Roberta Annan is originally from Ghana, West Africa. Roberta Annan has founded businesses including Roberta Annan Consulting and Frallain, a charity supporting the empowerment of women within the textile and fashion industry. Roberta is a Senior Advisor at the LJ Partnership and a founding partner of LJ Africa Advisors. Roberta is spearheading LJ Partnership’s strategy to deliver financial services and client solutions across Sub Saharan Africa.
Prior to joining LJ Partnership, Roberta worked for the United Nations where she raised funds and established formidable relationships with prominent individuals, government officials, and HNWI’s. While at the UN, Roberta worked in various capacities within different initiatives such as the South-South News, United Nation Development Program (UNDP) – Community and Adaptation Learning Mechanism, United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID).
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you?
First and foremost, I am a giver, a daughter, a mother, a sister and friend.
One of the things I love most is seeing the best in others. I believe every individual is special in their own way; sometimes they need help in identifying who they are and what they can do. I have the passion of helping people identify their challenges or problems and solve them as well.
Considering the challenges I have faced as a young entrepreneur, team playing became one of my joys. It helped me in my success story.
Being a mother made me see life totally differently. I have come to appreciate the very little things that occur around us; especially things the ordinary person will take for granted. I have become passionate about the youth and what they can make out of themselves.
I enjoy making new friends as well. With the kind of exposure I have had, I meet new people from various cultures and backgrounds. Blending theirs with mine have made tremendous impact in my life as a person and further in my business as well.
I am originally from Ghana, West Africa. I have lived and worked on four continents and founded businesses and charities that I am proud of and have worked hard to build. I have a Master’s degree in Biotechnology from Georgetown University and received a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Biotechnology from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. Most recently, I enrolled in the Program for Leadership Development at the Harvard Business School. So, suffice it to say, I am very busy but happy!
2. Describe your typical day?
Like most busy and driven people, there is no typical day, but I do my morning meditation, school run, office meetings, after-school programs and then love to be at home with family.
3. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A doctor. My grandfather was a pharmacist and I was named after him. I had keen interest in the sciences. I excelled in the sciences and thought I was going to end up in that field. I realized that I had an interest in development work, a skill set I had acquired by observing my mother as a young girl. I ended up working at the United Nations after Graduate School and later set up my own consultancy doing exactly what I did at the UN. This business later evolved into my own private office- doing what I am best at and empowering women.
4. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken some time to work with a firm to gain more experience before setting up my own company. I had to learn on the field and made a lot of mistakes. It has been a truly rewarding experience, but tough.
5. What would you say are the top skills needed to succeed at your job?
Hard work. By this I mean, learning from failure, it also connotes loyalty and persistence. When you are persistent at what you do, success comes so easily. With hard work, you can achieve anything.
One should have a team player attitude; a good team player demonstrates reliability, communicates constructively, listens actively, functions as an active participant and also shares openly and willingly.
Perseverance. By perseverance, I mean steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state; mostly especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. One would need this virtue to make it in life. Challenges will definitely show up but when the will to persevere surfaces, one wins at all odds.
Lastly is dedication; from my own perspective, it is the willingness to give a lot of time and energy to a cause, mostly because you have faith in it. Every individual who stands up for a cause or whatsoever, must be diligent and committed; giving his/her all at all times.
If one has those skills, I believe one would surely succeed at their job.
6. What motivates you?
Making an impact in the lives of others and of course, my family and friends especially my son.
Again, I am very passionate about the development agenda in Africa. I work hard to bring investments to the continent. It’s why I went into fashion. There’s so much culture (in Africa) but it’s really how we package it that makes it attractive. It’s become a place where people go and they know they have access to luxury. If you compare us to other places, we have natural resources, arable land and great talents. Why can’t we combine all these things to develop our continent? We also have the worst record when it comes to disease, poor education — how do you position yourself to bring in partners and create value? I’ve made myself an ambassador for Africa. Nobody has appointed me.
If you compare us to other places, we have natural resources, arable land and great talents. Why can’t we combine all these things to develop our continent? We also have the worst record when it comes to disease, poor education — how do you position yourself to bring in partners and create value? I’ve made myself an ambassador for Africa. Nobody has appointed me.
7. How do you define success?
Knowing your purpose and working according to your purpose. Staying focused is key while impacting the lives of others while doing it.
8. You have worked across different industries and done different things but you have found your personal passion in the empowerment of women. How did this happen?
This skill is innate. My mother worked to empower women so I grew up learning from her. A true mentor who can overcome any challenge.
9. You founded Frallain and African Fashion Fund? Why fashion? What drove you to fashion?
Fashion is an avenue to promote local development through job creation, especially in the informal sector. It is a way to empower women, because the majority of people in the sector are women.
The African Fashion Fund is an educational platform for designers from Africa to work with U.S. brands so they can learn the business of fashion. I’ve also done some grants. Part of it involves placement into incubator programs.
FrallIain Inc. started as a fashion consultancy but now has become The Frallain Group- an investment vehicle that invests into African Brands. Our first investment is Mo Saique Shoes.
10. What are the challenges of running a fashion business?
There are many, but I would say capital, human capita, technology, quality control, distribution, sourcing and relationships. But that’s just the beginning. One would need lots of investors all across the world to step in with all the support. Unfortunately, it does not happen so easily. After looking around for sponsorships and other forms of grants, you would have to wait and hope that it pulls through. It mostly does not happen. It is discouraging sometimes but you will still have to keep hope alive.
11. They say nothing we ever learn is wasted. Looking back at all the things you have done how have they helped you in the business you are doing now.
It’s very important not to take anything for granted, and to be modest in how you deal with each person you encounter in life. My energy comes from the smile I put on a designers face when I give them the opportunity to build their business. I thrive on making others happy – it’s my weakness and strength.
Climbing the ladder to success, there have so many difficult decisions I’ve had to make especially letting certain contracts go; when actually, I needed them. I considered the future prospects and decided.
All these decisions (good and bad) have taught me to be stronger and firmer. It has helped me create a beautiful world of partners and friendship. These relationships are still relevant till today.
12. Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My Mother! The strongest woman I have ever known. She has had to go to very difficult lengths to get me the best education and training ever.
13. What is your favorite aspect of your job?
Mentorship. I mentor young women as part of my business and this is such a rewarding experience.
14. What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
1. Staying committed and focused.
2. Having the right team.
3. Find a pool of resources other than just money.
4. Be reliable
5. Communicate well.
15. What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
Get a mentor. It is very necessary if you would want to be successful.
16. What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
Empowering others. It’s a great joy to see hope come alive again in the lives of the many young individuals that have come my way. It is so satisfying and I am encouraged to do, even so much more.
17. What makes you happy?
My son. After a long day, I come home to my son who makes me forget all the stress. His humour gets me all lighted up for the tasks ahead. He is such a joy.
18. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
I volunteer, cook, travel, dance, listen to music and I also love interior decorating.
19. As a woman what challenges have you seen that are unique to women. How have you dealt with yours?
The vulnerability of women; socially, financially, educationally and even technologically. All these challenges have great tendencies of breaking the esteem and pride of women. Women work twice as hard and expect half as much, but women should not give up.
As for me, I enjoy what I do – it’s the only way to keep going.
20. Where you see yourself in around 10 years?
Living a peaceful and rewarding life. Retired and living on the fruits of my labor but still focused on giving back.