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.
Black Canadians making travel safer for women by helping them rent spaces from other women with Femmebnb
Femmebnb Inc. Co-Founders, Yaa Birago and Diana Obeng (Source: Yaa Birago)
Dismayed by her solo travel experience in 2017, Yaa Birago made it her goal to curate a safe space where like-minded women travel enthusiasts can come together to plan, book, meet, talk, and share everything about travel. Softly launched amidst pandemic, Femmebnb Inc. is the first-ever social networking short-term vacation rental service powered by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) travel assistant that is at the forefront of reshaping ‘Women’s travel experience’, once the world reopens.
After being sexually harassed in-front of her airbnb apartment in Rome, and receiving no support from her male bnb host, Yaa Birago – CEO and co-founder of Femmebnb Inc., felt unsafe and unpleasant for the rest of her trip. This is exactly what was told to her when she announced her solo travel to her family – it’s unsafe! With this experience and the urge to change the travel horizon for women, the idea of Femmebnb sprung in her mind.
The validation of a need to have a platform and community that is solely for women travellers & hosts came from a survey initiated by Femmebnb where over 229 women shared that they would feel more secure knowing their host is a female, and that the rental is booked via a platform that deeply understands these concerns. This is the reason why Femmebnb has already received over 3000 registrations by women from 60 countries on the platform despite the travel industry being on hold due to COVID-19.
Source: Yaa Birago
“Being a hodophile, I was extremely disappointed when my solo travel to Europe turned out to be a nightmare as I faced sexual & street harassment. Upon receiving no support from my male bnb host when I discussed the incident with him, I realised that a female host would have naturally been more emphatic. This, combined with the help I attained from a female companion in France with whom I had merely chatted on Facebook before my travels, affirmed that we need to curate a safe social networking vacation rental space for only women where common concerns can be addressed and resolved together. This embarked the idea of Femmebnb in 2017. After 3 years of persistence and determination, fused with technology, creativity and research, we have finally launched and are ready to change ‘her travel experience’. – Yaa Birago, CEO & Co-Founder, Femmebnb Inc.
When Yaa proposed the idea to an old ally Diana Obeng, she jumped in right away to co-found the company with her.
Diana Obeng, Co-Founder, Femmebnb Inc. – “As a woman, I shouldn’t have to hope and pray that my safety is not at risk when I am planning to travel solo in a new country, but unfortunately, that’s the first thought that comes to mind. I cannot downplay that women fear their safety over every other concern related to traveling alone. Hence, when Yaa proposed the idea of curating a safe space for women travelers, I jumped on board in a heartbeat. We are determined and have invested every bit of our soul into this project and I am excited to help reshape ‘women travel experience’.”
Femmebnb is an exclusive membership platform, ensuring that every member on the platform is vetted. The verification process consists of 5 steps: email, phone, government ID, property documentation/utility bill and/or video verification. The on-site personality video feature facilitates trust and credibility between the host and guest. For the time being, a one-time subscription fee of $4.99 has been waived off the platform, making it free for all to register!
Source: Yaa Birago
A portion of every transaction made on the site for bookings goes towards providing menstrual equity, menstrual hygiene education and menstrual products to girls in Africa as a means to help eradicate period poverty.
(By woman/women, Femmebnb Inc. means anyone who identifies as a woman, non-binary, gender-fluid or non-conforming (womxn).
Yaa Birago’s Short Bio
Source: Yaa Birago
Yaa Birago is a tech entrepreneur, Co-founder and CEO of FemmeBnB Inc.; the first social networking vacation and short-term rental platform that allows women to rent their spaces to other women in hopes of maximizing safety, peace of mind and comfort, along with AI- Powered Travel Companion to help women plan their trip from start to end. She started the company to provide safe space and peace of mind for women travelers after she had a terrifying experience as a solo traveler in Rome.
Yaa holds a B.A degree in Criminology and Sociology from the University of Windsor but her passion for tech, women and children advancement led her into the Information Technology and Non-Profit sector for the past 11 years. Yaa is also the Co-Founder and President of Hands of a Hero Foundation (HOHF), a non-profit organization that provides mentorship, leadership, and career development programs for youth and children in Canada and Ghana. Yaa was a recipient of Global Impact Award and Women’s Courage International Award.
She was named as a Black Canadian Role Model and Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada. In addition, she was selected as Top30 under30 Pioneers by FOG and in March 2020, she was recognized as WOCStar Woman to Watch. Moreover, Yaa was recently recognized as the TOP 20 Women CEOs in Vacation Rental Tech by VR Tech and the Top 25 Women in the Travel Industry by TravelPulse.
Yaa is passionate and enthusiastic about travel technology, women travel safety, sustainable travel, and improving women’s travel experiences across the globe.
Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant creating the French Experience with an African twist
Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant, Chinedu Rita Rosa (Photo: Roger Das)
Most times when you think of a French wine expert, especially in Bordeaux, a strong-willed, driven and passionate Black Woman doesn’t come first to mind.
Chinedu Rita Rosa is making waves in the Bordeaux wine community. As a Nigerian Black Woman in her 40’s, she is a rare and long-overdue sight in the wine industry. Over the past six years, she has built a home in Bordeaux with her two teenage daughters and French husband.
For over 20 years Rosa has been active in the wine industry, though she came into the wine business by chance, as an unofficial adviser to her late husband selecting wines for importation into Nigeria. Originally working as a banker, wine did not become her profession until the passing away of her late husband in 2008 who was a Lebanese businessman.
In 2008 she returned to Nigeria and worked with her late Husband’s Friends in XO Wine Store as a Manager where she was in charge of organizing various wine events, teaching wine appreciation, and increasing the selection of wines from all over France. She did all this with minimal professional experience. She likes to put it into simple terms that anyone could relate to, “ I learnt while drinking on the job!”
With Nigeria being a beer-drinking society it was not an easy sell for wines, when she first started, although it was a delightful process, Rosa mentioned. She witnessed, ChiChi (as she is fondly called by her friends) mentioned. She witnessed, seeing the shift of peoples’ opinions about wine, especially when she found the right wine to pair with a client’s palette. Meeting people and discerning their taste and discovering their wine preference is an art that she is passionate about.
“As the years went by, it became much easier to match wines with clients taste” said Rosa. It was during this time that she also acquired knowledge of wine importation, wholesales, retailing and grassroots marketing strategies due to the distribution network of XO Wine stores.
After her first year, Rosa knew this was a profession that she would like to pursue, she continued studying, tasting and enjoyed experimenting with wine tasting pairings. She turned her wine education into a social circle with clients and friends who were also wine lovers. For her, these were some of the most rewarding best moments of her wine career.
Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant, Chinedu Rita Rosa (Photo: Roger Das)
She discovered how African foods reacted to different grape varieties and from different wine regions, not forgetting Champagne. She boosts “ If you haven’t tried eating àsun or suya with red wine, you must; it is not to be missed”
It was important to ensure sure that all her knowledge of wine and the industry was accredited, which led her to Bordeaux, where she learned about the technical side of winemaking, regions, and styles. Chinedu found herself the only black and African student for the entire term of the course. In the first step of her official wine studies, received a certification from the school of wine in Bordeaux “Ecole Du Vin.” She is a true believer that the best wines come from Bordeaux.
A fabulous wine lovers group was established in the spirit of the numerous tastings and to date, it exists in Lagos exclusively for members of the XO Family.
Continuing her wine education journey in Bordeaux was a dream and when she decided to re-marry and move to France there was no second-guessing where she was going to call home. Chinedu says,” Naija women are born Entrepreneurs.”This drove her ambition and she ventured into media marketing, blogging, and vlogging in the wine world of Bordeaux, and she also created a networking community where she is the president of like-minded people and entrepreneurs from all over the world that has settled in Bordeaux. The Bordeaux Business Network has over 1000 members and is a thriving support community for expat entrepreneurs.
In Bordeaux, Chinedu has become known as the black lady who is invited everywhere and also hosts a lot of events (not unlike in Lagos!) due to her professional commitments. She attends most wine and entrepreneurial events in the Bordeaux metropolis and is easily distinguishable as a black businesswoman with a glowing smile.
Does this bother her? She has mixed feelings on the subject, Chinedu takes no issues with being the ONLY anywhere, it is a testament to her African upbringing after all. “‘Naija no dey, carry last,” she says. and Being yourself and standing out is important, but she is driven to encourage other black entrepreneurs and young people to come into this profession, where she believes the possibilities are endless.
Chinedu is a distinguished WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) certification, holder. Her wine knowledge spans the process of winemaking to marketing and exportation. She had envisioned that there would be more people of color in the wine industry with her qualifications that she could connect with on a cultural level but she is still left searching. She hopes that this will start to change soon.
Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant, Chinedu Rita Rosa and friends (Photo: Roger Das)
As the founder of VINES BY ROSA, an import and marketing company based in Bordeaux she now collaborates with amazing brands, representing them in African Markets. Some of her most notable representations include: CHATEAU DAUZAC, MARGAUX GRAND CRU CLASSE, HINCH IRISH WHISKEY, NINTH WAVE GIN, LGI WINES. These brands are Winemakers that tailor to the African Market specifically creating labels and even Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne.
Always thinking about the future Chinedu wants to continue to build on her passion, education, and dedication, increasing the quality of wines and spirits being imported into Africa and propelling wine appreciation in the continent. She is on a mission to demystify the art of wine tasting and bring good wine to every table at the right price. In the process of this journey, she hopes to inspire other black men and women to join the wine industry and looks to the day where she is not the, I am almost always the only professional BLACK (Woman) at tasting events and business functions, especially here in Bordeaux. “I want to change that,” she ends.
Taking it one- step at a time to secure long-overdue space for aspiring Black women in the wine industry, through the success of Vines By Rosa, she hopes to inspire more people to take their passion and dreams forward.
Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care is bringing petcare to your home
Vetwork Inc Founders, Abdelreheem Hussein and Fady Azzouny (Source: Vetwork)
Pets today are considered family members, best friends, confidants, and so much more. Taking care of them requires more than just love and dedication, but also the right knowledge to recognize when something is not right. Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care industry one country at a time and its mission is to make pets healthier, pet owners happier. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Fady Azzouny Founder and CEO of Vetwork Inc talked about his entrepreneurship journey, his vision for petcare with Vetwork and the future plan. Excerpts.
Alaba: Why did you start and what’s the passion behind it?
Fady: Petcare should be easy, as it stands its full of inefficiencies for both pet parents and vets. Instead of a crowded clinic with a waiting time of 30-45 minutes, vets come to you at home at the time you choose. Rather than try to muster up a massive amount of money to fund a clinic, vets can practice their services without any initial cost and make extra money to live a better life.
The vision of regulating the petcare industry involves a lot of innovation, our dream is to use the available technologies to make everyone’s lives easier and right now we’re on the right track.
Alaba: What is your background?
Fady: I graduated as a veterinarian, but I consider myself an entrepreneur. I saw some problems in the veterinary market while I was still studying and started a bunch of projects, with a few of them turning into medium sized companies. My initial problem was the absence of technology in my solutions, with Vetwork I think we can really achieve my vision of making petcare easier.
Alaba: What are the problems you are solving and what is your value proposition?
Fady: Its simple, we are solving the problem of finding a good vet by selecting our vets from a pool of more than 1000 annual applications. And the problem of waiting in the clinic through Home visits available 24/7. Also, we are addressing Vets problems of low wages and salaries by offering them easy access to extra income.
Vetwork is reliable, affordable and available petcare.
Alaba: Tell us more about the process, users, business model!
Fady: As we stand the process is the same across Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate (UAE). We onboarded more than 300 vets across these three countries. These vets help us cater to our customer’s needs. A pet parent can log into our website or app and request a service at the time of their choosing. A vet will be assigned and introduced to the client.
The vet will then arrive, conduct the visit and deliver a detailed orientation on the tips and tricks of petcare. Our medical records also allow us to follow-up with our pet parents to make sure that everything is going according to plan and their pet is getting better.
Alaba: What are your main challenge?
Fady: Since we promise to deliver all your pets needs to you, finding the right groomers, trainers, vets and boarding facilities is always a challenge due to our strict onboarding guidelines.
Alaba: What is your achievements and coming plan?
Fady: After launching in three countries our plan is to start expanding further into the MENA region and build our presence in the countries that need us the most. Our tech infrastructure allows us to launch in any country in a matter of days and we plan to take advantage of this to test markets and become your pets partner anywhere in the Middle East.
Alaba: Do you think the ecosystem support you?
Fady: Ideas and mentorship, we’re always happy to learn and listen to other people’s ideas on how we can make petcare an easier process. We try our best to promote pet adoption since a lot of shelters are full of pets that need a home. Access to people with a wider audience can surely help us deliver our message to the people that need us the most.