Elizabeth Akua Ohene, Journalist and Politician, Ghana
Alice Nkome, Lawyer and Human Rights Activist, Cameroon
Tecla Chemabwai, Athlete and Educator, Kenya
Baratang Miya, Entrepreneur and CEO, South Africa
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Global Activist, Chad
Dr Judy Dlamini, Entrepreneur, Author and Philanthropist, South Africa
Hawa Sally Samai, Founder, CEO and Campaigner, Sierra Leone
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Founder and CEO, Ethiopia
Lelemba Phiri, Entrepreneur, Investor and Educator, Zambia
Temie Giwa-Tubosun, Founder and CEO, Nigeria
Vanessa Hau Mdee, Former TV Personality, Musician and Podcaster, Tanzania
Monica Musonda, Lawyer, Entrepreneur and CEO, Zambia
Saran Kaba Jones, Founder and CEO, Liberia
Kalista Sy, Showrunner and Screenwriter, Senegal
Yvonne Okwara, Journalist and News Anchor, Kenya
Tara Fela-Durotoye, Entrepreneur and CEO, Nigeria
Noëlla Coursaris Musunka, Model and Philanthropist, Democratic Republic of Congo
Samantha ‘MisRed’ Musa, TV and Radio Personality, Social Influencer and Philanthropist, Zimbabwe
Djamila Ferdjani, Doctor and Entrepreneur, Niger
“No matter who you are or what you’ve been through, you are important. Don’t be afraid to be you and to be different.”
Kalista Sy is as screenwriter, notable for writing and producing the TV series Maîtresse d’un Homme Marié, or Mistress of a Married Man, set in Dakar which tackles subjects which are usually taboo in Senegal, such as sex, infidelity, domestic abuse and polygamy. With millions of views, it has taken the country by storm and has been called the ‘Senegalese Sex and the City’.
Such is her influence, in 2019 she was listed among the BBC’s 100 Women.
I believe that many of the people who meet success in life have two motivations - either they have a specific talent, or they have something to prove to the world. I belong to the second category.
I’m conscious that I’m an atypical person. I’ve always been different and for a long time that has been exhausting, it can be scary to not be like the masses. But over time and with the benefit of age (I’m in my thirties now), I’ve learned to celebrate my difference and be unapologetic about it, just being the way I truly am. I used to argue a lot, but now I try to listen to other people, understand where they’re coming from and get around any blockages that we face. In return, I’ve discovered that they then respect me for who I am.
The first time I was aware of fighting the stereotype of what someone thought about me, was when I was 11 years old. One day when I was in sixth grade, after reading my name the teacher asked me if I was from the Fulani tribe. I said yes and he told the class: “Well, this one at the age of 18, she’ll already be married and have 15 children.” At that moment I vowed not to be trapped by his stereotype. Lots of young girls are limited by society because of prejudices and gender, I knew I did not want to be one of them.
As a kid, I always knew that I would have to fight for my future. I did my A-levels and did well at school, and then a year at university studying journalism. However, I had to stop as I was the main breadwinner for my mother and siblings. I started working life early because I had to provide for my family - my parents divorced when I was six and we went to live with my father because my mother didn’t have the means. I was like a mother to my brother, who was bipolar and my other two siblings. Like every mother, I was focused on trying to make him perfect in the eyes of those who were viewing him, instead of understanding that he was different. I did it out of love as a way of trying to make his life easier, but I later realised that wasn’t the right approach. He died when he was 30. Featuring a psychologist in Maîtresse d’un homme marié and addressing mental health issues is a way for me to make peace with myself.
I’ve always known that I was destined for the film industry. I’ve always had an ability to showcase emotions, I used to write a lot and people kept telling me “You write images.” I’ve always had a thirst for telling stories and encouraging women to evolve. In 2015/2016 I started writing and posting short stories on Facebook - I was inspired by the suffering that I’d seen my mother endure; I saw how desperately unfair it was for her to lose custody of her children. So I became interested in creating powerful stories about everyday lives that African women can relate to. Initially I only wanted to do 10 chapters, but I ended up doing a hundred because of the excitement that it generated.
I’ve found that the world of work is still very male dominated. I had various work experiences in environments that were predominantly male, and I noticed that men around me tended to talk about physical attributes when they were referring to me. I was only seen through my body and the fact that they found me sexually attractive. Many women in their work environment tend to highlight the fact that they are wives and mothers because it is a way to protect themselves.
I refuse to comply with these society norms and as rule, I refuse to reveal my matrimonial or familial status because I believe women have a right to be respected as human beings, period. It’s unfortunate that a woman has to fight to obtain respect whereas for a man, it's a given.
I believe in the power of stories; I think they can help women evolve and my job as a screenwriter helps me tell those stories. I get contacted a lot by women on social media and I always say, “Tell me what you dream of being and I’ll create her for you!” That’s my mission. I’m happy about the success of the show, but I always want more! There is always so much more to be done.
Who do you consider a hero?
For me any person who is able to turn on the light for the other is a hero. There are people in our lives who don’t necessarily wear a superhero cape, but they push us forward.
Early bird or night owl?
I am a night owl; I can go days without sleeping, especially when I am in the euphoria of creation.
What’s your favourite book?
Forty Rules Of Love by Elif Shafak for the depth but also the beautiful lessons of humanity. This book keeps my feet on the ground.
What is your favourite African dish?
As a good Senegalese, I would say Thiep. If you have already eaten the Senegalese Thiep you will understand.
Who would your three dream dinner party guests be?
Shonda Rhimes, Mo Abudu and Ava Duvarnay. I’m already laughing because I don’t speak English fluently and I don’t even know if they would understand everything I would like to tell them. But they inspire me and give me the strength to go for it.
Which three people have been the most supportive of you over the course of your career?
I have many; I’ve always been lucky to have people around me who believe in me and always push me to move forward, even when I find it hard to believe in myself.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
As the Head of KALISTA PRODUCTION; that would mean a lot.