Entrepreneur Osei's She Leads Africa helps empower other entrepreneurs, mixing practical advice with pop culture.

Building a successful business is only part of Afua Osei’s plan. “I also want to do something that changes communities and changes economies,’’ she says.

Osei (MPP’13, MBA’13) is co-founder of Motherland Mogul Media and its digital lifestyle brand She Leads Africa, delivering education and inspiration on topics ranging from business fundamentals and personal finance to fashion.

“Advice, opportunities & inspo for smart African women,’’ @SheLeadsAfrica’s Twitter tagline reads.

The She Leads Africa team rings the Closing Bell at the New York Stock Exchange in December 2016, the first African startup granted the honor.

Built on the principle that economic independence is vital for personal freedom, She Leads Africa’s mission is to help young women find success in their businesses, in their careers, and with their money.

“Our job is to create a platform and a community to help women achieve that,’’ said Osei, named a 2020 Rising Star by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy’s Alumni Council.

Cultivating a tone that is at once friendly, sexy, and savvy, She Leads Africa mixes practical business and money advice with pop culture. Businesswomen successful across sectors such as mining, agriculture, and transportation provide expertise and coaching while celebrities and trendsetters lend a heavy dose of glamour.

The formula has fueled an audience of 800,000 in more than 100 countries, women who connect through SheLeadsAfrica.org, email, and social media for newsletters, chats, webinars, and events.

“There’s a pan-African and global community of young women who are like, ‘I want to be connected to this experience’,’’ Osei said.

Afua and Friends
Afua Osei (left) with Tricia Martinez and Denise Horn, Harris School classmates she now counts as best friends.

This audience of young, engaged and ambitious women is valuable to consumer brands and corporations, prompting She Leads Africa to shift from its original consumer-pay revenue model to partnerships.

Osei’s own plans have shifted numerous times.

Born and raised in the Washington, D.C., area, Osei arrived at Harris in 2010 after earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and Black studies from Allegheny College. She imagined going back to Washington to work in government and run for office.

During her first year at Harris, the idea of social enterprise drew her interest, leading her to enroll at the Booth School and pursue dual degrees in public policy and business. Then an internship proved game-changing.

“It was happenstance or divine inspiration,’’ Osei said, recalling that she was scrambling to meet a fast-approaching deadline for securing an internship.

She came across a presentation for an internship program seeking policy and business students interested in startups, private equity and investing in Africa. It sounded interesting, her family was from Ghana, and, well, she had no other live options.

Osei applied for a spot in Ghana but was offered Nigeria, working for a mobile advertising technology company. 

“It was a fantastic experience,’’ Osei said. “I liked the energy, the excitement, the fact that everyone was really focused on the goal and the mission of making things better in their own unique ways.’’

During her final year at Harris and Booth, she entered Booth’s Social New Venture Competition with the concept that later would become She Leads Africa.

With dual master’s degrees in hand, Osei returned to Nigeria as a consultant with McKinsey & Company. That first year was intense, forcing her to put aside the idea. Eventually, though, as she got the hang of her job, she felt something was missing.

“I realized, I’m not me anymore. And the me side would have been community projects and volunteering,’’ Osei said. “I really had to be purposeful: Let me make sure I get back to who I was and what I was doing before I moved here and started this job.’’

She Leads Africa regained breath, first as a community service project, a pitch competition for women who wanted to build competitive scalable businesses.

“The intention was not to start a business. It was just to be my own personal community service by doing this event and this concept. And it ended up being a lot bigger than that.’’

Yasmin Belo-Osagie (left) and Afua Osei worked together at McKinsey & Company before launching She Leads Africa in 2014 to provide business and career advice to African women.

Big enough that Osei, 27 at the time, and her McKinsey colleague Yasmin Belo-Osagie, 25, left the consulting firm to form a company.

Things moved quickly. In 2014, Forbes Africa named them two of the youngest power women in Africa. In 2016, Ventures Africa named Osei among the 25 Africans innovators to watch. In 2017, she was one of the 30 Quartz Africa innovators.

While it is mission-driven, the business is also very much about making a profit.

“That is a value statement for us,’’ Osei said. “We don’t believe that just because you’re focusing on this demographic and you have a social impact lens, you can’t build a good business.’’

Last year Osei and Belo-Osagie secured a round of seed funding to scale Motherland Mogul Media and to support a change in direction. They’re working now on building content and products focused on financial literacy and wealth building including, for example, education around financial products.

Osei leads sales and marketing while Belo-Osagie oversees content and operations. They see the shift as the next logical step toward supporting women, and also a good business move.

“We’ve helped women build their careers or start their businesses. Now how can they translate those gains into long-term impact for themselves and for their communities and future generations?’’

Osei’s greatest takeaway from Harris – aside from two best friends – is a focus on data.

“I think intuition and creativity and trust-your-gut are fantastic – but when it’s supported by great data, it becomes absolutely powerful. That’s what I got at Harris,’’ Osei said.

Choosing dual degrees from Harris and Booth is a reflection of who she is, Osei said.

While her plan was not to move to Africa and launch a social enterprise, “there was no way that whatever I did wouldn’t have some type of social impact or social entrepreneurship flare to it.’’

Osei’s advice to Harris School students is to supercharge their intellectual curiosity.

“I thought I was going to go back home and run for office. As each new opportunity unfolded, I just remained intellectually curious and open to where it could take me,’’ she said.

“You can change the world in so many different ways. For some people, yes, it will be as a policy analyst. For others, it will be elective office. And for others, it will be in business.

“You just want to stay open and see where you create impact.’’