"A Regular Black Girl" Hellen Dausen
Updated: Jun 17, 2020
Hellen Dausen is the founder of Nuya’s Essence, one of Tanzania’s first home-grown, organic luxury brands and was nominated; Forbes 30 under 30 in 2016. Hellen holds a bachelor’s degree in International Business Administration and Entrepreneurship, which she says she only picked because it was the easiest. Her entrepreneurship is in response to environmental, cultural, and traditional inclinations. She learned much from her mother who crashed through ceilings that excluded women from venturing into business. In Hellen Dausen’s interview with the Startup Grind on YouTube she shares that growing up, her mother kept chickens, sold eggs, and owned a hair salon, and it is her mother who convinced Hellen’s father that their daughter should go into the soap making business. Her mother motivated Hellen to be professional in her soap making. Even though her mother’s businesses might be looked at as informal or simple in comparison, her mother’s modelling had an impact on her daughter, and by extension other young females across the continent and globe. From Hellen and her mother, we learn that crashing ceilings and breaking through barriers is not only a matter of venturing into the male dominated spaces. Rather, it is also about challenging the limitations we put on ourselves, on what we want to do and our capabilities. They show us that as Black females, the spaces we occupy and our successes are meant to pave a way for other Black women and to increase to access to entrepreneurship.
What interests me the most about Hellen is her relatability to the regular African girl. I have learned to expect astounding success from other “regular black girls,” like me. Hellen’s journey enables me to critically engage with my African and personal context, to find loopholes, and become a successful product of my environment. When asked to introduce herself at the Startup Grind interview on YouTube she says, “My official name is Hellen Dausen and I describe myself as a very optimistic person, a lover of nature, free spirited, and I love God.” Those are words I can use to describe myself. She shares why she chose to study International Business Administration and Entrepreneurship. “I had to pick the easiest thing for me, because honestly, school was a little hard for me from day one.” A lot of young people share a similar struggle and may even believe they are incapable of succeeding because their academic limitations exclude them from "esteemed" career paths such as engineering and medicine. There is a romanticism to her life story - a young African girl from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, who struggled with school, sold her mother’s eggs every now and then, went on to become a world renowned soap maker. Hellen’s journey reminds the regular African girl that she too can compete in spaces beyond ours, on a global stage and with people from more privileged backgrounds. Most importantly, we learn that being ‘a regular African girl’ can be, and should be synonymous with the ability to achieve. Women such as Hellen Dausen are eliminating the ceilings and barriers that have made representations of the regular African girl to be that of underachiever, mediocre, poor, and husband/saviour-seeking.
Originally, she dreamt of being a professional model, so she pursued that dream and went as far as winning Miss Universe, Tanzania. In 2012, at the age of 25 she decided it was time she let go of that dream. She confesses, “Deep down I knew I had to change my game, I was not going to be thirty five and still dreaming.” Again, this part of her journey might be familiar to some of us. I’m certain that there are some who have had to let go of unfruitful dreams for something more stable. As an adult, the reality is that at some point you have to start earning a living and even though this is not a rare phenomenon to the world, it is particularly more of a reality to the African child who leaves primary school to become a breadwinner. Most of us do not follow our dreams or do what we love as encouraged by western philosophy. We do what will ensure survival; we live to continue living. Unfortunately, this meant she had to move back home and start applying for jobs. “With my poor C.V,” she says truthfully. Hellen was gripped by the African reality of unemployment, and as expected, struggling to get interviews. To add to the pressure, her parents repeatedly asked, “Aren’t you going for interviews?” They probably thought she was not actively seeking employment. Hellen had to be creative. The youth unemployment rate is very high in Africa. In this economy, most governments on the continent are mobilizing the citizens by encouraging them, especially young people, to become entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, this has led to market congestion in retail with everyone selling similar goods.
There are challenges that are exclusive to female entrepreneurs. Out of the five mentioned in Challenges Facing Women Micro Entrepreneurs in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (Jagero, Kushoka, & Ikandilo, 2011), Hellen has confronted three. The first is limited or no formal experience in employment. Formal employment allows one to see, experience, and learn the sophisticated workings of a business enterprise thus equipping them to effectively run their own business. However, in Africa some women have never and will never be formally employed due to the lack of education and the expectation on them to become housewives. When these women venture into simple business to fend for their families, (because African women have always been responsible and are problem solvers in tough times), their businesses are formed without knowledge of the inner workings of a successful business. In Hellen’s case, this challenge was mitigated by her educational background in business. The second is that female entrepreneurs have limited business-related networks, most probably because they have never entered into the formal business world. Africa has the highest informal employed rates. So, although women are employed, it is informal and they do not have the formal networks needed to prop up their business efforts. Lastly, female entrepreneurs are vulnerable to harassment from male gatekeepers. Hellen says “When you go out and look for certain certification and you find a man is there, they just have a way to make you go round and round and just don’t give straight answers to whatever you are asking.” She agrees that sometimes they have ulterior motives, but could it be that sometimes male officers give female entrepreneurs the go around because they don’t believe that women should be in business.
As Future Black Females, regardless where we are born or grow up, it is up to us to change our environments and challenge the gatekeepers that would have us fail. Our beliefs are more important than the beliefs of our detractors and nay-sayers. If Hellen had not believed in herself, at some point she would have given up. We are regular Black girls from regular Black backgrounds, and we will continue to impact the world. It is possible, it has been done, and we will do it.
Jagero, D., Kushoka, & Ikandilo. (2011). Challenges Facing Women Micro Entreprenuers in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. International Journal of Human Resource Studies, 2-3.
Startup Grind Local (2015) Startup Grind Dar es Salaam hosts Hellen Dausen (Nuya's Essence). Available at: https://youtu.be/J9u-9gg2VW8 [Accessed 12 November 2019]
Images from howwemadeitinafrica.com, sheleadsafrica.org and pikdo.net