Danielle Keyembe is our career crush for many reasons. She is a multifaceted lady boss who is dedicated to projects focused on women, social impact and Africa!
After successfully hacking the banking industry and working with several international consulting firms, Danielle founded Greyfire Impact, a social enterprise. GreyFire is dedicated to creating unique and creative solutions to address some of the largest challenges.
She was born in the Congo and now lives in the United States and travels extensively to Africa and Europe.
She is working towards developing initiatives that empower entrepreneurs in the U.S and emerging markets in Africa. She is passionate about supporting women and building products for women. In her article, she argues that most products and services were designed for men and by men. Airplane seats and iPhones are primarily suited to the male body.
Asides from her daily hustle, Danielle is on the international board for the Children’s Radio Foundation, a UNICEF-backed charity that works to improve the lives of children in African communities impacted by war, displacement and HIV. Danielle is a founding member in Dreamers and Doers, a network for female entrepreneurs, and she is a member of SheEO, a global initiative to fund female entrepreneurs who are creating new solutions that benefit humanity. She is our career crush for obvious reasons and she shared some career gems with us.
What influenced your career path in the banking industry?
I studied political science in college and I had a strong interest in the arts. After college, I went into consulting because I loved problem solving and traveling for work. I later went into investment banking because I wanted a deeper grounding in finance. However, after advising Fortune 500 companies and working on over $25 billion in transactions – I soon found that consulting or investment banking for big corporations did not feel like the right trajectory for my life. In college I was the quintessential liberal arts person; I read a lot of books, studied art history and the classics; but I’d become disconnected from that through work. I took a break from the banking industry to explore my interests and reconnect with myself: I became an avid meditator and began to dabble in entrepreneurship, both of which shaped my life.
After my much needed break, I shifted to international private equity work in Africa. I saw the impact the private sector could have on the public sector. I quickly realized that business was an underutilized resource – we could use it to accomplish so much. I started working in the social impact space and I noticed that the common denominator for addressing most problems – from poverty, to health, to education – is empowering women. I decided to dedicate my career towards leaving a social impact by empowering women.
“You have to put in work the work with mentors to build relationships; you have to understand how to build that relationship. People have time restraints especially if they are very successful and have a family. So you have to figure out how to make your time with them productive as opposed to just a general feedback”
What steps did you take in college to prepare you for your career path? Did you always know what you wanted to do?
I had a traditional liberal arts education. I studied classics and art history and then I shifted to political science. I feel like a lot of people don’t think you gain skills from creativity and liberal arts but you actually learn so much! For example, you learn skills like storytelling; you need to tell a good story in order for people to invest in your product or service. No one wants to look at 100 pages of spreadsheet data – but if you can turn that data into a compelling story about your company, people will look and invest! I used creative thinking throughout my finance career to build efficient solutions that people with traditional business and economic backgrounds didn’t see..
In any job you find yourself after graduation, make sure you “master the skill set you are learning from your job, master it enough so that you can understand and critique it”.
How can young women of color starting out seek mentors?
Mentorship is not easy! You have to put in work with mentors to build relationships, you have to understand how to build that relationship. People have time constraints, especially if they are very successful and have a family. So you have to figure out how to make your time with them productive as opposed to just asking for general feedback!
What inspired you to start Greyfire Impact? What are some challenges you face as a woman of color?
I wanted to DO good things that were impactful, impactful for women. I am passionate about social impact and innovation. At Greyfire Impact, we:
- Empower female entrepreneurs by raising capital for female founded companies and raising money for women of color. Our focus is in the US and emerging markets!
- Help connect large companies to ecosystems of diverse founders, it can be hard to identify these group of people. We create workshops and investor mentorship programs for companies interested in supporting diverse founders..
The goal of Greyfire Impact is to create things that are at the intersection of business and impact in ways that support women. One of the earliest projects we did in the tech space was to gather investors from Silicon Valley that were interested in investing in tech in Africa. We created a week long immersion in Lagos, where they toured tech incubators and accelerators, met local founders, and also interacted with social impact groups like Andela and Generation Enterprise. We incorporated She Leads Africa and Tastemakers Africa, two female founded enterprises. I believe it’s important to find new ways to create solutions that aren’t just one sided.
“I used creative thinking throughout my finance career to build efficient solutions that people with traditional business and economic backgrounds didn’t see”
What advice do you have for college grads starting out their Career and navigating the workplace?
I think there has never been a more exciting time to be a young woman. Although we’re half of the population, the majority of the products and services we use are designed and built for us by men. For example, things like cell phones are designed for men to use one-handed, but women can’t use their phones comfortably. But this applies to everything from technology, media, architecture and even health. This is the single largest business opportunity and I think it will transform everything from business to politics to culture. Why? Because all of your pain points as a woman walking through daily life are actually signals for innovation. That’s how billion dollar companies like Honest Company started: by women creating solutions to problems they were experiencing every day. As a woman, you have a wealth of business ideas that no male CEO of a Fortune 500 company has ever thought of . I think this is the new normal — The new economy will be driven by products created by women for other women
Learn whatever you want in school but go out and build products!
“Master the skill set you are learning from your job, master it enough so that you can understand and critique it”.
Read more of Danielle Kayembe’s articles: