Women Who Make a Difference: Meet Danielle Kayembe
At Maggy London, we understand and value the power of women—the strength, perseverance and passion of women. Introducing Women Who Make a Difference: a series dedicated to the trailblazing, world-changing, ceiling-shattering women of our communities. Innovators. Entrepreneurs. Warriors. Mothers. Sisters. Daughters. Real women. Stay tuned throughout the month of October as we shine a light on five amazing women fighting to change the world.
Introducing Danielle Kayembe
Meet Danielle Kayembe, a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur. Originally from Africa, Danielle focuses her passions and projects around empowering women economically and personally.
Keep scrolling to listen to an exclusive interview with Danielle.
MORE ABOUT DANIELLE:
- Speaking up: Danielle is a frequent speaker on CNBC, TEDx, Google, and at the United Nations.
- Fighting for you: Danielle is the co-founder of GreyFire Impact and FLOW Global, global initiatives focused addressing women's economic empowerment, both in developed and developing countries.
- Looking forward: Danielle advises governments and business on how to integrate forward-looking initiatives is technology and renewable energy.
- Giving back: Danielle is an advisor to social impact startups and a mentor to Columbia University's business accelerator.
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An Interview with Danielle Kayembe
Maggy London: Today we have Danielle Kayembe, and we’re so happy that she could be a part of our brand new series: Women Who Make a Difference. Thank you for being a part and thank you for coming in today.
Danielle: Thank you so much for inviting me.
Maggy London: So, we want to jump right in and get started with a few questions. Is that okay?
Danielle: That would be wonderful!
Maggy London: Tell us a little about your background and how you came to focus on the intersection of women, social impact, and technology.
Danielle: Absolutely. I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which I’m sure you know is a difficult place. I came to the United States when I was young and I think that always kind of fueled me to do more with what I had. After I started working — I started out as a consultant and then I went into investment banking and as soon as I could — I actually went back and started doing work and doing business in Africa and I became really intrigued with the idea that business was this underutilized asset, that there was so much more you could do with it. It made me intrigued to see what I could create that had business at the core, but had a social impact and would actually improve people’s lives along with driving business.
Maggy London: That sounds amazing and we’d love to hear more about what exactly you’re doing in that space. Share with us.
Danielle: Absolutely. Well, I’m a serial entrepreneur as you know, so I have a lot of things going on, but the main project I work on right now is called GreyFire Impact. So through that project, we’re really creating unique engagements at the intersection of technology and women and social impact. We have a portfolio of companies that we work with, support and advise. They are primarily female-founded companies with Africa-facing businesses, and those businesses are having positive effects either on women in Africa — so empowering them economically or empowering artisans and local culture in the countries and cities where they operate. We’re really excited about being integral to their growth so we help them scale their companies, raise capital and connect them to investors. We also help companies like Microsoft. They have a cohort of startups that they support in Lagos, so we came in and helped to incubate those startups and create content, bring in investors for workshops, and ultimately create mentoring and support for those startups. Some of those startups actually got funded as a result, so we’re excited about those kinds of things. We initially launched with a project called Tour of Tech, which brought investors from Silicon Valley (so tech stars, 500 startups, Wing Pact) and we brought them for a week to tour tech hubs in Africa. They spent a week in Lagos visiting all the major tech incubators and accelerators and participating in demo days with startups and young African founders. That was really exciting for us to be able to put together and we had great companies, or I should say great non-profits, as partners for that. Companies like Andela — Andela is kind of the MIT of Africa. They train coders and developers in Africa and then connect them to work remotely for companies like Apple and Microsoft and whoever else, say Google, so they are able to earn a lot more than if they were just working locally — Andela was one of the partners and another group was called Generation Enterprise. Generation Enterprise is MBAs from a lot of the Ivy Leagues (so MIT, Harvard, Stanford). They come to work in the slums of Lagos and they train kids there on business skills and essentially increase what they’re earning by 14 times over the course of the training. So those were the groups we were partnering with for this initial project that we did launch in Africa.
Maggy London: That’s really exciting. You’re really getting a lot of great things done. Can you tell us a little bit more about whether or not you’ve been able to see the results of some of your efforts and energies?
Danielle: Absolutely. I mean I stay really excited and motivated because I feel like there’s so much more attention that’s being drawn to women and tech. I think it’s a really unique space that women can innovate in. We helped raise funding for one of the companies we advise called Tastemakers Africa. So Tastemakers — you go on their Instagram and it’s one of the most thirst-worthy Instagrams you’ve ever seen — they curate travel to Africa for millennials. It’s not volunteer and it’s not safaris. It’s basically coming and engaging in the local culture, like...Where do I get the best fashion? Where do I get the best views? Where do I get the best parties? The best food? It's all of those things. So your experience when you visit is really holistic, but also very culturally rich. So we help them get funding from investors, who are also people of color, which we are really excited about. That’s been a really great partnership we were able to forge for one of our portfolio companies, so that was a really exciting high point for this year.
Maggy London: That’s really awesome! We can truly, truly say you are one of the women making a difference out here, which is really great. I just wanted to touch on — you know Maggy London is a collection of dresses that are really designed for real women, and women who have active lives and who are doing a lot of things — You are a speaker, you have had to present on many different occasions...small groups, larger groups...I know that you have done a TED Talk and have presented at the UN. Can you tell us how your dress actually helps to fuel you and get your message across?
Danielle: Absolutely! I think it’s so important. I feel like that’s one of the basic building blocks. You feel confident and you’re excited and passionate about what you’re working on, but you need your clothes to communicate that to your audience. So I think having clothes that make you stand out is really important. The other thing I would say: As a woman, you’re on the go so much. I have these days where literally as an entrepreneur — I sometimes will create posts about this because I don’t think people understand what the entrepreneur life is like — where I’ll go from a talk in the morning to an interview, to the UN, then to an unexpected dinner. So in my day, I have so many shifts, I have like three or four shifts during the day, so one of the things I find is that sometimes I’ll grab something and throw it in my bag and then I’ll change. You need something that will wear well, fabrics that wear well, or you need something that you can wear all day that can fit different occasions and you can just throw a belt or a jacket over...you need things that are versatile and simple, but also classic and sophisticated. So I think those are my calling points when it comes to determining what I wear.
Maggy London: Awesome. So tell us, what does the future hold for you? Where do you see some of the organizations that you’ve been a part of starting? Where do you see them going? What are your next steps?
Danielle: So one of the things I talk a lot about is what I call coded patriarchy and women-centered innovation. It’s the idea that we don't realize that we live in a world that’s been designed with men as the default...so I’m sure you ladies notice that when you go in and out of a building, the doors are really hard to open, and when you get into a car, there’s nowhere to put your purse, right? So there’s a lot of these little things that seem like bugs or glitches, so one of the things that I’m really excited about is the rise of women innovating. The rise of women building products and services for other women. Companies like The Honest Company, or Thinx, for example. I find that really really exciting. I think my goal is to be at the forefront of supporting that. To really be supporting women who are innovating and to make that feel like the centerpiece for the future of what I am doing.
Maggy London: One last question: If you had to give a young woman some advice, and she had a passion to get involved and make a difference — to maybe be considered a woman who made a difference — what would you tell her to do? How would you tell her to get started?
Danielle: Well that’s easy because I think about that a lot! It would actually go back to the point I just made. I think the biggest opportunities for women right now lie in creating things for other women based on our pain points. Based on the things we experience every day that make us uncomfortable, but we’re just used to. I feel like those are the future billion dollar companies. So I feel like, women: go be the next Steve Jobs, go be the next Jessica Alba. Figure out what it is that bothers you or makes you uncomfortable. Is it your shoes? Something in your building? Something in your home? Whatever that is that you interact with, that is a billion dollar opportunity because if you are uncomfortable, that means other women are uncomfortable, too. So I really feel like that is actually what should drive innovation for women is solving problems for themselves and solving problems for other women. You are your own laboratory. Go build those companies and see how quickly people respond.
Maggy London: Thank you so much, Danielle. We really appreciate you being a part of the first installment of our Women Who Make a Difference series and we couldn't be more happy to hear about your story and provide a space for you to share what you’re doing. Thank you so much.
Danielle: Thank you for having me!