In the footseps of Danièle Sassou Nguesso, a unique social entrepreneur !
Danièle Sassou Nguesso, would you let us know who you are in a few words ?
I am a Congolese citizen of Gabonese heritage, born in Dakar in 1976, of a doctor father and a pharmacist mother. I have had the good fortune to spend my childhood in different countries: Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire among others, before heading to Europe, where I have undertaken my high school and university education. After completing a bachelor’s degree, I joined Ecole Supérieure des Opticiens (the Superior School of Opticians) in Paris, France, where I graduated in optics.
This academic background has allowed me to quickly join renowned companies where I was given the opportunity to acquire and further develop my skills. The first years of my professional experience, spent in Paris, have rekindled my willingness to undertake an entrepreneurial initiative for the development of Africa. I therefore made the decision to return to Gabon, my homeland, where I established the paramedical group Optical, in 2003, which has today a strong presence in 5 African metropoles. Nevertheless, the African realities led me to a deeper thinking, particularly regarding the status of women, who still too frequently encounter institutionalised discrimination, which in turn leads to daily sexual harassment, physical and psychological violence, both in the public and the private sphere.
The creation of SOUNGA Foundation in 2015, has therefore naturally dawned on me as a choice and a duty, in order to facilitate women’s empowerment. It is an initiative of which I am very much involved in because I am deeply convinced that the development of Africa will become a reality only through the recognition of the vital role of women.
Can you tell us more about SOUNGA Foundation?
I initiated the creation of Foundation SOUNGA in 2015, a non-profit organization which I have the privilege to chair today in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. The ambition of SOUNGA, whose name means “help” in Lingala, is to support Congolese women in their personal fulfillment, thanks to different projects allowing them to seize new opportunities, but especially to develop their leadership, in order to definitively free themselves from the social burdens which still relegate them to the ban of society.
We position ourselves as a leading complementary player to the existing network of organizations already assisting women in the Congo, especially through lobbying operations before the public authorities, but also the implementation of projects aimed at strengthening their economic capacities, in a concrete way, to promote the empowerment of women, a condition that we consider essential for sustainable development.
We are aware that we are still a young organisation, however we have ambitious plans to strengthen and grow our existing actions while developing new projects.
What are the flagship projects of SOUNGA Foundation?
We have developed support projects so that every single woman can become aware of her own potential and develop new skills, through Sounga Nga incubator, Sounga Gender Label, but also Sounga Focus Groups, with the ambition to equip women with reliable and sustainable tools to evolve in society.
The incubator “Sounga Nga” is a unique mechanism that we set up, which has the characteristics of being exclusively dedicated to women carrying projects or eager to embark on entrepreneurship. This process offers each woman a 6-week training session, during which they receive a training in accounting, marketing or sales techniques, in order to have all the tools for the development of their activities. “Sounga Nga” allows every woman carrying a long-term project to be granted a low-interest seed capital loan to support the launch of their business.
The Sounga Gender Label is an innovative scoring system designed and implemented to promote the representation of women in professional environments in public and private organizations in the Congo. Based on a strong partnership with the Congolese public authorities (Ministry for the Promotion of Women, the Ministry of Social Action, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Higher Education), as well as various employers’ organizations, the main aim of this coercive process is to promote good corporate governance practices.
Finally, every year, we strive to deploy the Sounga Focus Group project throughout the country, to take the pulse of women’s conditions taking their realities into consideration. The Sounga Focus Group is a real tool that enables the assessment of the needs and socio-cultural realities, allowing us to re-evaluate or launch new projects for women, while reporting our activities to the concerned authorities, to encourage them to undertake areas for improvement.
What are the future development perspectives for SOUNGA Foundation?
We intend to speed up innovation to maintain the development and the quality level of the existing projects for which we have made major improvements. First of all, this year marks, the full deployment of the Gender Label in a concrete way, which has already received, a very positive reception from international organizations, in particular from the Pan-African Parliament, which has included it as a main recommendation for the continental roadmap. In the continuity of its development on the national territory, we naturally plan its deployment in the sub-region, with the support of international organizations.
Meanwhile, the incubator Sounga Nga, for which we are working on the fourth edition, will benefit from a session in Pointe Noire, to meet the demands of many women in that region. This is a deep pride for us to see the incubator evolving to other regions, but it is also a natural response to the dynamics of the city of Ponte Noire. We hope that this first development, will allow us on the one hand to learn from local specificities, in order to make Sounga Nga a reachable and scalable tool ready to serve for the development of each region, with an adapted training offer. This naturally leads us to consider the deployment of this project at an international level, since Sounga Nga has aroused the interest of other women’s organisations wishing to adopt this model, in different African countries.
Finally, we obviously have other projects under development, but we want to increase our global lobbying actions, in order to promote our work and efforts that so that we can benefit from substantial fundings that will allow us to give a new dimension to our actions and position ourselves as the privileged platform in gender issues in Africa.
What guidance could you give to women who are still hesitant to embark on entrepreneurship?
First and foremost, I need to remind every single woman, that thanks to her skills, her dreams, her ambitions and her audacity, she stands as a key player of economic and sustainable development, but that each of them stands above all as the spokesperson of a social revolution that is in motion and necessary to change mentalities.
I encourage women to believe in their commitment and daring, to use their energy, their imagination, their knowledge and their thirst for discovery in order to embark on the path to success. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely way, but I encourage them to bring their creative audacity to life by requesting support, to endow themselves with the necessary skills for such an initiative. Women entrepreneurs naturally set themselves up as models for younger generations who will redouble their ambitions to walk in their footsteps … thus promoting social integration and sustainable development …
A leitmotiv ?
“Feed your spirit! Believe in yourself!”, is a saying that I try to apply on a daily basis, taking every single day as a new and unique opportunity, a new experience that gives to me the privilege to learn and grow. This allows me to thrive on the ongoing learning and challenges that life offers to me, stirring my curiosity for the realization of my ambitions, but especially to keep a measured discernment to evolve in peace of mind.
You have been collaborating with Kantara International for several years now, what are the benefits that have been brought to SOUNGA Foundation?
We called on Kantara International Advising in 2016, almost at the birth of Sounga Foundation and we have since developed a genuine partnership relationship.
The Kantara International Advising teams have been supporting us since the beginning, in the implementation of specific trainings, especially for Sounga Nga incubator, but also in the implementation of our marketing and communication strategy at an international level where we benefit from their support to promote Sounga Foundation. This partnership has allowed us to increase our reputation nearby international organisations and decision makers, extending the voice and the footprint of Sounga Foundation beyond borders !
If you were to recommend Kantara International Advising, what would you say ?
I would not hesitate to recommend Kantara International Advising, with whom we have built a transparent relationship based on trust and respect. The responsiveness of the teams, the quality of their work and their know-how, truly make it a value-added partner, committed at our side and open to our expectations, to reach ambitions that they made theirs !
Danièle Sassou Nguesso
President and Founder
Brazzaville – Congo