Philanthropist and model Noella Coursaris Musunka is the founder of Malaika, a nonprofit organisation that works to educate and empower girls and communities in her native country, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Following the passing of her father at the age of five and with her mother lacking the resources to look after her, Noella was sent to live with relatives in Switzerland. She benefited from a good education but has always been aware that many children in the DRC are not so fortunate.
After receiving a degree in business management, Noella was discovered and began a successful modelling career, which took her from the pages of Vanity Fair and Vogue to a global stage. As she travelled the world, she discovered a platform from which to share her passion for human rights.
Noella’s work with Malaika has led to invitations to speak at UNICEF and Cambridge University, and she has appeared several times alongside President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meetings. She has given a TED talk and presented in front of executives from multinationals like SAP and T-Systems. Noella has been named one of Elle magazine’s “Incredibles”, 50 African women who are shaping the continent, and one of the most powerful women in philanthropy by Lifestyles magazine. Noella has been interviewed about her philanthropic work on global news outlets such as CNN and the BBC.
Alongside being a mother to two young children, Noella continues to work as a model but now her passion is to model with meaning, using her profile to raise awareness for causes she believes in as a mother, a feminist and a believer in the intrinsic human right to education, health and opportunity.
What inspired you to start a business?
I was born in Lubumbashi, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After my father passed away when I was five years old, my mother lacked the resources to take care of me, so she sent me to live with relatives in Switzerland. After achieving a degree in business management, I moved to London and began a career in modeling.
I was lucky enough to be featured in a variety of campaigns and publications, like Agent Provocateur, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and ELLE. At the same time, I had always been passionate about empowering women and bringing positive attention to my birth country of the DRC. I was determined to do something that would have a long-lasting and positive impact, so in 2007 I founded Malaika alongside a dedicated team. We are attempting to combat the education crisis in the DRC, where seven million children are out of school.
What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?
I love the freedom and being able to manage my own time. But being a mother and the Founder of Malaika and juggling that with all the other projects I do requires an incredible amount of discipline. Over time I have learned that it is key to delegate. I enjoy every second of what I do, but it can be scary when there is no one else above you telling you what to do or how to achieve your goals. I try to use that fear and turn it into motivation to do better, it’s become a driver and keeps me passionate about what I do.
What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures?
For me, it’s really important to have a goal in mind. By having a target, it’s easier to stay focused and on track. You can come up with creative solutions that will help you reach your goal. In my case, every day I set a to-do list and prioritize all the pending items. Also, I never take no for an answer.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?
It’s a big responsibility—we have a staff of nearly 40, in addition to the people we serve at our school and community center. There are many lives that are depending on you, and you can’t let them down.
How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?
I strongly believe that the role of a mentor is key to an individual’s success. I have always looked up to the women in my life and their advice and support has proved invaluable.
What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?
Networking is key—all kinds of it, whether it’s through family, friends, or business. It’s very important to be authentic and genuine in order to foster personal relationships, which are essential to good networking.
What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?
Your business has to grow steadily and at a measured pace with a vision and a target. Every year, I reflect on what I did wrong, what I did right, how I can improve, and how I can make my organisation stronger.
What does the future hold for you?
We are currently adding on to the Malaika School, and we hope it will be finished next year. This fall we are building two more wells in addition to the five we have already. We plan to continue growing steadily. Our goal is to create sustainable, high-quality and impactful programs for the village of Kalebuka.