The first began in finance before starting a conversion to renewable energy in Africa; the second created her own communication company. Their common point: a fierce will to lay the ground. They met thanks to Women In Africa Initiative. Cross interview of Charlotte Aubin-Kalaidjian, Greenwish CEO and Patricia Nzolantima, founder of Working Ladies and WIA Initiative Ambassador for DRC.
You both decided to start your own businesses after an experience with multinationals. Why have you chosen entrepreneurship?
Patricia: Born in Kinshasa, forty years ago, Congolese by birth, I define myself as a real Kinshasa inhabitant and a pure African product. Entrepreneurship is part of my everyday life. I started my own business when I was teenager, selling cakes and waffles at school. Then, at 18, very passionate about fashion, I started sewing clothes and selling them. I even created a brand: Bizzoly. Thanks to that, I started traveling on the continent but also abroad while continuing my studies at the university. At the age of 22, I was hired by a communications company in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mc Cann Erickson. This first job led me to integrate a marketing agency in Senegal. After completing my training in Cape Town, South Africa, I naturally created my company Comunicart, a marketing agency.
Charlotte: I have a more traditional path. I first worked for 13 years in a merchant bank, at Morgan Stanley Investment, in asset management for France and Switzerland. In 2008, at the time of the subprimes, I became aware of the responsibility of investment banks in the financial crisis. The time had come for me to take an important step in my professional life. Entrepreneurship has been obvious. But I wanted to finance the real economy and have an environmental and social impact. So I created Greenwish in 2010, an investment company specializing in renewable energy. Among our flagship projects, we financed solar industrial farms in Senegal. The objective is to contribute to increasing the competitiveness of the sector, while improving the environment of the populations. Entrepreneurship is a continuation of my career.
Beyond entrepreneurship, you are committed to supporting other women … Is this too an ambition to bring social added value to your projects?
Patricia: Yes, because from my own experience, the main difficulty for a woman entrepreneur in the DRC, as elsewhere in Africa, remains access to finance. We therefore offer prepaid Visa cards to facilitate the banking of women. Another focus of support for women: transport. Movements remain one of the main challenges in the DRC. How to move easily? Pay easily but also learn a trade that is not only for men?
This question gave birth to UbizCabs, taxis driven by women. We started with fifteen taxis. Our ambition is to expand our service in other African countries. We are already in talks in three countries. Ubizcabs first enables to reduce female unemployment and contribute to gender equality. Convinced by the social impact of our project, the World Bank was our first client. I wish through all these initiatives to build a holding company to answer the problems met by the women. This is the principle of International Working Ladies Hub, a business accelerator that will provide them with the support, the necessary support, the access to finance … It is not enough to declare that in 2030, the majority of African women must be entrepreneurs. We must create a framework that not only allows these women to dream big, but also to make their dreams a reality.
Charlotte: I have been dedicated a very long time for women’s cause. This concern for women was born when I became a mother. Before that, I felt that the gender, in business, did not matter. But the birth of children, it is much more difficult to find a balance, the priorities change. Finding values beyond a generation has become essential. So I set up the Morgan Stanley women’s network in France. Having been appointed director when I was young, I had to carry out my responsibility as model and train other women in my path. I suggested that this network be expanded to include clients. The idea was welcomed with enthusiasm!
Have you joined WIA Initiative in order to make your initiatives heard?
Patricia: WIA Initiative has a strength: its network. It is a very nice team. Moreover, thanks to this initiative, I met two of my associates. Many of us run to forums, platforms to meet the person or people who will change our lives while sharing the same values. It is important. These forums help to connect, find each other. However, one must be careful and not choose any forum. We must focus on its priorities, results and impact. WIA Initiative relies more on quality than quantity. That is the message I want to put across: WIA Initiative has enabled me to connect with the best people among whom Charlotte, who became a partner.
Charlotte: Several factors motivated my choice to join WIA Initiative. The first is that women have little time to meet and exchange. As an entrepreneur, it is important for me to meet people to share and share experiences. Another key factor in favor of this global platform, I often go to countries for the first time. Thanks to WIA Initiative, it is easier for me to “find sisters” to prepare my trips. Last but not the least, it is essential to support the next generations. And, indeed, thanks to WIA Initiative, I found an exceptional; Patricia. We have a great complementarity because of our origins and our experiences.
Patricia Nzolantima, founder of Working Ladies and Country Manager of Exp-Comunicart
Communication, finance, transport … Patricia Nzolantima, a born-entrepreneur multiplies activities with main driver: women. Determined to raise high African women’s cause, she is opening an accelerated training center for women, in partnership with a Swiss-American group. Objective: coaching, support but also access to funding.
Considered as one of the 100 economic leaders of tomorrow in the Choiseul Africa ranking, it has benefited from the program of the former US President Barack Obama, Young African Leader 12 ‘. She sits on the board of the Harvard University African Students Center and represents DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) at the G20 Young Entrepreneur Alliance. Vlisco’s ambassador during the commemoration of the brand’s 170 years, Patricia is an overactive woman. Her wish: 36-hour days!
Charlotte Aubin-Kalaidjian, Greenwish Partners CEO
Essec graduate, a renowned business school, Charlotte Aubin-Kalaidjian led the asset management department of American bank Morgan Stanley for France and Switzerland. After thirteen years of loyal service, she embarked on a career path reconversion and in 2010 she founded Greenwish Partners, a company specializing in financing solar solutions.
A pioneer of renewable energies in sub-Saharan Africa, Greenwish develops and finances renewable energy solutions for public services, the private sector and people across the African continent. Since 2014, the group has raised $ 270 million of equity. It is made of a team of 24 employees, present in France, Ireland, Senegal, Nigeria and Ivory Coast. Greenwish plans to produce up to 300 megawatts and is planning a pipeline with a capacity of 1 gigawatt. Greenwish is at the origin of the first independent solar power station in West Africa, Senergy 2.