Entrepreneurs, Leadership

20 Influential African Women Entrepreneurs & Leaders in America to Watch in 2017 | The Influential List

Ladybrille Magazine is proud to unveil its third installment of its ’20 Influential African Women Entrepreneurs and Leaders in America to Watch’ list. This edition, consistent with prior ones, features women from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and industry sectors. Nevertheless, what unites them are their powerful stories of pursuing the American dream and succeeding. Indeed, whether in their capacities as entrepreneurs and/or leaders, they operate from personal and strong convictions, move fearlessly and with grace, style and brilliance, and where the future has seemed uncertain, they have embraced the fear knowing what they are doing is right and that they can achieve their dreams. They are impact driven, passionate, intentional, visionaries, and incredibly inspiring individuals. Meet our class of 2017.

Read —> 20 Influential African Women Entrepreneurs & Leaders in America to Watch in 2016 

Read —> 20 Influential African Women Entrepreneurs & Leaders in America to Watch in 2015 

1. Ogheneraro “Raro Lae” Abugo | Media entrepreneur & Philantropist

Nigerian-American Ogheneraro Abugo, popularly known as Raro Lae, is a multi-award winning international media correspondent and blogger, philanthropist and business marketing specialist. Shortly after graduating college with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and Marketing, she founded Rarolae.com, a subsidiary of RLTV Marketing & Media, LLC and multimedia channel dedicated to giving viewers the latest news on entertainment, and lifestyle; specializing in event and red carpet coverage, celebrity interviews, product reviews, and news broadcasting. She created Rarolae.com with the mission to bridge the gap between America and international entertainment industries, particularly Africa. Her platform now enjoys over half a million hits per month, and she has been recognized by over fifty media outlets including ABC, FOX, The Shaderoom, BallerAlert, and HipHopWeekly.

In 2012, Raro Lae founded Selah’s Grace, a non­profit organization with a mission to impact people through direct interaction and contribution. Selah’s Grace has successfully executed different outreach programs including providing clothing donations to shelters, food to the less fortunate, blood drives, and mentorship for youths. In 2014, she organized and spearheaded the 1st Annual Christmas Compassion Clothing Drive (ACCCD) in the DMV area, in which she donated thousands of clothing to men, women and children shelters. Last year, she was voted onto the junior board of “Knock Out Abuse” (KOA), a non­profit organization that envisions a community free from domestic violence.

2. Georgie Badiel | Fashion Model & Clean Water Advocate
Burkina Faso native Georgie Badiel is a top fashion model and activist working and living in New York City. While Badiel enjoys her work as a fashion model, dearest to her heart are issues affecting women and children in her native country, particularly the lack of access to clean water. As a young girl growing up in one of the poorest countries in Africa, Badiel along with her grandmother and cousins had to walk very long miles to fetch water for her household. Worse, she couldn’t focus in school because she was always thirsty. She subsequently had the opportunity to leave home and pursue an international modeling career, making her official debut at London Fashion Week’s Spring 2008 season. Nevertheless, when she returned in 2009 for a visit to her hometown Reo in her native country, she was left heartbroken with the dismal reality of lack of access to clean water for her people. A deeply heartbreaking experience was watching her sister, who was almost 9 months pregnant, forced to wake up between 2 and 4 am to walk long miles to fetch water. More than 37,000 people live in Réo, and very few have access to clean water and sanitation. Badiel knew she had to change that cruel reality.

She subsequently launched the Georgie Badiel Foundation, a not-for-profit charitable organization that provides access to clean drinking water in Burkina Faso. The organization also builds sanitation facilities and plants trees.

In 2014, she collaborated with children’s book author Peter H. Reynolds and Susan Verde to co-author a picture book tiled The Water Princess. The book tells her personal story of growing up as a little girl in Burkina Faso and the great impact lack of clean water had on her and community. Penguin Random House published it in 2016.

3. F.A. Cole | Author, Humanitarian & Activist
F.A. Cole is an award winning humanitarian, author, and anti- Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) activist. She has used her childhood and young adult experiences to design a blueprint to defeat FGM in her home country, Sierra Leone.
A survivor of FGM, child sexual assault, and rape, Cole focuses on empowering survivors and provides needed tools to help them overcome their ordeal via her various platforms.

An inspirational speaker who strongly believes in transparency, Cole is winning the trust of many as she openly shares her experiences (on national and international platforms) of overcoming not only sexual violence but also multiple abortions and prostitution. “If God can transform and use me, He can do the same for anyone,” says Cole. Cole has received numerous recognition and awards including ‘Women in History 2013’ honor for her work by Northwest High School, Fest Africa USA award for her impact driven work within and outside the African community, and a humanitarian award for her work and message of hope to survivors of sexual violence and FGM by the Los Angeles Nollywood Film Association. Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation and ‘A Smile for a Child’ have also recognized Cole for building a community of support, love, and sisterhood for survivors of FGM and other forms of sexual violence.

4. Jo-Issa “Issa” Rae Diop | Writer, Producer, Director & Actress

With her own unique flare and infectious sense of humor, Senegalese-American Issa Rae’s content has garnered over 23 million views and over 200,000 YouTube subscribers (and counting). In addition to making Glamour Magazine’s “35 Under 35”, Forbes’ “30 Under 30” and Entertainment Weekly’s “Breaking Big” lists, Issa’s hit series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl was the recipient of the coveted Shorty Award for Best Web Show. Issa’s first book, a collection of essays, is a New York Times Best Seller and her latest project, Insecure, a half-hour comedy show for HBO, premiered in the fall to rave reviews and earned her a Golden Globe nomination. Issa has received national attention with major media outlets including The New York Times, CNN, ELLE, Seventeen, Rolling Stone, BuzzFeed, Fast Company, MSNBC, Essence, Fader, Variety and more. She is a 2017 nominee of the Golden Globe Awards.

5. Nne Ebong | Senior Vice President, Drama Development, ABC Studios

Nigerian-American Nne Ebong was named senior vice president, Drama Development, ABC Studios, in July 2013. In this position she recruits talent in the form of writers, directors and producers, and shepherds the creative development of new one-hour drama series. Ebong was previously vice president, Drama Development, ABC Studios, since August 2008. She has worked with some of the industry’s top writers and producers, including Shonda Rhimes, Joss Whedon, John Ridley, Guillermo del Toro, Richard LaGravenese, Damon Lindelof and David Goyer. Series she has developed include “Scandal,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “American Crime,” “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Marvel’s Agent Carter,” “Once Upon A Time,” “Revenge,” “Secrets & Lies,” “Resurrection” and “Mistresses.”

Ebong joined ABC Studios in 2006 as director of Current Programming, where she oversaw the creative process on “Lost,” “Brothers & Sisters” and “The Ghost Whisperer.”

Prior to ABC Studios, Ebong was head of Series Development for Shaun Cassidy Productions, serving as a producer on the company’s ABC drama, “Invasion.”
Ebong began her career as a screenwriter after optioning a feature film pitch to Fox 2000 while still a student at the University of Southern California. She quickly transitioned to the small screen, where she worked as a creative executive at USA Cable Entertainment (now Universal Cable Productions) on series including “Touching Evil” for USA Network and “Battlestar Galactica” for the Sci-Fi Channel.

She holds a BFA in Filmic Writing and a BA in Print Journalism from the University of Southern California.

6. Muhga Eltigani | Beauty Entrepreneur & CEO NaturAll Club

Twenty-five year old Sudanese born Muhga Eltigani planned to attend law school after college in hopes of becoming a lawyer. In the meantime while completing her studies at the University of Pennsylvania, she created a YouTube channel where she shared hair care advice and showed her audience the exact products she used for her hair. But, according to Eltigani, her audience “didn’t want to do the work themselves. They didn’t have the time or they would do it once and forget to do it next month.” Based on this observation, Eltigani realized there was a need and that she could fill it. Needless to say, she abandoned the idea of law school and instead founded NaturAll Club, a subscription-based service delivering organic hair products to its customers. Her company has since gained notoriety and media attention, including recognition on the coveted 2017 list of ‘Forbes 30 Under 30: Retail and Ecommerce.’ The best is yet to come from this dynamic entrepreneur.

7. Maya Horgan-Famodu | Investor & Founder Ingressive, LLC.

Maya Horgan-Famodu is a Nigerian-American committed to making things easier for Sub-Saharan entrepreneurs. She is Founder and CEO of the impact facilitation firm Ingressive, an investment group that backs top African tech and leads investment tours where they guide tech funds and western corporates to explore African tech and get deals done. She is also a regular contributor for the Huffington Post. She comes from a background in private equity research and entrepreneurship journalism, and graduated from Pomona College after completing the Cornell University Pre-law Program. Maya studied political economics while researching under Founder of Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, Steve Mariotti. Before this, she led several trips abroad to analyze aid systems in developing nations including Madagascar and Costa Rica. She uses these experiences as a basis to study the way business is used to liberate and empower.

8. Haben Girma | Disability Rights Attorney

An internationally acclaimed inclusion leader, Eritrean-American Haben Girma has earned recognition as a White House “Champion of Change”, Forbes 30 under 30 leader, and BBC Women of Africa Hero. The first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, Haben champions equal access to information for people with disabilities. President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, and many others have honored her.

Haben has been featured extensively in media round the world, including the BBC, NBC, Forbes, the Washington Post, MTV, NPR, and many more.

Haben grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where she currently lives. She holds a B.A. in Sociology/Anthropology from Lewis & Clark College and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. In addition to her accessibility work, she enjoys salsa dancing, surfing, and traveling the world.

9. Yaa Gyasi | Author

In 2009, eighteen years after migrating with her parents to the United States, Ghanaian-born author Yaa Gyasi returned to Ghana to conduct research with the grant money she received for a novel. While in Ghana, a friend from overseas visited her and they decided to visit Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle. Little did she know that visit would trigger a deep passion and curiosity to tell the story of slavery’s legacy stretched over eight generations and two countries. The result was  ‘Homegoing’, a book that was so impressive in its draft stage, her publishers gave the 26year old a seven-figure advance. Homegoing was published last year and has received rave reviews from national and international press. It was one of Oprah’s ’10 Favorite Books of 2016,’
 NPR’s ‘Debut Novel of the Year,’ 
one of Buzzfeed’s ‘Best Fiction Books Of 2016’
 and one of Time‘s ‘Top 10 Novels of 2016.’ Even Ta-Nehisi Coates, an acclaimed American writer, journalist and educator, called Homegoing, “an inspiration.”

Yaa Gyasi  holds a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. Although raised in Alabama, she now lives in Berkeley, California.

10. Sossina Haile | Professor & Scientist
Ethiopian born Sossina Haile received her B.S and Ph.D (1992) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and M.S. from the University of California, Berkeley. She carried out postdoctoral research at the Max Planck Institut für Festkörperforschung [Institute for Solid State Research], Stuttgart, Germany (1992-1993) as a Humboldt Fellow. Haile joined Northwestern University in 2015, after having served 18 years on the faculty at the California Institute of Technology.

Sossina Haile’s research broadly encompasses solid-state ionic materials and devices, with particular focus on energy technologies. She has established a new class of fuel cells based on solid acid electrolytes and demonstrated record power densities for solid oxide fuel cells. Her more recent work on water and carbon dioxide dissociation for solar-fuel generation by thermochemical processes has created new avenues for harnessing sunlight to meet energy demands.

She is the recipient of several awards, including in 2008 an American Competitiveness and Innovation (ACI) Fellowship from the National Science Foundation in recognition of “her timely and transformative research in the energy field and her dedication to inclusive mentoring, education and outreach across many levels,” the 2010 Chemical Pioneers Award of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and the 2012 International Ceramics Prize for the World Academy of Ceramics. In 2016 she was inducted into the African Academy of Sciences.

11. Folake Kuye Huntoon | Fashion & Style Entrepreneur

Born in Brooklyn, New York but raised in Nigeria until she was fifteen, Folake Kuye Huntoon has always had a flair for fashion. The lawyer turned successful style star and entrepreneur dabbled in the legal industry, even working as a private investigator, before she threw in the towel to focus on her passion for fashion. Her passion led to years of working as a designer and stylist to celebrities, fashion magazines, and for commercials for large corporate brands. In 2008, Huntoon launched her African-inspired design brand called ‘Wewe Clothing,’ a line for children. A year later, she launched StylePantry.com, a fashion and lifestyle stockist that features interviews on industry insiders, street style, look books, campaigns and “haute” fashion finds. The major selling point for the site, however, was that Huntoon regularly updated her daily looks to the site, sharing tips and secrets on where and how to shop bargains and vintage treasures. This specific act became the game changer that catapulted the gorgeous mother of three to fashion fame, with over a million following on social media. Huntoon’s work has earned her an invitation to the Oscars for the past three years.

12. Bozoma Saint John | Head of Global Marketing & Senior VP, Beats Music LLC

Ghanaian-born Bozoma Saint John, also known as Boz, has been Head of Global Marketing and Senior Vice President at Beats Music, LLC since April 2014. John takes the lead on all Beats Music marketing initiatives, from brand and performance marketing to collaborations with Target, Chevy, Beats Electronics and others. She utilizes her experience combining music with powerful international brands to further the Beats Music mission of delighting music fans and supporting a sustainable music business. Hand in hand with the Beats Music and Beats Electronics executive teams, she executes strategic marketing initiatives to earn and nurture true consumer brand recognition, loyalty and equity that enable Beats Music to take its rightful place at the forefront of pop culture.

For the last decade and a half, she has been blazing marketing and advertising trails across various industries including consumer packaged goods, digital music/entertainment, fashion, automotive and sports. Prior to joining Beats Music, she served as the head of the Music and Entertainment Marketing Group at Pepsi-Cola North America where she was responsible for leading breakthrough, integrated & sustained consumer engagement plans for brands across the soda giant’s beverages portfolio.

She has spearheaded multiple 360º integrated programs that engaged tastemaker- consumers in the Pepsi brand through music, film, tv, print, online, grassroots, events, and retail vehicles. During her tenure at Pepsi-Cola she managed brand integrations with media juggernauts like the Super Bowl, GRAMMY Awards, MTV VMAs, and CMA Awards. Her prior experience includes Vice President of Marketing for fashion brand Ashley Stewart, and traditional advertising agency management at Arnold Worldwide and Spike Lee’s SpikeDDB.

Throughout her career, she has been recognized by some of the industry’s most influential media outlets including Billboard Magazine’s Top Women in Music, and Top Executives 40 Under 40, Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People, Ebony Magazine’s 100 Top Executives, and was featured on the cover of AdWeek as one of the most exciting personalities in Advertising. In 2016, Billboard Women in Music crowned her ‘Executive of the Year,’ following her outstanding and viral presentation at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

John also contributes her expertise to various groups including serving on the Leadership Council for the United Nation’s partnership with the PVBLIC Foundation, and as a mentor for the Levo League. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and African-American Studies.

13. Jessica O Mathews | Entrepreneur & Inventor

At the age of 19, Jessica invented the SOCCKET ball, an energy generating soccer ball that provides off-grid power for the developing world. At the age of 22, she founded Uncharted Play, a renewable energy company specializing in motion-based, miniaturized power systems.

Jessica was invited by President Barack Obama to the White House to represent small companies for the signing of the America Invents Act in 2012, and currently serves as an Ambassador of Entrepreneurship for Nigeria. In 2016, she was selected to ring the NASDAQ opening ceremony bell, representing all Forbes 30 Under 30 alumna.

Jessica’s research and career centers around the intersection of disruptive technology, human behavior, and the psychology of self-actualization. A dual citizen of Nigeria & the U.S., Jessica has a degree in Psychology and Economics from Harvard University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Her list of accolades includes Fortune’s Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs, Forbes 30 under 30 list, Black Enterprise’s Innovator of the Year, and Scientist of the Year by the Harvard Foundation.

14. Imbolo Mbue | Author

Imbolo Mbue, a native of Limbe, Cameroon bought into the American dream and expected to find it when she migrated to the United States. Unfortunately when the recession hit, she found herself jobless for over a year and a half. Deeply curious and lamenting over her plight, one day, she was walking down the street when it occurred to her to write a novel exploring the question of whether the American dream is a fantasy for her and other similarly situated immigrants. The result is her first novel titled ‘Behold the Dreamers’ which was published in 2016. Moue’s work has since received rave reviews from national and international press including NPR, Wall Street Journal, Refinery 29, USA Today, and Entertainment Weekly.

Mbue holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Rutgers University and a Master of Arts from Columbia University. A resident of the United States for over a decade, she lives in New York City.

15. Heben Nigatu | Writer & Podcaster

Ethiopian born Heben Nigatu, formerly senior editor of BuzzFeed, is a writer for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Along with Tracy Clayton, she also co-hosts the popular and influential BuzzFeed podcast “Another Round.” The show, which has monthly listener numbers in the hundreds of thousands, has attracted high profile guests including Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In 2016 Forbes Magazine recognized her in its ‘2016 Forbes 30 under 30: Media’ category.

16. Ilhan Omar | Politician

Ilhan Omar is the newly elected, Minnesota House Representative for District 60B. She is the first Somali-American, Muslim woman in the nation to hold an office at this level. Ilhan is an experienced policy analyst, progressive DFL activist, coalition builder and community educator. Most recently, she served as the Director of Policy Initiatives at Women Organizing Women, where she empowered East African woman to take civic leadership roles in their community. Ilhan lives in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis with her husband and their three children.

17. Lisa Opoku | Managing Director, Goldman Sachs

Lisa Opoku, a Ghanaian-American, is one of the top black women in global finance and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Technology Division and Global Strategist for Goldman Sachs. Opoku joined Goldman Sachs in 2004 as an attorney in the legal department and was hired in 2005 to become the COO for the Fixed Income, Currency and Commodities (FICC) Bank Loan Syndications and Trading businesses in New York and London. In 2006, the firm named her managing director for the Asia Securities Division. Prior to joining Goldman, she was an attorney and partner at Richards Spears Kibbe & Orbe.

Opoku earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, summa cum laude, from the University of Minnesota in 1993 and a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School in 1996. She is the vice chairman of the board of directors for the Foundation of Orthopedics and Complex Spine and is actively involved in the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation.

18. Nnedi Okorofor | Writer & Author

Nnedi Okorafor is a novelist of African-based science fiction, fantasy and magical realism for both children and adults. Born in the United States to Nigerian immigrant parents, Nnedi is known for weaving African culture into creative evocative settings and memorable characters. In a profile of Nnedi’s work titled, “Weapons of Mass Creation”, the New York Times called Nnedi’s imagination “stunning”.

The recipient of several prestigious awards, in 2016, she became the first black person to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel since its 1975 inception for her first adult novel, Who Fears Death. Nnedi earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Rhetoric from the University of Illinois, C-U, her Master of Arts (MA) in journalism from Michigan State University, her MA and Doctorate in English at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is also a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop (2001). She is an associate professor of creative writing and literature at the University at Buffalo.

19. Zim Ugochukwu | Publisher & CEO of Travelnoire.com

Zim Ugochukwu was born in Mankato, Minnesota to two Nigerian immigrants. She is the CEO of Travel Noire, a digital publishing platform for travelers of color that reaches over two million travelers a month with a goal to change the way people (especially Americans) view international travelers, forever. Travel Noire has been featured in the New York Times, CBS This Morning, Essence Magazine, Huffington Post, NPR, The Daily Beast and The Atlantic.com. Zim is a graduate of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and resides in North Carolina when not enjoying frequent cultural experiences abroad. Previously, she cloned a gene as a biologist, ran a national anti-tobacco campaign, helped open a Civil Rights Museum & traveled through 90% of Asia. She loves building things, photography, John Hughes movies, company cultures, all things design and hilarious memes.

20. Augusta Uwamanzu | Student & Budding Scientist

In 2016, this 18year old Nigeria-American made headlines when she was accepted into eight ivy-league schools. But beyond her academic achievements, Uwamanzu was a finalist at the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search for her research on an ingredient, which added to cement, can help prevent underwater oil wells from leaking. This year, she has been recognized on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

Byline: Uduak Oduok, Esq. is an attorney, speaker, author and journalist. She is also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Ladybrille. For more information about her, visit www.msuduak.com.

Ladybrille Magazine

Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.

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1 Comment

  1. Awesome awesome! Kudos to all the amazing ladies!

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