Daughter of a Senegalese diplomat, Penda Cissé travelled all over the world during her childhood. An opening to the world from which she draws her inexhaustible inspiration. After an international experience, she founded, in Africa, Piment Bleu, a global communication agency, and Co-Lab, a co-working space.
“I spent the first part of my life between Africa, Europe and the Middle East. These successive moves, linked to my father’s diplomatic career, have never been a problem. I like to move, and make things happen. I like the challenge” analyses Penda Cissé.
As proof, after brilliant studies in France, she could have been satisfied with a career in a large company. But the young woman preferred to leave for new adventures. She then moved to Canada, then to New York, where she entered the world of luxury made in France.
Her taste for change brings her back to the continent. “For me, the return to Africa was conditional on entrepreneurship,” she says. “As I was trained in prestigious schools and had management experience in several multinationals for ten years, I wanted to go back to Africa to express my creativity. It seemed to me that I had acquired all the basics to start a viable business.“
“Team management in Africa, a real challenge”
Creativity is its main leitmotiv. But before expressing it in its entirety, through the global communication agency, Piment Bleu, it had to adapt to its environment and find its brands. “When I arrived in Côte d’Ivoire in 2011, there was great hope in this country, which is considered a land of opportunity. The country was once again taking its place as a driving force in the West African sub-region, after years of crisis. I thought it would be a good starting point to start a business,” recalls Penda, before qualifying. “But I must admit that I had difficulty adapting at first. Because managing teams in Africa has proven to be a real challenge when people like me have been trained abroad. In Europe or North America, freedom of speech prevails. While in Africa, you have to have a paternalistic management, with several levels of validation… It frightened me at the time. It was necessary to take into account an environment that was foreign to me.”
However, Penda adapts quickly and asserts herself. With one objective: “to set up a functional value chain, a real challenge. “To do this, it innovates.” Piment bleu is a multimedia communication agency based on innovation, hence the name. The idea is to offer a new and open perspective on the world, while remaining faithful to the codes of African culture. “This idea is his recipe for developing a business in Africa. “We are now a pioneer in television programs dedicated to the stock market in Africa. We launched the first television show on the Ivorian public channel, RTI, “Flash bourse”, a daily show that gives market trends. “This programme has a strong pedagogical dimension. A tone that can be found in another Penda construction site: The Co-Lab, a new kind of co-working space. “The creation of the agency was accompanied by the creation of Co-Lab Abidjan, a place of innovation, with connected collaborative workspaces that our clients, the co-labellers, can use in a very flexible way.“
Supporting young entrepreneurs
Above all, the integration of the communication agency Piment Bleu into this co-working space creates its particularity: “Co-Lab’s originality is to belong to a large group. We are both a media for our budding entrepreneurs and a place of innovation. The concept is not just a workspace. Even if the environment is designed with all the necessary elements, our added value lies in the mix with the agency. The idea is to allow young entrepreneurs to make their company known through a space shared with the agency and a network provided. Co-Lab is a platform that allows entrepreneurs to be at the heart of the system.”
And the stimulation seems to be reciprocal: “Our agency is also perfectly integrated in the city, in its environment, surrounded by young people. I remain convinced that communication must be done by and for young people.” This proximity allows him to better identify the needs of these young entrepreneurs. “Learning to Pitch” (Editor’s note: summarize and present your project to potential investors) in particular. They have a lot of ideas. But, probably because of the weakness of the education system, they struggle to explain their project. “Women even more so“, she said. “African women, because of their culture, are still too reserved, they show less self-confidence. This is their Achilles’ heel. They must therefore be given the tools to gain confidence. Thanks to Co-Lab, they can have a support.“
“Creativity will enable African youth to distinguish themselves”
While Penda Cissé advocates solid training as a major component of any entrepreneurial project, her recipe contains other equally important ingredients. “Undoubtedly, it is first necessary to push the studies as far as possible to acquire qualifications, and then to enrich oneself with quality professional experience. Very often, women evolve in the informal sector. They must be convinced to join the formal sector, even if it means losing a few years’ income.” Last advice: adopt the tools of the future thanks to professional experience in a large company. “I think this is essential for the future, whether it is to be an employee or to start an entrepreneurship. But whatever option you choose, having a high morale is essential!” She concludes: “You have to think outside the box and innovate to stay ahead of others. Creativity will allow African youth to distinguish themselves. Innovation in our countries must be stimulated every day.“