Do you ever find yourself facing a difficult situation at work or feel lost trying to navigate the professional world? Don’t you wish you had a playbook to tell you what to do and how to do it? Afua Osei felt this frustration and from conversations with friends, colleagues, and other young women, she knew that she was not the only one. She decided that she could be the author of that guide, and so, Osei founded She Leads Africa (SLA), an organization to help young women “lead their best professional lives.”
Osei has had an enviable career that qualifies her to be giving this advice. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia and worked in the Office of the First Lady Michelle Obama in the White House. She checked the management consultant box, working with McKinsey & Company in Nigeria.
Osei took a big risk leaving all of this behind to pursue her entrepreneurial vision. If she could do it all again, she might not have been so quick to leave. Osei advises women thinking of becoming entrepreneurs to first save more money. When starting SLA, Osei had to significantly change her lifestyle. She was not even able to travel home to see her family for almost two years. As long as you can balance your day job and you side-project, you should do it. It’s important to “take your time to learn and build yourself as an individual and leader,” she said. But of course, once the momentum takes hold, you need to capture it. When SLA started taking off, she had no choice but to leap.
Osei isn’t only authoring the guidebook; she’s living it. One of the ways that Osei helps young women become leaders is to demonstrate that there is no one image of what a leader looks like. She wears jeans and tennis shoes. She wears her hair natural and she shows her same personality whether she’s on Instagram or in an office. “We spend so much time telling women they need to change, but the rule book wasn’t designed for young women. And it definitely wasn’t designed for young women of color, so we are never going to fit into that space,” she said. Instead of trying to fit into that space, you need to create your own.
Osei is helping young African women to be the architects of their space. When SLA was just two years old, the organization hosted their first event in London. When Osei walked into the event and saw 200 young women there, she was overwhelmed. Not because the crowd was large, at this point her organization had hosted many large events, but because she didn’t know anyone in London. It was not her personality or her network that packed the room, but a shared belief in a vision to put thriving, professional African women at the center of the story. As important as it is to be a visible leader, it’s also important to teach, support, and coach others so that they too can do the work. “At the end of the day we should be creating things that are bigger than ourselves,” she said.
Today, She Leads Africa reaches more than 650,000 young women across the African continent and the diaspora. These young women can see themselves reflected in the stories on the brand’s platform. Osei’s goal of “being the #1 media platform for millennial African women” is in reach and the young women following its map are eagerly watching to see where it will go next.