Updated: Aug 14, 2021
Maureen Erekua Odoi – or Mimi as she’s fondly known is the Co-founding Director/Executive Director of African Aurora Business Network (AABN), Innovation Center for Women, Agribusiness & Management based in Ghana. She leads a team of Certified Business Advisors as a Certified ILO Master Trainer and Business Advisor and manages a business network with 10,000 members nationwide.
Growing up, her family’s wellbeing and wealth was dependent on the agrarian economy, largely the cocoa value chain. Cocoa is a major contributor to Ghana’s GDP and the country is the world's second largest producer and exporter .
A naturally curious individual, she has had a remarkable 20 year career which started in the business development sector, more specifically in Agri business with a focus on women and youth development. She has engaged and worked with over 10 000 young people and women over the years and maintains that she remains curious because the reality on the ground contradicts the desirable state.
Maureen is driven by a burning question which interrogates whether Africa is missing the mark. She asks of herself and others whether we are we hopeful or frustrated, are our policies, projects, programs delivering results or do we lack the human capacity to deliver sustainable results given the resources we have? Is it a resource issue, or is it a market issue that’s leaving the youth and women out of an almost three trillion dollar market economy?
Maureen does not idle in the realm of idealistic enquiry and translates query to research and practice. In her words, it was obvious 20 years ago that there was a clear gap in the marketplace, where people were coming out of school at a speed of light, Africa was developing, Ghana was developing, and opportunities to be employed were getting smaller and smaller meaning that the window of opportunity to be employed by the government was shrinking.
A team of development practitioners came together and co-founded African Aurora Business Network (AABN) with a vision to provide hope for businesses in Africa with a focus on young people, specifically locals and in particular women. The interest in women was based on their research which identified that this group were clearly out of the picture and where they were participating did so mainly in the informal sector. The focus on youth was as a counter proposition to a prevailing interest in formal employment in the public sector. AABN’s lens on Agri-business was strategic foresight identifying that this sector was left to old and ageing actors despite its significance in economic activity and revenue opportunity. AABN’s mission was to encourage young people to look at opportunity differently, with a focus on young women to start their own businesses when they finished school.
The disconnect between opportunity, low hanging fruit and traditional reference points for work and income were the first challenge. Early days of AABN were like a crusade mission with the role of AABN being to simplify processes, provide skills and promote awareness and education to young people, and to connect them to investors who were offering their support. Maureen recollects this period as both fun and challenging as at the timenvery few people recognised that there were resources available for starting and growing business.
AABN’s first project involved it going to all the polytechnics to identify 50 top young people who had business ideas. This evolved into project after project, to the point where AABN offered a range of business development services from business planning to market research to training workshops. Today the organisation specializes in business planning with young people. AABN developed games, tools, processes, which are simplified and convenient, for young people to appreciate what it takes to start a business, to plan it, to grow it and then to scale it.
Over the years Maureen and her team have advocated for businesses development services for more young people and for women particularly and offer a range of services and developmental services, influencing policies through discourse and contributing to policy development and country strategies. Maureen serves on various private sector boards, supports and works with the leadership of key business associations – the Association of Commerce, the Ghana Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and has played an executive role in the birthing of women in business under the AGI umbrella and the Credit Union under the Ghana National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, amongst many other achievements. Doing business has been more than just running a business, her role and mission includes facilitating an enabling environment for other businesses to succeed.
An author, Maureen launched her first book earlier this year titled “The 12 Golden Secrets for Entrepreneurs, Keys to Business and Wealth”, a compendium of case studies (pleasantly including women owned enterprises) and experiences of African local and global business. Even with this publication, the advocate for changing the game and levelling the playing field emerges with Maureen being clear that her mission is to make the book available to 1 million entrepreneurs – seeing the book as providing access to knowledge and insights from those who have already travelled the path before.
Maureen Erekua Odoi is a Womanomics Africa ™ Country Ambassador – Ghana.