HLN Meets: Salha Kaitesi, Founder of Teakisi
The North East Social Entrepreneur on amplifying the voices of African women
By Jenny Brownlees
Salha Kaitesi is a social entrepreneur, gender equality and empowerment champion. She has lived, studied and worked in the North East after moving to the region from Rwanda as a teenager. After studying for a Bachelor’s Degree in Politics & Sociology and a Master’s in International Politics at Newcastle University, and fuelled by her passion for empowering and promoting the voices of African girls and women, she created Teakisi (pronounced Tee-ki-si) – a space for African women to empower, unite and celebrate each other.
Salha has connected women in the wider community – setting up events, outreach programmes and courses that boost the technical skillsets of African women, both locally and through Teakisi’s global network. Teakisi has grown from a blog into a social enterprise, something that has seen Salha win the Versatile Blogger Award in 2017, Teakisi being endorsed in 2019 by Afrobloggers, (a Zimbabwean-based organisation that promotes Africa’s emerging voices) and, last year, become shortlisted for the Positive Role Model Award in Race, Religion & Faith at The UK National Diversity Awards.
What led to you starting Teakisi?
I simply wanted a space to write and share my experiences as a British-Rwandan woman. I felt there were many injustices against me – not only as a woman, but as an African woman – in a patriarchal society this felt twofold. I knew society had certain views about what a woman should be, and I felt my own voice was not being heard. This is almost contradictory because I’ve had the best of educations, yet I still felt that I was unable to voice my opinions and share my lived experiences. I wanted to write, but a journal felt too throwaway – I wanted to feel my story was out there and that no-one could take it away from me. So I taught myself to publish on the platform Blogger.
How did that grow into a Community Interest Company?
I began sharing the website on my social media, and I quickly realised from the response that the platform couldn’t just be for me alone. I began getting messages from women all over the world saying that they wanted to be able to share their own thoughts and experiences with the world too. It felt bigger than me – hundreds of other women were saying the topics resonated with them too. So I made the site a multi-user blog, allowing African women from all over the world, no matter their background or situation, to share their stories.
What’s Teakisi all about?
I had always had the ethos that I wanted to help empower women and girls, but starting Teakisi gave me the strength to raise questions and challenge things I was seeing and experiencing. Why was it, for instance, when I was attending business conferences that all the speakers were white men? Or, if there were women present, they’d all be white? I wanted to say: “What about us?” This is when I knew I wanted Teakisi to be more than a blog and this led me to start Teakisi Woman, our annual Black History Month event, where inspiring female and male speakers from B.A.M.E backgrounds discuss and promote equality, diversity and the empowerment of women in our communities.
That’s just how I am – if I feel there’s a need to make a change, I do it. In a patriarchal society, women aren’t told to speak up about their achievements. It’s still a mentality that women should stay quiet in the background. Teakisi is actively trying to change that.
What led you to take Teakisi from online to IRL events and meet ups?
I don’t believe there was previously an organisation dedicated to African women in the North East, or indeed anywhere in the world. I’ve let Teakisi guide me to where it needed to go. The women told me sharing their stories online helped them connect with other women – and whilst that’s great, I wanted to bring the community we’d created together, face to face. So within the last two years, we started the coffee meet-ups.
We offer a relaxed social gathering for African women, but we’re also inclusive. It gives women the opportunity to meet with other local members of our community, share ideas, gain support and, if needed, promote their work. I know we have brilliant business women and leaders from B.A.M.E communities and it’s time we showed people that. We’re here, we exist and we’re doing what you’re doing – but unfortunately, the media doesn’t often showcase our achievements and accolades are not widely given to us. It’s wonderful for the wider world to see, but also for our communities and children to witness.
What is it you love about the North East?
I love everything about the region. I love the peacefulness – the moment you leave the city centre, you feel it’s quieter, greener and more tranquil. It’s very hard to get that feeling in other cities. The people are also wonderful, I love this place! My son was born here, I met my fiancé here, what’s not to love?
Who are the women that inspire you?
I’ve grown up around strong, amazing women, especially from Rwanda. After the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, the majority of people left behind were women. There was a sense of them picking up the pieces and rebuilding the country. If you grow up seeing that strength, it’s amazing. My sisters, cousins and aunties were business women – they had travelled and were all doing something to support themselves and their families. No-one sat back and waited for things to be given to them.
The women who contribute to the blog also inspire me greatly. Because they’re not bloggers, they’re women from all walks of life who have something to say. Also, my fellow directors at Teakisi, particularly Rehma who has known me since I was a baby. She believed in me and embarked upon this journey with me. I must also stress the importance of my fiancé in my success. I know the saying goes: “behind every great man is a great woman”, but I’d say the reverse can also be true. I wouldn’t be where I am without his support. He sees me, he believes in me and helps me every step of the way. I think when you focus on feminist issues, many think it has to exclude men or that men cannot support our fight for equality, but Teakisi works because of his endless support. I’m a better version of myself because of him
The Teakisi website mentions that when you’re not running the business, you’re watching Thor: Ragnarok on loop! How else do you unwind?
We love food as a family and that has always been a big part of our family time, trying out new restaurants. I’m looking forward to going back to Buddha Lounge in Tynemouth post-pandemic. We love being at the coast and I also love cake! We’ve tried to combine this by visiting as may coffee and cake shops at the coast as possible – you’ll be surprised how many there are, and it’s been great to support them during COVID.
If readers wanted to offer help to the Black community, or better understand B.A.M.E women’s experiences, how would be best to do so?
The first thing to do is educate yourself on what’s happening, and what has historically happened to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (B.A.M.E) people in this country and in your community. There are many ways to do this – whether that’s attending events and seminars and listening to people’s experiences, or by being open-minded and not taking offence when people talk about inequalities. People often have a kneejerk reaction and say: “But that’s not me!” Which often isn’t helpful. We’re always looking for allies, so anyone who wants to help will be welcomed. All I’ll say is get involved in your community. The minute you join a community, it brings that gap closer. If no-one bridges that gap, this distance will remain.
What are your plans for the future of Teakisi?
Teakisi now offers services – we have blogging courses both on a one-to-one basis, but also for larger groups. The pandemic opened up our eyes that many people want to be able to utilise these skills to get their business online and promote their work. There is, again, a lot of inequality in the African community in terms of technological skills, so offering digital literacy services is important to us. We also offer web design, can promote businesses online, or host events on behalf of companies that may want to reach B.A.M.E communities, as well as hosting our own live events.
So we’d love Teakisi to become a household name. Myself and the directors want to build on everything we’ve created and see it grow and grow.