Empowering African and Black talent to accelerate economic growth

Pinaman Owusu-Banahene is the founder of ADJOAA, a curated e-marketplace for premium fashion and lifestyle brands by African and diaspora designers.

Dominant narratives focus just on the negative – diseases, famines, war and corruption – but this is not the Africa that I know.
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Pinaman Owusu-Banahene (Chevening Scholar & MSc Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship 2019)  was born in Accra, Ghana and moved to New Zealand aged 18. She worked in public policy and the health sector before making the move to social entrepreneurship. Pinaman speaks to us from Australia, where she’s currently based, about harnessing opportunities within Africa’s fashion industries to stimulate economic growth and employment in the continent.

 “ADJOAA started off as a hobby, a side project to highlight the huge talent and creativity coming through from Africa. There wasn’t a lot of visibility globally of African fashion when I started, and I felt the need to shed new light on the continent’s output. I also wanted first and second generations of Africans in New Zealand to have pride in their heritage.

Since the very beginning, I approached this initiative from a job creation perspective. The African fashion industry is undervalued, but it has immense potential to create employment opportunities and accelerate growth on the continent. ADJOAA aims to empower designers, promote ethical brands, innovative designs and revitalise traditional manufacturing techniques – but the focal aspect of what we do is contributing to economic and social development across Africa.”

Debunking African myths

“Leaving Ghana as a teenager, I struggled with the many stereotypes and misconceptions people have about Africa. I’ve faced many ignorant statements and back handed compliments through the years, from people assuming we are not technologically advanced to being told that I was well spoken for an African.

The continent is generally treated as homogeneous single entity, despite having 54 sovereign nations, many different languages and enormous cultural diversity. Dominant narratives focus just on the negative – diseases, famines, war and corruption – but this is not the Africa that I know.

There are many positive stories that are consistently overlooked: economic growth in Rwanda and Botswana, gender parity in select countries on the continent, even the COVID-19 response has been promising in countries such as Ghana and Kenya.  Of course, there are many issues and structural challenges to overcome, but there are also many successes worth celebrating and highlighting.”

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Pinaman with LSE's mascot, Felix

LSE and me

“I come from a public policy background, so LSE was always on my radar as the best social science institution – and the MSc in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship was just a perfect fit for me.  I lacked the technical grounding needed to run an impact focused venture, and the programme presented a unique opportunity to advance my entrepreneurial skills and to learn more about emerging markets. 

I have so many good memories of my time at LSE! It was such a diverse and vibrant environment, I had people from every continent on my course and my Chevening community. As a dual national, I was not admitted to the Programme for African Leadership (PfAL) initially, but two of my classmates encouraged me to join. I had to make my case, but I was finally accepted, and it truly was an incredible experience. The icing on the cake was when we took home the top prize for our group project!

I am constantly drawing from what I learnt at LSE, and my dissertation has become a reference document to run and grow my business. I am also really grateful for being able to tap into my LSE network for advice and support.”

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Pinaman celebrates graduating from LSE in 2019

Resetting expectations and looking ahead

“I graduated in 2019 full of hope and energy to change the world but, shortly after, the COVID-19 pandemic hit us all.

If anything, this crisis has cemented my beliefs in values and in humanity. I’ve seen kindness, empathy and a true sense of community – with people doing their best to contain the virus and ensure everyone pulls through. But the COVID-19 pandemic has also stressed the importance of investing in the social sector, particularly in health care and having robust systems that are enduring and able to cope. The experience has made me even more determined to make a difference and fight for a fairer world.

My plans for the immediate future are getting a product-market fit for the platform, building a more structured team and securing pre-seed funding with a view to launching the company.  In the longer term, I’ll keep on looking for transformative solutions to address problems within the African fashion industry, particularly issues with logistics, access to markets, business education and capital.  I hope I’ll be able to partner and collaborate with like-minded players in the continent to have a more cohesive ecosystem and create positive impact and social change. There is so much to be done!”

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