Francesca Uriri is the founder of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit organisation focused on gender inclusion, especially for women of African descent. She sits on the Board of Trustees of The Future Project and serves as the Head of Communications in West Africa for Uber. In her piece, she shares with us how she has learnt to live fearlessly…
Back to the Beginning
I would LOVE to say that there were pointers from my childhood to what I’m doing now, but that wouldn’t be the truth. First, because I wanted to be so many things – A newscaster, Onyeka Owenu, Superman (yes Clark Kent in the movie), to mention a few Lol! As I evolved and became older, my dreams evolved too – and I think it’s important for others to know that. Sometimes the path isn’t clear until you start walking in it. And for me, that didn’t happen until I became a Marketing & Events Executive for a global cosmetic company when I was about 20 years old. It was only then that the path started to get clearer.
This might sound a little weird, but for me the biggest personal challenge for me was “staying the course.” I started out in Public Relations 12 years ago – but I wasn’t always sure it was something I was meant to be doing. Because I’m a creative person, it was easy for me to do different things – so my attention was a bit all over the place at the beginning. I dabbled into presenting, acting, etc. But I think as I got older, I started to get a lot more focused and grounded. Add that to all the experience I was aggregating – the more experience you have, the more confident you become. And the more confident you become, the more you enjoy what you do. So the last 6 years in my career have really been this incredible time of deepening my roots and flying higher.
The moment I would consider as “the spark” to my success was definitely when I started out as a PR Executive at Sesema Public Relations 12 years ago. Prior to this time, I’d been reading and learning about Public Relations, and it seemed like something I could be great at – because I was a good writer, creative, I loved meeting people, and I was great at organizing events and all that. But if Alima Atta, then CEO of Sesema PR didn’t give me the chance to prove myself, and brush me around my very rough edges, I never would have known. Not to mention that I didn’t do really well (in my opinion) in my first interview – but somehow, she overlooked that and gave me an opportunity that set me on the path to becoming the professional that I am today.
The Blueprint Called Vision
Having a vision for your life and what you want out of it is extremely important. And this cuts across career, business, family and even spiritually. Having a vision is kind of like having a blueprint that guides what you’re doing and the person you’re becoming. Not everything works out exactly the way one envisions it – but it’s ultimately best to have a mental picture of what you want out of life, if not you’ll just do anything that comes your way.
In terms of challenges and obstacles – Nigeria is sadly riddled with them – lack of basic infrastructure, the fact that unexpected things can and do happen frequently (the postponed elections as an example), changes in policy & regulation, etc. It’s hard to plan and stay enthused in the midst of all of that. So one must develop a means to switch quickly to option B, and adapt to some of these challenges. And also, if possible take some time away from all the stress and wahala to some place quiet to decompress and re-imagine.
Advice to Younger Self
I would have been less doubtful about my capabilities and less fearful about the future. Most of my 20s was spent worrying and fearful about what was coming ahead, that I didn’t really spend time living and enjoying myself. Not to say that some of the fears weren’t valid, but riddling myself with fear and anxiety was definitely NOT the way to go. Stepping into my 30s gave me fresh perspective and really gave me the required confidence and validation I needed.
The Right Circle
Relationships are absolutely essential to me, and I work really hard to maintain the ones in my life. I have a small circle of friends, and an even smaller circle of mentors, advisers and those who provide counsel and direction for my life. I call them bridges – because their influence is evident in the things I’ve achieved in my life, and they’re constantly rooting and cheering me on, and also serve the fantastic purpose of bringing me back to earth (if and when) my head gets lost in the clouds. I’m also focused on being bridges for these people as well – to ensure our relationships are symbiotic.
Most Memorable Day
This will be hard to pick one particular moment. There are many memorable days and moments that have happened to and for me – for all of which I’m immensely thankful. It would be hard to pick one. But I would say that every time I was given the opportunity to shine and achieve something of measurable impact – yes, that would count as being memorable. I also imagine that when I become a mother (for the first time) would definitely be something I’d never forget.
Ah! I can’t reveal all of that now can I? Just stick around and watch me make magic. 😀
Dear Young Woman
I never like to be seen as the “stuffy” person giving advice Lol! But I would say this to young women – do NOT be afraid to be yourself – to be truly and confidently yourself. We have a culture that encourages women to pretend to be something other than themselves – and that stifles growth in so many ways. So be yourself, speak up about your ideas, be confident, and do the things that resonate with your heart and spirit. And if like me, you want to cut your hair and colour it red – just do it! Be unafraid to be your most authentic and original self.
First of all, most of the laws and policies in Nigeria don’t favour or benefit women. Nigeria is one of the most oppressive places to be a woman – culturally and legally, and that needs to change urgently. So it’s not just about “favouring women.” It’s about creating a society where women are given the opportunity to thrive and reach their highest potential. It’s about Federal Lawmakers formulating relevant laws and policies, that show they are aware and attuned to the needs of women in the 21st century. It’s about women refusing to be pacified by tokenist attempts to placate them.
It’s about gender parity. It’s about men seeing women as equals and realizing that they need to become allies in creating a more equitable system that benefits our local communities and society at large. These are some of the issues we’re currently tackling at Leading Ladies Africa – a non-profit I founded for the main purpose of redefining leadership for women, and creating a space where women are encouraged to thrive.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.
Francesca Uriri is the Founder of Leading Ladies Africa, a women empowerment non-profit that celebrates the lives of African women, and promotes leadership, diversity and gender inclusion. Francesca Uriri was the Internal Communications Lead for People, Culture & Diversity for Uber at its Head Quarters in San Francisco.