The fashion industry: how this industry can revive the Congolese economy.

The fashion industry: how this industry can revive the Congolese economy.

How many jobs do you think are in the fashion industry? I am sure the first ones that come to your mind are fashion designer, seamstress and fashion model. In the Congolese community, those are the most mainstream roles in the fashion industry. However, in fashion there are 100 of them, which include and are not limited to Marketing, Finance, Beauty and Operations. So if the question is can the fashion industry revive the Congolese economy? The Answer is yes, it can be one of the driving forces.

In 2015 Fashion was a $1.2 trillion global industry, which included luxury fashion, fast fashion and accessories (bags, jewellery, watches and shoes). Fashion and apparel industries employ 1.9 million people in the United States and the UK fashion industry is estimated to support 850,000 jobs. The number of people that work in this industry in Congo is unknown to me.

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So why and how are Congolese people so limited in their understanding of an industry they swear to love? If you do not understand what I am speaking of, I am speaking of Sapologie. A term engrained in the brain of every Congolese person regardless of whether they were born inside or outside of both countries respectively.

La Sape, an abbreviation based on the phrase Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (French; literally “Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People”) and hinting to the French slang word sape which means “attire”, is a subculture centered on the cities of Kinshasa and Brazzaville in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of Congo respectively. An adherent of La Sape is known as a sapeur.[1] The movement embodies the elegance in style and manners of colonial predecessor dandies.

As Congolese people, we have created a subculture that has been features and respected by not only other African countries, but globally by the likes of African American singers Solange and Jidenna but also, the Chinese community who were heavily involved in Congolese music through Papa Wemba. So if our industry already has a name, already has an impact and is influencing people all across the globe, how are we not or rather how have we not developed a sustainable industry that can create thousands of jobs across both nations and fuel the passion of many artists in that industry?

The main reason is that fashion is not taken seriously, and like any other art, is dismissed over the likes of studies in business, medicine, education and engineering. However, there comes a time when thinking must change and new entrepreneurial ways must be accepted in order to see change.

Why develop Congo’s fashion industry?

The industry is set to double in value in the next 10 years to generate up to $5trillion annually. This presents a huge opportunity for business in Africa, as the combined value of apparel and footwear in sub-Saharan Africa was estimated at $31 billion in 2016.

The fashion industry holds amazing potential to motivate and bring change to some of the most vulnerable people, especially women and children, while advancing the structural transformation needed in the industry and in the country.

The role of creative industries in Congo Kinshasa and Brazzaville.

With 13 million young African joining the labour force on a yearly basis, the development of skill based industry, where people can learn on the job and gain qualifications in a labour intensive sector is imperative to for the stability of our nations. Fashion uses our culture and creativity as a selling point, which can be leveraged both within and outside of the continent.

What can we do to change this?

Investment, training and the industrialization of the industry. There are many more roles outside of being a seamstress in fashion, from textile designer to fashion forecaster, the roles are endless. Let’s broaden the minds of the people in the industry.

Africa currently accounts for just 1.9% of global manufacturing. That figure does not just relate to fashion. With having raw materials available, Congo should focus on moving to the top of the value chain and produce garments targeted at the home and international audience.

Strategic support and investment in local manufacturers should allow the Congolese fashion industry to steadily grow and become an entity of its own

 

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 ESIMBI in Kinshasa: how the charity is pushing for arts and culture in education.

 ESIMBI in Kinshasa: how the charity is pushing for arts and culture in education.

ESIMBI believes that there has never been a better time to instill the values of arts and culture in the lives of children and young adults. It is especially important now, as the education system in Congo is not doing significantly enough to develop the talents of the young Congolese population. The world is in a constant state of change; schools need new accountability measures and often struggle to reach the minimum requirements to educate their students.

For Congo to advance, we must do thing differently, financial and institutional capital have been the focal points of education and for addressing society’s challenges. Perhaps changing the way we look at things and take a more creative approach will most definitely have a different social impact. And, this is where the arts and culture are necessary in the Congolese curriculum.

 

 

Arts and culture nurtures and sparks the cognitive ability to imagine, and unleashes creativity and innovation, letting people think differently, develop differently and solve problems differently. Arts and culture is known to breaks barriers, connect people across cultural differences, and engage people who share the same values and skills. There is no investment that brings people closer together and moves people to action more than arts and culture.

The arts sector in Congo is very silent and invisible, so pushing schools away from arts subjects is the norm. There has also been relatively little public discussion of the way that arts and culture or creative learning might need to shift and change in order to play a role in the Congolese education system.

 

 

Article 31 of the UN Convention on the rights of the child states that– All children to be able to participate freely in cultural life and the arts – without providing ‘first access’ at the very least within the school system, how can a Congolese child, understand and develop artistically? The reality is, if the nurturing of arts and creativity is left to families and informal institutes, the Congolese arts and culture sector cannot and will not thrive.

What is ESIMBI doing?

Focusing our efforts on strategies that foster real collaboration—finding the best ways to leverage existing partnerships, work around them where they get in the way, and eliminate them when there is no growth or progress.

Identify the stakeholders who must join, support, and advocate for solutions—we must reach beyond the “choir” to find the right and best people that we can work with and advocate our cause.

We urge Congolese people and Congolese organisations to get out of their own way. Often we are too busy trying to rally people that we are not identifying any solutions (programs, structures, policies, practices, and financial models) that might be outside our comfort zone.

We learn from others and ourselves—a great deal of thinking and work goes into what we do and it shows in the results that we yield.

 

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We know and understand that it will be hard and will take a long-term commitment—this is a meticulous task. The political challenges, economic constraints, competing interests, priority gaps, and complexities are all real and significant challenges.

Ultimately, we must act now. Congo is unstable and has been for some time. We do not need or want to be another African study or statistic. Yet this is the time for substantial challenges that can lead to significant reforms and investments in Congo but only if we have a game changing approach which can transform the country.

KUBA: The most underrated textile in the world

KUBA: The most underrated textile in the world

We are living in the best time to connect artisans to the Global market. – Tina Lobondi

 

It was important for me to take some time to explore the textiles of the country I am from, Congo. One of them significantly stood out every time. The Kuba textile…  You may or not have heard of it but you definitely have seen it a few times in your life on television, store, textiles, frames, and so on….. I recently discovered a brand called Duarra Limited. And immediately fell in love with the work they were doing.

KUBA KINGDOM HISTORY

The Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of Congo are located around the Sankuru river in the Kasai region. It’s a tribe made up of 18 sub-groups.

The Kingdom was established in the 17th century by king Shyaam. It had a more developed state institutions than other independent villages and chieftaincy in the region. It also had an unwritten constitution, separation of political powers, a judicial system with courts and juries, a police force and military, taxation and significant public provision.

The base cloth, called “Mbal”, is made from the dried leaves of the raffia palm tree. To produce the cloth, the leaves are first dried and then stripped down to individual fibers before being woven. In the the Kuba culture, men are responsible for the cultivation of the raffia palm and the weaving of the cloth. The women are responsible for transforming the raffia cloth into various forms of textiles.

 

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Photo credits: http://en.lisapoyakama.org/the-kuba-kingdom/

The patterns of the textile communicate essentials informations about the Kuba as individuals and as a society. They are an important marker of social status, lineage and ethnicity. Finally, some textiles are used for funerals and festive events.

The textiles isn’t decorated with human or animal fugures, but with exquisite abstract designs. Although the Kuba people have been producing textiles for four hundred years, their traditional designs are strikingly modern.

Avant-garde European artists like Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Grace Hartzel were greatly inspired by the various abstract pattern of the Kuba textiles.

 

SOME INTERESTING FACTS

The first explorer to discover the existence of the Kuba people was William Sheppard, a black American Presbyterian.

Whenever a king dies, the capital moves to the location of the new king

Several restaurant venues in Salzburg, owned by Austria’s Red Bull founder, display a good selection of Kuba textiles.

 

KUBA FACTS

Wealthy members of society supported Fashion and Arts, which in turn augmented their status and increased their chances of being named to a lofty post. As a result, the efforts of the Kuba artisans became sophisticated and varied.

 

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Picture credit : https://duarra.com

 

The Kuba are also called the Bakuba.

The Kuba kingdom wasn’t affected by the Arabs and European slave trades. It was only destabilised when the Belgians came to Congo at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Kuba society is matriarchal. The eldest woman from the royal family is the true sovereign and she could make the kind stand down.

The Kuba is made up of 18 different tribes but only 4 tribes have gained recognition for their artistic endeavours. The Bushongo, Ngende, Ngongo and Shoowa.

The Kuba’s primary contemporary use of the textile is at funerals of wealthy elders and sometimes weddings.

The Kuba textile was also use as a currency.

 

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Picture credits: http://pandorasantafe.com/kuba-cloth-from-africa/

 

There are four major techniques for producing finished Kuba cloth: embroidery, applique, patchwork and dyeing.

Embroideries, often called “Kuba velours”, have a velvet-like texture while the uncut variety display similar pattern work with a flat appearance.

The applique and patchwork are mirror images of each other. The former required attaching additional pieces of fabric to a base cloth to create a pattern effect. The latter involves cutting away pieces of the base cloth to create a pattern then filling in the gaps by patching the front or back of the base cloth with fabric in the shape of the missing piece.

 

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Picture credit : https://duarra.com

How to be the Female Game Changer for Congo?

How to be the Female Game Changer for Congo?

 

The 2018 theme for International Women’s Day was #pressforprogress, with a focus on women’s equality in terms of financial inclusion.

“Gender parity won’t happen overnight. And sources cite that women’s equality is still a long way off. But the good news is that across the world, women are making positive gains, day by day. And there’s a strong and growing global movement of advocacy, activism and support.”  – International Women’s Day website

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ESIMBI magazine hosted its first Women in business seminar in London last week.

The room was filled with men and women who were prepared to hear and understand the struggles that women go through but also their successes.

Ika De Jong hailing from Belgium, told her story on how she created a platform as a presenter. A name now known by Congolese people globally.

Noëlla Coursaris spoke (and joked) about her career as a model. But stayed serious with regards to matters close to her heart, the Malaika foundation which supports girls education in DRC. Ten years ago, they build a school that offers free education to all the pupils enrolled.

Yolande Letshou, fashion and branding professional. A relentless woman that has a unique story to tell and who has clients all over the world, spoke of her journey as an artist and business woman.

Tina lobondi founder of ESIMBI said that Congolese entrepreneurs need more help and support, from each other and organisations that work in Congo.

Our guest speaker Lu Li spoke of her great platform, Blooming Founders, the UK’s largest female entrepreneur network.

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Each story, each message sparked discussions that are needed in the Congolese community surrounding Congolese women and entrepreneurship. The event, which was meant to be a one off event, will now take place every year and invite Congolese entrepreneurs, businesses and investors to be a part of the discussion.

It is well known that unbiased access to education and financial services are important in playing a pivotal role in reducing the vulnerability of poor people. In many African countries, however, more than two-thirds of the adult population have no access to formal financial services.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, financial exclusion is as high as 76%. Additionally, exclusion is highest among women, young adults and the very poorest segments of society. Financial inclusion can advance equality for women in many ways.

  1. Having access to resources and to the tools that help them to earn a living, can increase women’s bargaining power on how money and other resources are used within the household.
  2. Financial inclusion can help increase women’s opportunities to earn or control assets outside the household.
  3. Thirdly, it can reduce women’s vulnerability by allowing them to insure against risk or borrow to meet unexpected expenses, such as medical treatments.

These are all key factors for economic empowerment. Financial literacy allows women and their families to understand how the accumulation of assets can aid in achieving their financial goals.

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Our event was not only to celebrate the many roles and positions Congolese women have in society and in the workplace but also show how financial independence helps them make decisions for their careers households and children.

  • To stimulate debate and build knowledge on financial inclusion.
  • To identify entry points for advancing the role of women in Congo.
  • To expand the network of champions and advocates of gender equality in Congo.

The challenge for women’s day 2018 was to make our mothers proud/ using our mothers as example, to have our sisters inspired/empowered, and our daughters envisioned. Congolese women have made great strides in equality yet there is still a great deal to be achieved. The International Women’s Day provided a unique and global opportunity to reignite, inspire and channel Congolese women’s equality for the future.

we aim to recognise and celebrate the valuable contribution Congolese women make in several different industries at our International Women’s Day function. The event brought together professionals from across the areas of construction, engineering, project management and design to celebrate their achievements as part of the 2018 International Women’s Day.

Topics of discussion included:

  • How can women best support one another?
  • Why International Women’s Day is important to me? Why am I here?
  • Who are the women that have had the greatest Impact on your life, and why?
  • What most concerns you related to women’s issues looking forward?
  • What do you want most for the women of tomorrow?
  • What would you try if you knew you could not fail?
  • How do I find direction, fulfilment and purpose in my life?
  • How to strive for, achieve, and maintain balance in our lives?
  • What needs to happen for women to reach equality?
  • How do you think Congo will benefit from a more inclusive society?

It was amazing to share that day with so many inspirational women. I definitely agree that more dialogues are necessary but, Education and Action are the key to progressing towards change. I look forward to taking part in the next event.

The below event will be attending by over 500 business women and I will be there too. If you would like to join us, use my code to get £175 Off the rate week, simply click here to book your ticket.

 

 

Is accidental entrepreneurship a real thing in Congo?

Is accidental entrepreneurship a real thing in Congo?

Although being the richest country in terms of natural resources, people in Republic Democratic of Congo live on under $5 per day.

Despite these challenges, they tend to come up with new ideas to generate revenue to live adequately. Last year Harvard business review wrote an article about why African entrepreneurship is booming. If there is real growth in Africa and there is to be predicted growth in Congo, why isn’t entrepreneurship valued?

These entrepreneurial activities can have a huge impact on the economy of Congo as well as the quality of life of the population in the form of employment. However, an important factor is the missing legislations, training and investment in entrepreneurs. This fact makes business development and business growth stagnant.

Entrepreneurial forces are relatively strong in Congo, as most people become accidental entrepreneurs based on necessity due to the poor economic situation. However, we have failed to realise that entrepreneurship development is the foundation of all economic evolution in any nation.

I took the below pictures on my last trip to Kinshasa with Gaelle who works with me on my social initiative ESIMBI. I wanted to share them as they completely represent how street businesses are the force that sustains the neglected Congolese population but shows their strength and resilience.

 

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Entrepreneurial challenges in Congo

  • The country’s economic has been declining since the 1990’s and its instability have made Congo an unsuccessful place for entrepreneurial capital investment.
  • The lack of adequate electricity, basic internet, which is a must in the business climate, stifle entrepreneurial activities.
  • Female entrepreneurs, are often underestimated and overlooked because of cultural barriers labelling women inherently inferior to men.

 

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The prospect of entrepreneurship in Congo

  • Economic Development: the development of entrepreneurs will increase the National gross domestic product.
  • Reduction in unemployment: entrepreneurship encourages and increases the creation of employment in Congo which contributes the country’s development.
  • Improved way of life: encouraging entrepreneurship development will go a long way to improve the standard of living of the country’s population through innovations.

 

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To fully encourage the development of entrepreneurs in Congo, we need to prioritise education, investment and continuous development. Not only in the entrepreneurs but also the industries that they are working in, this will generate a surge of potential from everyone in the country to see and recognise that they have the ability to change their live and that of others through business, mentorship, and apprenticeship.

 

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Why diversity is more than just a trend in the beauty industry?

Why diversity is more than just a trend in the beauty industry?

“Diversity must be applied on all level of a company not just one.”

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The Luxe Beauty Soiree was both an eye opening and inspiring gathering. My invitation came from my friend who is the founder of glossy magazine GlamAfrica. I have known Chioma since the beginning of her publication and she is probably one of the most amazing lady boss who does not stop.

I was not sure what to expect when I arrived at the event. It was snowing in London and that’s never a good start of the day. But on that Saturday morning, I was convinced that attending this event could teach me a thing or two, and I was not disappointed.

Co-Founder Chioma Onwutalobi said “Finally we can talk about diversity openly in an environment that houses the decision makers at key organisations, so we move away from just speaking about these issues to seeing action in the real world.”

I found myself in a room filled with beauty experts, professionals, fashion and beauty bloggers who came together to learn, network and discuss the many facets of diversity in the beauty and lifestyle industry. The event had a few public figures on the panel, such as Irene Major, who came to talk about skin bleaching/tanning and their side effects.

This was unfortunately for me the boring panel because it seems like people were holding back on really giving their opinion. The subject is obviously sensitive for some people because at the end of the day, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Right?

Well, yes but you were invited on the panel to elaborate on this delicate topic!!! This is what the voice in my head was shouting.  Anyway… self-control is gold my dear.

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The rest of the day was filled with product demonstrations, tutorials from skin care to hair and cosmetics. It was all interactive so the guests could participate and ask questions. The management did the great job choosing the subject because this is what the general public really cares about. Nothing was really taboo and it was nice to be in a place where so many cultures came together to talk about things that matters to them.

I very much enjoyed the presentation done by the three ambassadors from the changing Faces charity. They help people with disfigurements and I must say, I almost cried listening to one of the stories. Not only these women were inspiring through their actions but their strength was shining through. I definitely want to contribute to their cause.

 

“This meeting was so relevant to me as a woman of colour, in my everyday role as a consultant dermatologist. Especially discussion around defying stereotypes in the workplace, representation in the media, skin bleaching, hair loss and the demonstrations on skincare and makeup for women of colour. Definitely looking forward to more.” Dr Shaaira Nasir – Consultant Dermatologist (Quoted on social media post event)

“We don’t have to bend our beliefs and adapt ourselves to be acceptable to anyone else. We don’t need to become palatable and hide who we are. For me, this event was about acceptance of each other, but primarily acceptance of ourselves. So many women were able to open up about the pressure and fear of looking different or being different, that they have to assimilate and that must change.” Narjice Basaran – PR consultant and Cofounder of PureModus.com

The Luxe Beauty Soiree last week was the launch event to prepare for something bigger in the coming months. This aims to be a contemporary educational platform, for people to come together to learn about the beauty and lifestyle industries, organising masterclasses and events where honest discussions will be a must.

They want to promote a change in thinking for both the beauty industry and the consumers. The greatest impact of this event came from the industry experts who gave eye opening account of how truly difficult it is to get right with their products and marketing campaigns. The change will have to be a collective effort; understanding that real change will come about when everyone embraces diversity as an all.

What these women philanthropists did to empower others

What these women philanthropists did to empower others
Becoming a philanthropist is not something I had in mind in the past 10 years. Personalities such as Mother Theresa, one of the few I followed along with Princess Diana, were not labelled like that in my small village back in France, but more like humanitarians I think. A philanthropist nowadays is a business person with a big heart who does more than just caring about social responsability. I used to donate to various charities but unfortunately none of them had a connection with Congo. This is the reason why I made it my mission to start researching Congolese organisations in the sector of arts and education. Many were helping schools but none were focusing on the creative industry so I decided to start my own initiative.

Where I am from, donating to others is not quite considered as an employment option. So I never imagined that giving back to my community would give another perspective to my work and what it means to do more for others even when you have less for yourself. It was very hard for me because I kind of expected to have the support of certain people, which never came… but it made me stronger and more determined to make things work. My vision was my own and I was wrong to expect people or my entourage to see it as clearly as I did. I remember my ex saying to me ” You haven’t build your career and you want to help people?”, that day I smiled and said yes in my head.

I also smiled because I realised that he was not the man for me and left him shortly after that. I have understood in the last 3 years that as humans, our purpose is to connect and love. Nothing else. We leave everything behind after death so why is it so hard for us to be open and give to one another?

Some of us look at Oprah Winfrey as a role model, for business, and to get inspiration. But the day I looked into Mother Theresa as a role model, a new world opened up. In Africa, Asia and other parts of the world helping your neighbour with whatever you can, comes down to common sense. People helping people without looking or asking for any recognition.

Africans are generally taught to be giving and kind, respectful to our elders by never calling their names. Many other cultures have these basis. Have you noticed that in the Hindu language for instance, every time you hear “Ji“ is often a sign of politeness: babuji, auntyji, etc… in Africa, it’s the same, Aunty, Uncle, Tata. Anyone from a neighbor, to a blood related aunty receives respect every time his or her name is called.

Companies such as Western Union are making millions because of the culture of giving. Perhaps the reason why we don’t really give this a second thought is because this is what we grew up to see.

 

 

 

I am often asked why I started a social initiative when my brand was still at an early stage, instead of fully focusing on building it?

Well, there are 2 reasons, which I actually did not realise straight away.

  • My grandmother, may she rest in peace, was the most amazing woman. Fortunate enough to have found a husband who adored her and made sure she lived a comfortable life. She was strong and loved fashion, jewellery and anything feminine. But what I remember her the most for is her devotion to her church and people she cared for. The street we lived in Kinshasa was “under her protection”. Our house was always open for anyone in need and I really wish I had a chance to tell her how much I admired her heart.
  • My aunt, she once told me after I refused to share my food with my little cousin – “ If you don’t give when you have little, you won’t give when you have a lot “. I remember telling her that whatever she said wasn’t logical because if you have a lot then obviously you are more keen to give to someone else. It is only a few years later that I realised I was wrong and she was right. Having a Giving heart is not everyone’s cup of tea and it definitely is not based on your bank balance. I have seen fundraising events where a room full of millionaires raised only £2000.

To be honest, I feel like my charitable work has made me more vulnerable and sensitive now. When we hosted our first free workshop for ESIMBI with about 250 children in Kinshasa, Congo, one girl came to me, she was 12 years old. She wanted to hug me and said “ Thank you for doing this event. No one ever do anything for us. “

No need to say that I cried…. It was probably the most fulfilling moment of my life.

This article is to highlight women I admire who are giving back whenever they can. I hope that it will help, the reader to understand my point about the art of giving.

But really, I can’t talk about black women and philanthropy without talking about one of the first known African- American woman, who successfully went from being a laundress earning less than one dollar a day to becoming one of the first self-made female millionaires in the United States. Her name was Sarah Breedlove, and she was also known as Madam C. J. Walker, the founder of a hair care empire and a well-established philanthropist.

Ms Walker used her fortune to champion the YMCA, the Tuskegee Institute, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and other important civic and educational organizations.

How impressive this woman was! Definitely worth celebrating this month. Here are my top 3 Sheros!

 

Noella Coursaris

She founded the Malaika school in 2007, a nonprofit organisation to empower Congolese girls and their communities through education and health programs. Malaika’s projects are impacting thousands of people’s lives in Kalebuka and are all offered completely free of charge. All these efforts have made her an advocate for peace, speaking to large audiences at UNICEF and the UK Parliament. Let’s not forget the several times she appeared alongside President Clinton on Clinton Global Initiative panels. Noëlla has been interviewed about her philanthropic work on global news outlets such as CNN and the BBC. And that’s only a few things about my Congolese sister.

 

 

 

Naomie Campbell

Our favourite top model is the runaway icon with the biggest heart. I always admired her for being real on camera as she usually simply speaks her mind. To me, that is definitely where her power lies… She organised the first Fashion for Relief to raise funds to help the victims of the Hurricane Katrina. The charitable organization founded in 2005 has since raised funds for various environmental and humanitarian causes. They organise events in association with the London-based non-profit organization CARE. They support international charitable organisations bringing aid to people in crises in different countries. The event always attracts high-profile individuals from the fashion, film, music, and television industries to participate and attend the show.  They have showcased in Cannes, London, Moscow, and Mumbai to name a few but also had partnership with global online retailer Yoox in 2012.

 

 

 

 

Jada Pinkett Smith

Jada Pinkett Smith and husband Will have been engaged in philanthropy for many years now. Their established a family foundation which supports a range of causes including education and the arts. Jada graduated from Baltimore School of the Arts, and donated to the school 1 million dollars in the last decade. The foundation also supported an energy start-up called Quidnet Energy, a “developer of grid-scale energy storage systems capable of enabling the baron-free power grid,” and recently backed NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts’ Fusion Film Festival, which works with women filmmakers. The “Girl’s trip actress” has always been someone to watch out for. Her interviews and motivational speeches have me shook everytime. I will always remember that video where she speaks to her daughter about love and what it means to be a woman. So inspirational!

 

 

 

 

I would love for you to let me know who are your role models in the non-profit sector, rather they are from an African background or not.

In life, we must stand for something, whatever that may be. Giving to others has never been about charity, it is about love. Always.