By Samuel Ouma & Ajong Mbapndah L
Adja Mariam Soro is the Director of the Ivorian publishing house Voyelles. This company provides instructive and entertaining content for children that showcases Africa’s historical and cultural richness. Youth periodicals, books, and a variety of games are among them. Voyelles also collaborates on the animation production of African stories with cultural value with her second company, Studio K. Adja’s goal is to help educate a new African elite that is proud of its roots and open to the rest of the world.
Her achievements include selection into the very selective Women In Africa 2020 Program, the Prix d’Excellence 2019 for the greatest women’s initiative, the Prix Sisley 2019, the Prix des services CGECI 2017, and the Prix Spécial Contenu Culturel Afrique et Moyen-Orient 2016.
She shared her thoughts with Pan African Visions on what is behind the motivation to the fast increasing female entrepreneurship across Africa, what inspired them to apply for the ABH competition, how they have managed to make it thus far in a tight continent-wide competition, and any tips they have for other budding and existing female entrepreneurs in Africa especially at a time when the pandemic has left many African economies struggling.
When the Jack Ma Foundation’s competition culminates in November, Adja, who is one of the Top 20 ABH contenders for 2021, hopes to receive a share of USD 1.5 million in grant monies. The winner will get $300,000, the first runner-up $250,000, the second runner-up $150,000, and the other seven in the Top 10 will each receive $100,000, in addition to training, networking, and other chances and assistance.
What inspired you to apply for the ABH competition?
I was motivated to apply for the ABH program this year by a very good friend of mine, a finalist entrepreneur in ABH 2020 edition. I had already tried entering in 2019 with no success. I felt not ready yet. I was a bit scared and hesitant to try again, but my friend insisted, and his recommendation was the nudge I needed to get back on the saddle. If, today I am here, it’s because of him and my perseverance. I am having the best experience so far!
How did you feel being selected among the ABH 2021 Top 20 outstanding entrepreneurs and how have you managed to make this far in a tight continent-wide competition?
I felt very honoured, especially at this stage of the competition, we are only two francophones in the running, and I am the only representative of my country which means a lot to me and to my business. It is also the confirmation of the potential and the social impact of my company, two key criteria in the selection of finalists at ABH. Getting this far in such a huge African competition, I think, is a matter of mastering your business and field and the motivation of growing within your company.
What has the ABH competition meant for you and your business so far?
The ABH competition is personally a great human experience. There is really a benevolent dynamic which drives this competition and the team behind it. It is also the connection of some fifty young companies with high potential across the African continent, thus the possibilities of large-scale collaboration. The advantages we get through this experience is beyond words. This is an opportunity to benefit from experienced mentors and judges and get advantage of learning as much as we could. This competition has added credibility to our company, image, as well as our visibility on the continent and beyond.
What are your impressions about the ABH and how it helps in the growth of entrepreneurship in Africa?
I find ABH to be a beneficial initiative for young African entrepreneurs on several fronts. It creates a connecting channel between entrepreneurs who might never have that opportunity otherwise. It provides them with support, visibility, networking and funding, all essential elements for the growth of any business. This is a mission that has a huge social and economic impact for the continent, because it consists of investing sustainably in local potential which we lack in the African continent.
What will you do if selected in the final 10 and top winners?
I think that at first, I will be very moved by the news. It will be a huge upgrade to my company. This journey hasn’t always been easy but has never ceased to be fascinating to all of us. We will definitely celebrate the success no matter what, with my whole team because it will be our common victory.
How will the prize change your business operations?
We are out of most of the back issues of our cultural youth magazine “Bulles”. The latter are in great demand. As a reminder “Bulles” is a magazine that tells the story of Africa to children through comics what we call “Bande déssinée”, country by country. We will therefore be republishing these old issues and we will develop our product catalogue. It will also be our way to expand our market on the continent and in Europe where the African diaspora is very demanding of our content.
What do you think is the motivation behind the fast-increasing female entrepreneurship across Africa?
African women for centuries have always been hard workers. Female entrepreneurship is therefore nothing new on the continent. I think this growth can be explained simply by the fact that contemporary African women have decided to assert themselves a little more and to have bigger ambitions. There is also support for female entrepreneurship which has intensified over the past 10 years, which promotes the emergence of inspiring success stories. A domino effect is therefore put in place in a positive way.
Any advice to budding female entrepreneurs in your country and in Africa especially at a time when the pandemic has left many African economies struggling?
I would like to tell the women entrepreneurs who have been through great hardship lately, to hold on and hold on to their vision regardless. Entrepreneurship can be painful especially when there are insufficient resources to achieve goals. In difficulty, they will need to surround themselves with positive people who can motivate them to move forward and provide them with good advice. Our continent needs the queens, and we are more than ever to get up on all fronts. Good luck!