HAJA ISATU BAH: UMAN 4 UMAN FOUNDER INTRODUCES A LIFE CHANGING PRODUCT

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it – Maya Angelou

Haja Isatu Bah is a young and dynamic Sierra Leonean woman. She is an Environmental studies student and is planning a public health career in the future. Born and raised in Sierra Leone, she got a scholarship to study at United World College, Red Cross Nordic, where she got her International Baccalaureate (IB diploma) and a Davis scholarship to study Environmental Studies at Skidmore College New York.

Haja appears to be very passionate about issues affecting women, especially women’s health. She stepped into  the world of entrepreneurship in 2019 when she challenged herself to participate the Freirich Business Plan competition at Skidmore College. She won their social entrepreneurship grant at the finals in 2020.

When she ran for the competition, Haja knew nothing about business presentations and financials. She said it was tough for her to narrow down her idea into a single presentation, and quantify her business into real money with a financial cash flow. However, at the end of the competition, not only did she learn more about entrepreneurship, she  developed skills that I will use for the rest of my life. Today she has learnt new skills; like how to budget, create a concise business plan and pitch her idea professionally. She is building strong connections, and marketing her product which solves a social and environmental problem, read on and be inspired by the social entrepreneur.

Uman 4 Uman Product

THE JOURNEY HAS JUST BEGUN

Networking played a huge role at the start of my interest in entrepreneurship, I attended a lot of conferences. I was also very keen on doing independent research and interned at different organizations since the first year of college.

Over time, I  developed skills in data analyzing, leadership, qualitative research, project management, and entrepreneurship.

In fact I have been a research assistant with my professor for two semesters,  currently I am doing a team research project for my senior year with professors from Skidmore College and the University of Albany.

 One of the highlights of my career is being a fellow of the MDOCS Storytellers Institute since 2018. You see, leadership in my opinion plays a great role in understanding one’s environment and this is why, since my fist year at Skidmore I have served on the executive boards of two organizations and was part of the students that formed the Muslim Students’ Association at Skidmore College.

The journey so far has been exciting in the different roles that I have been blessed to serve, I particularly enjoy being Vice President of the Skidmore Student Government.

This woman right here, believes in diversity and I do my best to project my skills in all aspects of life.  This is how my interest in tailoring and skills in the same came alive. I have developed a prototype for reusable sanitary pads and started a business called UMAN 4 UMAN.

UNVEILING UMAN 4 UMAN

Starting Uman4uman is one of my greatest accomplishments, and I look forward to what the future holds. In 2017 when I came to Skidmore, I started using reusable sanitary pads, so that I get hands on experience and of course do my part in saving the environment.

I try not to forget where I come from and the existing period poverty back home. This is why I decided to create a product that will serve as the perfect menstrual product for girls in Sierra Leone.

That was when I  bought a sewing machine and started making my prototypes. I made over 5 prototypes which I tested on myself. Unlike other reusable sanitary pad companies, I decided not to use bamboo because of it’s environmental footprint and cost of production.

I wanted to create a product that will be comfortable, affordable, ecofriendly, and sustainable. After discussing my idea with many people. I was convinced to run for the annual Freirich Business competition at Skidmore College. I won a social entrepreneurship grant that enabled to start my business.

Uman4uman is a social venture that focuses on addressing the issue of period poverty among young girls in Sierra Leone. At Uman 4 Uman our products are addressing the issue of environmental waste, sustainability, availability, comfortability, and the high cost of sanitary pads in Sierra Leone.

Our mission addresses the cycle of poverty among young girls by providing local, affordable, reusable, accessible, healthy and sustainable sanitary pads, and our vision is to participate in the creation of a world where every Sierra Leonean girl gain access to sustainable sanitary pads and proper menstrual health education. Our target audience are girls in school (junior and secondary).

We plan to sustain our venture by creating a large target market, partnering with NGOS and Organizations that advocate for girls, working with schools to teach menstrual health hygiene, and applying to external sources of funding. One of our biggest goal is to work with H.E, the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Madam Fatima Bio on her project, free sanitary pads distribution to girls.

GOLD STARS FOR UMAN 4 UMAN

Our products are made of microfiber, fleece, and pul. We chose these three materials because they are breathable, stain resistant, water resistant, and easy to dry. Our products last up to 2 years and come in different sizes. Compared to reusable products, our products are very environmentally friendly, cheap, and comfortable. Our package consists of 3 pads and a set of instructions that come along with a wet bag. Each pad can be worn up to 8 hours. We have plastic buttons at the sides of the pad so they can perfectly fit onto an underwear.

BUILDING A TEAM IS KEY

As a startup, our management team is very small right now. We are compromised on 7 people. We have two people on our advisory board, and 5 people on the general team.

  1. Joseph Kaifala: Advisor

  2. Theriyeh Koroma: Advisor

  3. Haja Isatu Bah: Founder and President

  4. Umu Alberta: Head of Operations

  5. Isata M. Bah: sales team

  6. Mariama Bah: sales team

  7. Mafereh Joaque: sales team

ENTREPRENUERSHIP IN AFRICA – THE WAY FORWARD

 As someone currently living outside of the continent, I feel like starting a business back home is hard. The process of registering, building connections, marketing, and selling is very time consuming and does not seem very transparent to me. I have had to go through different channels for a particular thing which may only require one channel. Marketing my product is very tough especially because it is a new product to the market. However, I feel creating mentorship programs, workshops, and investing in local products will improve entrepreneurship in the continent.

 

COVID-19 AND DOING BUSINESS

 Working virtually is one of my greatest challenges. The time difference, school work, and different partners have been difficult to handle at the same time. However, I am learning a lot, and things are slowly falling into place. My management team is very hardworking and resourceful. We have been working as a team to make ends meet and it is going great so far.

MY MESSAGE FOR YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS

To any one out there with an idea, it is possible. You do not need to be a Business student to start up a business. To young entrepreneurs, the beginning is definitely not easy. Keep on making those phone calls even if no one replies. Keep on sending those messages. Keep on building those connections. Keep on pursuing your dream! Your next phone call might be your lucky ticket to making your business more successful.

Africa needs young entrepreneurs. Africa needs you!

GET IN TOUCH

 Our products are now available in Sierra Leone. We are currently taking preorders via whatsapp or direct call on:

  1. +1 917 250 3772

  2. +232 79 927704

  3. +232 31 557342

We are also selling via our social media @uman4uman on Facebook and Instagram.

 

 

Written by: arianadiaries

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