it is growing rapidly.

#IKnit Designs: Muse – IG @Czah_themodel; Photographer – IG @Jusicenasphotography

Shordy says that she has not always been a patient person, but knitting has taught her to be patient. It has also taught her to be disciplined when it comes to her time management, in order to be able to study and workout. When knitting, a lot of time is spent being seated, facing down and using her hands, so she works out to stretch and relax her muscles. She says that knitting has also taught her to be calm and to respect everybody, because everyone is a potential client. 

As Shordy is the creative brain, I asked her if she has anyone who assists her with the financial side of her business and she responded… “My mother helps me out to manage the business side of the venture and her support is amazing.” Shordy believes that it’s very important for small business owners to do business literacy courses in order to better manage their finances so that they know how to use their finances to manage the growth and sustainability of the business. “Every business has 5-10years to reach their full potential, and not putting money back into the business might paralyze it,” says Nyembe.  

#IKnit Designs: Muse – IG @Czah_themodel; Photographer – IG @Jusicenasphotography

When she starts to produce her products at a larger scale, Shordy says that in order to maintain her standards and personal touch, she aims to continue treating every single order as her only order, and maintain the communication level with her clients so that they still have an input in the making process of their order, and they will still get to pick their favourite wool colour.

Knitting is a special skill which is passed down from generation to generation, and Shordy has already begun the process of teaching the skill to two young people in order to keep the craft alive.

#IKnit Designs: Muse – IG @Czah_themodel; Photographer – IG @Jusicenasphotography

In parting, Shordy advises young people who would love to learn a craft and make a living out of it to follow their hearts, because people will pull them astray. The most important thing, she says, is to start! “Stop over-planning and just start, you will learn everything else as you go along,” says Nyembe.

Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe

Connect with Shordy through her page on Facebook, @ShordyNyembe.

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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