Women's Month Series

Celebrating female leadership of social entrepreneurs within YSB's portfolio: Sheila Alumo

March 28, 2023

Sheila Alumo is a modern-day multi-hyphenate. She advocates for progressive rural community development at a grassroots level through the incredible mix of her passions as an Ashoka alumna-social entrepreneur-lawyer. She is the founder and CEO of Eastern Agriculture Development Company (EADC), which is an agricultural social enterprise whose objective is to improve the socio-economic and human development of rural smallholder farmers. In this short interview led by YSB CEO Jana Lessenich, we gain valuable insights on Sheila’s perspective of female leadership, the balancing game between career and family, and her advice to herself at different stages of life. 

What are some of the most significant barriers to womens' leadership today?

Sheila mentioned 3

"The first is an unconscious bias towards women. There's an inbuilt traditional belief that men are the natural leaders.

The second is dealing with some male employees who are not used to having female bosses given the cultural setting where men are always perceived as the traditional leaders.

The third is having to balance our business work and our home responsibilities where we are expected to play our traditional roles as wives and mothers.

As a woman, having to deal with the challenges of child bearing while running a business at the same time has been a great personal challenge to leadership. I will use my experience to illustrate this point. My first trimester for instance was profoundly difficult, I was in and out of hospital for nearly 4 months and during this entire period I was out of office. But regardless of this, I still had to maintain the sanity to run my business. I had to coordinate factory construction, company trading and business, managing partner relations, among others. Of course that’s not to say the business didn’t suffer, construction for instance had to come to a standstill because we ran out of money and at that point I couldn’t fundraise for more money. Our trading activities were equally affected as well as partner activities.  Overall business performance was slow. But remember, we work and compete in the same environment as men, and each of us is expected to excel in our respective fields! This is a reality that we women founders / leaders face, but unfortunately very little merit or understanding is given to it!"

She ended with one often overlooked but important note: "Even if you have a team, the bigger burden of running the business mostly rests on you as the founder."

Could you please share an example of what you or your organisation is doing to move the needle on womens' empowerment?

Sheila said, "Hiring women and putting them in leadership positions, encouraging them to make strategic decisions. For instance, second to me in the company is programs/production manager - and she is a lady"

"We also offer flexibility to women employees who are single mothers or mothers with no household help. The office has created an environment where staff can come to the office with their children."

Let's end with some inspiration! What advice would you give your 21-year-old self...or what advice would your 60+-year-old self give you now?

Advice that the 60-year old version of Sheila would  give herself now: "First of all, NEVER GIVE UP!  I really want to stress this, never give up, please. You should believe that you are capable of doing those things. You can't afford to give up. You have self efficacy. You should believe in all of your abilities. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for! And secondly, remember that consistency and persistence will help you, no matter what you feel, keep going and try to keep doing what your doing even if you don't have the motivation."

Advice that the Sheila now would give her 21-year old self: "When you have an idea you're passionate about, get your voice/product out there. Do not allow failure to hold you back from expressing your creativity. Fail forward with enthusiasm, let life unfold, surprises and all, and your true skills will shine through!

And finally, develop your hobbies, skills, and mindset. Be busy bettering yourself and your life. Have goals and purpose in life, break it down into smaller parts, work hard for it and do it every single day."

Interested in reading more stories on female leadership? Get to know Sandra Nalli, Founder and CEO of Escola do Mecânico in Brazil.

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