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Spotlight: Sounon Bazoumana Coulibaly

Sounon Coulibaly says he’s an entrepreneur by necessity. He works for the business conglomerate Dangote Group, and set up a branch of the company in Cote D’Ivoire. During his years in business, he observed the vital role translators played in acclimating foreign business to his country.

“(Businesses) would book three or four months ahead of time just to have a seat,” Coulibaly said. “So the demand is very high for translators.”

In 2012, he created Vice Versa Language Intelligence, a venture that provides translation services in French, English, Spanish, and quickly expanding to Arabic and other popular languages.

The mantra of Vice Versa is “we translate the soul of your words into the words of your soul,” Coulibaly said. “We’re basically the only group in the country to propose that cultural context in translation.”

He hopes to invest in a training center and video conference capabilities. Government contracts are already piling up, he said. Since English training is so valuable, officials at the embassy expressed interest in a Vice Versa language training center.

The mantra of Vice Versa is “we translate the soul of your words into the words of your soul,” Coulibaly said. “We’re basically the only group in the country to propose that cultural context in translation.”

As an extension of his business, Coulabily founded an NGO named NDJIN-NIESSOU. It means New Dawn, and the social enterprise gives young graduates their first contracts in communication or translating. Ndjin-Niessou also invests in orphans on the condition that they stay in school. Working with orphans is the social value he wanted to add to my ventures, he said.

“In Cote D’Ivoire, we have a phenomenon of homeless children, but when you talk to them you realize they actually have a family, but they left for some reason,” he said.

Whether it’s communicating with businessmen around the world, or checking up on schoolchildren in his own community, Coulibaly believe in the power of words. The right words.

“I realize that more communication will break barriers and bring more business,” he said. “This is why I wake up in the morning to go to Vice Versa.”

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Spotlight: Vital Sounouvou

When Vital Sounouvou began college, a professor bluntly told the class no one would find a job after college. Just like that.

“It was quite shocking and wake up call as a freshmen,” Sounouvou said. “I concluded that you have to start your own business — it’s the only way to have security.”

Several entrepreneurial test runs later, Sounouvou graduated from college and created Exportunity. A mashup of export and opportunity, Exportunity is in the business of helping businesses succeed. It’s an online shopping mall where small and medium enterprises in Africa can access the international market to trade products.

“We like seeing dreams come true,” he said. “Especially the people who have the lowest possibility of making it happen.” Those people are farmers, artisans and tailors, he said.

In 2008, Sounouvou and his classmates organized Benin’s largest trade show, and he has since traveled around the world to neighboring African countries, the U.S., and Dubai to learn more about trade and preach the importance of investing in African business.

With his finger on the pulse of the community, Sounouvou and his team repurposed Exportunity from a social media site to a full-fledged e-commerce platform that vets each shop owner so the biggest hindrance to African trade is absolved — credibility. Exportunity also touts an interface that is friendly for non-smartphone users, inviting that sizeable group in the country’s population to participate.

“Entrepreneurs are people who realize that reality is just the beginning you have to add your own contribution,” he said. “Making money is a just a consequence – it’s the effect you want to see happen. You sleep late at night and wake up happy because you’re doing what you love.”

For Exportunity to succeed, Sounouvou said he’s working toward a six-month intense incubation period,
a fresh team, and financial resources. Earning ompany visibility and trust is top of mind for the young CEO.

“And we need advice,” he said. “We’re young and we make mistakes — mistakes are expensive.”

Exportunity’s been a four year-long journey, with many more years to come. When asked what keeps him going, Sounouvou pointed to a fresh tattoo on his forearm, the answer permanently etched in black ink. Gratitude.

“Take the the time to thank every single person who took the time to teach you,” he said. “It’s so beautiful to see somebody cherish a dream and help make it happen. Personally that’s what makes me full and feel complete.”

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Spotlight: Florence Kamaitha

During a routine volunteer trip to a local school, Florence Kamaitha noticed a strange similarity among the classrooms. …Where are the all the girls?

Due to the cost of sanitary items, female students are forced to spend their menstrual cycles at home, a teacher answered.

This shocked Kamaitha into action, and in 2011, she began the Pad Heaven Initiative, and works to manufacture and distribute feminine hygiene products and reproductive health information to schoolgirls.

“There is P&G and other Chinese products, but we don’t have things that are done in Kenya,” she said. “Now we want to use locally available supplies to make our own brand of products. We’ll get a cheaper product and employ women to do manufacturing and distributing.”

The sanitary pads are made from banana fiber, manually beat to a pulp, and dried in the sun. Kamaitha has her eye on machinery that speeds up this process, much like Indian social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham’s invention. The machine can be leased and used in different counties, reviving cottage industries, Kamaitha said.

She currently serves Nairobi and Kiambu and plans to expand to all 47 counties in Kenya and eventually reach her East African neighbors Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda.

But the most challenging aspect of tackling feminine hygiene issues is educating men. “They’re the decision makers, but they don’t understand the problem,” she said. “They don’t see it as a basic need.”

Pad Heaven Initiative educations all students on female reproductive health, in hopes to break the stigma surrounding menstrual cycles.

“Girls grow up with a low self esteem, especially when they stain their clothes,” she said. “I’m trying to make sure the boys respect them.”

When NPOs take her on as a corporate social responsibility project, the going’s good for a while — until it’s time to jump to the next project in a year. Kamaitha’s set up a Kickstarter campaign and plans to start mass production by the end of 2014.

“When girls get educated — things change,” Kamaitha said. “I want to get girls to make decisions about their own lives. I know the ripple effect of a girl having the education she needs.”

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