Our reality is what we make it; 30-year-old Doreen Noni knows this too well and it is with her life experiences that she has been able to take the negatives and transform them into what defines her today.
The founder and CEO of Lake FM, Doreen, was named by Forbes as one of the most promising young entrepreneurs in Africa. Recently, Vodacom named her Tanzania’s superwoman and one of the most influential women in the country highlighting how she has used technology and innovation to make her stand out in bringing balance to the community.
But this hasn’t come easy.
More than a year ago, Doreen found herself in the middle of hopelessness and suffering. Like any other person, Doreen, the daughter of former managing director with what used to be known as Tanzania Investment Bank (TIB) (currently TIB Development Bank), Mr Peter Noni, felt restlessness when her father was charged with counts that would see him spending several years behind bars.
Doreen’s life stopped making sense as she found herself in a dilemma, unable to help herself and her family. There was a lot going on at that time for Doreen; she was juggling between stigma, trying to save her and her father’s business and disappointment from people who she thought would be by her side. Her health condition was deteriorating and so was that of some of the members within their family.
In an interview with The Citizen’s reporter Syriacus Buguzi few weeks back, she said she came across Mark Mahajjar in Portugal during a global meeting where she was invited as a speaker. Mahajjar had been imprisoned with Nelson Mandela. “He said a lot of things that I felt I could relate with and for the first time I felt like I was not alone, and found myself raising my hand and standing up to speak. After this, I had a lot of men and women coming around to speak to me and I realised there were untold stories of people with hidden suffering,” Doreen shares.
Doreen started reading about depression and realised that all this while that is what she had been going through. By the time she came back home, she had a different mindset and had the strength to speak about her problems.
In an interview with Woman Magazine, Doreen said, “People don’t talk about depression as one of the health problems facing youth, especially in Tanzania. That is how I decided to start searching into the dangers of depression and came up with an idea to help others who could be going through a similar situation,” she said.
Being an entrepreneur, Doreen thought of doing something that would deliver the message of how to get rid of depression to the masses. “That was how I came up with an idea to prepare a series of programmes – to be aired on TV, Radio and online platforms – profiling people who have been going through depression,” she said. The idea, codenamed “Peter’s Daughter Project” emerged as the first winner at this year’s Total Startupper of the Year Awards.
Adding, “The project will help youth to overcome their challenges. I want youth and their families to know what they are going through and understand the source of their problems. This will help them to know the symptoms and how to overcome the problem,” she explains. Doreen believes in the power of speaking as the best medication to depression. This has translated into various initiatives she has founded in different multimedia.
Doreen is also writing a children book, titled: “Peter’s Daughter and Her Penguins”, which she expects to publish it this year. Doreen feels that human beings need to emulate how penguins live. “Penguin never walks alone. Penguins walk together because they realise they need each other to move from point one to another,” she explains.
“My interpretation is a health support system, so Peter’s Daughter and Her Penguin is basically Doreen and a health support system. I have friends close to me that I call my penguins, my family is my penguins, my mentors are my penguins too. So penguin is a health support system in life that one cannot go through life alone,” she explains.
Unlocking the cycle of poverty
Going back, a five-minute conversation is what took Doreen to be inspired to start a radio station. Doreen had always dreamt of venturing into media business. Upon completion of her bachelor’s degree in Multimedia from Nottingham Trent University, she met Neil Kenlock – her mentor, guru.
Being a person who always speaks her mind, Doreen found herself sharing her vision with Neil, who challenged her to open a radio station as her first priority. “Neil has 20 years’ experience in Radio Broadcasting and he is one of the founders of the first black Radio station –Choice Fm in London. Today I have my own radio station because of him,” she says.
“A five-minute conversation with Neil changed my mind. When I got back home in 2012, I decided this was it – I wanted to start a radio station for the people and here I am,” she recalls.
Doreen believes that she is a people’s person. Her main objective is to empower youth and contribute to their social progress. Using radio as a platform, Doreen is addressing challenges that lower income earning citizens regularly face. Through engaging programming that enriches lives, she uses creative channels to help eradicate poverty and voice issues that are common in society.
Her radio show, and soon to be televised, ‘Tena Na Tena’ is one such example. It features interviews of young and aspiring youth. She talks about issues they often experience; including those classified as ‘taboos’ and provides solutions for their challenges. She intends to use multimedia as a platform to help unlock the cycle of poverty and help young Africans identify their purpose on this earth.
“We don’t have the tendency of sharing our true and genuine life stories so as people can learn through them,” says Doreen, the third born in the family of Mr and Mrs Peter Noni.
The program carries a general theme that if at the first attempt you don’t succeed; then you should try again and again until you do. According to her, the show is not a new one as it is aired on her radio, but she intends to introduce it to television viewers. “It is an educational one and inspirational as well,” she says. It will be in a form of a talk show with conversation between invited guests, young Africans, and the show host, Doreen, whereby youths who have dared to try to pursue their dreams will share their stories.
Doreen says her mission is to get her guests to share memorable difficult experiences in their lives that they had to try again and again until they succeeded.
“These are the memories which they will never forget, the experiences they went through that have shaped the person they are today. Viewers will hear the most shocking and honest truths and sacrifices our guest had to make that gave them their break to a more successful career. The show will host celebrities, politicians, entrepreneurs, athletics as well as young and aspiring youth,” she says.
Doreen says the show will take place in a vehicle with the show host driving the invited guests from one location to another (in Tanzania and Kenya). Apart from that, her show will include different topics affecting the mindset of the youth, such as stress related mental health disease like depression and anxiety. In this topic guest will be asked to expose and share their truths in a youthful, fun, real, spontaneous, energetic and interactive atmosphere.
Why her second name is Eskado Bird
Doreen is passionate about fashion. She founded Eskado Bird, an upscale Tanzanian fashion and lifestyle brand that produces accessories inspired by East Africa’s Kitenge fabric.
Her brand inspired by the Afropolitanism [a movement at redefining African phenomena by placing emphasis on ordinary citizens’ experiences in Africa], Doreen says that she wants to redefine fashion market in Tanzania and do it in a different way.
“May be in two years to come my focus will be more to the market outside the country. I want to do fashion more as a business, providing good quality and affordable clothes for women like what a famous fashion store, Zara, is currently doing. That is how I am looking at fashion as a brand that would dominate the market in Africa, Asia and Europe,” says Doreen.
Lessons to keep
Just like any entrepreneur, Doreen has faced a lot of challenges and still does.
For her, having many responsibilities at a young age has exposed her to a lot of challenges, helping her acquire more experience as she grew up. But what keeps her going are these two lessons:
1. Never stop asking questions: “I ask a lot of questions and this is how I learn and at the same time I am never afraid to ask for help because I know I can’t go through things alone,” Doreen says.
2. Embrace hardships: “Challenges are there to shape and build us. You have to experience certain emotions and experiences to shape you and make you become a person who can fill the purpose which God puts you here for,” says Doreen.
Doreen’s unofficial winning formula of humanity doesn’t end there.
There’s a lot more that she puts into practice each day. Inspired by the life of the American TV talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, Doreen’s ultimate goal is to touch the lives of many people in Tanzania like the way Oprah has.