In a special series on women entrepreneurs of the diaspora, BlackEnterprise.com will bring you highlights on power females who have taken their passions and made them profitable — from North America to Europe to Africa and everywhere in between.
Some women wait for permission to change the world, others stand by on the sidelines, and for some, like Zim Ugochukwu, being told no is nothing more than the green light to just make it happen.
Ugochukwu, a first-generation Nigerian-American, has a pretty impressive resume for a woman under 30.
She’s cloned genes linked to genetic disorders, traveled on a 10-day, 4,900 miles national journey on a train through India to shadow social entrepreneurs and recently launched Travel Noire Academy, an online travel school comprised of courses and challenges tailored to the black experience.
Named Glamour Magazine’s “20 Amazing Young Women Who Are Already Changing the World” and Triad Business Journal’s “Top 40 Under Forty,” most of us would be ready for a much-needed break from the real world. But this power woman is just getting started.
As Ugochukwu works passionately to expand the Travel Noire brand as she simultaneously works as a producer for the Digital Health Summit at CES, discovering ways technology can create change in developing countries.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the busy social entrepreneur to discuss her inspiration for Travel Noire Academy, how global travel has enriched her career journey and and tips on using social media expand your horizons.
BlackEnterprise.com: What led you to become involved in social advocacy in your career?
Ugochukwu: I was very community-oriented in college. I majored in biology with a minor in political science and sociology at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. As part of my political science course requirements, I had to choose an internship with the political campaign for Barack Obama or John McCain. Of course, I chose the Obama campaign. This experience opened my eyes to what it means to be a young person and be engaged.
In addition to working on the Obama campaign, I traveled throughout the country, for the “Forget Tobacco” organization. I educated young people on tobacco use and tobacco industry marketing tactics.
I also started Ignite Greensboro, an awareness campaign to raise awareness about the International Civil Rights Museum. This was the cornerstone of my career. I learned I didn’t need people to give me permission to do anything; I can just do it myself.
How did you get the opportunity to work in India?
After graduation, I wanted to take my career global. I was accepted into the Henry Luce Fellowship program, where I worked with an International organization to help teach social entrepreneurs in Asia.
What were your most profound experiences while working in India?
For 10 days I lived on the Jagriti Yatra, a train that takes 400 youth and 50 international participants on a journey through India to shadow various social entrepreneurs. This experience allowed me to see at least 75% of India.
My trip to India changed my life. I talked with so many people from all over the world. I learned, although we’re worlds apart, we are more similar than different and have a lot of the same fears.
While traveling, I didn’t see too many people of color. I received a lot of questions regarding expenses, race relations etc., and I started to think about how I could reframe the images of African Americans traveling. How could I get young African-American people to live unconventionally and think differently?
When you start seeing people who look like you, doing something you once thought was unattainable, you start thinking differently. So, I got the idea for Travel Noire while over in India.
You’ve also recently launched Travel Noire Academy! Tell us how that came about.
I’d gotten incredible feedback from people who were inspired by us to travel the world that I wanted to take it to the next level.
I wanted to transform what people saw on Instagram and read on the Travel Noire platform into something more actionable, more tangible.
The Travel Noire Academy is the first travel school of its kind, comprised of courses and challenges tailored to the black experience. ”
What social media tips would you give to someone who wants to establish cross-cultural collaboration and find out about opportunities in a developing country?
First off, throwing more money at a problem doesn’t necessarily help developing nations.
- Do research. Try to locate the name of the contact person and send them e-mail directly.
- Offer to partner with an organization by lending your skill set to help them develop their program (e.g., Web design, writing, etc).
Kandia Johnson is a freelance communications strategist, brand builder and world traveler who also loves fashion, food and wine. She’s traveled from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Thailand to Africa. When she’s not helping clients create engaging communication campaigns, she’s writing about her globe-stalking adventures for her blog LadybugsInWonderland.com and Travelista.TV.