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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Using Technology to Change the Lives of Girls in Ghana: Introducing Regina Honu

   
          
For this month we interview Regina Honu Founder of Soronko Solutions, Tech Needs Girls and 2016 Vlisco Ambassador.  It was a pleasure to talk with a woman who is leading in the tech and social entrepreneurial field in Africa. With her calm, confident charisma we had a great time learning about her work and her plan for the future, which by the way are massive and we can't wait to see them all unfold. We hope you enjoy as much as we did. 

                                                   

REGINA +CULTURE AND BACKGROUND




We begin the interview by asking Regina to describe herself to us and she shares some powerful insights on how she sees herself. This already sets the tone for the rest of the interview which we consider one word, POWERFUL.  Regina begins by stating that 

 "I think I am innovative and the reason why I think innovation describes me is I consider myself an outside the box thinker and I believe I am able to adapt to whatever situation but I make sure I pick the most innovative way to solving any problem or challenge as I come across. Whether it is n my personal life, business or attainment of my dreams. I am always thinking of how can I push myself to do things more innovative." 

                                         

She also shares her upbringing which shows us why Regina is such a trailblazer, from the day she could remember she has always stood up for herself and spoke out.  She shares some of her challenges of being silenced in her community.  Regina was  was born and raised in Ghana and had a  very interesting childhood. When she was younger,  she was told  a good girl is supposed to be seen and not heard and even now this is the case in her society. She explains to WCA that  "As a child I used to talk a lot and  people would say why don’t you tell your daughter to keep quiet and my  mom would say "let her talk!". She would explain that she didn’t now when I  would say anything important so she always allowed me to be myself. There were several attempts to silence me. I lost my voice, and when I found it I regretted that I had ever let anyone do that to me and  I said I would never let anyone take my voice. I  also promised myself that I will make sure those who don’t have a voice  will get one." 

Regina mentions to us in the interview that she knew there was something different about her. She had a  strength of  in the fact that she always thought in  patterns and numbers. She defied the stereotype of the day  that women and girls were supposed to be interested  the arts and crafts, and she chuckles when she shares " I couldn’t even do a hemline properly!". 

 Regina explains to us how she came to her field of work presently "I was good at math and calculations. When I decided to become a computer scientist, it was met with opposition, because tech was for boys and it seemed like a path not to be traveled." She explains her love for her Ghanain culture is the fact that there is a strong sense of community "One of the things I have enjoyed being a Ghanaian depending on the family you’re born into, if you have a very supportive parents you can do anything you want. The environment was really about you as an individual challenging yourself. I consider myself blessed to be in a space where choice was not taken away from me. As part of our culture we embrace community work and working together, I realized that no matter what I wanted to do, I knew I was not an island myself. This also helped me in who I am today because I rely on different stakeholders and different partnerships to bring impact into the community."

ON SELF-CARE CHECK INS


We always want to know how the Bosschiques we interview take care of themselves and balance work and life balance and Ms. Honu was no exception.  She shares with candor that she has had to master the idea of balancing her work and life, In the beginning that was one thing I wasn’t doing very well. I was 90 percent about work and I began to fear this whole point of burnout. Nowadays I think I am doing better,  I like watching movies, I like eating and tasting different foods. I like spending time with my husband and I enjoy doing fun and adventurous things together with him, such as boxing etc. Doing new things is always an opportunity for us to spend more together."

ON TECHNOLOGY



We asked Regina to tell us about both of her ventures Soronko Solutions and Tech Needs Girls and the driving force for her starting up both ventures. 

She shares that "I had always thought about how I could give back. When I worked in corporate Ghana I thought it would be a linear progression. But I realized things weren’t as black and white. I realized that my life long dream is giving back to the community. In 2012 I quit my job I was working at a bank. There were two things I wanted to do; I wanted to use Science and technology to change Africa, even without knowing what a social enterprise was, I knew I didn’t want to be an NGO and I had seen several NGOS relying on Donors to dictate their work etc. I wanted the freedom to be able to explore and do what I felt was the best approach to solving a particular problem in the community. I thought I would start a software company that I would be self sustained. I started both at the same time, one was a way to fund my passion using science and technology I also wanted to make sure ."

                               

She then shares why she started up this amazing initiative to empower girls in technology "The first project was called Going stems, we would go into rural communities to teach kids, every time we brought out the laptop the boys will be into it and the girls wont participate. One defining moment was during the workshop one of the boy said this is not for girls and the girls said but I am a girl. So we realized that for girls to do something they needed mentors. We started it as a mentorship program with women and science and tech who teach coding, we started with 50 girls and now  we have over 3000 girls in 8 regions. We teach girls not to just consume tech but create it. Computer science is in high demand and is one of the well paid job in 10 years. It comes to economic independence for these young girls. "  


She passionately shares her passion for doing the work is that women need to be at the forefront of technology  "We cant leave women behind with tech revolution that’s happening. Women can gain a lot of skills in this industry and can use it even beyond the tech industry. Learning to code teaches you about creativity, problem solving, critical thinking so no matter what field you get into there will always be a digital component due to this skill you have acquired, the confidence for the young girls to have the confidence to be in the field, and you have the confidence to say yes that is a male dominated pathway."


Regina shares her business challenges with us her two main being Mindset and getting the appropriate support for the work. 

She explains that when it comes to mindset, due to the fact that at times low income familiies may not understand the value of technology, a lot of the work involves changing mindset of parents and families. She gives us a vivid example of where they were able to get community leaders to understand the importance of her work " We worked at an urban slum we connected with the chief and were successful in getting to parents. We had to do a lot of print outs , do radio and TV interviews to create awareness that look there can be a woman who is successful. It is important for people to see that women are visible. Because girls are busy parents think they should invest in their boys. We are changing that narrative to make sure girls are part of the support."
She shares that getting the appropriate support is necessary "We get a lot of recognition and support internationally, what will be helpful is to get more local support. I feel like we should take charge of the problem ourselves. One thing that I would like is to get more support from different stakeholders, to show that it really does take a village. We are trying to see how we can engage more within the local communities. There are the minor ones as discrimination etc.." She emphasizes the importance of human resources by mentioning a key solution " One of the things we have been able to do is we rely on social capital and social good we ask for in kind services and this is how we grow in what we are doing."

ON THE BRAND AND GROWTH 


What do you love about your brand and the work you do? And what do  you believe has contributed to the growth of your work?
 
Regina shares what most social entrepreneurs see as the most impact which is change she shares "I love the change that I see with the girls. First from when they walk in they can hardly establish eye contact. For most of them they haven’t really. To when they have actually built a website which is transformational. It gives me hope for the next generation. When I interact with the girls I am always filled with hope."

She mentions that one of the main things that has contributed to the growth of the work is the support of community.

With her recently launched tech school for girls, there is nothing stopping Regina and of course we have to know what this young mogul is working on and where her vision will take her in 10 years. 

She shares that  "The future for the tech company we work with smaller medium enterprises we want to be the backbone for them. So if you hear of a tech provider for any sme it should be us. For tech needs girls we want the really cool tech solutions to have been built by girls in our program. We would have bridge the gender gap, women owning tech companies, see a cool app build by girls in our programs. Changing the next generation of problem solvers and critical thinkers. It is about lets see what happens when women lead." 

She confidently shares one of our favorite parts of the conversations being "The next Facebook will be built by a 12 year Ghanaian girl. We are also working on  building the first all girls coding and human centered design school in West Africa (which has recently launched)" 

LOVE + SISTERHOOD 



Regina shares with other women three things they need to be successful in the tech world
being   
1. Passion: It is not going to be easy without passion you would probably give up
2. Resilence: By resilient I mean you need to be the kind of individual that can adapt and change
3. See failing as a learning experience: If you are afraid to fail you will never try anything different. If you don’t fail you don’t grow you don’t learn.


We ask her what does Sisterhood mean to her and why is it critical to our success as African women?  
Regina shares that she believes in sisterhood " because no  matter what you want to do in life there are ups and downs. You need people who can support, advice guide you and people that can help you move to the next level. Without a sisterhood what happens is that you will have women repeating the same mistakes over and over again. I think a sisterhood is very important and it is necessary for us to achieve real change and achieve gender parity to make sure all women are able to reach their full potential . When women come together magical things happen. There is a safe space, we can learn from others who have gone before us, we can impact the next generation of women. I always say women made a lot of sacrifices for us to be able to vote and speak our mind. It is important that we come together. I may do something amazing, it is like tiny, tiny, tiny it can never light anything, if we come together then there can be a bright light to shine the way for us now."


She gracefully finishes out interview as we ask her to complete the sentence  “Women Change Africa because…?”
 They are passionate, creative and resilient.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Maintaining Your Joy & Handling end of year stress


As the end of the year comes closer to an end, it can be very easy for one to become overwhelmed and stressed out. We know the feeling, but the key is re-visiting your yearly plan to ensure you are checking off those things you said you wanted to take care of, and not losing your cool if you don't get to everything. We wanted to share 3 tips on how we try our best to balance what we call "year end crase". 

1. Review your annual strategic plan and prioritize 

Reviewing your plan can be overwhelming but we always advise Bosschiques to do quarterly reviews of what they set out to do and adjust appropriately. You know what you can handle and only you know the types of challenges that have come your way. It is never too late to review your plan at times seeing all of the things you set out to accomplish getting those check marks can alleviate some anxiety. In addition to the things you have accomplished, there may be those you haven't. Don't panic, simply prioritize, being that you have 3 months left for the year to roll out, 

2. Remember everyone has a different year plan:

For us here at WCA our year begins on international women's month in march and ends in march. This means we usually don't go so much with the mainstream year end crase when it comes to projects and deliverables  and it helps us stay focused. 


3. Reward yourself by taking a self-care check in:

You all know how big we are on self care. We advise that you do something a bit different this time of the year than your usual self care. If you can manage a short getaway trip and you don't usually do those take one! If you can take that hot yoga class at the gym instead of just taking cycling classes do so! Try and do something different to take care of self and you will have a non routine and mundane experience which should help re-energize you to finish strong. 

4. Rely on your sisterhood and support networks: 
Sometimes it takes a quick phone call, lunch, hangout to get us out of our stressful zones. Even when things seem overwhelming we know the power of hanging out with some of our girlfriends, and just a touch base and how much of an impact that can have on reducing our stress levels. So make love & sisterhood evenings a thing!

Photocredit Afroelle magazine 









 photo mooiSIGFINAL_zpsc16114fb.jpg

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Madam Isha Johansen to attend Fifa Female Football Finals on Royal Invitation to Jordan



Madame Isha Johansen President of the Sierra Leone Football Association and Founder of Premier League FC Johansen is set to attend the FIFA Under-17 Female Finals in Jordan this weekend. Madame President herself has been personally invited by His Royal Highness  Prince Ali of Jordan.
At a time in her career where women and girls in sports are a critical element Madame Johansen would like to undertake as a priority with her work, the high profiled event will provide her the opportunity to interact with young women in Amman who will be inspired by the strides she has made in the field of football.

 The 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s world Cup is the 5th edition of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, the biennial international women’s youth football championship contested by the under-17 national teams of the member associations of FIFA. The Tournament is set to be held in Jordan from 30 September to the 21st of October 2016. Also in attendance will be Fifa President Gianni Infantino and SLFA President are two special guests at the Fifa Womens U-17 finals in Amaan on the 21st October.


Madam Johansen is increasingly becoming a global force striving to drive good governance using the power of football. Her stance for women in leadership positions especially male dominated arenas like football is gaining increasing international and global accreditation. Her visit to Jordan has created excitement in the kingdom where she will address the female national team.



      
On left Prince Ali and on right Madame Johansen 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Isha Johansen on Disruptive Leadership at the Hogan Lovells Global Women's Executive Summit

On Friday October 7th, WCA featured Bosschique, Madame Isha Johansen, President of the Sierra Leone Football Association and Founder of the FC Johansen Premier League club, spoke at the Hogan Lovells Global Women's Executive Summit on the conference theme  for 2016 The Art of Disruptive Leadership . The summit hosted by Hogan Lovells a global law firm, meant to bring top female executives and presidents in one place to grow, thrive, network and learn from each other whilst being inspired by panels, speeches, and networking sessions by women from various arenas of work, ranging from pharmaceuticals, banking, law, philanthropy etc. 

 The  Hogans Lovells GWES Summit was the perfect way to be inspired whilst connecting with some Bosschiques and a powerful program for women in business around the world to explore challenges and issues women business leaders face and propose the way forward. WCA was in attendance at the event as a guest of Madame Isha Johansen, President of the Sierra Leone Football Association who was invited to deliver a the keynote address on the second day of the two-day global summit. 

Madame Johansen spoke on the topic "Disrupting a mans world". Isha Johansen is the first female president of a football association in Africa and second in the entire world. She has blazed the terrain since her reign of the Sierra Leone football association and her commitment strength and passion to elevating Sierra Leone in the football arena, her numerous philanthropic efforts in the community are one to celebrate as well. Madame Johansen delivered her keynote on the second day of the 2 day high profiled event, and were there to share some takeaways to WCA readers.  We share our three takeaways from  her keynote address at the event below: 


1. Be Committed! Do your work and do it well


No matter what terrain she finds herself in one of the main thing we noticed is that Madame Johansen leaves no t uncrossed and no i dotted. Precision and dedication at it's best. Ms Johansen talked about how she started up FC Johansen a football team for inner city youth in Sierra Leone and the success that came with the team. She discussed one of the key successes of her work with the team attributed to the team and "allowing young kids to dream and to have a hope in life". In 2007 with the team she decided to take the boys out of the country for an international tournament in Sweden. Her commitment to take the kids beyond their everyday world, was commendable and shared brilliantly in her keynote. Madame Johansen shared that the kids had the opportunity to go to Switzerland in 2011 and how it changed their lives for ever. Since then FC Johansen thrives as one of the first if not only to achieve so much success globally in winning international games in various young football leagues. 

2. Do the right thing even with or without applause


                      

It goes without say that Madame Johansen has witnessed her fair share of obstacles and challenges working as a woman disrupting a man's world, in the arena of  football. She explained during her speech that when she decided to take on the role as part of the football association, she might have been a bit naive to the challenges ahead, but needless to say the President and global changer has truly superseded the expectations of her work. 

Despite all of the challenges Isha has faced her key messages remains the same stay focused on the task at hand. Ms Johansen talked during her speech about the challenges but steered clear of all of the discrimination she has faced in Sierra Leone simply because that wasn't the focus of the conference. Instead she focused on the fact that "my fight has always been about good governance and transparency in Sierra Leone". Following the recent trials she faced in Sierra Leone Isha has remained poised focused and undisturbed and setting the key leadership example that in trials and even when no one around you may be cheering you on, continue to persevere. 

This spirit is what we believe has garnered Madame Johansen the global platform, accolades and presence that she has to date. The commitment to do the right thing is what has rendered the global community to respect her work and provided platforms for speaking engagements such at Hogan Lovells and others she has been a part of.  With her commitment to do what is right by her work, Madame Johansen continues to stand out and  ranks amongst very high level global leaders and officials rendering an effortless global applause towards the work she has done. 

3. DISRUPT the mundane and create innovative paths to solve solutions 


Madame Johansen has continuously set trends in football from being the first woman in Africa to be the president of the football association to growing a global brand for herself. From features on major platforms such as the Guardian , New Africa woman magazine, the BBC and here on women change Africa, to speaking at high level Fifa events, we believe this is just be beginning for Madame Johansen and can't wait to see her next chapter unfold.  

During her keynote Madame Johansen talked about her decision to run for president of the Sierra Leone Football  Association "I threw my hat in life has never been about being a woman and feeling sorry for myself, so I went in and the men could see it coming,  I was out to disrupt it not in a negative way but I was curious about it". 

She explained during her keynote that she felt she had done something substantial and stood a chance to win particularly with her work with FC Johansen, having a winning football team for young boys, taking youth out of the country to play for the first time to European teams and  bringing boys from Norway to Sierra Leone, whilst showcasing the power of football and bringing cultures together. Johansen explains that "I saw a group of men talking and nothing tangible to show. I challenged them by saying this is my walking billboard what have you done?" She explained calmly to the audience very self affirmed  "and I won unopposed". Madame Johansen is definitely winning, soaring and disrupting the global scape and we continue to cheer on the Bosschique that she is. 

We hope you are just as inspired about Madame Johansen as we were hearing her speak on her work and her journey.

To read on our past interview of Madame Johansen and to find out more on her work click here: 
WCA's Bosschique(ism) Interview Isha Johansen



Wednesday, October 12, 2016

#BornKinkyDealwithit: Africans Gone Natural's Campaign


This month WCA had a quick chat with Africans Gone Natural on their latest campaign #BornKinkyDealwithit  



In speaking to the co-founders of the organization Cynthia Amo and Olivia Frempong. They both share  that On October 1st, AfricansGoneNatural  Inc, launched our #BornKinkyDealWithIt campaign in light of events that took place over the summer in South Africa, where girls were banned from attending school due to rocking their natural hair.  The founder notes "Prior to this incident, our main mission from day one in May 2015 has been to help bring awareness, acceptance, education and empowerment in regards to Natural hair to women and girls worldwide.  With this recent event, we felt it was time to move this initiative forward with full force."  

We asked the ladies of the organization to share the top three reasons we should all be paying close attention to the campaign and here is what they had to say about the campaign: 

#BKDWI Empowers girls and women to embrace their God given hair!


AGN: At AfricansGoneNatural, our whole motive was to help young girls and women learn to embrace their God given hair. We live in a society that has developed its own social "norms" and we identified the need to spread awareness to the fact that natural hair is and should be accepted in all aspects of society. For many years, women of African descent amounted to straightening their hair with relaxers and so when the boom of natural hair women occurred, there was negative feedback. Slowly the number of women desiring to have hair return to its natural state has increased, and it is our passion in helping women embrace this. When the case in South Africa occurred it affected us personally as it spoke volumes to confirm the very reason why we do what we do to help enlighten women with the need to come to terms that it is okay to accept the way your hair grows on your head.

#BKDWI Educates people on the treatment and maintenance of their hair

AGN: Along with the desire to enlighten people with the acceptance of natural hair it's also our mission to help educate people on how to care for, treat and maintain their natural hair. We provide support daily through our various media streams with hair care and maintenance tips as well as do it yourself recipes in an effort to help inform people on how to maintain their natural mane. This serves as a way to encourage and unite the natural hair community by bringing natural hair divas together.


#BKDWI Invokes a mindset and cultural paradigm shift on the issue of hair

AGN:Last but not least our mission at AfricansGoneNatural is to help people worldwide internalize that there is more "Beyond the Kink." Natural hair is only one of the most empowering things that a young girl or woman can possess. Our goal at AFRIKINKY is to help women embrace their natural hair and in term apply their fierceness to other aspects of their lives such as fitness, business, education and spiritual. Our goal is to inevitably incorporate all areas of their lives to empower and excel them to be the very best that they can be, to thrive in this society to help make an impact. We hope that through our #BORNKINKYDEALWITHIT campaign, we can help initiate this movement and help made a change in this world.

We wish the campaign well and we hope you all stay connected with the movement. You can follow more on the campaign @Africansgonenatural via Instagram. 
Images Courtesy of @Africangonenaturals www.africangonenaturals.com. 


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