Women Innovating Africa: Meet Chioma Agha


One of the best parts, for me, of being involved with the YALI program is that I get to stay connected with the young African entrepreneurs I teach. I have to admit, that many of the women in my class impress the hell out of me with their creativity, collaboration and intent to make positive change in the world. With that in mind, I'd like to introduce you to a few of them over the next several months.

I wondered how they had absorbed my Design Driven Entrepreneurship curriculum and was interested to see how they had attempted to embed design in their current ventures.

Second in this series is Chioma Agha from Nigeria. Chichi was a Mandela Fellow at Dartmouth in the summer of 2015. This amazing women is actually an MD who left her medical path and became an entrepreneur instead.

What do you do now?
I run Nigeria's Premier Online Gift and Souvenir company called Swish Ideas

Describe your current business.
I make event planners', corporate bodies' and individual's events more memorable, and indeed their lives easier, by supplying the most unique and functional favors and gifts for their events.

What is the main benefit for the customer with your work?
Events are a big deal here in Nigeria and it's customary to give favors or small gifts to attendees. The main benefit I offer my customers is helping them to find interesting gifts easily. Prior to the launching of swishideas.com, there was no organized online shop that catered to this specific niche. People had to either travel to major cities just to shop for these items or they had to wade through a host of confusing with scattered impersonal markets that catered to everything and everybody. This was most frustrating and time consuming. Swish Ideas makes shopping for favors a delight. 

Describe how you use or have used design thinking or human centered design in your work.
Design thinking has helped our brand be more innovative. We have learnt to ask WHY a million times and reassess how indeed, our products and services actually benefit the client and NOT just us. It is not about our fancy ideas. It is all about the people hosting the events. Design thinking has also helped us expand into other support services because we have listened to the unspoken words our clients have said.

How has that impacted your customers?
First of all, it has helped us retain more customers. Secondly it has helped us gain new customers. It has also given our brand an emotional connection with our clients. 

How has that approach impacted your business team?
To be honest, there has been a lot of restructuring in the business. We have changed our team as a result of Design Thinking. We have gotten on board members who are more passionate, innovative and driven and who share the vision and mission of the business. 

What is the biggest challenge you see for African business to become more design oriented and customer obsessed?
Assumptions! Assumptions!! Assumptions!!! I cannot stress this enough. Assuming that you know what the customer needs and wants is the quickest way to failure. A lot of businesses assume that the customer will like their idea because THEY (business owners) like their idea. They think they know what the customer wants because, hey that is what they should want.  

What design advice would you give to other aspiring African entrepreneurs?
If there is anything we can learn from Design Thinking, it is to keep asking WHY. Ask why, like an innocent little child who genuinely wants to learn and knows nothing.

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