Women in The Room Making Their Mark (Part III)
In our final instalment of The Room’s Most Inspiring Women, we feature innovators, social entrepreneurs and newsmakers across a broad range of spheres — from human rights to Hollywood, marketing to media, science and engineering to the tech industry. While they may operate in a diverse array of countries and contexts, they were chosen on the basis of their extraordinary achievements and contributions as fearless leaders in The Room.
Women are tired of microfinance. There is nothing ‘micro’ about women. Women are looking for financial instruments that are more complex and fitted to their businesses. They want credit lines, guaranteed funds, equity. Unless we change that, women are not going to go anywhere.
African change agent Oulimata Sarr is the Regional Director for UN Women, covering 24 countries in West and Central Africa. Hailing from Dakar, Senegal, she is a fierce champion of women’s empowerment. Prior to joining the United Nations, she spent 10 years at the International Finance Corporation and also worked as a Senior Auditor with Ernst & Young. Oulimata was a founding member of the African Women IFC Network and served as a Cherie Blair Foundation Mentor for their prestigious Women in Business Programme. In 2017, she was invited by Vital Voices to join the Global Ambassadors Program as a mentor for women entrepreneurs around the world. An advocate for the financial freedom of women, she plays an active role in the Women Investment Club Senegal, which aims to provide long-term capital to women-owned businesses.
Fearless African women are owning it, doing it, making it and smashing barriers.
Zain Verjee is one of the world’s most respected and recognized journalists, with a dazzling career as a storyteller, entrepreneur, communicator and master interviewer. A former CNN anchor and correspondent, she travelled the world covering US foreign policy, conducted exclusive interviews with state leaders and won an award for her reporting from the Korean DMZ. Since leaving CNN, she has made a successful transition to the world of communications and creative entrepreneurship. Her firm, Zain Verjee Group, builds transformative communications and media services for emerging markets, working with a range of organizations including Bloomberg Media, Dangote Group, World Health Organization and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Other firms she has co-founded in the creative space include aKoma Media, a continental network of workspaces for Africa’s creative and cultural economy; Amplify, a content creator fellowship in partnership with Mastercard Foundation; and Rouse, an immersive three-day event for a community of women in Africa and the diaspora. Zain is a highly sought-after facilitator and advocate for telling the authentic stories of the African continent.
I’m an Alchemist. It’s my mission to spark profound game changing ideas for companies that matter.
Managing Partner at memBrain, Liz Heller is a renowned innovator, producer and entrepreneur. Described by USA Today as the “‘godmother’ of the women’s cyber movement in Hollywood,” she is noted for her early advocacy of the internet in the entertainment industry. Her award-winning career spans film, music, and technology. She has worked in the entertainment industry in multiple capacities, from Executive VP of Capitol Records to producer of The Basketball Diaries, which starred a young Leonardo DiCaprio. Liz is also the founder of Buzztone, a groundbreaking marketing company dedicated to designing experiences at the intersection of community, consciousness and consumer lifestyles for global brands. As a chief “alchemist”, she tackles a wide variety of challenges in the constantly evolving digital sphere, with her vision driving the development of new technology. Liz is a mentor for X Media Lab, a digital media think tank, and hosts regular networking events and panel discussions for women, including the Virtual Author Conversation Series for The Female Quotient.
We all sit under the shade of trees we did not plant. What are we doing to plant trees under whose shade we will never sit? How are we creating those opportunities for others? If we don’t think about the legacy we’re going to leave, and what makes us angry and what we’re going to do to solve it, we will be missing an opportunity, because we’re all uniquely born to solve one problem.
Ndidi Nwuneli is a serial social innovator and entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience scaling social innovation on the African continent. She is the co-founder of Sahel Consulting and AACE Foods, as well as the founder of LEAP Africa and Nourishing Africa. A graduate of the Wharton School and Harvard Business School, she serves on the boards of the African Philanthropy Forum, AGRA, Godrej Consumer Products, Nigerian Breweries, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Ndidi is the author of Social Innovation in Africa: A Practical Guide for Scaling Impact and the recently launched Food Entrepreneurs in Africa: Scaling Resilient Agriculture Businesses, the first practical primer to equip and support entrepreneurs through the process of starting and growing successful and resilient agriculture and food businesses that will transform the continent. She is a TED Global speaker, WEF Young Global Leader and recipient of the Member of the Federal Republic National Honor from the Nigerian government. Her pioneering work has been featured on CNN, BBC and a range of international media outlets.
Paula Franklin & Mercedes Bailey
Our interests are wide-ranging, but the common thread is bringing about positive change, uplifting people through tourism, conservation, culture and education. We love to highlight the lesser-told stories.
Based in Cape Town and New York, Paula Franklin and Mercedes Bailey are the dynamic duo behind FranklinBailey, a global brand development and communications powerhouse that intersects travel, conservation and culture. The co-founders met at an East African safari company after having separately found an appreciation for a diverse range of communications in the Travel and Hospitality industry. After collaborating on a challenging PR project, these two members of The Room realized that they worked well together, and FranklinBailey was born a year later. With a combined experience of over 20 years cultivating brands and a passion for shining a light on lesser told stories, they have put clients on illustrious lists and showcased some of the continent’s female and LGBTQ+ pioneers. Together, Paula and Mercedes have trailblazed the travel PR scene and made a notorious niche conservation industry more mainstream.
My life’s mission has been around creating gender parity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I’m passionate about driving, supporting and funding female-led innovation through STEM and building spaces for women to thrive.
Naadiya Moosajee is a major global advocate for women in engineering. A civil engineer by training and serial social entrepreneur by passion, she co-founded WomEng, an international social enterprise that develops engineering and STEM talent in girls, and WomHub an organization that supports women entrepreneurs in STEM through education and technology. With professional experience in technical engineering, leadership development, management consulting, education curriculum development, executive women leadership development, and entrepreneurship, Naadiya serves in a variety of leadership roles. She is a board director at Pegasys, a management consultancy, and International Youth Foundation, where she works on youth leadership, employment and entrepreneurship. She is also a member of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community and Global Future Council. In 2014, Forbes featured Naadiya in its 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa list.
Often, women simply don’t think coding is for them. They picture the guy in the basement with a ponytail hacking away on his own. They don’t realise it’s actually a social, creative and innovative career choice.
Arlene Mulder is a powerhouse of a woman, whose courage and determination are in equal proportion to her astounding intelligence. After seven years as an investment banker, she left the finance world to start WeThinkCode, pursuing her dream of starting a tech business that aims to democratize and revolutionize education in order to deliver the world’s top tech talent. Passionate about driving the development of the tech industry as well as establishing innovative digital problem-solving capabilities in Africa, particularly among girls, Arlene is also co-founder of BiB, Africa’s digital audio library that preserves local literary heritage and promotes education through leveraging tech. She is currently the head of Insurance at Vertice MedTech, a medical technologies company, and serves on the board of two companies in the education space. Arlene won the Forbes Woman Africa Technology and Innovation Award in 2019, and was featured on the cover of Forbes Women Africa as one of the 20 New Wealth Creators on the African continent.
I was brought up with the notion that you have to be someone who contributes to society. You have to be someone who also plays your part in creating the community and the country you want to see.
An award-winning scientist with a PhD in Human Genetics, Dr. Aisha Pandor is better known as the CEO and co-founder of SweepSouth, Africa’s first online end-to-end platform for booking, managing and paying for home cleaning services. She is one of a handful of leading black female tech startup CEOs — both in South Africa and internationally — and has led SweepSouth to become one of the fastest-growing startups in the country. Venture-backed, the company became the first South African startup to be accepted into the prestigious 500 Startups accelerator in Silicon Valley. Through SweepSouth, Aisha strives to connect professional, experienced and insured cleaners with homeowners and provide dignified work opportunities for thousands of women. She continues to use her platform to highlight the need for exposing more girls to STEM-related skills, believing that this will go a long way in bridging the global gender gap.
I have been extremely fortunate in my career to always have felt like I was treated as an equal. This has given me the confidence to believe that I can do anything I put my mind to and can actually achieve it.
Swedish by birth, but a cultural mishmash of French, Swiss and Kenyan, Nina Werner is a growth consultant and entrepreneurship coach who has contributed to the development of entrepreneurs across a range of sectors throughout her career. From the humble creative with a brilliant idea to the extraordinary visionary who believes the sky is limitless, she has helped entrepreneurs and social innovators align their personal development with their company’s ambitions so that they can grow together. Drawing upon years of practical experience in a variety of industries — from telecommunications, SaaS and gaming to renewable energy and plastic recycling — Nina believes in empowering others as an expert-generalist. The combination of her engineering background, business model design and on-the-ground experience has equipped her to enable teams and startups to develop a strong operational foundation and culture that supports their transition to scalability and growth.
You must learn to take on leadership — to take initiative, and be resilient.
Olola Vieyra-Mifsud is one of Benin’s top experts on public policy and energy. Having moved from Senegal to Canada when she was young, the impact of discovering a country where water was free and electricity was guaranteed inspired her mission to return to the region and work within the public sector, contributing towards bettering the lives of its people. She joined the international development industry to focus on the environment, climate change and energy, with her chosen specialization motivated by a belief that energy is the foundation upon which basic services can be built and economies can prosper. Olola is the co-founder of Energie Bâtiment Management & Compagnie, which aims to bridge the gap in terms of access to energy through LED technology. Through her work on resource mobilization and management in both the public and private sector, she has developed a rich tapestry of experience in resilient leadership in Africa. She has also been involved in the creation of a network of business angels in Benin, offering financial support and coaching to small companies and start-ups to take their ideas to the next stage.