In keeping to our pledge to highlight the achievements of women, as well as shine the spotlight on those who are working tirelessly to make our world a better place for everyone regardless of gender, we teamed up with Moyosola Kara, Director of Communications and Marketing at YC startup, Eze and founder of Not for profit, Sponsor A Mom.
She spoke to 7 women holding senior positions in the tech industry while concurrently running thriving side businesses and (or) social enterprises despite their incredibly demanding schedules. They let us into their world and share why they go outside of their day jobs to share other expressions of themselves and how, if at all, they’re able to find a balance.
Abisola and Kunmi Oni
Abisola: Growth specialist at Paystack and co-founder, 1964.
Kunmi Oni: Founder, 1964 and CEO Yetlaw Environmental Services
Their how: Choose a partner who’s strong where you’re not
Abisola and Kunmi are two sisters whose resolve to excellence did not wane in the face of hardship. Abisola’s day job has her executing growth strategy at now exited tech startup, Paystack. She also doubles up as a sounding board for 1964 – a Pan-African ‘comfort meets style’ clothing brand she runs with sister, Kunmi Oni from their base in Lagos. 1964 began as an ode to their mother whose effortless fashion was admired by her daughters. “Before our mum would leave the house, she’d request for our comments as she looked in the mirror. She was very big on comfort. This seeped into our brand as we wanted to create something that was both comfortable yet, trendy”, they explained. However, their hustle doesn’t stop here.
When tragedy hit and their mother passed on, they inherited a cleaning business which they also run together. The driving force behind wanting to keep it afloat? Avoiding the loss of jobs. “It was important to us that none of the staff hired by our mum would have to worry about their income. We wanted to make sure that no one lost their means of survival and we’re proud to say we’ve accomplished that,” they added.
Both sisters not only have an entrepreneurial mindset, they are equally passionate about their communities and ensuring that lives are improved. Utilising a percentage of her profits from 1964, Kunmi runs ‘Bloom Tribe’, a social enterprise created to help disadvantaged children in her community while Abisola manages ‘Beyond a Curved Spine’ a Not-for-profit designed to raise awareness around Scoliosis disease.
Conversation with the business savvy sisters revealed the fondness and respect they have for each other, and, when asked about how they’ve been able to achieve success, they’re quick to share that they lean on each other. Kunmi adds, “Where I’m weak, Bisola is often strong. For example, when I desired structure and had no clue how to go about it, she jumped in and helped put it together”. They play to their strengths and the results speak for themselves.
Location: San Francisco
Communications professional and Founder, Leading Ladies Africa
Her How: Do the thing you were born to do
Francesca is a communications professional who made the ‘big dream’ move from Lagos to Silicon Valley rising up the ranks at Uber. She’s the woman other women tell you to look up to. However, this isn’t all there is to a woman who describes herself as ‘complex.’
“Moyo,” she tells me when I ask her to describe herself in a few words, “I’m not sure how to answer that question […] because I’m complex.” Evolution and Transition, that’s how she moves on to describe herself: “I’ve always grown up as an oddball. I was very insular. I would get annoyed that people would buy me dolls or people would place invisible walls around me with what I could do and what a girl should do.” She adds, “Ask me this same question in 5 years and I may not be who I am now”.
Beyond this, Fran is incredibly passionate about seeing women thrive. This is what spurred her to create Leading Ladies Africa, a social enterprise helping women across the globe navigate career advancement and workplace efficiency, grow their businesses and build leadership skills.
“I remember being a young adult and watching a popular show at the time called Today’s Woman. The host, aunty Adesuwa Onyenokwe featured ordinary women doing fascinating things. I loved it! But then I thought to myself, these are important stories, someone should curate them. Leading Ladies started to do just that”.
But the community, featuring hundreds of thousands of women from all over the world, hasn’t always been easy to run. “There was a time in 2011 where we had to do an event in Yaba College of Technology and we hired a DJ on a bus and handed out flyers. In the end, only 30 people showed up. Undaunted, we continued on and I can say that my biggest gift so far, has been our staying power and our tremendous growth.”
On how she finds balance on both paths, Francesca shares that she follows her yellow brick road wherever the journey takes her and is very big on doing the thing she’s been called to do. “Don’t worry too much if what you’re doing doesn’t have a name yet. Follow that nudging in your spirit and let it guide you.”
VP, Growth at a software company and founder, Biamo Maternity Designs
Her How: Leverage your relationships
Seun Runsewe is a popular name in Nigeria’s vibrant tech industry having worked with brands such as Paystack and OPay. She is well respected for leading the development of products, go-to-market strategy and facilitating adoption and growth of new products.
However, this isn’t all there is to Ms Runsewe whose path to entrepreneurship began from a need to create wealth. “I recall visiting the University of Pennsylvania in the US and thinking to myself, I want my son to go here. Now, given the valuation of our currency and all the other factors that accrue to a typical employee in Nigeria, I knew I needed to make wise investment decisions and find ways to create wealth to make this a possibility” says Seun, mother of one.
“Biamo [Maternity] Designs was inspired by my son and it caters to moms, providing eco-friendly nursing pads, seamless nursing bras, nursing tanks and the list goes on.” The brand is stocked in Medplus pharmacies in Lagos, and soon, Ibadan, Port-Harcourt and Abuja.
Beyond selling to mums, Seun is also an advocate for sharing the information she has acquired over the years to help mums and women on their journey to wealth creation through her ‘Poised for Wealth’ podcast. She also hints that a digital bank for mums is underway as she is currently working to build one. “A lot of women in our society are not clued in on investment options or management of their finances. I want to help the mum community with that because it’s not just about us; we have a whole generation to look after.”
On her key tip for balancing her various outlets and her equally important day job, she has this to say: “There is help: build a pipeline and leverage your existing relationships. Where you need to, create new ones. Partnerships have been my saving grace.”
Location: New York
Cybersecurity and Program Management Professional and Founder, Rora Fitness
Her how: Put everything on your calendar
Jessica is a top woman in the tech industry, holding a role that is pivotal to the security of her organisation – literally. She is a cybersecurity analyst and her daily tasks involve managing security risks in a bid to protect the organisation from security breaches. In her downtime, she’s away from her computer, getting people all over North America to become more active and fit. She runs Rora Fit as a fitness and nutrition coach.
The certified personal trainer adds, “One of the best things I ever did for myself was to hire a business coach who was tailored to the fitness industry to help me put some structure to how I was running my fitness business. I lost a few clients along the way due to COVID but even with the loss, my revenue increased significantly because of the systems he helped me put in place. Now, I’m able to do less work, avoid burnout and still make a good income.”
On achieving balance in her professional life, Jessica adds that she uses her calendar judiciously inserting a task for every hour, including sleep times. “This helps me map out my day and ensures that no time is wasted and I stay disciplined. It also means that parts of my social life had to be sacrificed but I’m able to achieve more and my time is managed better. I also believe in having one rest day where you do absolutely nothing productive – the brain needs to recover.”
Founder, Touch by Asoebi girl & Director of Sales at a Healthtech Startup
Her How: Collaborate with other women
Ijeoma is fondly called Adandiobi (the first daughter of the Obi clan) and she talks about this title with pride. By the time we’re done with our conversation, I see why.
Running a fashion business with an audience base in Nigeria, Kenya, the United Kingdom and the United States is no small feat for this self-starter who also happens to occupy a management role at one of Africa’s highest valued health technology startups. Having run a retail business in her university days, Ms. Onuoha knows a thing or two about hard work and grit. She talks about her journey through university, and how she always sold something – from make-up to clothing – making more than enough profit to sustain herself.
It was this same drive that led her to become a change agent as a biomedical technology undergraduate, creating and overseeing projects under the umbrella of AIESEC, an international student organisation where she secured funding to raise awareness on cervical cancer, HIV/AIDS and the promotion of youth entrepreneurship across Rivers state in 2010. This funding was not easy to secure but would be pivotal to her formal introduction to sales. “I walked the streets of Trans-Amadi under the scorching sun till I found an oil servicing firm who would finally grant me an audience.”
Touch by Asoebi Girl, her clothing brand, was born after Ijeoma moved to Lagos in search of more challenges and opportunities. “I threw myself into creating Touch by Asoebi Girl because I loved seeing women in comfortable fashion that made women happy. To this day, that’s the main reason I create.” Ijeoma, who sketches her own designs and enjoys her independence, is very quick to add that collaboration has earned her invaluable returns. “I have worked with some truly talented women whose resources helped my business get into places that I may have never dreamed of. There is so much power in collaboration,” she adds.
Location: Lagos & Paris
Health technology Consultant/Founder of Yawoa Foundation
Her how: Tap into your ‘why’
Estelle is a healthcare leader & consultant who works with leading global health technology organisations to improve patients outcomes in Africa. She believes that the solution to African patients living longer and healthier lives starts with healthcare system upgrades through infrastructure improvement, and this is reflected in her career journey as a leader in multinational healthcare organizations. Estelle is also an art patron and benefactor who believes that the arts industry deserves as much attention as any other mainstream industry. Through her social enterprise, The Yawoa Foundation, she plans to create a platform where contemporary artists are able to live and thrive from their craft.
In her day job, Estelle helps organisations build and improve healthcare systems in Africa. Her wealth of experience leading growth and operations across Europe, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa has made her voice a weighty one. In her spare time, Estelle is driving arts and culture ensuring that African artists have representation and business advisory while also granting access to the general public. “Art should not only be accessible to a certain class of society, the average individual should also have access to the beauty that is art.”
Despite the fact that both interests seem like polar opposites, Estelle convinces me otherwise. “When you look at both sectors in Africa, there are very similar challenges. There is a serious lack of funding and infrastructural development which means that we are unable to tap into the full potential of both industries. Additionally, a lot of artists are self-taught as there is little to no formal training made available to them or they are trained on archaic methods reducing the likelihood of their success. I find that with these two expressions, I’m able to drive impact, and that has become my cornerstone.”
Excellence looks like many things. For these top women in tech, it has varied expressions, all of which are equally important to document. Thriving in a male-dominated industry is in itself a great feat and so is finding the time to pay it forward to their communities in varying ways. This women’s history month, it’s important to acknowledge the many ways in which women are showing up. On the backs of women, societies are built – in people and in deed.
Happy Women’s History Month!