Interview by Visual Collaborative
July 2019 8 min read
Lynda Aphing-Kouassi is the Managing Director of Kaizene International, based in both London and Abidjan, a firm specialized in the organization of annual conferences on infrastructure and public works, including corporate social responsibility. She has been recognized for her initiatives, as an actor of development, by Forbes
magazine and Financial Africa. As a feature in Visual Collaborative’s Vivencias interview series, this afro optimist talks to us about her roots, businesses, and shares timely advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
(VC) Outside enterprise and your leadership role at Kaizene, who is Lynda Aphing- kouassi?
(Lynda) A mother of an 11-year daughter and afro optimist woman determined to leave a positive legacy. I have always found inspiration in the struggles of those who refuse to be kept down by adversity. I have a quite large extended family, and we help each other when things get tough, whether that’s in personal relationships or in working life. Its amazing how a simple word can raise someone up. I am a positive person to the tips of my toes. I am devoted to my daughter and I believe encouragement is the key to finding inspiration. I feel strongly that in my home and family life I am a pure product of the diaspora.
(VC) What can you tell us about your upbringing in the Côte d’Ivoire that many of your peers may not know and how this compares to the enterprise culture of the United Kingdom?
(Lynda) I had a wonderful upbringing and my family always strove to raise us with discipline and integrity. I could say “tough love” but we were left in no doubt that our parents loved us before and above anything else. Between my brother and sisters there was always the light kind of bickering that you have between siblings but nonetheless we were best friends and supported one another constantly. In Abidjan we lived close to our extended family. We saw them all the time and we saw no difference between our mum’s and dad’s family that we also called mum and dad. Upon moving to the UK I realized that this sense of family closeness was not the same as at home, but the culture of working hard that I was taught was very much present along with the cultural mix that exists in London which allowed me not to feel discriminated at all and also to learn about other cultures which is a real gift. My first years in London were hard, I started very much at the bottom work-wise. I know how it feels to work long hours in poor conditions for little pay. But I think that helped me and taught me not to stop believing in getting where I wanted to go.
I believe now that Africa should be much less reliant on aid dependency and to strive to have real and concrete partnerships that will be profitable for both.
(VC) You have a very impressive background working across several sectors in finance; commercial and investment banking. What are your general thoughts on foreign aid to African countries? Some economists may criticize this because of the long-term implications of borrowing and national debt.
(Lynda) Thank you. An average African country receives over 13% of foreign aid but the West does not really know that Africa has 54 nations and the aid comes in the form of pity and the removal of self-initiatives. This makes the aid a charity exercise instead of being one that meets the challenge of creating wealth for Africa and also creating sustainable activities. I therefore, believe that the aid should be invested in growth making businesses and profitable trading opportunities as opposed to unproductive ones. This aid is coming as a charity since Africa is not perceived as a contender in the global market. I have never seen anyone becoming rich through charity and that is the case for Africa. We should support private investment, domestic and foreign, along with research institutions because it is through research and training that we will ensure African development. For example, between 2014 and 2017 Africa lost over 85 billion each year due to debt since while we receive aid, loans and grants almost twice the amount is sent back to Europe in the form of repayment. So, it is actually the case that Africa is aiding the West and this should not happen. I believe now that Africa should be much less reliant on aid dependency and to strive to have real and concrete partnerships that will be profitable for both. Also, our governments need to try to scale up policies that increase democracy and create sustainable environments through job creation, regional integration and economic engagement hence the applause around the implementation of African Continental free trade. I am optimistic for Africa because our countries are full of talent and we will find a way of optimizing on our youth, our creativity and our strong spirit of enterprise to forge beneficial partnerships.
(VC) As an astute African woman in the United Kingdom who may be considered privileged based on your professional experiences, what can you candidly tell aspiring young women or entrepreneurs about success and risk in business?
(Lynda) I don’t consider myself privileged. Privilege is being on a high pedestal though not having worked hard to achieve your position. My life has been the complete opposite of that but;
- To women, I will suggest being aware of their femininity and not consider it a weakness, embrace it to fully be successful in your environment.
- To all other entrepreneurs; Stay true to yourself and do not accept the easy option. Develop your self-esteem, keep learning, use research because knowledge is power as stated in the bible. Stay humble and do not let society define who you are.
- Define what career success means to you (financial success, social, self- accomplishment, happiness at work, inspire others). It is fundamental to create an effective action plan. To excel, it is necessary to tap on talents. Success comes in many forms.
- It is important to know your strengths and weaknesses (also your goals) in order to enhance your career and professional development, achieve your goals by focusing on the appropriate training to master your emotional intelligence. Do not hesitate to be empathic and to welcome change. Don’t be afraid of the “new”
- Entrepreneurship is not an easy way to be a billionaire. Perhaps that is the least important of your goals. But it is a difficult journey that requires hard work and the identification of a solution for a problem in your society. Trust in God, in you, and in your project. But also, make it a wonderful experience.
- Develop a winning mindset, learn from your failures, accept criticism, and be patient.
- Another point to consider is to develop your network because success is also about building relationships.
- To boost your career, you need to be surrounded by good contacts and networks of influence from which you can learn and develop. It is necessary to find a mentor, a person who will be able at all times to vouch for you and your references.
Lynda Aphing-Kouassi Photo courtesy of Kaizene
(VC) Observing the rising despondency of political movements and the ongoing talks of Brexit, as a female leader are you more concerned about your own business or more optimistic given the trajectory of the present global economy?
(Lynda) I feel very optimistic given the trajectory of the present global economy, I disagree with the BREXIT scenario but having been in the financial sector and having experienced the financial crash I strongly believe that we will find economic mechanisms to ensure that the UK economy survives for the interest of the country as a whole. I remain positive about the business because as far as politics and economies are concerned the most important actions are perceived in the long term.
(VC) At this stage of your career considering your present commitments, if you could work alongside any notable personality or enterprise. Who would it be and why?
(Lynda) UN Women, Aliko Dangote. This because of their vision, their actions, and also the contribution to the youth and the women. The humility, hard work, determination, and conviction are qualities that I truly have perceived in Aliko Dangote, and that are also the ones that I live by.
(VC) What kind of work, commercial or personal if any can the world expect from Lynda Aphing-kouassi or Kaizene within the next 5 years?
(Lynda) I would love to open a training academy with an arm dedicated to Women and youth and another on companies. I really believe training is key to our development and it’s the only way for us to ensure progress. Also, with the conference on infrastructure that we do I would like to create enough African partnerships for us to enjoy trading amongst ourselves before trading abroad.
(VC) Anything more you would like to share with our global audience?
(Lynda) Simply my gratitude to all the readers and all the followers of Kaizene.