Navigating Identity, Entrepreneurship, and UN Advocacy as a Third Culture African: Ikena Carreira

In this episode of Third Culture Africans, Zeze interviews her long-time friend Ikena Carreira, a social entrepreneur who has a remarkable journey encompassing entrepreneurship, UN collaborations, roles in television, project management and career transformations. Ikena’s career is rooted in amplifying the voices of those who are unheard, unwavering commitment to creativity and service.

Ikena’s narrative unveils her family history, tracing back to Angola’s era of dictatorship and its struggle for independence. Her parents, courageous freedom fighters, endured years of battle against the Portuguese Colonial Government. The magnitude of their sacrifices becomes evident as she reflects on their pivotal role in shaping the prospects and liberties of future generations across Lusophone Africa. Growing up amid this legacy, Ikena drew inspiration from her parents’ resilience, while acknowledging the silent traumas endured by war veterans. Angola’s 37-year-long conflict, transitioning from colonial to civil war, brought both heroism and deep emotional scars. At 11, she moved to Spain facing complex intersections of identity as the child of freedom fighters, an immigrant, and someone grappling with colorism. These formative experiences laid the groundwork for her life’s purpose, which she fully grasped only later on.

The conversation then delves into the heart of the Third Culture Africans podcast’s mission. Ikena and Zeze emphasise the intricate nature of African identity and the transformative power of cultural bridges. They address Zeze’s personal uncertainties surrounding her African identity and its perceived impact on her meaningful work. Ikena and her peers, including Zeze, have played a pivotal role in bridging the African diaspora with the continent, underscoring shared experiences across the global African community. They also delve into the challenges of identity politics, tracing its origins to historical manipulation, which continues to influence contemporary political discourse. Ikena’s unique background growing up during Angola’s fight for independence underscores the profound sacrifices and victories that have shaped her perspective on identity. Amidst these challenges, a sense of belonging and community emerges among fellow “Third Culture Africans,” highlighting the transformative potential of cross-cultural experiences in fostering unity and understanding.

Ikena’s career journey is an inspiration. Shifting from academia to media, she embarked on a mission to spotlight untold stories, particularly about Southern African heroic history. Her unexpected entry into television presenting ultimately led her to explore design and its potential for positive social impact through artisanal products. This journey culminated in the establishment of StandSeven, a platform dedicated to showcasing African craftsmanship and luxury while supporting communities. This initiative aimed to challenge stereotypes surrounding African luxury goods, accentuating both their aesthetic and ethical value. Despite encountering funding and scalability challenges, StandSeven demonstrated the potential of African-made luxury products through its proof of concept. However, securing investment remained a hurdle due to prevalent digital-focused funding trends. This segment also illuminates the evolving perceptions of entrepreneurship in Africa, transitioning from being unconventional to the current era where technology-driven startups dominate investment focus.

The dialogue further delves into the intertwined dimensions of sustainability, entrepreneurship, and the intricate landscape of African identity within the business sphere. Zeze reflects on the historical connotations of sustainability, pointing out its lack of prominence in the past. She candidly shares her journey with Malรฉe, expressing uncertainties about discussing sustainability, creative occupations, and luxury within an African context. This introspection prompts her to question the differential perceptions attached to these concepts when associated with Africa, despite their global acceptance. As they contemplate the changing African business landscape, they shed light on the evolving perceptions and challenges posed by larger players embracing local themes. Instances such as Chanel’s designs in Senegal and the growing trend of cultural appropriation stimulate discussions about maintaining authenticity and nurturing innovation amidst evolving dynamics.

Ikena’s experiences with StandSeven also comes to the fore, highlighting the project’s focus on sustainable luxury and social impact. While the venture made positive strides in communities, Ikena acknowledges three significant missteps: entering the market too early, failing to recruit diverse and highly skilled talent, and grappling with the perceptions surrounding products labelled “Made in Africa.”

The conversation evolves to encompass the challenge of remaining relevant in a marketplace increasingly dominated by corporate giants. Zeze delves into the temptation of seeking mass-scale validation and the potential implications for authenticity. She emphasises the need for deliberate efforts within the community of innovators and creators to uphold genuine cultural representation and originality.

As their conversation continues, Ikena shares her transition from entrepreneurship to her role at the UN, where she successfully merged her entrepreneurial spirit with structured institutional work. This seamless fusion of roles was a natural progression shaped by various factors in her life. The impact of projects like StandSeven and Goldwater, particularly the water distribution initiative benefiting thousands, played a pivotal role in her entrance into the UN. Her social initiatives, exemplified by providing access to clean water, set her apart during the competitive UN application process. This reflects how her entrepreneurial background equipped her with skills now highly valued by the UNโ€”such as resource mobilisation, global engagement, and private sector collaboration to fund and implement community-focused initiatives.

In their closing exchanges, Zeze and Ikena explore multiple dimensions of fundraising, motherhood, and the profound impact of self-belief. Ikena imparts three critical insights: the strategic importance of leading with a focus on return on investment (ROI) when engaging potential investors; the often-underestimated value of data-driven validation; and the pivotal role of self-belief in the competitive entrepreneurial landscape. In the context of motherhood, Ikena discusses her efforts to balance parenting with a transcontinental career, driven by a commitment to shape a better world for her daughter. Her actions aim to provide a role model for empowerment, resilience, and navigating life’s challenges.

Dive into this open, heartfelt conversation with Ikena! Discover her remarkable initiative, Train Clinic, which focuses on improving access to healthcare in rural communities. You will explore diverse experiences, underlined by sustainability-focused entrepreneurship, the evolving African business environment, the intricate dance between maintaining authenticity and fostering innovation, and so much more!

About Ikena Carreira:

Ikena is an internationally recognised social entrepreneur and media executive with more than 15 years creating successful social enterprises, commercial companies and leading edge TV programmes in both Africa and Europe. She is currently focusing on her passion for positive social impact work holding various positions in the United Nations.

She is a Cum Laude Honors graduate of Boston University (Political Science and Economics), with 2 MBAs and a Certified Prince 2 Project Manager.

She was the founder and CEO of StandSeven/GOLDTOWATER.

๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Welcome Ikena Carreira to Third Culture Africans!: (00:00)
๐ŸŒ Growing up amid a family history of freedom fighters (00:01:05)
๐Ÿ’ก About the African identity and creating a bridge for better (00:09:05)
๐ŸŒ Bridging the gap: ending oppression in Angola (00:12:41)
๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Transitioning from media to design: putting peopleโ€™s stories out there (00:19:35)
๐Ÿš€ Thoughts about times when there wasn’t a conversation around artisan craftsmanship in Africa and investing in that (00:25:22)
๐Ÿ›ค๏ธ StandSevenโ€™s three-year ride (00:26:56)
๐Ÿ“œ Perception of entrepreneurship back in times when social media didn’t exist (00:28:26)
๐Ÿ’ฐ Fundraising with StandSeven (00:30:14)
๐ŸŒฑ Mistakes Building StandSeven in times when sustainability wasn’t a thing (00:32:28)
๐Ÿ‘œ Chanel in Senegal: Remaining relevant in a marketplace increasingly dominated by corporate giants (00:39:42)
๐ŸŒŸ The importance of innovators and creators to uphold genuine cultural African representation and originality (00:48:34)
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Transitioning from entrepreneurship to the UN, a completely different structure (00:50:28)
๐Ÿค Three tips for fundraising (00:58:30)
๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘ง Mothering across continents while building a career (01:06:32)
๐Ÿฅ About Train Clinic: accessing health services to communities in rural areas (01:10:04)

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