One of the main reasons people set up businesses is to solve problems in society. These problems come in various forms and affect different people. Whatever your business was set up for, if you set your heart to it, you will succeed at it.
Previously, we spoke with Oluwaseun Olawale on how she started and runs her catering business in a foreign land. This week, we spoke with Diana Wilson on how she helps women overcome the stereotype that says STEM is a men’s zone and become the best they can be.
Please tell us about yourself and your brand.
I am Diana Wilson, a young Ghanaian-American passionate about creating ecosystems for women to thrive. I like to have a brand that is noticeable for excellence, passion, social change and impact, and continuously pushing the envelope.
What Inspired you to start Yielding Accomplished African Women (Yaa W)?
Yielding Accomplished African Women was founded from the very first experiences that I had with my mother. As a youth, I always saw her as such a powerful, well-accomplished, and insightful woman who was able to always make something almost out of nothing. I realised her story was the reality of so many other African women in the diaspora and on the continent.
African women, for generations, have consistently had to adapt to doing so much with so little. African women have been maladaptive to being underinvested. So, I thought, “What would happen if African women have the investment they need in their social and financial capital? What would it be like if they had someone to invest in their understanding, training, education, and dreams?
One of the best things about Yaa W that they love and has helped them a lot is that it helps them to believe in themselves and their dreams. It helps them see another African woman at the places they want to go and didn’t think African women were. That is the foundation of the organisation.
It is to make sure that we don’t continue as African women, generation after generation, maladaptive to being under-resourced. What would a new generation of African women who are well invested in look like? How many opportunities will they create for themselves and others? How much innovation would they bring to this world? And how much wealth would they bring to themselves, their communities, and their families? That is the question that Yaa W seeks to answer.
How were you able to overcome the stereotype that implies that the finance and technology spaces are meant for men and not women?
When you have to overcome stereotypes, there are two things you must do. Number one is about words. I truly believe that words create a reality. That’s why we all know the famous TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie that says there is danger in just a single story. Words create realities and narratives.
Even the stereotypes we see came to us in form of words. They are words that we take in and now believe. And so, to overcome that, we have to use words. We consistently place words of affirmation, encouragement, and truth in them that make them know they have the power and ability to showcase another narrative.
Number two is stories. It is so important to do what stories do – showcase characters and bring in new narratives. That’s why with Yaa W, we focus so much on women empowerment and showing them people who look like them. People from the same area as them like Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Kenya. It is important for them to not just look at Bill Gates, there is a narrative you get from him. When you are looking at Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and so on, you notice that they are different from you because you are a woman, you are black and you are African.
So, we bring together successful African women and have them tell them their stories and truth. This helps them see and why these women are not something that cannot be replicated. That is the beauty of Chimamanda and other successful African women. They showcase to you a model and template of what you can be. They show that you can and should be better.
Those are the two main ways we fight those stereotypes.
How do you encourage women to get into the finance and tech spaces and be the best they can be?
This goes to a principle that says that preparation brings confidence. At Yaa W, we prepare these women. Many times, some of the blockers are inspiration because they don’t have the inspiration to do it and they don’t feel like they can do it. After you have overcome this, you have to be able to perform.
When people do not have confidence, it is because they are not prepared. When you see the top athletes of the world going to the Olympics or finals or Champions League, they are nervous because it is a big game, but they are not fearful because they are prepared. It is hours of preparation that will make you confident to go out and perform. If you are not prepared and you don’t have the skills, you wouldn’t go.
Part of our work is to provide them with world-class training that would prepare them to be the best. They can be nervous because they are the only black woman on a finance team but they know that they know what to do. They know they can do whatever they throw at them. That brings a certain level of confidence.
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How are you able to juggle your career as a marketing strategist, speaker, professional development coach, and so on with Yaa W?
I really believe that when you have a vision that breathes passion within you, you are able to do more fueled by the vision. When you think about Bill Gates starting Microsoft, Steve Jobs starting Apple, Serena Williams starting her tennis career when she was in Compton, you always question yourself that why did you keep going, what kept them going? I truly believe that it is the vision of what they saw themselves doing.
Serena had to see herself at Wimbledon winning multiple championships to continue in her day-to-day growth and training when she was a little young black girl in Compton, California who nobody would think would get to a grand level. I believe that when you have a vision and you start going towards it and you are able to make a commitment towards it, you start receiving the grace to continue.
We see this in every area of life. Once you become a parent, there is no book that can teach you all you need to know or show you how to be a good parent, but you notice that a grace comes upon you to help you take care of your child and juggle work and homecare with it. Nothing really changed about you, but you committed yourself to it and the vision you have for your child. With this, you start operating in the function of a mom even though you have never had experience before. That’s the same thing. There’s no real formula, it is just a commitment and a vision and then grace.
What are the work ethics that guide the way you do business?
I’m a very spiritual and faith-based person and so that’s my guide. The Bible is my guide. I learn from it. You can learn everything from it. You can learn leadership, how to create movements, how to sustain passion, and just so much. Those are the values that I build myself and my organisation upon.
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What are some of the mistakes you made while building Yaa W?
One of the biggest mistakes I made was hiring my friends. I say that was a huge mistake because you want people who are burdened with your vision even if they aren’t the ones who got the vision. They care so much about it and are so passionate about it being fulfilled that they work as hard or harder than you in that role.
When you hire your friends, they are joining the organisation because they love you and want to help you instead of the actual vision, which is not helpful. It will lead to situations with your friends that you don’t really want.
Second, it is always very important to understand your business before you push it forward. For me, I was so passionate and I just wanted to impact people. We started thinking about Yaa W and what we wanted to do in 2018 and from January 2018 to June 2018, we planned the whole first iteration of Yaa W. From there, we went to Ghana and did the training in person but never really thought about the business of Yaa W. We just knew we wanted to help people.
I think for any entrepreneur starting, really focus on the business of it. That will help you make sure that the impact is even bigger. We had a comeback in December and starting asking about what we will do all year round, how we would support women year-round, how we would get more money and become financially sustainable, support our team and create structures for logistics and operations. We didn’t think about all these things earlier on. All we thought of was how to run the first edition and help women.
I would say that for even some of these applications we have to do, like fellowship applications, I would literally go and not try to apply the first day. Just go and look at all the questions they are asking you. Get all the questions down and start to answer them. That’s how you really build your business because all of those brands ask the fundamental questions of any business. Build your business from there.
Push out a prototype but make sure it is one that works for your business model and not just something that will impact people. You don’t want to operate as just a project. You want to operate as a business. Then, allow for growth and your business to be bigger.
What are the major challenges you have faced so far in growing Yaa W?
The major challenge is gaining visibility. It is very important to gain visibility in your work and what you plan to do and have a very strategic way of doing so. It is highly important to map that out and confirm your strategy for visibility and gaining sponsors and donors for whatever your business was set up for. Also, your strategy for growth.
These are the three strategies that are so important. They are the challenges we faced because we didn’t really have a strategy for them. So, you need a strategy for growth, financial sustainability, and visibility.
What are the biggest lessons you have learnt along the way?
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt along the way is that your biggest capital is social capital. No billionaire doesn’t have a great network. It is very important to remember your social capital and be intentional about how you are going to build it. Be intentional about how you are going to put yourself out there and how you are going to gain connection to the people who can help your business network grow.
You have to be very intentional about how you use sites like LinkedIn and others of that nature. You have work be very intentional about how you present yourself on those sites as well.
What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs that feel like they are too young to do great things?
There’s a quote that says, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.” Your whole life will be based off of your mindset and your actions based off of that mindset. So, if you think you can, you are right, and if you think you can’t, you are right. Whatever mindset you put yourself in is how your life is going to flow.
I would encourage them to really focus on how they can build and change their mindset to match what they want and what their dreams and desires for their lives are. What do you really want to do in this life? What do you really care about and how can you continue to push your mindset to that place?
Great. Thank you so much for your time. We are very grateful.
Thank you too. It was a pleasure doing this.