Firsthand Account By An American Businesswoman At US-Africa Leaders Summit – OpEd

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On December 14, Rahama Wright, Founder/CEO of Shea Yeleen Enterprises (Shea Yeleen, and the Yeleen Beauty Makerspace) took part in the Prosper Africa Deal Room at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC to address leading U.S. and African businesses, investors, and government leaders about fostering economic and community development between both nations through the beauty ingredient supply chain in Africa, and the positive environmental impact of social enterprise. 

Her beauty brand, Shea Yeleen, makes premium natural shea butter skincare products that nourish the skin and empower its producers in northern Ghana. Since 2003, Rahama has worked at the intersection of beauty, business development, and policy, and is passionate about creating opportunities for women in the United States and Africa.

Wright is currently developing the Yeleen Beauty Makerspace, a co-manufacturing space for early-stage beauty entrepreneurs in Washington, DC. The Makerspace will create 200 jobs in an underserved area of the nation’s capital and provide a platform for a new wave of business owners to develop skills and scale production, disrupting an industry in which Black-owned brands generate revenue less than a quarter of what Black consumers spend. This manufacturing facility will be the first commercial shared facility designed to support women and founders of color in the beauty industry in the United States.

Wright has served on the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa since 2014. She previously served in the Peace Corps and has been a guest speaker at the United Nations, State Department State, World Bank, Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and the Sustainable Brands Conference.

During the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit held here in Washington, Robin Tolkan-Doyle and Kestér Kenn Klomegâh had the chance to talk with her on the changing Africa’s business landscape and how she has uniquely positioned herself as a change-maker through the multi-billion dollar beauty industry. Here are the excerpts of the snapshot interview:

Why the Prosper Africa Deal Room at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington is important for you?

The Deal Room is an incredible opportunity to amplify our work to create inclusive African supply chains in the US beauty industry. We are joined by one of our cooperative partners Gladys Petey and the Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio. The summit offers us an opportunity to promote business and to forge new connections with African leaders. It is also a platform for gauging and setting a goal of empowering African women through the production and sale of natural beauty products. Our company already sources its shea butter from women-owned cooperatives in Burkina Faso, and uses a portion of its profits to fund education and entrepreneurship programs for women.

By the way, what are the driving reasons and motivating factors for starting women’s beauty brands?

Women in Africa have been contributing to the global beauty industry as raw material suppliers. By helping them develop value-added ingredients and connecting those ingredients to beauty manufacturing in DC we will increase their wages and create better jobs. Additionally, working with early-stage beauty businesses led by founders of color creates opportunities for residents in DC. It’s a win win partnership that propels more investment in underserved communities and increases market share for women entrepreneurs in the $60 B U.S. beauty industry.

Building a successful business requires certain qualities. What challenges do you envisage on the landscape? Can you share a bit of these with our audience or readers?

Our goal is to address inequality in the beauty industry by creating better jobs for African suppliers and supporting new and growing beauty brands in DC. We we know, of course, there are existing challenges to overcome. Our biggest challenge is how to create jobs in an underserved areas across Africa and connect with a new wave of business owners to develop skills and scale production, raise an industry in which Black-owned brands generate revenue. We are passionate about helping businesses succeed in Africa.

Ensuring you have the endurance and persistence to build a successful business is very important because often success does not happen overnight. Staying power requires a true commitment and passion for the solution you are bringing to market. This challenge requires the visionary to make sure they have balance and the right support network and systems around them. 

Another challenge is access to the right capital to invest in growing your business. Money flows through people so it’s key to have trusted relationships that create the right networks to access the right sized capital for your business. The last challenge I will touch on is hiring the right team and talent. Finding the people who have both the skill set and the commitment to help grow a business can sometimes feel impossible. It requires having a clear recruiting and onboarding process and effectively vetting each candidate.

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

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