Erica Tavares is an Environmentalist, Co-Founder and Executive Director at EcoAngola. A 100% bootstrapped startup increasing awareness of the civil society, local government and policy makers regarding local and world environmental problems, conservation and sustainability whilst trying to creatively find realistic solutions to tackle these problems. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, she shares her sojourn in to climate change advocacy, social entrepreneurship and EcoAngola journey. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about what sparked the launch of EcoAngola?
Erica: EcoAngola was founded by me and two other Angolans, Paulo Pizarro and Leonardo Pizarro. We did not know each other until the day I received a call from Paulo, days before graduating from my Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Biology. He shared their idea about launching a philanthropic project that would promote environmental conservation and sustainability in Angola, which immediately raised my interest.
He explained that they had been looking for partners for quite some time but were unsuccessful. Although some people expressed interest to join the initiative, none of them actually had the energy, time and passion to develop the idea of EcoAngola from scratch, because it was time consuming and without any immediate return. They were looking preferentially for a young and enthusiast person, with a background in biology or an environment related field, because none of them had much experience or further understanding about the subject, besides being conscious about the world ecological crisis we are currently living and the critical environmental problems in Angola.
Being born and raised in Angola, I have always been connected to nature. After concluding high school, I then decided to study biology, and that was the start of my journey through environmentalism. Studying biology and environmental science, made me extremely aware of how important initiatives such as EcoAngola are to make a positive change in developing countries.
So, EcoAngola was really the kind of organization that I have always imagined myself working with but never thought that I would be part of it so early, as Executive Director, and that it would grow so fast and become so relevant, as it is right now.
Alaba: What is the main focus of your startup and the gap it’s filling?
Erica: Angola is a resource rich country, with vast land and diverse ecosystems. However, the country faces various environmental challenges, such as deforestation, desertification, draught, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and pollution. The climate change, population growth, poverty and lack of environmental education programmes, aggravate the problem and accelerate the degradation of the ecosystems, with serious economic, social and environmental consequences.
The main focus of EcoAngola is to increase awareness of the civil society, local government and policy makers regarding local and world environmental problems, informing and educating about environmental conservation and sustainability whilst trying to creatively find realistic solutions to tackle these problems. We write articles on relevant environmental topics and publish them on our website (ecoangola.com) and social media.
We also organize events and campaigns such as beach cleanings and reforestation. We promote discussions involving experts from the public and private sector, within the Angolan community, so that we could start finding solutions that are best adapted to our reality and that could serve as a basis to develop new national environmental policies. We also noticed that there was no collaboration between existent environmental organisations, so we started supporting and collaborating with other environmental organisations and related initiatives, building bridges between all of them, and working for the common good.
Unity is very important if we want societal change to happen, particularly because the country is so big and the initiatives are so few that it is easy to assume that nothing is being done and a lot of these initiatives actually die due to insufficiency of collaboration in our society.
Alaba: How are you funding your startup?
Erica: So far, we have been mostly funded by ourselves. Human capital is actually the biggest treasure we have, and the volunteers who continue to join our organisation are the ones catalysing the fast growth of EcoAngola. There is an incredible amount of ideas that we could implement and that would have a great impact, but we have now prioritised environmental education and awareness initiatives, because they build the foundation of consciousness and drive the change of mindset and attitude.
We started recruiting volunteers, most of them young university students, who do not have much working experience, giving them some exposure and the opportunity to contribute and be part of the EcoAngola team. I usually say: “we are growing together”. Our campaigns and events are normally supported and funded byvarious organizations that collaborate with us. For example, for our first beach cleaning campaign, each partner organisation made a different contribution, from water, to gloves, bags, the trash collection and disposal.
We will soon be able to receive donations and funding for our events, campaigns and projects, but we also stand to our values, so will not accept funding from companies that consistently damage the environment and promote green washing. Financial support will help us to expand our project and have a much broader and bigger impact.
Alaba: What are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?
Erica: One of our biggest challenges is definitely funding, as this limits us on the implementation of our projects. In the short term, we are prioritizing the ideas and projects that need the least financing and that can have the greatest impact.This has worked well so far and has made EcoAngola progress and grow faster than we anticipated.
Another challenge is the difficulty to recruit and maintain volunteers motivated because there is no financial motivation and no immediate results.
To motivate our volunteers, we give credit to their work, offer certificates of appreciation and give recognition for their dedication to EcoAngola. I feel that the progress of EcoAngola itself has been a self-motivation for the entire team of volunteers working with us. We also try to constantly show some of the positive changes that are already happening as a result of the collective effort of our volunteers.
Lastly, we noticed that most people assume that EcoAngola is an enormous, well-funded organisation because of our mobilization and online presence – but we are not. We have a small executive team, a team of volunteers that help to coordinate our campaigns, events and activities, and a group of volunteers that write articles on relevant topics.
Alaba: How does your startup measure it’s impact?
Erica: We measure our impact from the feedback we receive about our articles, events and activities, through the number of people visiting our website and engaged through social media, the growing number of people that want to join our Green Movement (environmental awareness initiative), the growing number of people and organizations that want to work or partner with EcoAngola, and through the societal and governmental behaviour change we notice.
We have also noticed an increase in the amount of similar initiatives and the changes that happen with the people who join us. There is more hope and therefore, more energy that transcends society and makes us believe that we are causing a positive and material impact.
Alaba: What is the future of EcoAngola?
Erica: I am a dreamer and I consider myself to be farsighted. I imagine EcoAngola expanding to all of Angola with several environmental and social projects being developed. I believe that we can have a great impact in the future of Angola and Africa, especially when it comes to tackling pollution, poverty, biodiversity conservation and climate change.
We are starting with the foundation of development, which is education, but we aim to really influence public policy and build a more sustainable and ecological way of thinking for the entire nation. For our Green Movement, we aim to reach at least 100,000 people in the next 2 years. It will be a long process, but the hardest part is behind us already, which is to start.
Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of Africa?
Erica: By raising environmental awareness in Angola, I strongly believe that we can give an example to other nations that sustainable development can be a reality. It is hard to do it, especially because the Angolan economy is based on oil and gas production and exports, but I believe it is feasible and realistic. We are considering expanding the EcoAngola project to other African nations, starting with the Portuguese speaking first.
We need to leave the theory and start practicing, adapt the challenges that we face with our reality, and implement creative and sustainable solutions. We have enough information and understanding about what the ecological crisis can do the life on earth and a base of sustainable actions that we can use to change that. So, we need to act, and we need to act now.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African social entrepreneur?
Erica: I feel very proud of myself for taking the first step and being bold and fearless. I really appreciate the support and trust that our volunteers have on me. I admire everyone who joins us in this wonderful project, because that means that just like me, they have hope and they do believe that we can make the world a better place. It has to start with us, otherwise, who will do it?
This is one of the questions I ask myself, when things get harder. I imagine how the future will be, if we continue to make Angola a more sustainable and fair country to live. I am actually the youngest one in the Team, I am only 22 years old and they believed in me since day one, and have given me the chance to show what I am capable of doing. This boosted my confidence and I believe in myself and I believe in us more than anything.
One of the best feelings ever is to watch change happen and this makes me believe even more in EcoAngola. It is always a good feeling when I am able to mobilize and recruit new people into volunteering, and when I can show them that we can all do better, even if there is no direct reward given to us. Little by little, step by step we can do greater things, together.
It has been a challenge to do all of this, while I am still studying far away from Angola, and also working to sustain myself.
Alaba: What is your advice for government, social entrepreneur and investors in Africa?
Erica: My advice is that we need to build solid bridges of communication and participation between government, social entrepreneurs, investors, research institutions and civil society. There is so much that needs to be done and so many things with a huge potential that could help us bring positive changes, such as ecotourism, for example. We need to leave the word ‘potential’ behind and we need to use that potential for the good, for growth, for sustainable prosperity.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Erica: At this moment I am studying a Master’s in Ecology and Evolution, I work part-time at a restaurant, and I am a mobilizer for ReGenesis, a platform and community for global support in local actions through art activism- so it has been really challenging to manage my time with my professional and student life with my relaxing time. But I am the type of person that believes in balance. I maintain my physical and mental health stable. I used to read more sci-fi books, but now I am more focused into motivating myself because of the challenges I face daily.
I am currently reading the book ‘Originals’ by Adam Grant which was a Christmas gift – it has been an easy read because I have actually been connecting a lot with the theory shared in this book, especially the part about believing in ourselves. Because I am doing a Master’s in research, I spent most of my reading time reading research papers which I find interesting and mostly fascinating for new discoveries in the world of science, particularly ecology.
B I O G R A P H Y
Erica TavaresEnvironmental Biology graduate, currently studying a Master’s of Research in Ecology and Evolution. Passionate about people, nature and science, particularly because they provide us tools to understand the world. Using the knowledge I am gaining for fair biodiversity and human rights.
My mission is to raise awareness about environmental exploitation and degradation, promoting sustainability and environmental conservation. To accomplish that, I have co-founded and now direct EcoAngola. I am also a mobilizer for ReGenesis, a platform and community for global support in local actions through art activism.
Interview with Monica Sekhmet Grant, President of Young Boss Media Inc.
Monica Sekhmet Grant is the true definition of a Young Boss. She’s been employing workers, building organizations, and producing her own products since her college days. A native of Ypsilanti Michigan but raised in North Augusta South Carolina. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Monica shares her entrepreneurship journey, humanitarian initiatives, book launch and the future for Young Boss Media Inc. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you tell us about Young Boss Media Inc and the gap its filling?
Monica: Young Boss Media Inc. produces media that will empower under-represented communities to gain ownership over their image, voice and economic & political future. Hollywood and broadcast TV are under-represented in gender, age, ethnicity and sexual status. This lack of representation excludes certain groups from obtaining information and resources that have the power to enhance their ability to thrive in a challenging economy. Young Boss Media is on a mission to change that!
Our mission is to produce high-quality content that engages under-represented communities while building a multi-media network dedicated to social impact influencers and to cultivate an online and offline community of innovation, artistry, entrepreneurship and activism.
Alaba: What sparked your interest into the media space and how did you come up with the name?
Monica: By trade I was a community and labor organizer and I’ve always had a passion for economics. Around the age of 10, I started asking “Why are some people rich, while others are poor.” In America, the Old Boss is the plantation owner, the factory manager, the 9-5 hustle that drained your energy and only gave you enough money to make it back to work the next day. The Old Boss in media was the White Blonde Face with White Blonde stories that did not reflect my community but still dominated what we saw on television.
In 2015, I started producing shows in New York City for another entrepreneur name Bonnie Bruderer. I learned how to build a media network from her. On March 22, 2017, I launched my first talk show under Young Boss Media called Master Plan and the rest is history. We’ve grown into a global media network with 30 producers, hosts and interns producing content around the clock.
Alaba: Since the launch of your platform, what are your achievements? And how do you measure impact?
Monica: The greatest achievement is seeing my people happy. I get calls, texts, and emails everyday saying how powerful our shows are. I strive to make my ancestors happy. If they are pleased, then I am rich.
Alaba: Do you think luck played a role in your success story?
Monica: I got lucky being born in America, that’s about it. I worked for everything else.
Alaba: Did you venture alone? What was the hardest part in the early stages of the company’s growth?
Monica: Young Boss Media has 30 host, producers, and interns now but in the beginning, it was just me. I wanted to partner with people because that’s who I am by nature, but many people proved that they weren’t ready for the long-haul. I don’t believe in the get rich quick hustle. You put in the work every day, doing work that you love to do and then you sleep with a smile. That’sit. The rewards will come.
I learned to do things on my own and to trust my own vision. If I wanted something to be done, it’s up to me to do it. I prayed for the right people to come into my life and eventually they all did and at the right time too. I don’t’ let people stress me. I trust my instinct and if it’s not the right vibe, I keep it moving.
Alaba: How are you navigating the impact of COVID-19 in your industry? Are you post COVID-19 ready?
Monica: I love it, everything is virtual, and everyone finally sees the importance of independent media. It feels like I have been preparing for this moment since the 2008 recession and now that it’s here I’m calm cool and in control of my destiny. God bless all of those impacted negatively by Corona. We must remain safe and follow God.
Alaba: What is your plan for young media entrepreneurs especially the female entrepreneurs in terms of support?
Monica: Young Boss Media Activist Institute is a non-profit organization focused on increasing social justice activism and entrepreneurship via media training. We allow young people of color to produce TV shows, build websites and work behind the scenes of Young Boss Media. I teach our students how to be independent and not look for a job but instead they can be the one to create opportunities for themselves. I don’t baby my students. They must work for their respect. Entrepreneurs don’t take days off. They know that this is not a hobby. My students learn how to build an empire.
I give freely to all of my students regardless of gender or ethnicity but based on who they are I tell them the truth about what to expect in this industry. Women must speak up and not wait to be called on. They must learn to stop doubting themselves and to accept failure as a beautiful part of the process. Men must learn when to ask for input and not think that everything is about them. Every industry is becoming more women dominate, so they learn how to play well with others by working with me. For all of my students they must know that they can’t fool me. I’ve lived a full life and I know when you’re scamming and scheming.
Alaba: What’s the future for Young Boss Media Inc?
Monica: 24-hour programming of globally produced continent. We are looking for producers and hosts for our African initiative Young Boss Africa. I am also launching my 4th book, Mind Your Business and Prosper on August 17th, 2020. You can order it on YoungBossMedia.com
Alaba: Can you tell us about your humanitarian activities and your new book?
Monica: Humanitarian Activities:
Young Boss Media Activist Institute
Fight for Fight Campaign
Black Lives Matter
Climate Reality Corps
Organizing a Pan-African Credit Union in the Bronx
Organizing daycare workers, domestic workers, EMS workers and taxi drives into a labor union.
Mind Your Business and Prosper is the blueprint for business success. Written for students transitioning into adulthood, struggling to find their identity but are driven to have their voice heard and make an impact on the world. Monica proves that you don’t have to wait until you’re 50 years old to be successful. Instead, you can live an amazing fulfilled life right now.
Global Release is August 17, 2020.
Alaba: When are you coming to Africa and where would you love to visit?
Monica: As soon as possible. My DNA traces back to Kenya and Nigeria so those are first on my list. I also love and adore Senegal. I must get to South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt and Mauritius as well. But honestly,I’ve seen so many beautiful pictures of Africa that I’m ready to spend most of my time country-hopping for the next year or two, recording and documenting my experience.
Alaba: How do you relax and fun fact about you?
Monica: I spend quality with my family, eating laughing and going to the beach. I enjoy talking to my Vice President Raphael about business ideas and him fully understanding my vision. We can’t take the people in our life for granted. They are special.
Fun Fact: I taught myself how to play the saxophone in college.
B I O G R A P H Y
Monica Sekhmet Grant is the true definition of a Young Boss. She’s been employing workers, building organizations, and producing her own products since her college days. A native of Ypsilanti Michigan but raised in North Augusta South Carolina, Monica studied business at Delaware State University because she wanted to understand how some people continued to get richer while others remained poor.
After college, Monica moved to New York City and made a career of empowering Black and Brown communities through life coaching and community organizing. “One builds personal power while the other build collective power. Each one is vital and should not be isolated.” Monica is an advocate for economic justice and fairness, for all communities especially her own. She believes that most men and women of African descent naturally desire to live in safe prosperous communities that support economic growth.
She has campaigned for workers’ rights with the Fight For $15 Campaign, the Service Employees International Union, and AFSCME International Labor Union. On March 22, 2017, Monica launched what would become the most rewarding project of her life, Young Boss Media. An idea to interview entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities quickly expanded into a television network consisting of young Black producers and hosts that never believed they would one day be on TV. Monica believes in giving people the opportunity to produce media that will uplift their community, even if their community is not hers.
Monica is currently based in New York City. On June 19, 2020, she announced the release date of her autobiographical, self-help workbook, Mind Your Business and Prosper: A Young Entrepreneur’s Guide to Being Successful. Her goal is to provide mentorship to new entrepreneurs in a down to Earth manner that wasn’t available when she was a student. Mind Your Business and Prosper will launch globally on August 17, 2020. Young Boss Media is also expanding into Africa with Young Boss Africa, an initiative to highlight innovation among youth on the African continent.
Meseret Haileyesus – The Ethiopian Canadian Women Leader Creating Impact
Meseret Haileyesus, founder of the Canadian Centre for Women’s Empowerment (Image Credit: Meseret Haileyesus)
Meseret Haileyesus is a social justice advocate, change-maker, intersectional feminist, and entrepreneur. Founder of the Canadian Centre for Women’s Empowerment (CCFWE) with a keen interest in addressing systemic barriers and other challenges that prevent women and girls from fully realizing their human rights. CCFWE is the only Canadian Nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of economic abuse and transforming responses to it.
Meseret works to influence public policy decisions that support domestic violence survivors to make a successful transition to economic independence. She seeks to fill the gaps for the development of new approaches to address economic injustice by reviewing existing systems, policies, and procedures in Canada. The Canadian Centre for Women’s Empowerment (CCFWE) highlights the issue of economic injustice through responding to national policy consultations and working with individuals in local and national government.
Born and raised in Ethiopia and now living in Canada, for decades she has worked tirelessly to advocate for women and child health around the world as well as economic empowerment for women and marginalized peoples. With a background in, midwifery, economics, global health, and Aromatherapy, she drives social change by advocating for high-quality and accessible sexual and reproductive healthcare for women on a global scale, with a goal of ending gender-based violence.
Her passion for gender equality has led her to spend over 16 years, working with various national and international non-profit organizations on dozens of projects centered on issues of HIV/AIDS prevention, poverty reduction, sexual and reproductive health right, quality of maternal and newborn health, and building community capacity to take action to advance social justice initiatives.
Past community involvement includes the Alberta Community Council for HIV/AIDS, Alberta Health Services, University of Alberta, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, Laurentian University, Canadian Network for Society Network, Women in Edmonton, World Bank Gender Equality and Diversity in Customs & UN Women- Women’s Economic Empowerment, UNICEF, African Medical Research Foundation, Jpiego- affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, Johns Snow Institute and Ethioaid Canada.
Meseret is a member of multiple UN and World Health Organization programs, where she produces strategies to reinforce the reproductive health components for health sector reform programs in developing countries. She serves as an ambassador for World Pulse, a global network to amplify women as well as an ambassador for the RHEALYZ Global Empowerment Initiative Africa, a Nigerian organization that helps individuals, families, and organizations achieve Sustainable Development Goals. She is also President for Global Humanitarian Community, and Director for End FGM Canada Network.
Prior to relocating to Canada in, Meseret works on Maternal and child health programs particularly on Maternal Child Health and reproductive health rights, where she had the profound pleasure of assisting many marginalized pregnant African women through the amazing journey of pregnancy, childbirth, and new motherhood in Ethiopia. These experiences combined with her lifelong commitment to gender equality and women’s health and well-being led Meseret to found Maternity Today, an international non-profit organization that strengthens women and child health through superior advocacy, research, and education in developing countries.
Beyond her social justice and public health involvement, Meseret is also the owner of Nacre Organics, and an advocate with David Suzuki Foundation for the promotion of nontoxic green personal care products, “biodegradable plastic-waste free planet” and zero-waste packaging.
As a health and wellness industry entrepreneur, she is also a program advisor at Algonquin College’s Esthetician and Spa program. Nacre Organics is plant-based wellness and lifestyle brand she launched with her daughter that helps protect, elevate, refresh, relax, moisturize and groom the body and mind. Meseret’s mission is to create exquisite skincare, drawing upon her knowledge of Clinical Aromatherapy and natural skincare formulation, vitality, and wellness.
Nacre organics was born out of her determination to formulate and hand produce skincare with love, made with the finest, raw ingredients for radiant, blissfully youthful, healthy skin. She was also a co-founder of Novigo Natural Skin Care. A percentage of the profits are donated to support domestic violence survivors.
Meseret was named one of the 100 Most Accomplished Black Canadian Women and nominees for several awards. She is a proud mother of one beautiful daughter who inspires and motivates her every day.
Viero: A SaaS Platform Enabling Entrepreneurs Create Food Delivery App Without Code In 60 Seconds
Viero & Zistify Founders, Basheer Phiri and Hopewell Fakude
Launching a food delivery start-up requires an entrepreneur to manage 4 aspects; Restaurants, Delivery Agents, Customers, and the most costly of them all, an application. Building a food delivery application can cost up to $60 000. There are also additional costs that need to be paid on a monthly basis to maintain and improve the application. “This is a major barrier to entry into the food delivery industry in Africa” said Basheer Phiri, the founder and CEO of Viero.
“Because of these high costs, we see a lot of food delivery Startups all over Africa serving the urban market, because it is big, and has enough customers to cover the development and maintenance costs and make a profit.” Basheer believes that food delivery Startups do not target township and non-urban areas because these markets need to be built from the group up, which means additional marketing costs and slower growth and adoption rates.
Therefore, coupled with the need to cover maintenance costs and the demand for growth and traction from investors, food delivery Startups prefer competing in the already established urban markets. This has led to high concentration in urban markets while non-urban markets remain relatively untapped.
“We saw this and realised that there was value that could be created” said Basheer. “After speaking to a few interested entrepreneurs, we saw that they could manage every aspect of the food delivery business, but could not afford to pay for an App. That is how Viero was born”
Viero is a SaaS Platform that enables entrepreneurs to create a food delivery web application with no code in 60 seconds. (Here’s how it works – https://youtu.be/1T9oxNtRDpM).
The platform built a standard food delivery application template and enables it to be cloned, rebranded and hosted through white-labelling. Entrepreneurs can use the application under a monthly subscription and have access to many features depending on their chosen plan. Entrepreneurs can also make changes to the layout and design of their app, all without any code.
Launched in South Africa on 1 June 2020, the platform has achieved amazing uptake thus far. 22 Apps in total have been created with 2 Food delivery Startups that are live and operating in South Africa and 20 other Startups preparing for launch. 108 orders have been delivered, with R4700 processed in transactions, 200 customer users, 16 listed stores and 45 delivery agents.
Viero was launched by UCT students Basheer Phiri and Hopewell Fakude. They met in their first year in 2018 as residents of Smuts Hall Residence at The University of Cape Town, when they were introduced by a mutual friend who noticed their passion for entrepreneurship. Since then, they have worked together on several Startups and projects.
Basheer and Hopewell are not new to the food delivery industry. In 2019, they launched Zistify, a food delivery start-up for the university market. Zistify delivers food ordered from food vendors on campus through it’s app to university students and staff.
Viero is in capable hands and is ready to disrupt the food delivery industry in Africa. Currently raising a $100 000 seed round to incorporate logistics into its business offering, to bring in more talent to the team, and to continue building and improving the platform.