Committed to discovery

31.10.2019 | Text Iris Mydlach | Photo Sigrid Bjorbekkmo

Babou Olengha-Aaby is standing at a harbour and talking to a woman. It is rainy and both are holding umbrellas.
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Entrepreneur Babou Olengha-Aaby brings inspiring, undiscovered women into the foreground.

The top of the hill in the Ekebergparken park is so dense with trees that, from that vantage, you can hardly see Oslo. Locals of the Norwegian capital will advise you that nature hasn’t found its place in the city, but that the city has found its place in nature.

Babou Olengha-Aaby’s story also starts with trees. Only, these trees aren’t on the hillsides of the Oslofjord. They’re on a website the 38-year-old discovered when she was on a pilgrimage for new ideas after giving birth to her third child. The website is called Ecosia and is the only one of its kind in the world: using Ecosia results directly in trees being planted. The company takes every penny of advertising revenue the site generates and invests it in reforestation. That comes to about one million euros. Every month. When Olengha-Aaby pauses between “one million euros” and “every month”, it is clear what an enormous number this is.

Babou Olengha-Aaby is smiling towards the camera.

“That inspired me and gave me courage,” says the entrepreneur. “Knowing that there are plenty of people out there who really are concerned by the destruction of our forests and are getting active – with no more than a simple click on a banner ad!”

The platform Olengha-Aaby founded with Ecosia in mind belongs to her company The Next Billion and is called Globally Spotted ( Visitors to this website are instantly whisked away on a journey: Globally Spotted finds and features inspiring women yet undiscovered by the masses and mainstream media. Olengha-Aaby is steadfastly committed to sifting out these women’s ideas from the sea of information already online. Two years ago, she had the idea to expand the platform into a search engine. “With the new version you will be able to search for your new favourite shoe designer or find a dentist right around the corner. All the results you get are companies owned by women. It’s a way of supporting companies founded and led by women with your purchasing power as a consumer.”

Babou Olengha-Aaby is standing next to a silver car, smiling towards the camera. A door of the car is open.

Olengha-Aaby was born in the Congo, grew up in London and speaks French as her first language. But Oslo has become her home, and she didn’t end up here by simple coincidence. These days, lots of young women and families are moving to Oslo. The Norwegian capital has hit a growth spurt, and in typical Scandinavian fashion, the city is simultaneously fresh, green and urban as can be. It also comes as no surprise that Oslo was named European Green Capital 2019: e-scooters, bikes and cars share the roads. Two of every three cars purchased in 2018 were electric. In Oslo, living sustainably goes without saying and is deeply engrained into daily routines.

Yet when asked about it, Olengha-Aaby stops to think. Because alongside the world in which we live, she says, there exists a second world that – unlike the trees and charging stations that line the roads – remains obscure to us: the business world. And for this world to be more sustainable, it needs more women. More diversity. Olengha-Aaby calls this “social sustainability”.

How do we achieve it? Through transparency and visibility, she says. An old saying reminds us “you cannot be if you are not seen.” In the Digital Age, this can be adapted to “you cannot be what you do not seek.” She points to black-and-white photographs in her office. “These are women in our network. They’re all brilliant, creative entrepreneurs, but most of them didn’t even have decent pictures of themselves. So we empower them to take control of their image and visibility.”

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