1 Year Out is an interview series highlighting alumni from the class of 2014 who are engaged in public service, entrepreneurship, or nonprofit work in any capacity- through their employment, a volunteer position, or on the side.
How are you involved in public service, entrepreneurship, or nonprofit work?
I am an entrepreneur working on a co-founded startup and some independent ventures/projects. Mainly, I am serving as COO of a co-founded startup, JooMah, and online employment platform designed to identify and cultivate talent and promote economic growth across Africa. In addition, I am also preparing to launch Idunnu Studios, a toy line that creates culturally relevant and pedagogical children’s content.
How did you get there?
I began while at Wesleyan, specifically my junior year. Anytime I had an idea, I started working on it. From research, to conferences, to pitches, and meeting after meeting,
Describe a typical day at your position.
No such thing. In general however, we (the team) have routine team meetings and conference calls with one another and I hit the to-do list of everything that needs to get done. This is usually proposals, pitches, legal stuff, editing, emails, creative and strategic planning and more meetings.
How do your race, gender, class background, sexuality, and other identities factor into your work?
I try not to think about this or the obstacles they pose but in truth, it is sometimes hard to get a seat in front of the people you want. It’s also difficult to always have your voice heard in business settings.
What is unexpectedly great about your job?
The time I spend. When you are working on something you love, or something that creates an impact, you can work for hours and not know where the time has gone. This tells me I’m where I should be.
What’s the hardest thing about your position that you’re willing to share? What are some characteristics that would make your type of work hard for someone?
Without a doubt, getting funded. It’s still a struggle, day in, day out. But we keep pushing and keep doing what we need to with or without the funds. It’s definitely not for everyone, many of us have funded the projects with our own savings and gone without a salary. I always tell people my passion feeds me, not my paycheck!
Does the compensation you receive in this field meet your financial needs? If not, how do you make ends meet?
I am fortunate to have roof and food to eat by parents who support my entrepreneurial career. I also take on many business gigs and contracts to make money on the side.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Stop caring about what people think.
Stop comparing yourself to other people.
Never get comfortable.
Work hard. Then work harder. (I gave myself that one.)
Let the impact alone drive you, and no other motive. Not fame, not envy, not revenge, not money, but impact. (I gave myself that one too.)
Tell me about a time you felt really effective making change in the world.
When I was still working on the prototype for my toys, I would go to a local elementary school everyday for 6 months. There I would work with kids, mostly girls, and pick their brains about the children’s content I was creating.
The first week I was there, I saw a girl in the cafeteria crying. When I asked her why, she said some boy had made fun of her earlier in the day for her “ugly, knappy hair”. Her mom had straightened in the morning but the rain hit it before she got to school and her hair poofed up in no time (#naturalhairstruggles), making her the target of jokes for the day. I didn’t know her well enough then, but I told her her hair was beautiful but what I really wanted to do was show her. After 6 months of working with the characters I was creating (writing the books, creating the illustrations, building the toys and activities around the characters), she later told me that she wanted to be just like Akua, my Ghanaian girl character, specifically because she wears her hair in a “big, foxy, and beautifully knappy” afro. I had forgotten all about the crying incident until that point. But since then, I can never forget. On a micro scale, I had achieved the goal for my toy line, and it was an amazing thing. Many of the other 200 kids I worked with shared similar sentiments when I concluded my time there. Now, I just have to turn that 200 into 2,000,000.
What would you recommend to current students considering work like yours?
Yes! I recommend everyone to go into entrepreneurship! I think many people have what it takes but are afraid of taking a risk. I would advice those people to look at the impact they can make, rather that the things they stand to lose.
If Wes students or recent grads have questions about working in your field, could they contact you?
Yes, they can. I still use my wes email, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are a graduate of the Class of 2014 working in public service, entrepreneurship, or nonprofits and would like to be featured on the blog, please email me.