Struggles and challenges. Leaders and innovators are no strangers to them—and they’re not afraid to face them with persistence, tenacity and determination. Mary Olushoga is one young woman who didn’t allow perceived barriers to stop her, but instead chose to turn them into motivation to start a movement.
Olushoga, founder of The AWP Network, a Web platform that offers African entrepreneurs business resources, educational tools and community support, saw her enterprising father work through challenges and decided to be an agent of change. “Growing up in Nigeria, I saw my father’s struggles as an entrepreneur. I thought, ‘If he had the necessary resources, his business would have seen more success,’” Olushoga says.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the 28-year-old to talk about why business advocacy is key to the advancement of entrepreneurs in Africa and her advocacy for women’s entrepreneurial empowerment via technology.
BlackEnteprise.com: Why did you decide to start a U.S.-based network for African entrepreneurs?
Mary Olushoga: I’ve been in the small business industry since graduating from college. I got the opportunity to work with NYC Business Solutions, whose centers provide free services for entrepreneurs, and I was able to develop many skills during that experience. They offered key resources that entrepreneurs need, particularly in Africa. I hear from many that there’s no money, but our organization provides information on startup funding, Web tools and other business solutions.
You’re a big advocate of women and technology, especially in terms of entrepreneurship. How can women leverage the tech space and continue to be leaders?
Understanding and having an awareness of tech innovation and products and their ability help women in how they do business is important. There’s still that gap in terms of cost, accessibility and comprehension. Some people don’t understand what certain things do. Knowing the capabilities of technology will enable and encourage women to be empowered in business. Also, mentoring helps a lot of women remain engaged and be exposed.
We sometimes have that frustration with not knowing, but we must be willing to feel uncomfortable at first. Get empowered to know what’s going on. Research and get the knowledge on the tools that will help our businesses grow.
You mention mentors and being engaged. How can women entrepreneurs connect with mentors or become more engaged with tech industry professionals?
Well, Meet Ups are great. You can participate, meet other people, be exposed and really get involved.
Self-education is also an option. Choose a subject and take courses. Use online tools and take the time to really understand products. If you know the capability, you’ll understand how to better use key products for your business or for yourself.
You’re connected to global entrepreneurs. What can women do in the global landscape to be more competitive?
I think what’s working in Nigeria, for now, there are a number of bloggers who are able to get their thoughts out there. They’re able to share their platforms and build a network. ICT [Information and Communications Technology] initiatives are also [a popular topic] as well. But, more needs to be done.
I dream of more African women and people being innovators of products—not just consumers of these products—innovators who create tools and apps specific to the African market. I would love to see that shift.
One of the things NWP is pitching is tech hubs that will expose girls to technological innovation and creation in Africa. We want to expose them to the possibility of what innovators do. You don’t necessarily have to know coding, but you can have ideas for products that could be put to market. Collaboration is the name of the game, and if you have a great idea, you’re able to go to these hubs for help.
You started your organization at a young age. What advice do you have for other young women who want to start a movement in tech?
Don’t be afraid to fail. That was one of the steps. Failing forced me to think about what it was I really wanted to do.
Always stay connected to people. Keeping people in mind and being an active networker is very helpful.
Stay positive. When things aren’t working out, keep your optimism and remain focused.
Really know your goal. Once you figure it out, it’s easier to communicate. Networking is about communicating and it takes time to build relationships.
Stay in touch. Even if things don’t work out now, you may still connect with them later. Taking a proactive approach on your life.