Originally from Tanzania, Leyla Karaha is the founder of YourY Network, a global growing community of social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurship aims to solve social problems and the goal is to provide a sustainable solution and make an impact. In this interview, Leyla speaks about her story, her journey as a social entrepreneur, and the challenges of raising awareness.
Interview by Vithoria Escobar; Reviewed by Talita Holzer
V.E.: Could you start by introducing yourself and your business?
L.K.: I’m Leyla F Karaha, I’m the founder of YourY, where I organise social networking events for social entrepreneurs both online and offline. My professional background is in Accounting and Finance, with a Masters’s degree in International Relations.
I grew up in Tanzania and moved to Dublin when I was only a teenager. I’m also a solo mom to a 14-year-old son; I got pregnant during my first year in college and managed to finish my studies after I gave birth.
V.E.: Did you always want to work with social entrepreneurship?
L.K.: I rediscovered my activist spirit during my Masters. Whilst studying International Relations I learned a lot about international politics, the political system, and how the world is run. I’ve always had this instinct to be aware of the world’s injustice but I forgot that growing up and moving here. The Masters helped me wake up and pay attention. When I first got into the course I wanted to be a diplomat and then I realised that I’m more of an activist than a diplomat. So I ended up working in a few NGOs to get that experience because I knew I wanted to found my own. My motivation is to make a difference and to make an impact. Financial rewards don’t mean much to me, but impact does.
V.E.: What were the main challenges in your journey as a migrant professional in Ireland?
L.K.: To fit in, I just couldn’t fit in. I’m naturally different even within my community and the micro-aggressive racism was too much for my mental health.
V.E.: You decided to organise your own events focused on social entrepreneurship after going to our first #GoingFar event. What was your main inspiration?
L.K.: I still remember that rainy Thursday evening! I was so inspired by Talita Holzer and her work to include the migrant women event with #GoingFar at the Startup Week Dublin 2018. It was my first Startup Week event I attended and I didn’t have any business idea but I knew that I wanted to start my own thing.
My passion is in social entrepreneurship and even though I attend a lot of entrepreneurship networking events, there was only one or two for social entrepreneurship in an informal setting. So I wanted to include that kind of event in 2019 Startup Week Dublin. I had so much fun organising the event, so I kept on organising more events afterwards.
YourY Network is now a community and it all started by organising these events. There is a clear need to grow social entrepreneurship ecosystem and raise awareness globally
V.E.: Has your finance background helped you as an entrepreneur? How?
L.K.: Yes and no. Yes, as it’s easy for me to think logically and not to be afraid of the numbers. However, no as my finance background makes me slower to take risks.
To become an entrepreneur you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and take a chance. When you start your own company, it can be rather a success or a failure so there is a strong element of risk-taking. It made me a bit scared, but it made me push myself and analyse myself more. From my perspective, gender also plays a significant role. Men are usually more willing to take risks than women.
V.E.: You recently organised a YourY event about mental health. People are going through an extremely difficult moment, especially the Black community as protests rage across the world. What is your perception of mental health in the Black community? How can we address this issue?
That was our first online social entrepreneurship event since lockdown started. I know how our mental health can be damaged during this lockdown period and wanted to highlight the importance of looking after our mental health and promote social enterprises in that field.
Racism has devastated Black people's mental health extremely and the silence that came after that was even worse. So one thing I’m really happy as a Black person right now is the freedom to talk and let it all out instead of keeping all this hurt in. By talking about it and being listened to instead of being silenced, this helps us heal.
Also, I am aware of the importance of looking after my own mental health and how important it is to have Black mental health professionals. So when we need help to talk about the impact of racism in our mental health, we don’t have to use so much energy to explain ourselves since that Black mental health professional understands exactly what we are trying to say and will not invalidate our experiences. Especially when it comes to Black children, who have been experiencing racism since they were babies. My son’s first experience of racism was when he was only 4 years old and that became the norm all his life.
V.E.: How can people make an impact on diversity and inclusion?
L.K.: Listening and speaking up with an open heart.
V.E.: What do you consider to be the main challenges in the Irish entrepreneurship scenario nowadays?
L.K.: From a social entrepreneurship perspective, the main challenges are awareness, funding and collaboration. Social enterprises have been operating for years and people are not aware they exist. For example, credit unions are social enterprises.
The Government is doing far more events celebrating social entrepreneurship nowadays, but we need more informal networking events to raise awareness and collaborate. Social businesses are needed, and this crisis we are experiencing right now clearly shows this to us.
V.E.: Any positive initiatives coming up from these turbulent times?
L.K.: Yes! Two of my friends and I started a 3D PPEs initiative in Tanzania and united makers community there to make a bigger impact. YourY Network is going global with online events to include global social entrepreneurs and attendees. Join us in our upcoming event!
V.E.: #GoingFar aims to support diverse migrants in their careers, so: any small business owners, activists, anyone who you think should be highlighted here?
L.K.: Ellie Kisyombe, co-Founder of Our Table go check her out!
Connect with Leyla on LinkedIn