Moroccan Oumnia Boualam is an experienced Business Growth Expert and the Managing Director at Brussels Global Review (BGR). She helps Arab and African female entrepreneurs and coaches get clarity, build a personal brand and grow a successful business online. Currently, Oumnia oversees several advisory reports on key economic trends in the Middle East and Africa, helping businesses and investors get key information for their decision making process. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Oumnia Boualam talks about her corporate experience and her passion for Arab and African female entrepreneurs. Excerpt.
Alaba: To begin, could you briefly tell us about yourself and Brussels Global Review?
Oumnia: Growing up I was very shy and introverted. I never felt comfortable socialising and even dreaded going to school in Morocco (which is where I am from). That completely changed once I moved abroad at 18 to study then work in international sales and marketing. I used to work for a very demanding company selling High Ticket advertising in Emerging Countries. This meant I had to live in various countries (9 in total) and conduct on average 300 meetings per year. While this was an exhausting job, It allowed me to learn how to become adaptable and sociable in the business environment. When the pandemic started I decided to move away from this environment and start building my own business focusing on Sustainable Development and helping Africans and Arabs “do business better”.
I moved to Brussels and co-founded Brussels Global Review. We produce Sustainability reports on the MEA region for an audience of EU decision makers (here in Brussels). In parallel we have 2 signature online programs designed to help African and Arab professionals develop their digital skills, communication and confidence.
Alaba: Could you briefly share some of your experience as a corporate leader, your highs and lows?
Oumnia: Highs: Being able to see how many people I help through my social media content. Lows: Having to deal with toxic corporate culture, lack of support and judgments as a young African, woman entrepreneur.
Alaba: What is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?
Oumnia: I am most proud of the program I have created: The Digital Boss Academy. It’s going to help so many young professionals in Africa and the Middle East to leverage the digital economy to earn more.
Alaba: What are some of the strategies that you believe have helped you grow as a person?
Oumnia: I wouldn’t call it a strategy but more of a personality trait: Curiosity. Being curious and not always following outdated methods and strategies just because that’s what is being said or that’s the way it’s being done. I also strongly believe in learning from life experience rather than having prestigious degrees and that is a crucial skill in Business.
Alaba: Can you share your thoughts on Gender Inclusion in Africa and the Arab entrepreneurship ecosystem?
Oumnia: Not enough is being done to change the mindsets. There can be new regulations, new programs and so on. But if the mindsets of both men and women don’t change in terms of really considering equal opportunities for both genders then we will make very slow progress. Women are still expected to have kids and get married before having a career in our society. Some women founders are being asked what will happen to their business once they start a family. We also don’t have enough success stories to inspire and empower women to follow their dreams.
Alaba: Kindly walk us through a typical day as an entrepreneur and how do you relax?
Oumnia: Every day is different for me because I tend to get bored with routine activities. But one thing remains the same every single day from 06.00am to 09.00am I write and create content. This is the time of the day my brain is most active and also as a natural introvert I feel much more comfortable when things are quiet so I can be deeply focused.
Alaba: What advice would you give to any woman who wants to launch into entrepreneurship?
Oumnia: Starting a business is not as hard as you think if you’re willing to learn. The hard part is to overcome your fear and mindset blocks. That requires a lot of personal development work and it’s not comfortable to go through it.
Harris M: Keeping the craftsmanship alive through African fabrics
Harris M was created by Congolese entrepreneur Harris Mayoukou, Harris M. is a young fashion and accessories brand inspired by the bustling streets of Château Rouge, a colourful district of Paris. This project is above all a family story that begins with a sewing machine belonging to the great uncles of the designer in Congo. A machine that was offered to his father in the 70s and that the latter offered him in turn at the launch of the brand. Moreover, she still uses it today in the production of pieces in her Parisian workshop.
Coming from a family of artists and talented couturiers, Harris was keen to carry on this family legacy through his brand Harris M. She makes it a point of honor to take only fabrics produced in Africa in order to support the crafts and printing works still present. The brand offers accessories and casual wear mixed clothing, comfortable and quality. The founder defines the brand in 3 words: KANDA which means family in lari. Because she wanted to perpetuate one of her father’s first jobs.
Harris took her first classes in a very small workshop in Montreuil in order to keep this practice in the family and keep this precious link. Then PASSION because all the pieces are made according to the desires and the favorites. Finally ETHICAL, because it tries to ensure that small craftsmen, whether they are in France or in Africa, continue to be paid at the right price
APINAPI is reducing waste and supporting the autonomy of women
APINAPI is a social business focused on zero waste and symbolizes the meeting between France and Senegal. It all began in 2010, when Marina Gning and Jeanne-Aurélie Delaunay founded the company APINAPI in Paris, with the aim of democratizing washable diapers and natural baby products. After 10 years working in the cinema industry, they wanted to raise awareness about washable nappies and natural care products for babies.
During her travels in Senegal with her husband, Marina finds that the products she offers in France are perfectly suited for Senegal. Indeed, she sees how plastic waste litters the streets of the country, especially disposable diapers. These, which were a few years ago a “luxury product”, have become very accessible with the arrival of low-end brands.
These layers, of poor quality, give irritation and are not reliable. The family budget is reduced and women with low incomes use a single diaper for their baby all day! By offering washable diapers to her sister-in-law in Dakar, Marina sees how much easier her life is: less redness, less expense, less waste. In addition, the diapers were a great success with the friends of the young mother.
The trigger is born from there. What if these washable diapers were the solution? In 2015, she got fully into the project with her partner, her husband and Marianne Varale. The team was born, and in 2016 Marina and her husband decided to sell their apartment in France to settle in Senegal and launch ApiAfrique.
Today, ApiAfrique is a Senegalese social enterprise, which offers innovative, local and environmentally friendly solutions for the hygiene of women and babies. Its vision is to promote sustainable solutions that contribute to women’s empowerment, waste reduction, the fight against exclusion and job creation.
Meet French-Senegalese mothers after black babies
Douce mélanine Founders
N’dioba DIONGUE and Astou diongue, two French-Senegalese mothers have both had bad experiences with baby cosmetics products that contain potentially dangerous or allergenic substances. Looking for a solution, they found out that products adapted to black and mixed-race children can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Following these bad personal experiences, they decide to react and remedy them by offering healthy products, especially for babies. This is because they are fragile. The beginnings were not simple: market research, business plan, search for formulators, etc. It took several months before they could find a lab to work with. Not being in the trade, they also had to train in formulation.
Douce mélanine was born in 2018, with the aim of offering a range of care products with 98% natural ingredients, traditionally used in Africa for baby care. The goal is to transmit care rituals with products from the African pharmacopoeia. For example, we can find touloucouna oil, with unsuspected virtues which is relaxing and is used in Africa for infant massage. A necessary return to the roots, to allow babies to enjoy all the benefits of this treatment with ancestral oils.
Then in 2020, as for many entrepreneurs, the coronavirus came knocking on the doorbell. After several questioning and restructuring, they decided to stay the course. New tests are carried out, formulas are retouched, and the adventure resumes in 2021 to never stop. Today, Douce Mélanine has made her way and has found her place in many bathrooms all over the world.
DOUCE MÉLANINE fights every day to offer mothers products with healthy compositions. Its products are formulated and manufactured by a French laboratory certified Ecocert and COSMOS. Without perfumes, tested under dermatological control and composed of ingredients from the African pharmacopoeia, babies will appreciate its care which will bring softness, hydration and relaxation.