AfriLife

You deserve a seat at the table

Seats Zanzibar

You have probably heard or read these words somewhere. In her seminal book, Lean In, Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, has a whole chapter dedicated to it. In a video on Makers.com, Treasurer of the United States Rosie Rios explains how her mother told her to never forget that she had earned a seat at the table. Rios describes how she would urge fellow women to sit at the front instead of the edges of the room, “ let your voice be heard,” she intoned.

Taking the seat

A week and a half ago, this words begun to make sense to me. As a cohort at WeCreate’s Startup Academy in Nairobi, I got invited to Africa Venture’s Café conversations at The Sarova Stanley Hotel. It consisted of a series of small group discussions where I was expected to share insight, expertise and personal experiences in relation to the programme challenge.

The programme challenge, which would also touch on challenges and current opportunities, was:

“Over the next decade, how do we create five world-class institutions developing African entrepreneurs who catalyse our African cities economies?”

I wrote down my ideas and practised my pitch in hopes that any introductions on my part would be quick and painless.

On the material day we were warmly welcomed into the conference room and of course I looked for my fellow cohort from WeCreate. I was relieved to find that we had been placed at the furthest end of the room. I felt quite comfortable but this would be short-lived.

A row of empty chairs had been arranged at the front and we were soon told to make our way there. I had never met any of the other people on the panel and I looked them over with idle curiousity when we took our seats at the front.

Then the screen lit up behind us and our names popped up, glancing up, my hands begun to sweat a little. I was sitting next to CEOs and founders of well established companies and there on list was my name and company staring back defiantly as if to say: ‘Yes, you belong here too!’ Hmmm..I wasn’t so sure, my cohort Bena grabbed my hand and squeezed, I smiled at her and she smiled back, she knew exactly what I was feeling.

To give you a clearer idea, here are the people who were on the same panel:

Nada Abshir, Africa Lead, Impact Hub

Martin Nielsen, CEO and Founder, Mdundo

Bena Amunga, Founder and Designer, Koketa (my fellow WecReate Cohort )

Robert Ochola, Executive Director, Street Radio

Shreekunj Shah, MD, Rosewood Furniture (and Learning Chair, Entrepreneur’s Organisation)

Bobby Gadhia, CEO, PC World

Tony Sahni, Group Managing Director, Securex Agencies

Sapna Shah, Investment Director, Novastar Ventures

We all stood up and gave our brief introductions. The idea was to have each of us placed at a table while the conference participants rotated from table to table in groups to hold discussions with us. Not only did I get to sit at the table, I owned the table and this was a valuable lesson.

The conference participants were engaging and interested in all our stories. I met people from Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Zambia all in different industries and expertise. We discussed political climate vis-avis entrepreneurship, business ideas and goals. Some of them opened Afrinado using their mobile phones, followed the site on Facebook and gave me feedback. I was learning from them as much as they were learning from me.

“On that day, I learned to stop minimising what I brought to the table, there will be people willing to listen, to help and to offer encouragement.”

On that day, I learned to stop minimising what I brought to the table, there will be people willing to listen, to help (I met a future contributor) and to offer encouragement. I also learned to appreciate the journey, many of these CEO’s were once at a starting point just like me. It is clear that our dreams are only as big as we make them and it is up to us to believe in ourselves first before expecting others to do the same.

When it was over Bena and I hang out outside the conference room excitedly swapping stories of our experience. Many thanks to Africa Venture and WeCreate Kenya for giving us such a great opportunity.

For more info on WeCreate visit : WeCreateKenya

For more info on Africa Venture visit: Africa Venture

What is your favourite quote/mantra when it comes to believing in yourself?

Share in the comments below 🙂

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4 thoughts on “You deserve a seat at the table

  1. Wa! Thanks for this. As I was reading the list I thought that I shouldn’t aspire to join WeCreate but as I read on… I realize yes! I do deserve a seat at the table… I should own the table and invite others to join. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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