Ajara Marie is a professional, business mogul and marketing executive with over 15 years of experience, specializing in diaspora engagement and investment in Africa with a critical focus on women in business in Africa. She is a humanitarian that works to change the lives of young people, especially girls, in Africa. She enjoys spending time with family, as well as traveling across the world, and has been living in Sierra Leone for over nine years. Moiyattu Banya of Women Change Africa interviewed Ajara for Ayiba.
You moved from the United States and have lived in Sierra Leone for the past nine years. What made you decide to make the big move from the United States?
I first visited Sierra Leone as an adult in 2007. During that visit I fell in love and knew that I wanted to move there at some point. In 2008 I was at a stage in my life where I wanted more and was looking for work opportunities outside of the US. I had a friend who recently had moved to Sierra Leone and told me about a short-term consultancy with an international organization. I didn’t have much to lose so I applied for the position and the rest is history. What kept me here was my passion to give back and the fact that Sierra Leone was going through a re-branding revolution and I wanted to be a part of that.
What have been some of your successes living on the continent, particularly in Sierra Leone?
Living in Sierra Leone, has given me the opportunity to network and interact with so many different people. I have had the opportunity to work with the Office of the President of Sierra Leone, at the Office of Diaspora Affairs, and with the Ministry of Political and Public Affairs. Whilst at the Office of Diaspora Affairs, I was a part of a team that advised and worked with Sierra Leoneans who wanted to move back home. I supported them providing transition advice, as well as provided guidance on opportunities that were available for those who wanted to invest, work, and needed information of how things were on the ground. I also had the opportunity to work with Africa’s biggest television brand DSTV. At DSTV I worked and interacted with creative and innovative Africans changing the image of what Africa is. I started my own business Rhoyalty Concepts, a consultancy focusing on corporate events, project management, and media communications. It was through Rhoyalty Concepts that I and a friend created Women Mean Business Honors. Last but not least, being on the continent gave me the opportunity to continue working with young people, and I ended up becoming a mentor and later a volunteer program manager for Girls Empowerment Summit Sierra Leone (GESSL), an organization that works to impact girls in Sierra Leone.
What are some of your challenges? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I had moving to the continent was not having my immediate family and my tribe around. I found it difficult to make friends even though I’m a very social person. Sierra Leone is a place where if you didn’t grow up here or go to school here it’s hard for you to find a circle. But thanks to social media I was able to keep in touch with friends and loved ones and I eventually started to build my local tribe. Now there are organizations that are around for networking and professional development. I became a member of Power Women 232, a professional women’s network for Sierra Leonean women and I also joined social clubs in the city to develop more relationships.
What are some challenges you face in Sierra Leone as a business owner and a professional?
Some of the challenges I have faced in Sierra Leone as a business owner are around the areas of capacity, work ethics, and access to finance. Unfortunately, Sierra Leone is still a developing country. The country suffered a massive loss of human capital during the war to other countries—however this is slowly changing and more people are moving back to Sierra Leone. It’s not impossible, but it is difficult at times to move at the pace of a developed country. It can take a day or two to upload files that should take a few seconds. You may have to repeat yourself fifteen times to employees before you end up doing the work yourself. Your ideas will get stolen and implemented by someone else and there isn’t much that can be done. Access to finance to start a business or land a contract is usually difficult for women-owned businesses. With its many challenges, I still believe that Sierra Leone is still a great place to do business. You get the opportunities to fail and make mistakes, whilst trying to get it right.
Every year for the last four years in March you host your event Women Mean Business. Tell us what made you start Women Mean Business?
My passion is events and working with young people, girls and women. Women Mean Business came out of that passion. Whilst having a discussion with my mentor and friend, we decided that women entrepreneurs needed a space to dialogue, network, and celebrate those that are doing well in business. We didn’t have that space in our community and we decided to create the space by hosting an international event for African women entrepreneurs.
You are also a marketing professional. Tell us about your typical day at work and with your business?
In the world of marketing and media, my day is unpredictable. Some days are more relaxed with few meetings, working on concepts, design layout, and proposals, and other days I am out in the field managing an event, hosting a press conference, or pitching to a new client. My typical day consists of all of the above plus touching base with my team to get updates and feedback on projects.
This interview was conducted by Moiyattu Banya for Ayiba Magazine and curated via Women | Change| Africa, an African Women’s Lifestyle and PR brand that celebrates, cultivates, and connects African Female Entrepreneurs.
For more on Ajara Marie’s work check her out on Ajara Marie
For more on visit their page online at Women Mean Business