Meet Sefa Gohoho Boatin, an alumnus of The London School of Economics and one of the Ghana Climate Innovation Centre’s female entrepreneurs. Her company, Arela chemicals, which is cofounded with Charles Boatin and Dewey Mair innovates on waste-to-chemicals by converting agricultural residue into food grade carbon dioxide for carbonated beverages and compressed natural gas for the energy production.
The main agricultural residue used by Arela is maize. In Asante Akim North District, where the Arela manufacturing plan is, there are over 200 farmers who grow maize for a living. Their Maize waste is usually burnt as their way of clearing their land after harvest, and this is a major cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, because the burning of maize stover injectes close to 30,000 tonnes of small particulate matter into the atmosphere.
Before Arela, Sefa served as the Corporate Affairs and Institutional Advancement Manager for former President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative Regional Leadership Center, West Africa. An expert in brand building, and capacity building, she has a demonstrated experience in and building close, long-term, partnerships with the founders and managers of various portfolio companies and organizations.
Her first taste of entrepreneurship started 15 years ago with Eden N’ Eve, a Flower farm which only employs women, to reclaim the role of women in development.
For sefa, When Dewey and Charles starting talking about a business that had a positive impact on the environment, there was no second thoughts because “it’s very natural and easy as a woman, to be concerned about the environment, because women are intrinsically linked to nature. Even once a month, our bodies are controlled by the moon, like the tides are controlled by the moon. So with that in mind, it is impossible for me to be involved in business without thinking of the effects of the business on the environment”.
The second reason Sefa says she and her co-founders started Arela, and Sefa explains that this motive is very personal to her, was to ensure that women have a meaningful place in this business. Women are usually marginalized in our communities, and yet they are some of the most efficient contributors to households, communities, and the economy – and they want to be part of the solution to improving their lives. Besides, it’s the women who actually are the first victims of environmental degradation, because they are the ones who fetch water, so if there is no water, it is them who walk for hours looking for water. They are the ones who fetch firewood. They are the ones who produce food for their families. So it’s easy for them to explain when the environment is degraded and to persuade them to take action, because they can see where it will impact them directly positively.
And Sefa is still very excited at the prospect of the impact of Arela, not only because it provides a product that would be 40% cheaper than what the beverage companies are currently buying, but also they will sustain Arela’s plant with our own biogas, help save the planet, and support the community’s development. The triple bottom line! She calls it
The balancing, or imbalancing, act of being a woman entrepreneur
Being a woman and an entrepreneur is tough, Sefa explains the stress of simultaneously running the family and companies. “My friend called me a Mompreneur! Being a mother while running a business is very challenging. You always feel guilty! There are ways to balance your time, but the perception is that you could be more effective running your business if you didn’t have to deal with life at home. I am trying hard not to take shortcomings on either front too seriously, and to not beat myself up over the little things, such as being slightly late picking my son up from school. It’s true that my husband also has this challenge, but I experience greater pressure of expectations as my role is multifaceted not only in the professional sphere but my personal life as well. And in this area, traditional gender expectations often still prevail”.
One other major challenge is related to the more emotional nature of women, Sefa adds. She is the first to admit that she is most definitely more emotional than her male co-Founders, Charles and Dewey! But for her business is not just about bottom line, it is an emotional connection. “I tend to be relationship-oriented in business and feel that building on relationships will naturally lead to a sale, and this sometimes works, but I admit that, at other times it is important to be direct and stay focused on the business targets. However, much of the time, when I put emotion aside and wear my business hat, then there is pressure to act a certain way. I worry about coming across as being too competitive or aggressive, especially here in Ghana where women are supposed to mainly be soft and nurturing”.
GCIC Support & The Women Entrepreneurs Transformation Programme
And this is where GCIC support, she says, has been phenomenal, especially the Women Entrepreneurs Transformation Programme (WETP). The WETP is a six months programme for women entrepreneurs within the GCIC programme aimed at unleashing the untapped potential of female entrepreneurs. On a weekly basis, Sefa shared that the community of women entrepreneurs within GCIC work with a feminine leadership and life coach through a journey which seeks to transform our leadership with increased authenticity, trust, and awareness. One of the key impact that the programme seeks is to support women to lead from the inside out, so that they are enabled to lead their businesses purposefully, authentically and consciously, and ultimately have an impact on the transformation of Ghana’s economy, and especially the green economy. “I’m really grateful for GCIC’s Women Entrepreneurs Transformation Program,” Sefa says, “which is helping to build equity with female influencers and game changers”.
More generally for Sefa the GCIC incubator has been pivotal in providing knowledge and insight on addressing a number of issues/soft and hard business skills, e.g.:
- inexperience of negotiating with the banks and financial institutions
- lack of financial confidence
- lack of abilities, skills and expertise in certain business matters.
- lack of exposure to the world of global business
Advice for other female entrepreneurs
Sefa’s advise to other female entrepreneurs is to be yourself and to not conform yourself to a man’s idea of what a leader should look like. She advises other women in business to defy social expectations and find their voice. “You will struggle,” she warns, “but eventually it comes. I think you have to stay optimistic. Sometimes of course you feel very discouraged, and especially as you grow older and you feel like oh, my god — how long am I going to work on this issue before everybody understands it? You do sometimes feel like giving up, but it’s also very important to remain optimistic and to see the silver lining in everything you do”.
No matter how difficult things sometimes seem are, for Sefa, there is always a small glimmering of silver lining that is in everything, and before you know it, another bad day is gone, and a new one begins with all new possibilities!