In celebration of our 15 years empowering women, we are excited to introduce a retrospective collection of success stories from EWI alumnae. EWI board member Howie Feinstein is the contributing writer for this series.
When Paulette Mpouma came to the US as a refugee from Camaroon in 1998, she found work in a local shopping mall selling African artwork. Intrigued by its popularity, she decided to start a small business connecting African artists with American buyers, aided by the Ethiopian Economic Development Council.
She also wanted to find a way to educate her own children about their African roots, and to break down negative stereotypes of the African continent. “The impression of Africa was one of sickness, poverty, and jungle. I want my children, and others, to know the diversity and richness of a 54-nation continent that is still developing.”
Paulette’s dream became reality in 2009 when she launched The Africa Memory Game, an original board game that includes elements of African culture, history, and geography.
Losing her regular job turned out to be the push Paulette needed to transform the game into a successful business. She turned to Empowered Women International to take things to the next level.
“I came to EWI for help with business development. From finances to legal questions, I got answers to a lot of problems I couldn’t solve by myself. I received great training and feedback from EWI’s mentors, and guidance for using social media for networking, and selling as a socially responsible business, by contributing part of the profits to help children suffering from diabetes in Cameroon.”
Paulette found eager partners in the Smithsonian Institution, the World Bank, and additional outlets. The Africa Memory Game is now sold through over 16 stores, as well as online, and sales have topped 6,000. As she has received requests from other international groups for similar products, Paulette has already begun working on a successor game, focused on African leadership development. What was once a dream now has high expectations and no limits.
Paulette attributes much of her success to EWI, which she still considers an important part of her life. “EWI is a community-building experience, similar to fabric woven together–women working together and connecting through their work. The network that EWI built helped us sell our products to a higher level. We can go everywhere, and people will recognize us first as EWI, and then with our own name.”
Paulette offers a telling example of the power of the EWI connection:
“When I was doing show in Los Angeles, a lady called on my phone—she got my number through EWI—and said, ‘I want to do an interview.’ Immediately after I came back [after a five-hour flight], she interviewed me for about two hours, even though I was really tired. I learned that she was from NPR, and the interview went out on the radio! The next day I received hundreds of orders and the game was sold out.”
“That is the EWI effect. You never know who you may meet. It takes one minute to connect you. EWI staff and supporters go with your product, and with your story. I learned that EWI is like a family: when you join, it is forever.”