Born out of a mothers quest to empower her daughter and other African girls, Fatuma Abdullah’s creation – the Akiki doll, is helping to create a positive self-image for African and black girls.
“When my daughter started crèche, she came home one day and said, ‘mama I want my hair to be straight’ and I looked at her and said no our hair is not straight, our hair is curly, and then she was like yeah but I want my hair to look like so and so and I thought to myself I need to do something about this,” recalls Fatuma.
The Akiki doll and Akiki’s short stories (her first book) launched in May 2016 and are used as teaching tools to put across the message of self-love, appreciation and self-worth.
Akiki is addressing the diversity gap and celebration of African children in children’s play and literature. “This was confirmed when bringing up my children, the readily available toys and books are very Eurocentric, not representative of us. Akiki came into existence so African children have a positive kiddie character they can identify with, affirm positivity and connect children through stories in an African context that teach and entertain,” says Fatuma.
Becoming an entrepreneur
“My dad was a paint manufacturer, I worked for him immediately after university thereafter I went to work for a financial institution. My mindset then was very different but maybe unconsciously I picked up something from the factory. Akiki is a new chapter in my journey, going back to the core and to what matters,” says Fatuma.
The business has come with its challenges, especially because this was undiscovered turf for Fatuma. “I jumped into the deep-end entering an industry I knew nothing about, so the challenges have been numerous and they keep coming. My biggest challenge was going to market and gaining access to it. Initially, I thought retail was my best channel only to realise it doesn’t work for me especially for self-published books. I had to look for other avenues, like having an online shop and working with other SMEs who have similar values so I had to re-look and revise my business model to find a fit for customer reach,” says Fatuma.
Fatuma’s project management background helped significantly “Research and planning is the easier part, the tough part is entering and staying in the market. Change is constant so the business keeps evolving as it grows because what worked three or even two years ago doesn’t necessarily work now,” says Fatuma.
Plans for the future
Fatuma is passionate about playing her part to raise a generation of proud African citizens. “In 5 years, Akiki should be an established reader brand for foundation learners in schools across Africa. I believe it is important for our children to learn to read with African stories and this starts at the foundation phase.”
Advice for other entrepreneurs
“Plans are to guide but they are not cast in stone and are not linear. It’s best to be stubborn about your goals but flexible about your methods,” says Fatuma.
In her previous life Fatuma was an advisor to entrepreneurs, but “unless you walk a mile in their shoes, particularly for start-ups, you’ll not get it. Entrepreneurship goes beyond technical skills. You have to be a self-motivator in spite of challenges, you have to take risks and stay focused, you have to be open to critics and know when to shut out the nay-sayers, you have to be open to falling and have the strength to get back up. It’s a tough journey.” But despite the tests, learning is continuous.
“The word No is not the end of the world. Rejection can only build you, most of the greats have been told No but that didn’t stop them. Take a step back to see what’s working and what’s not, your business financials are the best indicator.”