Aye Femi Cynthia Sara Idohou was born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire in 1990. She was raised in Cotonou in the Republic of Benin. Sara is the firstborn in her family, which was something of a disappointment to her father, who had hoped for a son. Expectations were high for her when she was growing up. Her father always wanted her to be the best in everything. Ms. Idohou did very well in school, but always felt that she was somehow failing her family, especially her dad, for not being a boy and not following his will to go into medicine, law, or accounting, the fields he had chosen for her.
Sara briefly considered suicide during the time she was feeling that perhaps there was nothing that she could do to make her family proud of her. Fortunately, she realized that taking her life was not the answer. She had her parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and mentors who cared for her, even if one or two did not always express their affection in a manner that felt supportive. Ms. Sara Idohou came to the realization that she was not the only woman in West Africa or even the world whose family had tried to decide for her what she would do with her life. She recognized that she needed to stand up for what she believed in and to follow her own path. In doing so, Sara knew that she could not only help herself, but also help others that were facing similar circumstances.
Ms. Sara Idohou determined to become a business consultant, motivational coach, and social activist as a means to help and inspire other women and youths to gain the confidence to fight for the realization of their dreams. She also began to use public speaking as a means to share her message that families should encourage their children and help them to discover and develop their talents.
In 2010, Sara earned her Bachelor’s degree in Finance and Tax Administration at the Abomey-Calavi campus of the National University of Benin. She went on to earn a Master’s degree in Accounting, Control and Audit Management from ESGIS, a private university in Cotonou and recognition for her speaking and leadership including: a TOP 3 win in 2012 in the competitive Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Dream or Prophecy Speech Contest organized by the US Embassy in Benin and her selection as one of the TOP 25 Young Beninese Leaders to join the US Ambassador’s Youth Council in Benin. She serves on the Council’s Entrepreneurship Committee through which she contributes to outreach activities that benefit young people.
Through her speeches, Ms. Idohou shares her vision for the development of Benin, Africa and the world. In this vision youths are supported at home, able to take on meaningful leadership roles, and enjoy careers that benefit themselves, their communities, and beyond. Sara also organizes conferences, training and coaching sessions, and is currently writing books that focus on self-development and entrepreneurship.
Her strong belief in the importance of women and youths being able to develop to their fullest potential motivated her to start a nonprofit organization called Young Leaders Corporation (YLC) in 2012. Through YLC, Ms. Idohou and her team of volunteers promote individuals’ talents and empower youths and women through leadership programs, entrepreneurship, coaching and personal development training. She uses YLC as a means to also teach about the spirit of volunteerism and how to become responsible citizens. To date, YLC has impacted more than 10,000 people across multiple communities. YLC continues to grow. Chapters are being established in several cities and on multiple university campuses in Benin as an extension of YLC’s activities.
Sara Idohou is also the Founder and CEO of Empower Pyramid (est. 2014), a consultancy firm that specializes in tax advice, accounting assistance, and designing training and coaching sessions for businesses and employees to help them to boost their own performance and that of their companies.
In April 2015 Ms. Idohou was interviewed by Avenue 229, a French-language blog dedicated to sharing information about Benin. She described the activities of YLC and the moving testimonials from participants about the satisfaction that they received through the projects and programs the organization has hosted, including the Young Volunteers in Service of Development Project (Jeu-Vol) and a Social Entrepreneurship Fair (SEF).
Sara Idohou developed the Social Entrepreneurship Fair after participating along with 800 other young leaders from 139 countries in a two-week International Youth Forum held in Russia. The opportunity to travel across international boundaries is something that she views as important to the development of strong and successful projects. In addition to her experience in Russia, Sara has volunteered and completed training programs in Ghana and traveled to Togo and Côte d’Ivoire.
Ms. Idohou also spoke with Avenue 229 of her selection into the highly competitive Mandela Washington Fellowship program in the USA. The Fellowship program enables 500 outstanding young African leaders to be hosted by a US university for six weeks to gain specialized training and networking opportunities. Sara Idohou told Avenue 229 that after completing her Civic Leadership program at Arizona State University that she hoped to return to Benin more experienced, more professional, and with better initiatives and methods for executing them. Particular initiatives she hopes to focus on are expanding YLC beyond Benin’s borders and the creation of an Institute with a model curriculum for education in Africa that includes training in leadership and entrepreneurship.
Making the dream of expanding YLC into other countries come true could happen sooner rather than later and her dream about shaping the education system in Africa too. Ms. Idohou is one of 100 Mandela Washington Fellows that have been accepted to complete an additional six week Professional Development Experience (PDE) in the USA after the university-hosted program. Ms. Idohou is currently based in the Baltimore, Maryland office of the International Youth Foundation.
Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why has Ms. Sara Idohou been so successful in her undertakings?
Some key characteristics come to mind:
Ms. Idohou did not let obstacles and difficulties be a source of despair, but instead used negative childhood experiences to motivate herself to assist others to develop their potential.
Ms. Idohou is a strong proponent of INNOVATION and LIFELONG LEARNING. She understands that DEVELOPMENT IS NOT EASY. Starting and operating a social business requires a lot of passion and sacrifice. It also requires a lot of courage, patience, and perseverance and the willingness to DARE to face the challenges necessary to realize one’s dreams.
(Image Credit: twitter.com)
Heidi G. Frontani is a Professor of Geography at Elon University in North Carolina in the USA and former Fulbright Scholar in Kenya. This story originally appeared on her blog on September 12, 2015. To read more of her stories, follow her blog:https://africandevelopmentsuccesses.wordpress.com/