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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Honoring Bosschique Isata Kabia of Sierra Leone: Politician + Entrepreneur


Photocredit Tbphotography

We begin our Bosschique(ism) series this month with a woman I have been fortunate to call a big Sister. I was introduced to Honorable Isata Kabia because she came highly recommended with a passion that she has for girls rights and women's rights. She served as guest speaker for my non for profit organization GESSL during our annual summit in December of 2015.  Isata Kabia is the recently instituted Minister of State II at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Prior to this she held a position in parliament and was the spear heading parliamentarian who launched the safe abortion bill in Sierra Leone. Isata is committed to women's and girls rights, in Sierra Leone and has done extensive work in Sierra Leone on these issues particularly in her home town Lunar where she represented as a parliamentarian. Isata is also an entrepreneur and owns Afrilosophy a made in Sierra Leone brand that prides itself in home grown and recyclable products such as body care, accessories, etc. She is a strong woman, with a quiet presence of strength and what I would call a quiet storm.  In light of International Women's month and women's history month, Isata is the trailblazer to highlight as we launch our series for this year. We hope you enjoy the interview as indeed she is a force to be reckoned with.

Q: Describe yourself in 1 word and tell us why you chose that word?

A: enigma : because I'm a mystery, even to myself:
An Introvert in public arena; 
Very private person who took up public office;
A coward brave enough to move halfway across the world and start over

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself, your cultural heritage and background, where you grew up and what brings you to the work that you do both in business and politics 

A: I was born in Sierra Leone, where I attended primary school, a foundation which I find to be the spring board of everything I do, even now. Moved to London, (reluctantly). Even at the age of eight I knew I didn't want to leave Sierra Leone, and I've managed to find my way back home. I grew up in a heavily immigrant area in north London, and went to school with all kinds of cultures. I was raised in a very traditional home, over protected as a girl, and found the first stirrings of a rebellious spirit during those times when I wondered why can't I do what my brothers do; why can't I go out like them...on my first vacation to Sierra Leone at 16, I asked my mother if she packed all those ancient rules and regulations in her trunk just for me, 'because', I said to her, 'they don't have them in Sierra Leone anymore'.
That first vacation taught me there is nothing in the world I love more than Sierra Leone, that I was made for this place. And I've been finding my way back ever since. Politics as a destination, was never apparent, but I knew I wanted to work for my country.

Q: How do you take care of yourself and what to you enjoy doing to take time for yourself outside of work?

A: I used to run a gym and spa which made it very easy to fit in exercise and pamper myself. Now I find it very difficult to fit in the extra time, but I've made a resolution for 2016 to play as hard as I work. You cannot look after anybody if you don't take care of yourself first. I've recently started yoga classes more regularly. The memory of the feeling of zen and strength from previous sessions makes it easier to get up early instead of choosing an extra 20 minutes of snooze time. 

Q: You most recent achievement as a politician has been having the most controversial Safe Abortion Bill passed in Freetown. And recently you have been appointed at Minister of Foreign Affairs. Tell us how do you balance being a politician and a business woman as well? 

A: I'm not sure how business will fit into my new role as Minister of State, but as a parliamentarian it was a most natural marriage. Being a social entrepreneur,  opportunities and  industry that creates jobs for constituents was a perfect way to succeed ethically at both jobs.
We are in the midst of building a business center in my constituency to house some of our manufacturing enterprise such as tailoring, jewelry making and fabric design, which creates jobs particularly for women. Being at the center of a mining community this was particularly urgent for me, due to the social issues engendered by new affluence of men. Our women and girls were in a precarious situation.
Our business dealing with local manufacturing enabled local artists to earn a living with their talents, to become self employed with limited job opportunities, and to eventually become employers themselves.


Q: Tell us a bit about Afrilosophy and Why did you decide to enter into business and why this specific market? 

A: I want the 'made in Sierra Leone' brand to mean something of high standard, of superb quality, to establish the fact that we can do it too; for our nation to move into manufacturing, an area so neglected that we import almost everything we use, an emerging area for Africa in economic diversification. Again, as a nation our economy is heavily dependent on mining, and my constituency was in the midst of that. I want to show the example of using those revenues from the extractive industry to create other types of jobs

Q: Tell us about challenges you face doing business in Africa particularly Sierra Leone? How have you overcome these challenges? 
A: the inputs required at the ownership level are enormous with a fledgling manufacturing industry. We are a cottage industry trying to set the example in cosmetics manufacturing, so everything is a first. To overcome these challenges we've started on a small scale, making more familiar items such as soaps and body oils, when in reality we can make everything from shampoos to lipsticks.

Q: What do you believe has contributed to the growth of your business? 

A: novelty: people can't believe these items are made in Sierra Leone
Quality: products are better than any body shop product
Standards: if you turn our clothing inside out, you could almost wear it and not notice the difference due to superior finishing
Heart: we support local artists 
Original: i like to come up with my own creations 

Q: 10 years from now where do you see your personal brand and your brand for Afrilosophy ?
A: a made in sierra Leone cosmetics brand with a west African marketing. An established manufacturing culture that supports locally made shoes, belts, clothes from AFRiLOSOPHY in the African region.
 A personal brand that represents women in Africa and the world; a door opener for young women in Sierra Leone to be able to do much more than I will because I would have given them the courage to start much earlier than we dared.


Q: Tell  us 3 most important characteristics one must have to be successful in your field of work both business and politics? 
A: woman, know thy self!
     Follow your heart / gut/ instincts 
     Be prepared to be judged more harshly than men

Q: What does Sisterhood mean to you and why is it critical to our success as African women? 
A: I have seen first hand what sisterhood can do. I have experienced first hand an arena where we are the minority (in politics) and how that creates competition amongst us, instead of support for each other. This delays our collective and individual success as women, but we are yet to fully grasp the concept of 'all of us, first'. As long as we fight for self and not for women , we all sort of fail together, it stunts all our growth. But when we fight to increase the space for women in general, we all win.
In business on the other hand we are the majority, but at the bottom end : micro and small businesses. We are not the decision makers (CEOs)'of corporations, we are not the money lenders. We are still the minority at the top.

Q: Please complete the sentence Women Change Africa because?
A: when women are involved in decision making at family, community and national levels, everybody wins.

Photocredit Tbphotography 

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