Young woman entrepreneur Alitta Ansu-Katta is doing more than just a business, she’s changing mindsets for a healthier nation
By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
Generally people eat to survive, but sometimes the type of food we eat drastically reduces our survival rate. Eating the right food can help us maintain a healthy body, sound mind and avoid certain health problems like hypertension, diabetes, bipolar disorder and cholesterol. In fact, it has been proven scientifically that eating right and backing it up with about 30 minutes of exercise a day ‘can turn back the clock some 14 years’.
In Sierra Leone, where the average person lives on less than a dollar a day, eating right can be a huge challenge. But it is even a bigger challenge for parents and professionals who don’t have the luxury of time to think about the content of the food they eat every day. That was the concern of young entrepreneur Alitta Ansu-Katta when she decided in January 2016 to add a new service/product to her existing business portfolio, called EatSmart Sierra Leone.
“It has been a big challenge in Sierra Leone and is still is anyway; that people still don’t have proper access to good medical facilities. So my business campaign is to tell people to take ownership of their health. Ownership in how you deal with yourself. The food you eat, the exercises you engage in, it can prevent a whole lot of issues; it can prevent hypertension, it can prevent cancer, it can prevent diabetes, cholesterol. These are all health conditions that we know for sure we can’t manage in Sierra Leone. And the only way we know people can actually get out of it is to take ownership of your health and change your lifestyle. So we are not only in the food business to just sell food, but we are more than just a business; we are trying to change mindsets of how people look at food; that food is not spam, that you have to eat to nourish the body, you have to eat to prevent diseases and stuffs like that,” said Alitta.
Yet EatSmart is not a restaurant where you go to relax while you eat. Instead, it delivers fresh, wholesome meals in the most convenient way possible as a bulk order, or individuals at Lunchtime from a production kitchen. Over a one year period EatSmart has delivered more than 1000 meals to over 70 clients, according to Alitta. Within this short time this food business has transformed into a busy lunch time food delivery service, with exceptional cooks, preparing delicious, guilt-free meals for people to eat without the usual hassle. EatSmart offers 30 kinds of Salads, fruit bowls, grilled and steamed fish, vegetables, Salone chicken, bulgur, funde, boiled sweet potatoes, green plantains, fish soup and healthy sandwiches.
Alitta’s entrepreneurship journey was inspired by her desire to see change as she quickly realized that in order to see change ‘I must be the change’. She wants social inclusion, a health conscious Sierra Leone wherein people take ownership of their health and wellness through their individual actions such as eating properly to prevent illness. She also desires to see an economically developed Sierra Leone whose citizens, regardless of their educational or social status, are able to be gainfully employed.
When she started, Alitta confronted Sierra Leone’s unemployment issues with practical solutions aimed at propelling the country’s economic growth and development. Her recruitment and hospitality management agency, Office and Domestic Support Services Agency (ODSSA), connects trained personnel, goods and services to companies and other institutions in the public and private sectors. The agency has been mainly focused on recruitment of personnel for both institutions and domestic purposes, including but not limited to: child minders, nannies, cooks, gardeners, janitors, waiters/waitresses, cleaners, drivers, butlers, home managers, personal assistants, etc. This has been largely necessitated by a growing middle class population, as well as the growing hospitality and tourism sectors in Sierra Leone and ODDSA is strategically placed to fill in this gap in the market with a burgeoning demand for quality staff.
Being a very dynamic business woman, Alitta’s ODSSA is now taking advantage of other business opportunities, in response to changing market needs. Hence they also currently provide brokerage service, specifically for domestic clients and the hospitality sector. They source, on their clients’ behalf, a wide-range of products such as décor and furniture, equipment, linen, uniforms, groceries and fresh produce like fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and dairy products.
“My aim is to get these middle to lower level work force the needed recognition and dignity they deserve as they play an important role in households and offices, raise awareness on healthy eating, and exercise as the means to good health,” said Alitta.
On International Women’s Day 2017, Radio Democracy 98.1FM featured in their popular and widely-listened ‘Gud Mornin Salone’ program three young women entrepreneurs, including Alitta, who are excelling in their different areas. Alitta spoke about her challenges and successes, and one of the challenges is the issue of market.
“The market in Sierra Leone is very small; we really do not have numbers in terms of sales. People may be don’t have enough disposable income so they can patronize, especially for me the businesses that I do are kind of very lifestyle oriented where in for some people yes it’s a necessity but for some it’s something that they could actually do without, or forego it. They can prefer to hire for example from the streets and pay cheaper than actually coming to an agency. So you see that there is this cycle of where the wealth is flowing and then you have people having money to patronize our kind of businesses. To me that’s a challenge that you don’t have this huge market that translates into huge turnovers, and then you are making profits and then you are able to grow. So basically you kind of stalled because you don’t even have that market that can enable you to have these profits to enable you reinvest in your business,” she explained.
The other challenge, she continued, is that of people not wanting to work. Her company, ODDSA, relies on people as its main product.
“We found out that people are not really willing to work. There’s this mindset of free lunches, well not in the sense of the food business but people just think that they can be given money that they should not work for, you don’t earn it. So that changing of mindsets, getting them to understand that you really have to work, you have to commit yourself, you have to ensure that you put what you have into what you are doing, and you own your job is also a big challenge. And that translates into people not putting in the right attitude and the right effort and our clients get frustrated and then the agency comes back to us and may be they will cancel their contract with us and things like that. So that’s also is a big challenge we are faced with,” lamented Alitta.
In terms of the food business she highlighted the challenge of supplies. “The seasonal way in which we grow our products in Sierra Leone is also a big challenge,” she explained. “You have a set menu and you want to make sure that everything you have in your menu you want to cater towards and you find out that it’s not readily available all the time. A typical example is pear, what we call avocado. It’s very seasonal here. Yes we know so many fruits and vegetables are seasonal but ours is very serious. You go to the market you can search and you can’t find any fruits and vegetables that you desire or that you advertised to your clients.”
Nevertheless, Alitta feels happy and satisfied she’s making a difference in people’s lives.
“I am very happy where I am today because as an entrepreneur every challenge that you are faced with is the ability for you to be able to translate that challenge into an opportunity; that what makes you resilient, that what makes you an entrepreneur. So yes there are challenges, I have gone through a lot of hiccups but then you find out that the successes for me in doing a business like this is the satisfaction of seeing people gainfully employed. This is one of my passions, one of my desires and one of my aims; wherein everybody is giving this equal opportunity regardless of your educational background, social status you are able to get the opportunity to be able to fend for yourself. And I think I have provided that platform wherein people are able to come to us looking for a job and we are able to match you with a client, we are able to give you that job which we know you are capable of doing. It can be the easiest job in your eyes but then we have given it so much value. We have made people understand that they are very important in these households, they cannot function without them. They have to own and believe that yes this is what I do, I have been paid for doing somebody’s laundry, somebody’s cleaning, looking after somebody’s kids. For me that sense of worth is more than gold, it’s more than the millions that I should really be making in my business; wherein you see somebody comes into your office at the end of the month, you give them a pay cheque and they go to the bank and actually cash their cheques; they take that money back home and they are able to send their kids to school, they are able to do the things that they were not able to do because they did not have a job. For me I am very happy, I see that as a success,” said Alitta.
Alitta Ansu-Katta is a graduate from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone with a first class Political Science degree with a honours and post graduate in Development Studies from the University of Manchester. She’s a dynamic woman fulfilling roles of being a boss lady, a wife and a mother of two lovely children.