INTERVIEW WITH NDEYE ABSA GNINGUE, FOUNDER OF JEADER
Ndeye Absa Gningue is the Founder of Jeader and a fellow in the 2014 Young African Leaders Fellowship Programme.
It feels good to have you on Under35CEO today. Could you please tell us about yourself and what you do?
My name is Ndeye Absa Gningue, I am a 26 years old Senegalese. I am currently the SWG Marketing Leader in charge of generating leads for IBM in North and West Africa. I am also passionate about African culture, and entrepreneurship.
How did you get the idea/inspiration for Jeader?
JEADER started with a need. I used to receive quite a lot of CVs in my mail box while I realized people were ready to consider anything to get a job, and nothing to become their own employer. I then decided to help them out. For me it was a way to give back to my community by inspiring leaders of my age, and convince them to get into entrepreneurship rather than expecting forever a position in a company. And while developing the idea, I got to note that most of Anglophone countries could benefit from associations dedicated to empowerment of youth, which is not the case in Francophone countries. I then launched JEADER, which is an acronym meaning Young African Entrepreneurs acting towards Economic Development in the Region. I then wanted to make it sounds easier and similar to the aim of the organization: “Building LEADERS”.
How old were you when you started out your first entrepreneurial venture?
My very first venture started at 13. I had torn a calendar and wrote at the back a king of MOU with my Dad. I was committing to deliver greatest scores at school, under which condition he would give me either 30USD, 40USD or 50USD. At that age I was not really used to carrying money, and to me the commitment was the leitmotiv of the beginning of my trade/business journey.
Great! Tell us about your clothing company.
ABC (Aduuna Bul Comprendre), stands for “Life Goes On” in English. I launched it while going through very tough times in my personal life. Amazing thing is that it all started by a Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/LOVEAFRICA.WEARAFRICA. By then I would have never thought of having more than 3000 likes. But, today we’re close to 26,000 likes. It started in Lagos-Nigeria, where I was assigned to work in Surulere. I was leaving Ikeja, coming to Isolo, and from there I was getting into my Van with my Sales Rep Assistant to get into the market. It was then I fell in love with African Fabric and Woodin in particular. I started purchasing and deeply got pleasure in matching patterns and colors still under African theme as I am also passionate about culture and History.
I don’t like saying that I am a designer because I am not. I used to be a great painter when a child. At age 12, I had even won a drawing competition. The day my mum wanted to register me at an art school, she decided to drop all my drawing at the school and asked me to stop drawing portraits as it was forbidden by our religion. I accepted, and fashion, was a way for me to take back my pencils. I do design all my collections from end to end. Today I employ full time 7 people.
What challenges did you face in the first year of starting your business and how did you overcome them and motivate yourself to keep going?
While starting my journey with ABC, I clearly faced the bargaining power of tailors and suppliers in general. They could start doubling prices for nothing or not focusing on orders I was bringing in. I then remembered my dad. He used to be the National Director of Police, and used to hire prisoners at home, in order to give a second chance. Redemption… I then decided to turn myself to women in jail with minor charges who were interested and passionate enough to learn about fashion, and get into business. From prisoners, they could become entrepreneurs. I could then reach out to them anytime and tailors knowing that I did not depend 100% on them, started being reasonable.
Tell us, what aspect of your background has been most helpful to your experience as an entrepreneur?
I think my selling experience in Nigeria has definitely helped me become the businesswoman I am today. In addition to that, my marketing background kind of helps when it comes to selling. In the other side, I am also said to be creative by nature.
Many complain about not succeeding in business due to lack of adequate funding, what is your take on this matter and how do you cope with funding issues in your business?
I must admit I was lucky enough from that side. I got employed quite early and could financially plan what to invest………. until I get to where I want to be.
Let’s talk a bit about YALI. What inspired you to apply for the YALI Fellowship?
I think I applied for YALI to show that there is a way to succeed which did not necessarily mean that you had to go abroad. I completed all my studies in Senegal and could speak English, French and Spanish fluently, and I had the chance to work for multinationals. I wanted to visit the US for the very first time and get the honor to meet President Obama and White House Reps, but most importantly, I wanted to meet people from other part of Africa and benefit from a never-seen-before networking opportunity.
What do you think made your fellowship application stand out from others who applied for it in Senegal?
I think I was passionate and engaged and did my best to show my willingness to create change, to make an impact in my community. I had founded JEADER, the association promoting mentoring, modeling, entrepreneurship and coaching for young people. I also had some luck that none can deny as I am certain there is somewhere in the country people who are sharper, have more talent, and just wait for that ‘aha’ moment given to them to ‘build momentum’.
What impact did the six-week fellowship have on your life?
You know the motto of the University we were at is “what starts here changes the world”. Indeed, it did. I never thought I would go to Texas. I never thought that Austin will be such a place full of joy and culture, where entrepreneurship is a must and where “we keep the city weird” as they say. Culturally, I met with American culture and I was even taught ‘how to use the soda machine”. Laughs. I just grew up both mentally, emotionally and professionally.
So, what’s next after YALI?
What’s next? Getting back to work again and always. YALI was such a nice dream but I believe in the fact that “to whom much is given, much is expected”. So I work on always getting better and having discipline on executing with excellence…..
My new venture is to dig deep into aquaponics. After JEADER & ABC, I feel like jumping into a new way of doing agriculture as it’s a “nice to have” for those who did not have the chance to push further their studies, and as a leitmotiv, it can bring huge solutions to unemployment in Africa. So I decided to test the model. Truth is that it’s very challenging. It’s not always that easy to get farmers willing to venture into new ways of farming and the entire project cost a bit too much.
What would you describe as your secret formula for business?
I would say Execution, Passion, Perseverance, Patience and most importantly Teaming. Rather than competing against the smart guys, why not consider recruiting them? The secret is not, in my opinion, in harvesting a big bunch of money, it’s about ensuring that through your activity, you grow financially, so do the people you work with, and that’s all that matters.
What’s your vision and plan for Senegal?
I truly believe we can do better if we’re more united towards a vision, and if we all work together to act for the good of the country. I believe in Senegal…. My vision is to have a group of inspired Senegalese dedicated to do whatever it takes to get the country on the right track and on the way of economic and social development.
How do you deal with age and gender discrimination?
Gender has not necessarily been a problem. Age had been. It happened that I lost internship opportunities just because I was looking to young. Unfortunately, this happen often, and it requires to be ‘strong in your mind’ and to understand that results should be the only thing that counts. Nothing more, nothing less.
Tell us your thought about Under35CEO.
This is an outstanding initiative. I would like to address my congratulatory message and my warm thoughts in this New Year, specially to your readers. Please keep up the good work.
In closing, what advice would you give to young/aspiring entrepreneurs reading this interview?
I would ask them not to lose time and then act. Time flies and we better fail on what we dared achieving than not achieving anything at all… and whatever you decide to do, do it with excellence. Thank you.
Are you a young entrepreneur under the age of 35 with an interesting story of success (or failure)? If yes, then the Under35CEO community has something to learn from you.
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