It is always a pleasure getting to meet people, especially women in this difficult journey of developing and creating new paths. It is even better when, in such people, you find a willingness to grow and support others on their way up. I got to meet one such lady a few weeks ago. Ms Barbara Okeyo; CEO, founder and director of Restoration Experience™ Africa.
The Restoration Experience is geared towards inspiring a personal awakening in the hearts and minds of professional urban women in Africa. The experience is a rare opportunity for women and leaders of all ages to gather in one location to share ideas, strategies, information, and get inspiration from one another.
“It is a community whose mission is to inspire, equip and challenge you as a woman.
Apart from receiving great inspiring content, special offers, and more, you get to interact with other women, exchange practical ideas, spiritual insights and encourage each other as women!”
After years of corporate experience in Marketing and PR, Barbara decided to take the big leap into full time entrepreneurship. Coincidentally (or not), she also decided to change her lifestyle choices and make an even bigger leap by deciding to do the big chop and start her natural hair journey. We were curious to pick the brains behind the business and decided to put together a short interview to get to know more about Barbara the person, the Restoration Experience and the inspirations and motivations behind such an amazing venture.
Tell us about yourself, where you are from, where are you based and what you do.
My name is Barbara Okeyo. I am a Dream Chaser. I’m passionate about inspiring African women to live their very best. I am the Founder and CEO of Restoration Experience Africa; which is focused on Inspiring a Personal Awakening in the Hearts and Minds of Urban, African Women. I am deeply Unapologetic about whom I am and who I was born to be. I am a lover, a friend, a sister, a daughter and an Entrepreneur. I am born and bred in Nairobi, Kenya, which is where I am currently based.
How long have you been wearing your hair in its natural state?
I have been transitioning from relaxed hair to natural hair for the past 8 months. I recently did the big chop and I am exhilarated. I am currently wearing protective hairstyles because I’m not quite sure what to do with my natural hair just yet, but the possibilities are endless.
What motivated you to change your look and give into doing the big chop?
I decided I was a big deal and it was time to love myself just the way I was.
Has your natural hair defined your identity in any way?
Yes, it has. I am unapologetic about who I was created to be.
Trust the process . It’s leading you somewhere
Looking back to your corporate years, do you think you would have confidently worn your hair in its natural state?
In retrospect, I was required to look a certain way. I spent more than 5 Years in the Marketing and PR Industry. It goes without saying that I needed to look like a million bucks. I spent countless hours at the beauty salon every week. It just didn’t occur to me then. I didn’t realize the amount of Chemicals that I was exposing myself to at the time. I should also definitely point out that I wasn’t interested in being an authentic version of myself then.
Tell us about your journey with self-image and how it has affected your interactions socially and economically
More than a year ago, I was searching for peace and such sweet relief. I searched outside of myself for answers. I relied on external validation to verify something that was already deep inside of me. I have come to realize that it was something big and great that was aching to be birthed.
This is my journey. I had a personal awakening and realized that everything that I had been through will not be wasted. That each stop and wrong turn I made was ultimately leading me to where I should be. I realized for the first time in my life what love meant. I accepted the unconditional love that God poured to me. And because I received it, I gladly poured it into everyone around me including myself.
When you know better, you do better. Trust the Process, It’s leading you somewhere.
You are the CEO, founder and director of the Restoration Experience Africa, what was the vision and motivation behind the Restoration Experience?
Restoration Experience Africa is a movement that recognizes and shows appreciation to Professional, African women like yourselves that give so much of themselves for the success of their families, their workplaces and their everyday lives.
In 2014, we sought to inspire and inform Urban African Women of the possibilities in our world, while providing each one a sense of connection to other women who were thinking and operating on the same wavelength. This was a platform I needed to launch and a movement I am determined to push forward.
The Taste of Restoration Experience Ladies Brunch Series was our response to what I sensed was a burgeoning movement in the Urban African Culture: a movement of Ladies who were hungry to engage with their fellow sisters and co create passionate ideas to rejuvenate themselves and the world around them in new and inspirational ways.
As I set forth this Restoration Journey, I see the upcoming Restoration Events as my reminder—to be locally rooted but globally connected, to be fully engaged with the African continent as it is, but optimistically focused on what it can be.
What did your professional background look like prior to venturing into Entrepreneurship?
I was in the Marketing and Public Relations Industry for Five Years. I absolutely loved what I did. I poured out my very best in the projects that I did. I also had a lot of fun organizing major events around the city. I have worked with a couple of mainstream American Artists when they came to Nairobi. I was in the organizing team of the Tusker Lite experience with Anthony Hamilton and Erykah Badu who are sensational American soul artists. I have also worked with other Soulful African Artists Including South Africa’s Zonke and Ghana’s Efya. I was in charge of the look and feel of the events. I was in charge of designing the set, décor, ticketing management and the entire event management. It was a lot of fun and it was definitely worth it. Other major events I did include Miss Kenya, Tusker Project Fame, and Air Show in 2013 amongst others. I also had a brief stint with Brand Training and Brand Strategy.
I needed a change; I needed to do something that I was deeply passionate about. I merged my skills with my passion and voila! Restoration Experience Africa was created.
A recent article stated that the main challenge facing Black women in business was access to Capital. Do you agree with this? What has your experience been and can you share some lessons you have learnt?
I agree. However, I also believe that if you really are passionate about your idea, you will find creative ways and means of doing it. You have to believe in yourself first, because you attract who you are. In my experience as a Young, African, Female Entrepreneur, I’ve found that some potential investors will say no to your idea, and that’s okay. Learn from the experience and move on, Find someone who will believe in you. I have also realized that you have to prove yourself in the marketplace. You will get rejections, and that’s okay. It’s part of the process. You have to be consistent, wear your lipstick and smile even when they reject you. You have to keep going. You have to surround yourself with people who are also pursuing their passion, you have to let go and trust that you are doing the right thing; you have to believe in something greater than you. I pray fearlessly. That’s where I get my strength. Don’t be afraid to seek for help when you need it. I’ve heard them say that when the student is ready, the Teacher will appear.
Be fearlessly you. Have some faith that the person sitting across from you will accept and be interested in the authentic version of you.
So far, what have been your achievements, fulfillments and challenges in business?
As Restoration Experience Africa, we have successfully held one event in the Taste of Restoration Ladies Brunch Series; we have two more events lined up for this year. We have only just began.
What challenges and privileges do you think millennial women face in Kenya and African at large socially and professionally?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ; A Call to Feminism Sums this Up…
We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, “You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you would threaten the man. If you are the bread winner in your relationship with a man, you have to pretend that you’re not. Especially in public. Otherwise you will emasculate him.” But what if we question the premise itself? Why should a woman’s success be a threat to a man.
Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a good thing. It can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?
We teach girls shame. We make them feel as though being born female they’re already guilty of something. And so, girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. They grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think. And they grow up — and this is the worst thing we do to girls — they grow up to be women who have turned pretense into an art form.
What advice would you give younger women looking to venture into the business sector?
If you truly are madly and deeply in love with your idea go for it. Don’t go into something just because it’s lucrative; go into something that you’re passionate about. Go into something that you were born to do. Go into something because you want to make a difference. Africa needs you!! The World Needs You.
What can we expect to get from the 2nd Restoration Ladies Brunch/Luncheon?
Ladies should expect a great inspiring time for fellow sisters to co create passionate ideas that will rejuvenate the world around us including ourselves. Great Networking, Great Food all in the context of Inspiration and Restoration. Spa Vouchers, Wine Pairing Master Class, Networking Cocktails, Keynote Inspirational Sessions and a Good Sisterhood time.
If you had to have four guests at your dinner table who would they be?
If I have a chance to sit with any 4 Ladies at my dinner table, I would love to have tea with Ms. Iyanla Vanzant, Ms. Graca Machel, Ms. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Ms. Tera Carissa Hodges.
The Second Edition of the Restoration Experience, the Taste of Restoration Ladies Luncheon will be coming up at the end of this month, on Saturday, the 30th of May 2015. If you happen to be in Nairobi that weekend, this is not one to miss! AJANI Handmade will be featured as a beauty vendor on the day, with our founder, Ms Sharon Njavika as one of the keynote speakers. Wondering what more to expect of the day’s agenda?
1. Foot Massages courtesy of the AJANI Handmade’s Peppermint and Rosemary Elixir
2. A Wine Pairing Master Class with a Sommelier
3. Networking Cocktails by Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey
4. Gourmet Bites
5. Inspirational Key Notes