2021 Mandela Washington Fellow and entrepreneur Kulukaya Sadiki is from Blantyre, Malawi. Kulukaya, an advocate for sustainable development in the education and business sectors, is the CEO of Glo-Ray Designs Sustainable Studio and the charitable organization Ladies of Influence.
Kulukaya’s father passed away at a young age. Raised by her single mother, she saw that leadership, perseverance and strength were the driving household dynamics. Growing up, Kulukaya witnessed discrimination against her mother and sisters, cementing a clear picture of the power imbalance against women. She came to understand the need for greater empowerment of women as she faced unequal treatment in the workplace. Kulukaya began to question whether she could ever become an agent of change to rectify the injustices faced by women in her community.
Kulukaya was introduced to entrepreneurship by her business-owning sisters. She recalls stepping away from her main job to join one of her sister’s IT ventures. This allowed her to explore different opportunities and to better understand impact-oriented work. “To be honest, I knew that [my sister] was the best person to mentor and prepare me for the business world. She taught me how as women, we must work twice as hard to claim our place in the business world,” said Kulukaya.
As she continued on this path, it became clear that social entrepreneurship could act as a vehicle for social change, and she focused on remedying the power imbalances she identified while growing up.
Kulukaya defines social entrepreneurship as “being open to exploring creativity and the ability to see beyond obstacles while creating opportunities for oneself and the communities one is involved in.” Her work is motivated by the themes of innovation, resiliency and helping her community. She is most inspired to do this work because of her daughter, with a goal to create a world that is better for her.
A clear threat to the future generation is climate change. Kulukaya identified excessive waste as a major contributor, which was the impetus for her business Glo-Ray Designs, a company she describes as a “global innovative sustainable fashion brand that celebrates humanity, protects the environment, incorporates inclusion, supports diversity, encourages individuality and creates awareness for eco-fashion, with a strong belief that the brand makes the world a better place for humanity and the planet.”
Internal and External Challenges Kulukaya’s Business Faced and Her Solutions
While this strong community-centered approach has been central in motivating her work, there are inevitable challenges posed by sheer economic precarity or personal circumstances that many young business leaders must be prepared to grapple with. Kulukaya has experienced a variety of situations that have disrupted her business. Here are a few examples she shared, with her observations and ways that she plans to be prepared for future challenges:
- COVID-19: The pandemic had unprecedented market consequences, hitting small businesses the worst.
➡️ Solution: Utilize digital marketing and audience growth strategies to reach consumers at a safe distance. Kulukaya used these options to digitize her business records, which streamlined efficiency and promoted safer work practices. “My recommendations for businesses are e-commerce marketing, search engine optimization, and email and social media marketing. I have gained almost 50% of my clientele via the internet,” said Kulukaya.
- Oversaturated markets and aggressive competition: Oversaturated markets influence customer interactions, general cash flow and marketing strategies.
➡️ Solution: Focus on your brand and what makes it unique by testing different marketing strategies. “[Marketing is a] tool that helps to reach potential customers, thereby boosting sales and revenue. Marketing creates awareness of your existence, sustains customer relationships, and maintains or extends the position of your brand,” Kulukaya said.
- Lack of capital and funding: This challenge was exacerbated by the pandemic. It culminated in slow growth, overreliance on personal financial backing, and barriers posed by bank transactions and high interest rates.
➡️ Solution: Be realistic while evaluating the strength of your profit margin, supplier relationships and customer flows. Consider the worst-case scenario and then troubleshoot which efforts would best mitigate the challenge. [Download the YALI Network SWOT analysis toolkit to future-proof your business to potential difficulties.]
- Stereotypes and unbalanced social dynamics: Female entrepreneurs like Kulukaya face added obstacles in navigating social dynamics and succeeding in a male-dominated entrepreneurial landscape. She feels that she has to work harder than her male counterparts to attain the same success and recognition for her businesses.
➡️ Solution: Cultivating a community can help alleviate some of the more taxing experiences for female entrepreneurs. Identifying mentors who have attained success despite facing obstacles can provide helpful insight.
Kulukaya’s business is transitioning to a “growth phase,” which she notes is uniquely built to survive volatile global events, but contingency planning is still imperative in the face of political and economic uncertainty. To gain insight and strategies on how to build your own model of business resiliency, head over to the YALIEntrepreneurs campaign page.
Learn more about Kulukaya’s charity organization, Ladies of Influence, which works to end gender inequality, improve access to education and bolster health outcomes across Malawi by following the organization on Facebook.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.