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The success stories of many women are preceded by a dilemma which often stands as an inspiration to others later.   The ups and downs of life often require a leveler to scale the odds.

Our Amazonpreneur for this week is Victoria Kisyombe, a trailblazer in Tanzania whose story is an inspiration and a pointer to possibilities.

Victoria’s journey to entrepreneurship began after she suddenly lost her husband and breadwinner of the family in 1991. Unlike some widows, Victoria inherited nothing from her late husband, and this made life extremely difficult for her and her three young children.

Victoria had a cow called Sero and that was the only thing she had that could bring in money for her to sustain her home. Victoria began milking Sero and selling the milk to sustain her family. Over a period of time, she was able to put together some money that can rebuild her life. She thoroughly thought of what she could invest on. Through deep thinking, Victoria realized there were women, widows and young girls who were not educated like she was and were worst off financially than her.  She thought of how they were surviving since they had no asset like Sero to survive on. An innovative idea struck and this has completely changed her life for the better.

Thirty-three percent of the people in Tanzania live below the poverty line. Women struggle to open and grow businesses without the collateral needed to qualify for loans. More than 90 percent of women do not own property due to the country’s customary laws, which in most cases supersede other laws; this exclusion propels many women into a cycle of poverty.

Although the situation seemed too difficult, however Victoria saw it as an opportunity to turn around the restrictions in other to accommodate women’s economic participation in Tanzania. She restructured the conventional system of micro-finance in Tanzania so that the criteria for eligibility could allow women with no assets and little business experience take loans to engage in commercial activities to support themselves and their families. In 2002, she opened a micro leasing called SELFINA, which she named after her cow Sero (Sero Lease and Finance Limited). SELFINA was launched in Dar es Salaam and the organisation was involved in loaning and leasing productive assets. The requirement for consideration was the client’s ability to generate cash flow. The leased assets enable women to generate income sustainably, and at the end of the lease a client owns the asset in her own name. It becomes collateral that qualifies her for a traditional bank loan.

Twelve years later, Victoria and her team have provided 25,000 leases to women, USD $16 million in credit, impacted more than 200,000 people and created 125,000 jobs. A repayment rate of 95 percent enabled the company to keep growing; to serve more women and their families.

Up till date, SELFINA has been a catalyst for women’s entrepreneurship, responsible for the launch of a range of small businesses and enterprises. The bank leases just about everything, from tractors, photocopiers, ovens, and livestock, and her clients are a diverse group including florists, caterers, fashion designers, and farmers.

Most of the clients, are rural settlers who are widows and young women who would not otherwise have access to the opportunity SELFINA provides. Victoria has designed a solution that meets her community’s needs, and she has built a model recognized by the World Bank and World Economic Forum.

Her entrepreneurship fuels bigger dreams, bigger goals. “If I can change the life of one person it makes a whole difference because behind that person there is a whole family. It’s a family, it’s a society, it’s Tanzania.” Victoria plans to open offices across Tanzania and has her sights set on expanding to other countries in East Africa.

Miracle Nwankwo

It was an uneventful day in India, but a day to be much remembered in the life of Kalpana Saroj, India’s “Slumdog millionaire”, when her father came to her rescue.

Saroj is a victim of child bride, married off at the tender age of twelve and eventually became a victim of abuse.

She was born in a little village called Roperkheda in Maharashtra, 1958, to a lower middle-class Buddhist family. Saroj’s father was a police constable in another village called Repatkhed in Akola. She lived with her parents and four siblings, which consist of two brothers and two sisters.

Life was meaningful to the beautiful young girl, until she was given to marriage after completing class seven. Having being married off, she moved to Mumbai to live in Thane’s Ulhasnagar slum, with her husband’s family who occupied a 10×5 ft room with 12 to 15 people living under the same roof.

Not only was she subjected to living in a slum, after six months of being married into the family she began to suffer constant physical abuse from her husband and his family. Saroj was beaten by her husband on so many occasions and for very trivial reasons like not putting enough salt in his food. She was shut out from associating with people and was also restricted from maintaining any contact with her family.

One day, Saroj’s father decided to pay his daughter and in-laws a surprise visit. However, instead of surprising them, he turned out to be the surprised one when he came face-to-face with his little daughter and failed to recognise her. She had become very pale and unrecognisable. Without wasting much time, he took his daughter and headed home.

That was a day that marked the beginning of a new dawn for Saroj but not the end to her struggles.

After moving back home, she was ostracized by the village people, who began to taunt her and her family about her return. She faced worse mockery and bully in school from friends and other students living in the same community. Tired of being mocked and ostracized, she decided to take her life by consuming 3 bottles of rat poison. She was rushed to the government hospital, and her life was saved.

Saroj recovered and swore to make a meaning out of her life. She begged her family to allow her move to Mumbai in 1972, convincing them that Mumbai was filled with opportunities of earning. She moved to Mumbai and settled there with her uncle. She started out, working in a garment factory and after some months, she began stitching on the side which brought an added income of Rs 100. Within two years she had saved up a reasonable amount of money that could afford a small house in Kalyan East and she moved her family to Mumbai.

However, a sad situation befell the family. That year, they lost her seventeen years old sister due to lack of medical care. The pain and agony of the dead prompted Saroj to engage further in her pursuit.

In 1975, under the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Scheme – a government scheme for scheduled caste people, Saroj received a loan of Rs 50,000 and started a tailoring business in Kalyan alongside a re-sales furniture venture. The business grew successfully and she handed the furniture business to her father while her younger sister took over the tailoring business.

In 1978, Saroj started an association called Sushikshit Berozgar Yuvak Sanghatana, to help the unemployed. Around 3,000 people who joined her association were helped with placements.

In 1980, Saroj remarried Samir Saroj and they had two children a boy and a girl, but Samir died in 1989 and she inherited her husband’s steel cupboard manufacturing business.

She continued to thrive successfully in business and a higher opportunity came to her in what looked like a blessing in disguise. In 1995, a man brought Saroj an offer to buy his land at a very cheap price claiming to be in urgent need of Rs 2.5 lakh, but she offered him only Rs 1 lakh and he took it. After purchasing the land, she realised that it was under litigation and that was why he had sold it so cheap. With no knowledge about land deals she was fortunate to meet the district collector who helped her to sort out the court issues and in two years she got the permission to sell the land.

She gave the land to a builder who built on it at his own cost and she took 35 per cent of the sale of the finished building and gave the builder 65 per cent. This opened her eye to the benefits in real estate and she delved into it.

Saroj continued to prosper in real estate business and she turned out to be a land litigation expert. This new line of business of course came withn its own challenges, including death threats from competitors. But Saroj never bulged.

After a period of time, the property business had a turnover of Rs 4 crore and she moved into sugar production after investing in a sugarcane factory.

Her fame soon spread across and into the ears of the owner of Kamani Tubes, a manufacturing company that supplies copper tubes, rods, LED lights and more, located in Kurla. Over the years, Kamani Tubes had suffered many losses and litigations. The company had been shut for many years when, in 1987, the courts ordered the workers to run the company, but they had failed to do so successfully.

In 1999, the workers of the company approached Saroj asking her to take over the company and fix the mess. Faced with a company with 3,500 bosses, huge loan and 140 cases of litigation and two unions, Saroj took up Kamani Tubes and began work immediately. It was not an easy task all through the process of rebranding the company. Saroj formed a 10-member team, which included marketing people, finance people, bank directors, lawyers, and government consultants. She met with the then state finance minister and all those who had given loans to Kamani. Along the line, the banks agreed to remove the penalties, interest, and also 24 per cent from the principal amount to help her revive the company. After some time, the loans were cleared which also involved Saroj selling one of her properties in Kalyan.

She took over as Chairperson of the company and in 2009 Kamani Tubes came out of SICA (Sick Industrial Companies Act), and in 2010 the company was restarted and the factory moved to another location. There was an investment of about Rs 5 crore into the company by 2011, a profit of Rs 3 crore was achieved. Kamani Tubes is now a profitable company, with a profit of Rs 5 crore every year.

Saroj continued to venture into other businesses including film production.

With over six hundred employees Saroj currently controls six companies; Kamani Tubes Limited, Kamani Steel Re-Rolling Mills Pvt Ltd, Saikrupa Sugar Factory Pvt Ltd, Kalpana Builders & Developers, Kalpana Saroj & Associations, and the KS Creations Film Production.

Saroj has been recognised on various platforms for her hardwork and impact on the people, society and economy. One of such recognisions includes; the Padma Shri award for Trade and Industry in 2013.

She is happily married to Shubhkaran and she currently lives with her family in Mumbai.

Her story clearly explains the wise saying of Winston Churchill that: “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”

By Miracle Nwankwo

Daphna Nissenbaum and Plastics Revolutionization

Good thoughts bring beautiful ideas, innovations, unique inventions and lots of creations. People who do not engage their minds to think are actually living their lives on waters. Wondering if this is true?

Think about the heroes and heroines of today. None of them got their ideas without thoughts, fantasies, imaginations, assumptions and even dreams. But in every act, whether through imaginations or thinking, the mind was engaged.

The entrepreneurial journey of Daphna Nissenbaum started on the platform of deep thinking and productive curiosity. Having received her children back from school on a certain day, she realised that one of her sons did not come back with his bottle of water. She was worried because it drew her attention to the millions of “plastic bottles lying at the bottom of the ocean for hundreds of years” without any remedy to its usage.

This got her worried and she kept thinking of a solution. She asked herself, “what can I throw into the waste bin without guilt?” this question was all she needed to end her days of worries, the answer was bio-degradable. These are organic matter in waste that can be decomposed into carbon dioxide, water, methane or simple organic molecules by either micro-organisms or other living things using composting or aerobic digestion.

“Then it hit me!” she said, “What if I put water in a bag, a bio-degradable bag? And like an orange, we will eat or drink the content of the package, disposing of the package into the organic waste stream. The package will then decompose and go back to nature. If that happened, I wouldn’t have to worry anymore about my kids not bringing their water bottles home!”

At this stance, she was ready to solve a world environmental problem of pollution. Glad about her remedy, she began to draft her plans.

However, she was the CEO of a research center on capital markets and had worked as a software engineer at different times previously. Venturing into packaging plastics was a new deal for her, but she had this perfect idea of making beverage bags out of bio-degradable. This was new and very big and she was ready to take the bull by its horn by giving it all it takes to bring it to actualization.

She met with her co-founder and discussed her idea to him, they set out to design perfect packaging bags that could be used by school children and students, athletes, adults and many others who consume contents of packaged products. They also went as far as hiring bio plastic experts to help them find the appropriate material that could be used for the bags.

“After six months they came back to us and said that there was no biodegradable material on the market that was suitable for the bags. They suggested we come back in few years and make the same inquiry.

We thought to ourselves: well, humanity landed on the moon, so how difficult can it be to make this bio-degradable bag? We had no idea then, how difficult this could be. That’s how Tipa, our company, was founded,” she said.

Obviously, the establishment of Tipa did not come on a bed of roses it took time, research, energy and a lot to bring Tipa to existence, considering how rare it is to gather degradable. But Daphna had a vision, she was not ready to give up, she knew that it will not only solve the problem of her children littering packaging plastics around but will reduce the amount of waste that is gotten from food packaging industries.

But as she continued to search for measures to tackle the challenge that seems to be limiting her prospective engagement, she realised two key things, “The first was that it isn’t that easy to develop a flexible biodegradable packaging solution.

The gap between conventional plastic and biodegradable plastic is quite big and challenging. The second realisation was that the problem of bio-degradable or recyclable packaging was most prominent in the flexible packaging segment of the market, a segment that is huge and growing.

I then understood that my kids’ water bottles were actually the smaller part of the problem, a drop in the ocean of the packaging industry…” she thought.

Plastics are equipment used by industries to package beverages over several decades, and it is very convenient and easy to use. But the pollution that comes along with them is very deteriorating because they litter the surrounding and cannot decompose even in many years to come. they can only be moved from one place to another put them away will mean burning or burying which are not better solutions either.

A possible solution is recycling but this method is very limited. It is limited to just the rigid packaging, such as bottles. The other flexible packages because they aren’t made from polymer and they are made of several layers of materials, they are not recyclable.

This is a huge problem because the amount of waste that is produced by the food industry is huge, Food-related plastics waste makes up 66% of the volume of plastics waste and 50% of the weight of total packaging waste. Yet there is no appropriate solution to this problem because more food is being packaged and more waste are generated.

This is the point where Tipa plans to dominate. The vision of Tipa is to Create a compostable future for flexible packaging. According to Daphna, “Imagine that your package was just like an orange peel, you eat or drink your food and your package just goes into the organic waste stream. It would decompose in the same way as organic waste and leave nothing (except fertiliser) behind.

Tipa’s packaging is bio-based and fully compostable. It offers a compostable package that feels like plastic, looks like plastic and has the properties of traditional plastic. There’s just one difference – at the package’s end of life, it is fully compostable.”

Nonetheless, biodegradable products are now being produced more than before, in form of waste bags, shopping bags, disposable utensils, etc. So, Daphna’s company is engaged in creating similar compostable plastic and bringing new properties to the material with the aim of “making the experience of choosing Tipa products seamless”.

Tipa’s packaging solution offers a way to treat packaging like an organic waste, like a creation of nature, like an orange peel. This is a new way of thinking and handling our packaging waste. The infrastructure is there – we just have to integrate into it.

I believe that in the future the only place for flexible packaging will be in the food waste stream, and this is where it ought to be. Get into the compost system, decompose, and go back to nature.  Just like an orange peel. In this future world, the piles of plastic that we use for packaging will disappear within a short time. The world will take care of its waste. This is the legacy I would love to leave for generations to come,” said Daphna.

Flipping through the pages of a magazine content containing the list of women whose giant strides in S.T.E.M are unbelievable, I noticed that one woman was distinctly different from the others just by the uniqueness displayed by each person in a particular S.T.E.M field.

Against all the odds, women in S.T.E.M are still excelling and impacting the world with their knowledge and skills in the various S.T.E.M fields in which they operate. They have been encouraging, impactful and very teachable to the worldwide women society.

An example of these women is the amiable Thai Lee, the Owner, CEO and President of the largest female-owned business in America, SHI International.

Thai is a successful woman in S.T.E.M and a wealthy female business leader; she was born in Bangkok, Thailand in 1958. Her father was a prominent Korean economist, who traveled the world with his wife and four children, promoting his country’s postwar development plan.

Thai was born during the period when the heat between both sides of Korea was really intense. She is the second girl among three sisters and a brother. During her early years, Thai acted differently from her other siblings, she was focused and a deep thinker, who spent most of her time thinking and planning on her family’s survival.

Thai moved to the United States with Margaret her older sister when she was a teenager, to pursue and further her education. They lived with a family friend in Amherst a little town in Massachusetts, United States.

She attended a high school in Amherst and later enrolled at Amherst College earning a double major BA in biology and economics. During her college days, like most foreigners, Thai had difficulty with her accent and fluency in English. Because she was determined to get the best grade, she avoided any course that required writing and speaking in class. She had always believed that her only chance of becoming a successful person in life was to do business and start up her own enterprise.

She had set her heart on being an entrepreneur and she was ready to go the extra mile without any distraction. Her plans were to devote her 20s, to learning all about business so that by age 30, she would be running her own company and then get married and have kids by age 40.

As sweet and clean as it may sound, it did not end up as she had planned it out, but today she is a renowned successful woman in S.T.E.M.

Thai moved to Korea after college and worked at Daesung Industrial Co. an auto parts maker in Seoul in order to raise enough money to further her education. After some years, she was back in Massachusetts to pursue her MBA in the Harvard Business School and earned her degree 1985, becoming the first Korean woman to graduate from the business school.

After her MBA, Thai started out with a job at Procter & Gamble working on brands like Always and Crest, she worked there for two years and later moved to American Express where she also worked for another two years. The whole essence of working after business school was to help prepare herself for the entrepreneurship journey which she has now built in the S.T.E.M Industry.

Speaking of S.T.E.M, Thai was never interested in technology, all the while she had been dreaming of becoming a self-made business tycoon, she was not looking at the Technology Industry. At the time when she became very passionate about her ambition, she had very little exposure to personal computers and her access to it was very limited.

Thai got married to a Columbia-educated lawyer Leo Koguan in 1989. Having shared her entrepreneurship dream with Leo, he was ready to go all the way with her to see that her dream becomes a reality. Soon after the couple was married they came face to face with a golden opportunity that could make Thai’s dream come true. It had to do with a software company in New Jersey, called Lautek. At that time, Lautek was on the verge of running down, the company had a tiny division called Software House that sold business licenses to run programs like Lotus 1-2-3. During that period the company had lost a large number of its customers and was left with just a few. However, the few customers were big like AT&T with vendors such as IBM.

Seeing the many potential values in its relationships with the vendors, the couple grabbed the opportunity by paying less than $1 million for the purchase of Software House, funding the purchase with savings and a few small loans.

Having bought the business, renamed the company as Software House International (SHI), just the way Thai has always dreamed about it. In the space of few years, with Thai’s vision and relentless hard work, she turned the company around into one of the most successful businesses in America with 3,000 employees.

Under her leadership, SHI has grown into a top-ranked provider of IT products and services. With an industry-high of 99 percent in customer retention. Currently, SHI is one of the largest privately-owned firms in the Industry.

Thai did not get up the ladder in a twinkle of an eye, it took dedication and perseverance amidst challenges for Thai to become a leading female business leader in the S.T.E.M industry and she is still making waves up till date.

If you have heard the slogan, “Black is beautiful” then you can easily come to terms with the person and the work of Eunice Cofie. A Ghanian by birth in the United States of America. A true Amazon, in the literal sense of the word. Fearless and bold to face the challenges of life ahead of her.

Behind every forward movement, there is always a pushing force. That pushing force was Eunice’s father who encouraged her to study science. The love for science later led her to major in chemistry/molecular biology at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. Describing the origin of her business in a 2015 interview, Colfie said; “One day whilst studying in my organic chemistry lab class, my eyes were opened to the world of cosmetic science” To succeed in life knowledge can never be underrated. Eunice went further to learn the rudiment of theoretical business. She took classes in accounting and utilized the FAMU Small Business Development Center to learn how to write a business plan.

Of course, Eunice worked so hard to attain the height she is today, including the fact that she recognizes the peculiarity and beauty of the darker skin, which she sets out to enhance. Eunice narrated that while she was in the college in US years back, her peers do not easily recognize those God-given qualities which they sometimes taunted her about: the dark skin, the curly thick hair, roving black eyes etc., were what stood her out when she won a beauty pageant.

Eunice discovered early in life that if you look carefully, there is always something in nothing. With this mindset, she recognized that her dark skill was not a disadvantage but rather an advantage and it should be something to cherish. She set out to make an inroad into cosmetics for colored people worldwide.  As a matter of fact, this was the just the impetus she needed to develop her company Nuekie, Inc.

The company’s purpose is to provide quality dermatological products for ethnic people (i.e. African/African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, Native American, Pacific Islander). Today, Eunice is the President and Chief Cosmetic Chemist of Nuekie – an innovative health and beauty company for people of color as earlier mentioned.

Giving back to the society is a phrase commonly used by kind-hearted people. This made Eunice to be engaged in a deep commitment to social causes worldwide which led her to make a positive impact across the globe, specifically in Ghana and the Philippines. While in college, Eunice spent her summers working in a village community in Ghana, West Africa implementing the Save a Million Lives HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention Program. 

As the former Miss Black Florida USA, she spent a year promoting her platform Preventing Childhood Obesity and Diabetes through Education and Life Transforming Habits. She was able to contribute greatly to her community by inspiring young people to live healthy lifestyles.

Every human good deed needs a commendation as an encouragement. In 2012, Eunice was honored by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader for her professional accomplishments and commitment to society, as well as her potential to contribute to shaping the world.

The Florida Commission on the Status of Women recognized Eunice with the prestigious 2011 Florida Achievement Award for her commitment to improving the lives of women and families in her community. In 2008, Eunice was named by the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper as one of the “25 Women You Need to Know in Tallahassee”.

She has been featured in noteworthy publications globally. Today, AMAZONS WATCH MAGAZINE is lending a voice to this great up-coming Amazon. A true pathfinder!

By Reuben AKOR

My peers are building houses while I am building a business – The real story of a female entrepreneur in Africa.

Once upon a time, I was a good African girl – I had gotten my degree, I had a good job, a husband, a family home, my kids were in good schools – I was living the African dream! Then I caught the bug. It was always there I think, in the back of my head, waiting to rear its head. I started in secondary school as a hobby – baking cakes and making pencil cases for sale, anything to make an extra buck.

When I finished college and got myself a job, I thought my life was complete. But again money wasn’t enough and I had to come up with ideas on how to raise extra money for bills that come with having children and extended family to take care of. With a bit of capital from my salary, I tried investing in a mobile butchery idea, a small restaurant at a bus station and finally a catering business.

After a couple of years, my African dream fell apart and I found myself divorced and raising three kids as a single mother. Being a divorced woman in Africa is the hardest thing and at 28 years old with 3 kids to take care of on my own, I needed a new dream.

I woke up one day and decided things needed to change drastically in my life. Having had enough of living on pay cheque to pay cheque and from one debt to another, I quit my job and decided to try full-time entrepreneurship. Looking back, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, with 3 young kids to feed, I probably should have kept the job and slowly eased into the business.  I registered the business, moved my kids to my parents’ house and out of expensive private schools. I had to talk to my boys and make them understand that life would be different from now on and that we would have to make sacrifices for a better future. I hope my boys understood that at that time it was the best thing to do to secure a brighter future for them.

In 2013, African Sunsets Events was born and we started off with our first women’s empowerment, business and leadership conference called – “Brand Woman.”  The universe will always respond to your requests by first giving you a positive outcome so that you don’t grow faint and give up too quickly.  Our first event went well. It can only get better from here, I thought, as I planned to have more and more events and business conferences that year. We followed the same marketing methods and tried to host a similar conference two months later thinking the cash would come rolling in – our first mistake. People can only attend so many business conferences in a year before the message feels the same and they begin to get bored – especially in a small market like Zambia.

In Africa, when one person sets up a tomato stall and is seemingly successful at it, within a week or two, you will find three more people selling the same kind of tomatoes on the exact same street. Within 6 months of registering the business, there were at least 10 new companies also hosting business conferences within the same city. So the pressure to keep innovating in order to stay ahead of the competition was very real.

By now my bills were piling up again. It got pretty real, pretty quickly and I had to make a decision again to send my boys to live with their dad while I sort out my financial situation. Countless times I thought about how I should just quit the business and get another job. During my toughest times, I soon realized that doing business in Africa is not just about having a good business idea. With little to no funding for startups, it’s not automatic that you will be singing all the way to the bank. But believe me, it is worth the hassle!

Two to three years into the business, we decided to take a new strategy and work on a reality TV cooking competition. With just an idea, no funding and no investors – we moved forward trying to find sponsors for our show – an idea that wasn’t fully formed yet. Once again the universe was on our side, and most local companies gave us support in the form of goods and services that we could use for the competition. But no cash! Miraculously, we traveled around the country and got contestants to take part in the show. With no advertising budget, we used social media and went door to door at restaurants and hotel’s asking chefs to take part in the competition.

Season one proved that our idea was viable and gave birth to different revenue streams through the TV show. We had to be strong and resilient to overcome challenges faced by every startup in Africa.  No funding, even corruption in the private sector, multinational corporations rear its ugly head as someone has to be given something or be promised something for things to happen your way. We have to contend with petty issues as not wanting to give business to local companies in preference to foreign companies, or not wanting to deal with companies run by women. Some companies we contacted for partnership subtly turned us down in preference to companies run by white foreigners. They racially believed that these guys are seen as more reliable. Unreliable supplier(s), service providers and sponsors who just decide the day before an event/recording not to deliver what they promised or not turning up without a word. It can be as this bad!

Setting up a business in Africa has been the most challenging, blood pressure raising, stressful thing I have ever done – but against all odds, we are still standing.

We have faced insurmountable challenges – debt, final demand letters, repossessions, unreliable suppliers, non-existent cash flows, corruption, sexism, racism, loss of friends, unsupportive family members, homelessness and even sexual harassment to get to where we are now.

Five years on and we are on a whole new level. Through synergies and partnerships, season two of our reality TV show – Mastercook Zambia, begins to air soon throughout Southern Africa, we have two new shows in the brand – a celebrity cooking show and kids cooking show. We launched a recipe magazine and a mobile app, Mastercook competition themed Kids Parties and adult team building events. This month we open up an African fusion restaurant and bar right in the heart of Lusaka, Zambia. We have a cooking school to teach adults and children how to cook gourmet meals, called the Mastercook Academy. We also recently launched a range of food and herb based organic beauty products.

Would I change the journey I have had? I don’t think so; it has made me who I am today. I may not yet be like Aliko Dangote or Strive Masiyiwa, but I am slowly building my own empire – like Martha Stewart or Rachel Ray. I hope I can build a culinary empire right here in Africa.

As my peers are building houses, I am out here being misunderstood as I try to build a business empire that Will hopefully be around for my great, great grandchildren to know that I was here on this earth, I survived poverty and hardship and I left them a legacy – this is my new African dream!

By Abigail Mbuzi

About the author: Abigail Mbuzi is the Managing Director, African Sunsets Restaurant, and Bar. Lusaka, Zambia

 

Over the last two decades, Argentina’s wines have emerged onto the global stage, earning both critical relevance and commercial success. As with any industry that continues to grow, more and more questions have arisen not just about what the product is, but how it’s made.

For a long time, the making of Argentinian wine—most notably rich, tannic Malbecs—was a male pursuit. Women rarely held decision-making power or reached leadership positions in the industry. Today, however, women across Argentina are finding a foothold at every level—in viticulture schools, at wineries, in hospitality, and in government. The influence of women on Argentina’s wine industry in recent years has been profound, moving it into more complex realms than “Malbec with a side of machismo.” Here, an introduction to some of the women shaping the future of Argentinian win.

Sorrel Moseley-Williams
For a country that consumes so much wine, there isn’t much of a “by the glass” culture in Argentina. At any one of Buenos Aires’s restaurants—even the critically acclaimed ones—it is common to be handed a voluminous wine list, only to find a single page of by-the-glass wines, usually of dubious quality. This was a problem that sommeliers Sorrel Moseley-Williams and Eugenia Villar saw as an opportunity. In 2015, they created “Come Wine With Us” a pop-up wine bar charging modest prices for by-the-glass wines, and introducing consumers to smaller, independent wineries, as well as highlighting the rosés and whites that often get overshadowed by Argentina’s reds. The pop-ups have found a cult following, and often sell out within a few hours. “Consumers are learning there is more to wine than Malbec,” says Moseley-Williams. “Pop-up events such as mine are able to ensure wine is accessible while stealthily educating, and getting people a bit [tipsy].”

Sofia Pescarmona
This Mendoza-based winery is one of the only major producers to have a woman CEO, Sofia Pescarmona. “Unfortunately there are not many women CEOs in the wine industry, just as there are not many in any industry,” she told us. When Pescarmona came into control of Lagarde, she had to contend with the bodega’s 100-year-old history of creating premium old-world-style wines. She wanted to introduce modern winemaking techniques while respecting the brand’s legacy. To achieve this, she built a team with which she felt she could collaborate—and the results have been a hit. “Women bring less ego to the table and focus more on collaborating with their partners,” says Pescarmona. “I do not believe that great wines are made alone, but by great teams with a shared visit.

SUSANA BALBO
Susana Balbo was not only the first woman to graduate from Buenos Aires’s enology school in the early 1980s, but was also among the first Argentinian women to find a real winemaking job. “The first and most important challenge was to get a job,” says Balbo. “Back then, women worked in the laboratory, and I wanted to work in the cellar defining the wines that were going to reach the consumer. So the biggest challenge was getting my boss to trust that I could handle the male staff in the cellar.” Now, Balbo owns the highly celebrated winery Dominio del Plata, just south of Mendoza, and just a few months ago she resigned from her position as a congresswoman in Argentina’s legislature in order to chair the upcoming W20, the women’s counterpart to the G20 conference in Buenos Aires this November.

Things have certainly changed since Balbo’s early days—today, just as many women graduate Argentina’s enology programs as men. Balbo says that employers are increasingly sensitive to the value that women bring to winemaking: “In my opinion it is because our genetic makeup is developed for caring: for details, for children, for family, for food. So we have natural abilities in the aspect of tasting…which come from years of evolution, where the woman had to identify by aromas and flavors the products that were poisonous and could affect the care of her children…in addition, the ability to do several things simultaneously is a huge advantage in making high quality wines.”

The Vines Resort and Spa is a vision of modern concrete and floor-to-ceiling glass windows nestled in the rolling foothills of the Andes. Also, “The Vines of Mendoza” surrounding the hotel works something like a turnkey farmshare program: wine enthusiasts from around the world are invited to purchase parcels of vines, visit as often as they like, then harvest those vines to create their very own wines. While it isn’t uncommon to find a woman sommelier in Argentina, it is uncommon to find one as influential as Mariana Onofri, who as Head Sommelier of The Vines works directly with private vineyard owners to guide them through the adventure of making their own wines, tailoring their plan to fit their interests and pal

The Uco Valley south of Mendoza began to gain international prominence when French winemaking legend Michel Rolland gathered a group of mostly European investors to create Clos de los Siete (“Group of the Seven”), a winemaking mini-conglomerate which is a must-visit for visitors to the area. His own operation in the group, Bodega Rolland, is today entrusted to Magdalena Rodriguez Maisano, the Chief Winemaker who also oversees the administration of the winery. While Monsieur Rolland is back home in France, Maisano is the boss—and with her winemaking and management prowess, Bodega Rolland has become one of the most critically acclaimed high-end wineries in the region.

Lucia Romero
Lucia Romero, general manager of El Porvenir, says it wasn’t easy to achieve her current position, even though her family owns the business. The far northwest of Argentina is one of the more traditionally patriarchal regions of the country, so there were very few women role models to look up to in the wine industry. After running commercial operations for several years, she left to pursue an oenology MBA, studying wine management in France, Australia and California. “I was lucky that my father gave me the chance to earn this place and that he always respected my work, so the people at the winery followed his example,” she says. “But I do think that women in the industry should be working more closely together…we are good leaders and communicators and can do a great job in any position within this industry.”