Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Changing the Game A Conversation with Isha Johansen, President Sierra Leone Football Association, Sierra Leone


Photo Credit: Andrew Esiebo/Panos/The FIFA Weekly

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

What you see is what you get with Isha. I wear every single emotion on the outside for all to see. My facial expressions, my body language and my eyes speak and act for me. No time for camouflage, no time for pretences, and I certainly do not suffer fools gladly or keep prisoners…It is for this reason that people either like Isha with a passion or they equally resent her with a passion. I also believe there are others struggling between blind loyalty in support of the ‘haters’ and the reality about who ISHA JOHANSEN is and stands for.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself, your cultural heritage and background, where you grew up  and what brings you to this work?

 I am a Sierra Leonean. I am not a conventional hard liner for culture. I just know that I am an African woman, a strong one at that, fortunate to have been exposed to privilege and the outside world at infancy and grew up knowing both worlds. Africa (its wealth, and in equal measures its dire poverty) England and English boarding school aristocracy and the privileges which comes with affluence and good breeding. The balance of the two I believe has helped me greatly in understanding how to deal with both cultures in all my undertakings and ventures. Sometimes children get lost along the way, and either become very successful by virtue of their heritage, or they become spoilt and lost because of too much access and no real understanding of the ‘real’ world as we know it in Africa. 

A: Educational background was in Sierra Leone and UK. A convent in Sierra Leone, and a strict christian  girls boarding school in Somerset UK. College was in Oxfordshire, and I lived in London for a good number of years. London is still a very integral part of me. I am a city girl.

Football is just one of the many humanitarian ventures of mine, but no doubt FC Johansen and football being what it is by nature, brought me into the limelight and into the homes of many more than the other philanthrophic works I have been engaged in.

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

A: How I dream of the time I could just do the things normal women do. Pampering and like you say “taking care of yourself’ I DON’T. I wish I could and I miss that because I envy my friends that do all that wonderful spa, and pruning ( laughs). I simply do not have the time. I am blessed with good genes, I believe because I was so very active sportwise whilst at school and college, it has served my body well.
After my long days at work or in between flights, my most treasured moments are with my husband and my three dogs, DUKE, BARON, and PRINCE. (Rottwieller/boxer, Boxer, and German Shepard) my son who is the love of my life is 18 and in University in UK so I try to see him as often as I can.
My favourite addiction is champagne which I drink with or without company so that’s it.
Luckily I have a wonderful husband who is my manager and biggest fan and he supports me whenever, wherever so we manage to balance work and life. Sometimes we wake up at 2am and start chatting and mapping out home and future life till about 5am and then back to sleep again. He is equally manically busy so neither of us have time to bicker or feel guilty about neglecting each other.     


Photo Credit Andrew Esiebo/Panos/The FIFA Weekly

Q: So tell us about your work with the Sierra Leone Football Association what brought you to this work? Leading up this team and franchise?

A: I have told this story so many times I sound and feel like a scratched record. Don’t know whether you are old enough to remember those amplifiers with the needle that our parents had and if the record got scratched because of overplay, it would play the same lines over and over again.
FC Johansen was borne out of a humanitarian deed to help some underprivileged kids stay in school and play football. This was way back in 2004 just after the civil war had ended. In 2008 I made the bold step of taking the boys out to Sweden to participate in an international u-15 youth tournament. That is where the story changed, and the real story became ‘’the field of dreams’’. They toured the world, participating in tournaments in USA, SWEDEN, NORWAY, SPAIN, NIGERIA, SWITZERLAND, GHANA. I hosted two  international youth football tournaments, U-17 AND U-20) inviting teams from Norway, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Guinea to Sierra Leone . FC Johansen rose from a non-division team to a premier league club and force to be reckoned with. The FC Johansen story is one of success above the odds and a story which I guess was the legacy and template I used in my campaign to  become President of the Sierra Leone Football Association.
I did not only talk the talk, I worked the walk to success and achievement.   

Q: What are some recent accomplishments of your work with the SLFA  ?

A: Considering the constant battles to stay on the right course, I believe this new executive has gradually with a lot of resistance gradually started to bring about the culture of accountability, integrity, discipline and respect for game and country, and not least NATIONAL PRIDE. The lack of administrative structures and the lack of integrity and discipline has crippled the development not only of the SLFA but football in Sierra Leone.
FIFA has been one hundred percent in support of this administration because they believe in the vision of the leadership of this administration therefore for the first time we see womens football structures being put in place. Womens league, friendly matches for female football, Grassroots development both at coaches and young players level. Referees courses and the graduation of FIFA referees from Sierra Leone, are all remarkable achievements in the short time and I hasten to add, all of this in the midst of media negativity, stakeholders with agenda’s contrary to the development of football, and a host of negative distractions. But this is what the real test of leadership and resolve is all about. Rising above the challenges. I am extremely proud of what I and the few loyalists have been able to achieve.  

Q: What is an interesting project you are currently working that you don’t mind sharing with us?

A:I never work on just one project. I am always juggling several projects because its very unlikely you will succeed with all. I prefer to focus on three or four and if I succeed with just one, which in most cases often happens, then I am happy. I would rather I did not share the ideas yet, only because the parties involved may not appreciate me discussing the ideas before fruition but I can say it has to do with the welfare, growth and development of youth football. MY HEART AND MY LEGACY. 

Q:  As the Founder of your company tell us the 3 most important things you have learnt in your work that you want to share with others who are interested in starting their own branding business?

A: Speak and make a pact with yourself as to what you really want to achieve and conclude as to how sincere you are to proceed with what you set out to do.

Do not compromise your values and your belief. Uncompromising and self-opinionated are two different things in my opinion. You do not compromise what is the right thing for country and self  integrity. Even if it means you have to go down, lose your job, be incarcerated, then so be it. But let it be known that you went down doing or fighting for the right thing.

Always bear in mind that in leadership, there are two types of people in this world.
The choice is yours to make.

Q: Tell us about a personal challenge you overcame as a leader in this capacity and how did you overcome it?

A: In a nutshell, my zero tolerance to laziness, indicipline, corruption, lack of integrity and patriotism. Some people think I play the gender card which is hilarious to me. Women groups have never fought or pushed my cause  but it is a fact that men still find it a hard pill to swallow being told what to do by a woman. I do not see myself as a vicitim of sexism I see myself as a victim surrounded by a number of morally bankrupt people who are struggling to get back on the right track.  I refuse to derail so it’s a real struggle of willpower and resolve but I do believe that we will get there. If not in my era, I know that I would have set the pace.

Q: In a recent article interview you did with the Guardian UK you talked about some of the challenges you experienced that your team experienced during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. How much of these challenges of authorities not listening to your advice can you attribute to you being a woman? Is this something you experience ongoing in your work? If so how have you dealt with this perception on a female leader like yourself?

A: The challenges in my opinion had nothing to do with being a woman. I may be naïve, but I honestly put the gender issue at the bottom of the list of victimization factors. Yes ofcourse it exists, but I think that our issues are more dire than just gender discrimination. I think that the whole Ebola issue was handled very wrongly from the onset and I think everyone acknowledges that, and the good thing is that we as a nation and the President of the country was able to tackle the problem head on, seek advice and deal with situation. Today, we can only count the days to when we can breathe again and say we are an Ebola free nation. Its an emotional battle because we ask the question, can we ever be Ebola free? Has enough been done, have we not lapsed in certain areas? But the fact is that we were living in hell on earth a few months ago and we braved it out, I see light at the end of the tunnel. 


Q:  As you know your field is one that is male dominated but how do you think you being in the role that you are is impacting young girls and women who aspire to be in the sports world as leaders, and entrepreneurs?

A: women and young girls I hope will be able to see me as an inspirational figure.
     If you can dream it, then you can do it. And my most famous quote,
     “when women win, we all succeed”
     There is nothing like a male territoritory. If you really want to be somewhere, then nothing should stop you. Its about the passion and the drive. I stress the passion and most importantly, the GENUINE INTENTION THAT DRIVES ONE TO THE GOAL.

Q: 10 years from now where do you see yourself and your brand?

A: Gosh myself in ten years, God willing alive I hope. I would like an ambassadorial position where I can fall back on my experiences to inspire others the youth in particular.
As far as a ‘’BRAND’’ is concerned, well I leave that with the Americans they are very good at commercializing a good “sell” so lets see in ten years time if I am worth any commercial value as a brand.

Q: Finish the sentence  “Women Change Africa because…..?”

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