An award-winning entrepreneur, partnership strategist, global growth coach and TEDx speaker - Afua Osei has an admirable success record. Recognised by Forbes Africa as one of the youngest powerful women on the continent, she’s done an impressive job helping African women access career opportunities.
Born in the US to Ghanaian parents, she took a spin on her life and relocated to Nigeria, where she lived for seven years. In 2014, she co-founded She Leads Africa, a Nigerian-based organisation that helps over eight hundred thousand female entrepreneurs across a hundred countries find success in their businesses and personal lives. In December 2016, the company rang the Closing Bell at the New York Stock Exchange!
Throughout her career, Afua served as a Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia, worked in the Office of First Lady Michelle Obama, and worked as a communications consultant on various political campaigns.
We were thrilled to sit down with her and talk about her journey to success and even more excited to share it with you. Here it comes!
Hi Afua, tell us about your journey of building your business.
When I studied at Chicago University, I applied for an internship in Africa. My first choice was Ghana because of my heritage, but there were no available spots there. I chose Nigeria, and the opportunity to explore Africa beyond my roots was so transformative! I believe that all young Africans should feel welcome and free to go anywhere on the continent to connect and be of service.
Once I finished my studies, I found a full-time job as a consultant in Lagos. In 2014, I founded She Leads Africa together with Yasmin Belo-Osagie. The idea came to me during my internship - I saw that many talented people, especially young women, don’t have access to the same information that I had at Chicago University. I decided to build a platform that gives everyone equal access to information.
It was a challenge to build our business from scratch. We had to reassess many times, but after a lot of work, it took off! Since then, we’ve built a global community of women who are committed to getting to the next level in their careers and businesses.
Tell us about the opportunities you create for women.
She Leads Africa gives African women access to information and career opportunities. We do that through digital content and live experiences.
I’m leading our sales and partnerships team for the company. I’m securing collaborations with companies like Facebook, Google, L’Oreal, Visa or Samsung - showing them the value of connecting with young black women from a place of respect and value, not as a charity.
We host live events that introduce young women to our network of partners. Every year, we organise a SLAY Festival, a networking conference with experts speaking about diverse topics - from large sessions to one-on-one mentorships.
We decided to make our conferences different - to match the spirit of African women. Let’s have music. Let’s wear whatever we want, be whoever we want to be. We don’t need to look up to the older generation to teach us things. We have great insights and credible knowledge relevant to the digital industry. We were amazed at how many people attended the first SLAY Festival - that’s when we knew we were onto something!
And what about your side business? How does it fit into your already busy schedule?
In my personal business, I’m teaching digital entrepreneurship. I released a Global Partnerships Playbook, coaching people on how to use networking to scale their business.
I’m passionate about helping people think beyond where they are now. Digital opportunities give us access to reach more people than ever. Content allows companies to help people understand where they are coming from and dig deeper into the “why” of the company.
The entire She Leads Africa team is on the continent, and currently, I live in DC. I start my day very early, usually five in the morning so that I can be up to date. I never have any meetings before noon. We can get so caught up in other people’s agendas, and I prefer to be productive with my morning.
I have a notebook on my desk, and every day I write down what I want to achieve that day. I am trying to be as structured and organised as possible. Once the team in Nigeria shuts down, it’s only 2 pm for me. Then it’s time for my personal brand, or I use it as a way to get ahead with the business.
What is your advice to young female entrepreneurs?
This is a long-haul journey - not a race. It’s important to take some time to recharge. Connect with other women. We are all feeling overwhelmed because, honestly, business is an experiment by design. It’s constant learning - regardless of the stage of our business.
You’ve recognised a problem, and you have an idea about how it’s going to work. Your business is now a hypothesis, and you have to see if it’s going to work. What you have to offer is valuable; what you know is important. You can build something that touches the globe - whether through media, digital strategy, or partnerships. You might fail a few times before you figure things out. Keep moving forward. I want to assure you that you will do great.
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