Ajara Marie is a professional, business mogul and marketing executive with over 15 years of experience, specializing in diaspora engagement and investment in Africa with a critical focus on women in business in Africa. She is a humanitarian that works to change the lives of young people especially girls in Africa. She enjoys spending time with family, investing in women and girls as well as traveling across the world. Importantly as the African renaissance continues where many are moving back home, Ajara is one of the first group of young people who moved back to Sierra Leone almost 10 years ago. In this interview, she shares optimistic yet realistic lessons she has learnt in her career as well as in her personal journey of moving from the United States to Sierra Leone.
On building a Marketing and PR Career
We start the interview with Ajara Marie by asking her when she feels most accomplished in her work. She opens up by saying “When I reach a milestone or my final goal, the feeling of accomplishing something no matter how small encourages, motivates and gives me the momentum to take on the next goal. We often think only big goals matter, but appreciating the smaller ones is just as important.”
For those readers who are curious about working in the marketing and PR field, Ajara offers that the most important skill set to have is relationship building.
She shares that “PR and marketing is all about relationships, it is important to have strong interpersonal skills in order to build strategic relationships with those that can bring about business success.”
She also shares that it helps her develop her overall communication and listening skills “developing my listening skills helps me have a better understanding when problem solving and making decisions, this is a good skill to cultivate when building a network of friends and professionals.”
In her spare time, she spends time mentoring young women and girls. She shares she has served as a mentor and role model for young girls and women to find their purpose. She explains that she has been volunteering for the last three years with GESSL an organization that works with girls in Sierra Leone. She however is honest about the reality of working with this population by stating that “this is sometimes considered a difficult mission because of our cultural and social attitudes toward the roles of women in society.” She shares the benefits of service for her is that “ this work brings me joy and encourages me to push forward as we are developing change agents that will not only lead in school, but they will lead in areas of business and development and add their voice to important issues that will benefit our collective future.”
On Diaspora and Moving Back to Sierra Leone
We asked Ajara to share with us some of her lessons of moving back to Sierra Leone and the challenges they entail and she is honest about her experiences and candid about relationship building.
She shares that “in moving to Sierra Leone, I knew I wanted to play a part in bringing about change and work towards national development and the only way I could do that was to make sure I work with those that were already doing this. One of the biggest lessons I learnt was that I’m not an expert with all the answers to the problems and one shouldn’t focus only on what’s going wrong as this isn’t always the most effective way to bring about change.”
She emphasized the importance of working with those who are actually in the community and the difference it makes, in yielding positive outcomes and much better results “by working directly with the community, I was able to get a better understanding of some of our problems and I’m able to use my expertise to help build their strengths so that we can work better together to create better results.”
On moving to Sierra Leone, Ajara shares with us the challenges and how she deals with them; “one of the challenges one can expect when moving back to the continent is that things are not going to go as planned. Africa is not like overseas where systems are in place and are easy to understand and work within.”
She provides insight on how to handle the challenges by sharing that “When you come home, you have to learn the local systems and how to work within them without losing your values and morals. At the same time make sure that you maintain certain disciplines learnt while in the diaspora and share them with those around you. I still show up on time to meetings and events, but not 20 minutes early like I use to. Breaking good habits can seem effortless when everyone around you is doing something different, be willing to be a teacher and a student.”
Life Lessons and Advice from Ajara Marie
We asked Ajara what she would advise young people who want to move back to the continent she is adamant about the fact that they should be sure this is what they want to do “I would tell them to make up their mind and make sure they are ready to move back. Once you have done so, get your mind right and know your purpose or reason for coming back home. Moving back is not the same as coming for holidays/vacations; it requires a lifestyle change, focus and willingness to work with those who are already here.
She shares that at times self-care is important as a returnee “Don’t give too much! Make sure you cup doesn’t go empty and when you feel yourself giving too much or feeling empty, take a break. Go on a vacation or visit family and friends, for me my preference in traveling is within Africa. Stay connected to your friends abroad, check in with yourself and most importantly don’t forget who you are!”
She also shares lessons for young women as they go about their career journey by sharing that “the Sky is not your limit. You can do and be whatever you want to be, once you have decided what you want to do in life, work hard to achieve it. There is no easy road to glory and nor rosy road to fame so it all comes down to hard work and determination.”
As someone in the Marketing and PR field she is keen on the type of relationships and networks she builds and advises that “Not everyone around you may have their best interest at heart, so choose your tribe wisely and don’t be afraid to let people go. For those in your circle, make sure they support you, they push you and that you all bring something to the table that can help you build a great team. Make sure you also bring something to the relationship. “
To close the interview we ask her to share words of wisdom to anyone on the verge of giving up their dream to move back to Africa “I will remind them of the famous quote from Thomas Edison, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” She advises that those coming home should “reflect on why they came back home and to evaluate how far they have gone to achieve their goal. It’s not an easy journey, but its achievable, it takes time, patience and understanding as we are still a developing continent. The fact that they have made an investment to come home means sometime, so don’t give up on us just yet. Find those with similar vision and see how you can collectively work together to reach your purpose. We are the ones that have to develop Africa just like we did America and elsewhere.”
This interview was written by Moiyattu Banya Editor in Chief of Women|Change|Africa for Afroelle Magazine