“We must look within for solutions for Africans by Africans.” – Lehle Balde, on what must be done to transform businesses in Africa into development for the African economy

We must look within for solutions for Africans by Africans. – Lehle Balde, on what must be done to transform businesses in Africa into development for the African economy. She also discusses at length her work as she transitioned into numerous roles and phases through the years, the cost and realities of doing business in Africa, and what can be done to improve journalism as it pertains to storytelling in Nigeria.

Being recognized by Forbes as one of the 30 under 30 class of 2022 is an incredible achievement, one that precedes a significant amount of work, mental, and time investment; what can you tell us about walking the path that led you to the deserved stardom?

Thank you. It feels like a labyrinth journey filled with highs and lows. I’m incredibly grateful and humbled by this recognition by Forbes. Walking this chosen path has been one that has required discipline, long hours, and not giving up when the going gets tough. During my university days, I didn’t have summers off; I interned every summer, which exposed me to the communications and development world early on. I wrote my first public story at 18; while I was an intern at UNICEF in Rwanda, I spoke to girls in a refugee camp about what they wanted to be when they grew up. This has been a theme in my journalism career; telling the stories of young people and women. Rwanda opened many opportunities for me in terms of finding my passions. I also interned at a radio station where I read the news in French and English, which is where I discovered my voice. I also hosted a show where I interviewed youth called 4the Youth by the Youth and spent time in Mozambique working in communication for development at the Canadian High Commission. After my masters in the United Kingdom, I worked in Canada in touch for growth, which was great, but I developed an itch to live on the continent of Africa. So, I decided to move because I wanted to tell African stories and shed light on the fantastic millennials residing on the continent. The rest is history, they say! Intentionality is a massive part of my outlook on life. I learn from my mistakes and seek advice often. I am a lifelong learner and do not consider myself an expert in anything. Mentally, I categorize the priorities in my life, give energy to each accordingly, and ensure I am not spending valuable time on things that do not bring value. I spent much time preparing and planning, but my success came from saying yes when my mind told me I couldn’t achieve something, trying something for the first time, and believing in myself. I have sacrificed my social life and struggle with work-life balance, but I am learning to take intentional breaks to avoid burnout. I work out daily and eat a healthy balanced diet that includes many homemade juices, salads, and veggies. I spent much time solitude and surrounded myself with as much positive energy as possible.

How did it all start? Why Media and Journalism? Please share with us some of the childhood inspirations that aided this choice.

Growing up, I loved music and instruments, I loved to sing, and I was very much into sports. I was a talkative child, and my parents encouraged my curiosity and personality.

I remember being on a flight from Rome to Paris at the age of 6 and was talking to my seatmate on the flight about something or another, and she asked me nicely if I could please keep quiet as I had talked to her for too long. When my parents heard what happened, they asked me to narrate it to them and finish my story with them. They never told me I talked too much. Even though I heard it from teachers and well-meaning strangers, my parents made me feel special and celebrated my wins, big or small. I studied speech communication at the University of Waterloo because my mother told me singing was a form of communication. It might be interesting to understand the science and practice behind speech communication. I’ve been inspired by my grandmother Guiguite Sadji who served as a press secretary for the Senegalese post-colonial administration. She was an Avant-garde woman, born before her time, who enjoyed theatre, fashion, politics, and the finer things in life. I never met her, so as a journalist, I can only imagine what she experienced during her career in the 1960s. I am inspired by her and wholeheartedly dedicate my career to her. My mother is also a massive inspiration to me; I get my drive and work ethic from her. I have also been inspired by journalists and talk show hosts like Oprah, Aisha Ceesay, Peace Hyde, and many others. I am naturally a people person with a natural flair for communication. I realize now that my love for singing stems from the innate need for expression and freedom, which working in media and journalism offers.


As the Future Awards Africa recipient for the category of ‘Intrapreneurship,’ what insights can you share with youth who want to be an integral part of an organization’s development while growing their relevance?

When I started at Business Day, I remember myself as a young woman who was curious and eager to learn. My curiosity, respect for others, and willingness to learn helped me integrate. I wanted to learn from everyone, and I asked many questions. I wanted to be part of this institution that started 20 years ago and wanted Business Day to continue being successful. I quite frankly gave it my all. I didn’t focus on how much I was earning; I concentrated on what I was learning. I also started to showcase value and potential early on, so it was a natural process. I had great supervisors who were invested in my success, but much work also needed to be done, and I was always ready to do it, even when it felt inconvenient.

I started as a digital associate, then was promoted to senior associate: strategy innovation and partnerships. In between that, I hosted Africa’s first radio show on impact investing and financial inclusion. I also hosted a YouTube show during the pandemic speaking to entrepreneurs, and in June 2020, I was promoted to becoming the pioneer editor of Business Day Weekender. First woman editor for the first Saturday daily newspaper at Business Day and one of the youngest in Nigeria and on Africa African continent. My advice to young people is to work on and harness confidence, be open to constructive criticism, overprepare and go above and beyond what is expected of them. People always ask if my father owns Business Day; I guess that means I work like the business is my own, which is why work rarely feels like work.


As the editor of the weekender, you are observant of the realities of business in Africa. What can you tell us about the benefits and challenges of business in Africa?

Doing business anywhere can bring peculiarities and difficulties. While it brings many rewards doing business is risky. I can’t speak for the entire continent, but my observation about doing business in Nigeria is that entrepreneurs in this country need to be celebrated more. The cost of running a business is prohibitive with rising diesel costs, unexpected costs, the great resignation taking the brightest mind out of the country, and questionable business laws and interest rates that do not favor business owners. With all these factors, Nigeria remains one of the continent’s most unique business environments. The resilience and innovative spirits of her people alone are to be celebrated. The benefits are limitless because half of Africa’s population is under 30, which means there is a young and active workforce; many untapped markets and unfulfilled value chains can be taken advantage of and developed. We must remember that most African countries have been independent for less than 66 years; development is a long-term strategy through discipline, planning, and appropriate spending of resources.


What must Africans do differently to make sure African businesses are transformed into developments for the economy of Africa?

There are so many problems to solve, and these problems can be solved while making money and strengthening economies. Impact investing embodies this concept of solving the world’s most significant problems to do good while making a profit. We must look within for solutions for Africans by Africans.


We have heard you host radio shows, experienced you anchoring live events, and been impacted by how you engage policymakers, business leaders, and the youths. How do you combine these roles at different times and are still able to perform at the highest level?


The highest level is unlocking new achievements every time. My work is all interrelated. For example, I am responsible for our Saturday publication which requires me to stay on top of current events, interview different people, and engage with policymakers to have weekly editions. I lead this process by leading conversations on panels; I also moderate and host events related to sustainable development goals, essentially taking why I do offline every week and with a live audience. On radio, I’m taking what I do at live events in a radio format. What I do is inform through various expressions.


As a financial inclusion advocate, how do you reckon the Nigerian government can help individuals and businesses?

Have access to affordable financial products and services that meet their needs? There needs to be a greater focus on increasing the collaboration between the government, telecoms, and private sector. We must design products with the end user in mind, meeting the needs of the masses and market women. SMEs and women-owned business need to be supported and prioritized. Access to finance needs to become more accessible and affordable.


What can you say about the Nigerian writing culture? Especially as it pertains to storytelling in journalism in Africa. We need more storytellers, more journalists? What can be done to redefine writing in Africa such that our writers are involved in using their talent and skills to reshape African businesses, politics, and tech?

We need more examples of successful writers in Africa. Writing is not deemed lucrative, and people will be reluctant to pursue it full-time until it becomes so.

Among all your skills, which one comes seamlessly to you: anchoring, speaking, editing, or writing? Why?

Honestly, they are all related. They are all forms of communication and are different expressions. When I speak or anchor, I will go through the writing process and plan what I say. Writing is integral to all my work, and the rest flows from there. None come seamlessly; I have had to work on my skills. The practice has been the reason it has become easier with time and practice.

What counsel would you give to youths planning to follow the path to media and journalism?

Be passionate, be teachable, and be open to feedback. Figure out what you want to be known for early. Be open to finding your unique path. Attend events and meet people!

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