Speak Magazine

Field Notes

Female students in Ghana find empowerment through entrepreneurship

 

Joy Preston (right) sells sobolo, a popular Ghanaian drink, to students on AUCC campus, a partnership she has with her mother.

Joy Preston (right) sells Sobolo, a popular Ghanaian drink, to students on AUCC campus, a partnership she has with her mother.

At the age of 18 Gloria Buckman Yankson walked into a job interview determined to make a good impression.  Twenty minutes later, she walked out with her head held high, but not because she was given the job.

During the interview, the CEO of the company made an unexpected pass at her, an occurrence that would impact her future.

“He said to me ‘Because you have no experience you’re never going to be successful in this industry.  However, if you’re willing to be my bedmate, I will hire you and I will make you successful’. ”

Gloria’s response was one she does not regret.

“Thinking about it now there are so many things that come to mind that I could have said right then, probably not nice things,” she reflects.  “But then I chose to walk out of the office, I chose to turn down that proposition, and [now] here I am.”

Gloria made up her mind that she would do everything in her power to succeed on her own.  The Ghanaian born entrepreneur’s impressive work experience includes almost ten years in corporate and strategic communications.  After moving to the UK and graduating with a Masters degree in Public Relations from the University of Stirling, she landed an exciting position in the marketing and communications department of Morgan Stanley, one of the world’s largest global financial institutions.

It was while still living in Scotland that Gloria decided to turn her dream into a reality and start her own company.

In 2009, Gloria moved back home in order to start Planit Ghana.  The event production and brand communications firm has since taken off. Gloria has received international recognition for her innovation and dedication as an entrepreneur.

She shared her personal story with students attending the opening launch of Women’s Week at the African University College of Communications (AUCC).  The theme of the program, “Changing lives through entrepreneurship and self-development,” sought to encourage students, especially women, to start thinking about ways they can build their futures by engaging in business.

In a global, male dominated business market, Ghanaian women are now making headlines.  A recent report on global entrepreneurship reveals that Ghana is one of seven economies that for the first time have start-up rates for women either equal to or higher than that of men.

At AUCC, there is no shortage of female entrepreneurs.  Part-time jobs can be difficult to come by.   Students are able to supplement some of their school fees by selling goods to staff and students.

While these individuals are pursuing degrees for their future careers, Gloria argues that what you learn from being an entrepreneur can stretch far beyond what you learn in the classroom.

“What is really exciting now is the entrepreneur revolution that I see all around me, of young people who are leaving school after studying and saying I want to do my own thing” she says.

“They are even packaging themselves and packaging whatever they are selling.  They are thinking global brands now. And luckily with social media and the internet, now you can sit here in an office in Ghana and be appealing to people all over the world.”

AUCC student Joy Preston has created the opportunity to test out what it takes to run a business. Joy is a fourth year journalism student who sells Sobolo on campus, a partnership she has with her mother.

The local drink is made from dried flowers, sugar and often ginger- a refreshing treat and popular among purchasers.  Joy’s mother prepares the drink and Joy sells the product.

On average Joy generates approximately 100 cedes a month, of which she keeps half.    She says the idea was born because she needed to raise some funds for transportation to and from school and she noticed that students were purchasing locally made products from other students.

“I’ve learned a lot about how to manage a business,” she says.  “It has improved my communication skills, I know more about how to take feedback and criticism, and I’ve also learned how to deal with competitors- it’s not just my product on the market, so I need to know how to maintain a good relationship with someone else selling similar products.”

Joy is just one of the women on campus inspiring others to combine academics with entrepreneurial endeavors.  Other items sold by students range from bags, clothing and shoes to yogurt and stationary.

Joy feels the experience has improved her self-esteem and relationship with her classmates, and that many of the participating females view the opportunity to be their own boss as a liberating experience.

“Young women in particular have been inspired…[they realize] they can actually strive to generate some income just doing part time business.  You are getting hold of your future and it gives you direction.”

Edna Otitiaku, AUCC’s student body Women’s Commissioner, says it is important to recognize the abilities of women and the fact that you don’t have to wait to finish school to do something positive for yourself and society.

“It is important to encourage people to develop their personal beliefs, learn new things and start [finding] jobs- and that way we have a ripple effect”  she says.   “You can take your life into your own hands [and] when your life is going wrong you know that something is going right.”

Edna herself is a jeweler who has been selling her products on campus and in the community for the past two years.

With Ghana leading the pack for female African entrepreneurs, there is no doubt that the many students who are engaged are helping shape the future of business in the country.

Meanwhile Gloria hopes African women will continue to break free of traditional gender roles, overcome personal challenges and find their voice.

“To see all these ambitious young women coming out and doing their own thing, challenging whatever glass ceiling there is and breaking it, that is exciting to me because I’m really into women empowerment.  Using myself as an example, I’ve broken out of a certain suppression and now found my voice, and I want the same for [all women].”

Though it may not have been an easy road to get to where she is today, walking out of that job interview was the easiest and most worthwhile decision Gloria has ever made.

“The twist to it all is that I’m a much bigger brand now than [the CEO who propositioned me] probably will ever be”, Gloria says.  “And that to me is enough satisfaction to say you can do whatever you [set your mind to] if you challenge and push yourself.”

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