Fula Musu Conteh defies the odds and succeeds on her own terms

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Fula Musu Conteh is the quintessential fem-leader, breaking and making her own rules and succeeding.

Born in England to Sierra Leonean parents, her father was a medical doctor and her mother was a housewife and an agriculturist. Fula spent most of her childhood travelling between Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom, attending Annie Walsh Memorial School and the U.K secondary schools in Bermondsey, Batersea and Maida Vale.

After relocating to UK, Fulah became independent (with all the realities of an independent young woman) at age 17. On the verge of taking her A-level exams, she found out she was pregnant at 20 years old and decided to focus on her pregnancy fully. She postponed her exams, and following the birth of her son started Foundation degree (equivalent of 4 A ‘Levels). Following the completion of her year-long Foundation degree, Fulah went on to complete a 2.1 degree in Management with Social Policy, and a post-graduate course in Human Resources at Southbank University, London.

She has since established a lucrative career as a Human Resources Consultant, following years building a career in HR in the United Kingdom, Middle East and Sierra Leone, where she has worked for organizations such as the BBC, LogicaCMG, WR.Grace and African Minerals.

She is confident in her expertise and brand excellence, stating;

“I don’t put my business on social media. I don’t advertise, I believe in the Rolls Royce concept. As a business I do not advertise. I’m confident in what I do and in my brand. Business comes through word of mouth- so me talking about my work on social media is mostly a no-no, unless when it comes to sharing milestones, or thought processes on HR. Even doing this interview as you know is contrary to my core business model, I do apologize for making it so hard in completing this interview.”

A PGCE Post-Compulsory Lecturer, Fula lectures part-time at IPAM, University of Sierra Leone, whilst continuing to build her consultancy in her own unique way. Her work as a consultant has included supporting the Ebola efforts in Sierra Leone through providing services to DFID and IOM, recruiting, coordinating and supporting the training of close to 11,000 Frontline response professionals during the Ebola response- in a 6month period.

Currently, working as an Independent Human Capital Consultant, Fula provides support to organizations within the Middle Eastern and Africa region on various aspects of the human capital, ranging from candidate attraction to onboarding and everything that happens to an employee within the employee life cycle in a company, right up to exit. That training includes training, talent management, performance management and employee engagement. The motivation for Fula is recognizing the gaps in HR management in Africa, expressing that “…if the people are not developed, trained, managed in an appropriate, transformative way, nothing will ever change in Sierra Leone.”

Fem-Leader, HR Consultant Fula Musu Conteh/ Illuminessencemag

Fula elucidates her company’s vision, challenges and motivation in this insightful interview with Illuminessence Magazine.

What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered in your career?

I don’t think that majority of the people in Sierra Leone understand what HR is. Most people presume that HR is very much focused on the recruitment side, payroll and administration. However, there’s more to HR than that and I don’t think it’s recognized enough.

As a nation we need to move forward and HR should be part of that discussion, in terms of people management because that is what HR is. It’s about developing people and creating a pipeline of a population that has the ability to meet the needs of a country, which will allow us to compete aggressively in the continent and the world. HR at a high level is about the government and the private sector working together collectively in mapping out how our education curriculum will meet the demands of the labour market, in alignment.

This unfortunately is not being done in Sierra Leone. However, through building relationships with the Ministry of Labour, and other stakeholders, I see the conversation taking place and hopefully in the near future this can move from conversations to actions that include the private sector being fully involved in curriculum development and student development through placements/internships, for example.

How do you overcome the different challenges that you encounter?

It’s nice to have a circle around you that share similar experiences, that you can vent to, share ideas and stories with. Andrea is one such person. We have worked together on projects, and have built a relationship where our strengths and weakness complement each other in markets that state we should be competitors, but we chose not to, for example. Jeredine is another, where we have sessions often on best practices, new innovations, and just new global HR trends that can be imported in Sierra Leone, within a Sierra Leone context.

I have a very supportive family and good network of friends globally that I randomly call, or Skype to vent to, which helps with the day-to-day challenges of doing business in Sierra Leone as a woman, a woman that takes a sit at the table and consistently pushes to change it from the industrial relations mindset of the 1970s’, to a more transformative, proactive one that the world demands.

What was your childhood motivation?

I was raised by a single father. I think he was the first African single father I knew in the 1980s. My parents were separated when I was two and he raised my two siblings and I single-handedly, whilst working 16 or 20 hours a day at his clinic. Every morning he’ll make sure we were fed, dressed and he will drop us off to school. When he came home in the evening, we will listen to BBC world service. Often he will give us new words depending on our age that we would learn. That was how we bonded. Having that as my role model, never made me feel like I was in a difficult position because, I’ve seen my dad do it brilliantly as a lone parent, a professional and a passionate patriotic Sierra Leonean.

What are your passionate pursuits, personal interests or hobbies and how do you relax yourself?

I like the beach; usually I go once a week, which is a benefit of being self-employed. To me it’s always a form of meditation where I’m kind of exhaling everything, my tiredness, my frustration, my anxiety and everything. Just allowing to just kind of wash away all of me.

“I am extremely passionate about my profession, particularly at the policy development level that creates transformation nationally. I love HR, I love developing people as an educator and HR professional. I am an advert advocate for Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) to be taken as important as any educational system we have in Sierra Leone. As a nation, we need good artisans, these are the people that oil a nation’s economy so to speak-these are my pursuits.”

What are the barriers to leadership, specifically for women?

I would say none. Some people would think because of your gender you cannot. But I’ve always just gone ahead and done what’s necessary for me, career wise. If you are in front of me and that’s the path that I really want to take, then you either need to move or I will steamroll you (laughs) with a big smile on my face and, I will wear beautiful heels when doing it.

“It was a milestone working with a global organization and being the only woman in the board room, a black woman at that, where we would be at weekly meetings in the board room with men old enough to be my father. This was me at age 28, 29 and being responsible for that type of organization’s HR activities in the Middle East and Africa region…to sustain that level of performance to tell the truth as challenging, because not only did my gender and race come into play, but as the only management member under 40 at that time, the drive and hunger to continue sitting at that table led to me having blood pressure, burn-out by 32. I crashed, this I believe purely because of the amount of pressure I placed on self to continuously be better than the best I was believed and respected to be. To me, that’s the only barrier to leadership women face, the pressure placed on self to be that better mother, partner, professional, human.”

What are your future career aspirations?

I would love to continue my relationship with government, private sector and educational institutions in seeing how collectively we can reshape our national curriculum to meet an ever evolving labour market. Currently as a nation our human pipeline is still very much reactive when it comes to education meeting market demand, which needs to change.

I would love to actively continue being part of the conversation that maps out a national strategy that addresses how we develop the abilities, innovation and talents in our people, for them to be productive members of society, in a way that acknowledges what they can do. I aspire to see my business grow further within the region. I would like to have a diverse range of clients, in terms of supporting people sourcing, development and retention.

You can contact Fula Musu Conteh via her website www.tv- pg.com

Grace Kargobai is the Founder of Illuminating Ladies, a global network of Illuminessence ambassadors, facilitated on WhatsApp. She is a graduate of Njala University with a major in Environmental Management and Quality Control. Her hobbies are writing, talking, singing and dancing.

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