Making history was not what Zuweina Farah set out to do, but now that she has, she wants to encourage her peers at the intersection of career and family life that they can succeed at both. Farah shares the valuable lessons she has learned on her journey.
Farah, who has Zanzibari and Somali roots, was appointed as Country Manager of Smile Communications — a 4G LTE mobile broadband provider, with operations in Tanzania, Nigeria, DRC, and Uganda, in 2021. She previously served as a management consultant with the company in 2019.
Farah has over a decade of experience in the private sector and was the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Tanzania, where she promoted a two-way flow of trade and facilitated investment opportunities for US firms in the country.
She has a BSc in business administration from Minnesota State University Moorhead and an MSc in innovation, leadership and management from University of York. She has also completed post-graduate management programmes in executive leadership and data monetisation strategy at Oxford Saïd Business School and MIT, respectively.
While education has paved the way, Farah says social connections, mentors, life and career coaches and hands-on experience will allow you to navigate an industry better. She credits her job as administrative officer at Moorhead’s student union and her family’s entrepreneurial spirit as the foundation of her success.
Despite her accolades, including being nominated for Top 50 Women In Management in Africa 2022, Farah says “Motherhood comes first and as a mum of two boys, every mother will agree with me that it’s a 48-hour a day job outside of your normal 9-5.” The 35-year-old added that the ability to balance both comes with experience, having good time-management skills and compartmentalising tasks and your emotions.
Under Farah’s leadership, Smile Tanzania, which was previously not profitable, was able to grow and drive a sustainable model. She persuaded the company’s board to keep its mobile and internet services stores open.
“Smile Tanzania at the time I joined in 2019, was thinking of winding down based on the historical performance in the market as it was not profitable due to a lack of growth, but I convinced the board and senior management from the group office of the opportunities that lie ahead as the telco market was experiencing renewed interest and growth especially in 2020, at the height of the pandemic when data usage was high,” Farah explains.
She added, “After the turnaround plan and the cash injection they agreed to keep the stores open and Smile expanded its network coverage from seven cities when she took the helm to 11 as the pandemic helped to boost the mobile broadband market. It also opened a new site in Zanzibar in March, with a goal to expand across the nation by the end of 2022”.
Another part of her success is wearing multiple hats and running a multinational company with a start-up mentality and budget, by incorporating the business lessons she has gained over the years, and hiring a lean and multifaceted staff.
“I hire with intent and look for what people can bring to the team, rather than a list of what an ideal candidate looks like,” she says. Farah, who has a background in IT project management, notes that her team has non-traditional backgrounds from the position they currently hold.
“Our CFO for example has a background in insurance, and she brings skills and experiences that are not typical for those in her position.”
Farah aims to steer Smile’s 2.0 transformation to new heights by implementing four key areas: driving new growth through innovation, customer first focus, purpose-driven culture and financial discipline.
The businesswoman, who managed a decade’s worth of growth in 12 months, has rebuilt the trust and relationship between the company and entities including customers, government and regulators. Farah’s hard work paid off, with Smile securing an injection of $22 million in 2020 to stabilise the business and expand the network.
Farah is a founding member of the online community id8.Space, providing users with a platform to connect, collaborate and create.
“As an entrepreneur and one that has failed multiple times, I’m passionate about sharing my lessons to support the growth of entrepreneurs, primarily in the tech ecosystem,” she says.
She set up the virtual space in 2018 to support African innovators, provide them with a space to nurture their skills and “address fundamental societal issues” through provision of tech or products that support and address everyday pain points. The initiative has worked with Silicon Valley tech stalwart Microsoft, FINMARK Trust in South Africa, Liquid Telecom and other pan-African companies to help start-ups grow.
Farah has mentored over 300 start-ups and facilitated sessions for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, World Food Programme, and Financial Sector Deepening Trust supported programs across Africa.
She also created SNDBX — a space that hosts and helps build a community of practice among innovators, creatives and entrepreneurs from diverse industries. The community, which opened its doors in 2021, is home to more than 13 post-revenue start-ups and over 17 consultants, founders and creators. SNDBX started with only three firms and seven members, and the boss is “proud” to provide a safe space where “failure is welcome and considered a lesson, sharing is a custom and fun is a core value”.
In 2015, she co-founded Tanzania’s first tech conference organised by Tanzanians Bits & Bytes — a platform for entrepreneurs and innovators to learn and share experiences. It also runs workshops that assists in building tech driven solutions to help with SDGs.
“As an entrepreneur and one that has failed multiple times, I’m passionate about sharing my lessons to support the growth of entrepreneurs, primarily in the tech ecosystem”
“I was 33 when I was appointed and suddenly, I was in a boardroom full of men who were 40 or above,” Farah notes.
“It’s easy to become overwhelmed and lose yourself in the noise of your own fears and feel like an imposter.” Farah says she quickly adjusted after realising there was no space for error and being in the boardroom meant that her voice mattered.
“I had to learn to respectfully express myself and my opinions and not be afraid.” She adds: “This is why it’s important to have a mentor, someone who can push you and remind you of who you are.”
Farah’s tips for women in tech or leadership positions are: protect your energy, you are not guaranteed second chances so learn from mistakes and adjust accordingly, change is incremental and comes with time. And finally let your voice be heard and represent your ideas.
Source: Amka Studios
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