Like so many entrepreneurs, Regina Honu has never really accepted “no” for an answer.
“I grew up in the ‘80s, so I heard a lot about my place: ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that, girls are not supposed to do this, girls are not supposed to do that,’ ” Regina said. “But as a kid, I was carefree and I believed that everything was possible.”
Regina ended up doing things her way anyway. She drew a prototype of a jetpack, despite her teacher saying that actually building such a thing was impossible. She sold pies to raise money for a piano. And she was the only girl in her class who wanted to study computer science.
“I’ve always been an individual,” she said. “I think I naturally wanted to always show that I can be anything. Don’t put me in a box. I’m not who you think I am. Allow me to have the option of choice. The sky’s the limit. There’s nothing I can’t do. And my gender should not be something that holds me back.”
Today, Regina instills a similar mindset in young people in Ghana, where “a good girl is seen and not heard,” as the founder of Soronko Solutions. It’s a tech- and STEM-focused startup in the business of community solutions.
The social enterprise’s flagship program, Tech Needs Girls, not only trains young women between the ages of 6 and 18 in human-centered design, code, and everything in between, but also offers a safe space for mentorship and exploration of issues like gender roles and sexuality. In this way, Regina is addressing the gender gap in the tech sector and giving tomorrow’s leaders opportunities to use their creative powers for good in the real world.
Despite always having a desire to tackle problems she saw in her community, Regina’s emergence as a social entrepreneur didn’t happen overnight: “It took a little self-discovery, and courage, because it’s hard to break out of the traditional role—you find a job, you stay within the job.”
Read on for advice on the skills needed to become an effective changemaker, tips on scaling up social impact work, and more.
The need for 21st century skills
Regina is sure about one thing: a true education shouldn’t be just about passing exams. An education ought to be skills-based, teach you how to learn and to ask questions, and to challenge the status quo.
Here are three skills that Regina believes everybody should master:
“Really thinking outside the box. Not just taking something at face value.”
“You must be able to walk in the shoes of others, wherever you’re trying to bring change. Even if starting a for-profit business, you must understand your customer and understand how to bring value to that customer. If you’re in the social enterprise space, you must understand how change will affect the community and the best way to approach it.”
“You must be adaptable. … And you must be open to learning every day.”
How to win allies
No matter who you’re looking to partner with, data matters. Be sure to measure your impact.
“Something to say, ‘OK, this is how we do it. These are the metrics that we use. This is the baseline that we started on. These are some of the lessons that we learned. This is the number that we’ve impacted.’
“Now, all that information is helpful because as you’re scaling it allows you to understand what the new things that you need are, what resources you need to bring in, what works, and what doesn’t work.”
That data offers proof of concept for all potential allies, including government. But don’t forget about the supporters in your own backyard, Regina said. Engage trusted and passionate community leaders who will advocate for you and bring credibility to your project.
An example from her leadership journey.
“We worked with a Muslim community in Nima, Accra. And one of the first things that we did is identify the community leader who worked with a group of girls and partnered with that organization. So the chief gave his blessing. And that made it easy for fathers to allow their daughters to come in and learn this new thing called technology. So with the chief’s stamp of approval for our project, it was easier. And then they were able to trust us.
“So, you really need to first identify some community leaders who can help you, and can speak to whatever it is that you’re doing. It gives you credibility. It allows people to trust you more. And it’s also important that you are very transparent. Show everybody what you are doing.”
Regina on the F-word: failure.
“There’s nothing wrong in failing. It just teaches you how to not do something. So take pride in failure and know that you learn from that experience and you’re able to get up and keep going. Don’t be afraid of failure. It’s better to do something and fail than not do anything at all.”
Her parting message:
“My core message is never give up. And know that whatever dream you have is attainable. Don’t look at where you are, don’t look at the challenges around you. Because there are many, many challenges. Every other day there’s something that will bring you down. But don’t give up, keep chasing your dream.
“And dream big. If your dream does not scare you, it’s not big enough. So make sure that you’re having the biggest and scariest dreams because you can actually make that come true and you will have left the world a little bit better than how you see it.”