Antoinette Botti is a Norway-based social entrepreneur from Ivory Coast. Owner of the brand Ging founded in 2012, she works with rural women in Ivory Coast to produce, sell and market a healthy ginger drink made from natural ingredients and inspired by a traditional West African recipe: “Gnamakoudji”, a powerful drink made of ginger root that is often used as an expectorant, pain reliever and body warmer. The company which was started from Antoinette’s kitchen table now sells to 27 retail points in and around the Oslo area in Norway. Mother of one daughter and strong believer in women’s leadership, Antoinette is a keynote speaker on the challenges female migrants entrepreneurs face in Norway. She is also the founder of the Pan-african Women’s network in Norway (PAWA), and received a Leadership and social entrepreneurial award in 2015 from the Leadership Foundation in Norway.
Hi Antoinette, tell me about your beginnings. What brought you to Norway 28 years ago?
Coming originally from Côte d’Ivoire, France and especially Paris is the first place I migrated to, like many Ivorians. My dream was to return to my home country after my studies to help my people. But sometimes, life takes you in a different direction, and I suddenly ended up in Norway.
What inspired you to start Ging?
I was raised by my grandmother in a small village. She was passionate by natural medicine and used a lot of ginger to keep the family healthy. Growing up in a small village, I was also surrounded by ambitious women who couldn’t finish their education but worked hard to support their families. Through a wide variety of activities, they were able to create jobs opportunities for other women from the neighbourhood. Like my grand-mother, these women had a strong influence on me growing up.
Tell me about the origins of Ging
Ging is a healthy and traditional drink locally called “Gnamakoudji” in Cote d’Ivoire. It means ginger drink or ginger water. Ging is also the name of my brand and comes from the word “ginger”. Ginger is known to help with influenza, nausea, digestive problems, muscular pain. It is also known as an aphrodisiac.
Were your surroundings supportive of your initiative?
Norway is one of the countries where women experience greater equality and opportunities than anywhere else in the world. It is also important to know what you want as an entrepreneur. I had a clear vision of where I wanted to go, who my target group/customers are and where I wanted my product to be sold. As an entrepreneur, I had to know who my competitors are, these are people who don’t make any mistake so I had to make sure that I am doing great in my field. Even though I was surrounded by supportive people, I had to work hard and push myself to get where I wanted to be with my business. It wasn’t easy but I have learned so much.
What are the main business opportunities and challenges you identify in Norway?
There are many business opportunities here in Norway depending on what you want to do or which field you want to focus on, like in many countries of the world. But I must say that as a woman and an African woman, I found it easier to start my business here. I did not face the major cultural issues that usually stop women from doing what they really want and feel is right for them. However, there are many challenges for female migrants: the first one is the language barrier, then the network. New products need to be promoted, the packaging and quality are important…. these are some of the main challenges once can face. But you have remain true to yourself and remember that no mistake from you will be allowed. Don’t think that because you are a woman or you are from Africa so you will be treated differently. Life is hard for everybody but you must know your purpose.
Challenges will always be there but the most important thing is to learn from them and turn them into opportunities. Every time I make a mistake, I notice it and learn from it. Challenges became a learning process for me. I managed to turn them into something positive.
How was the process of creating your company? Did you receive any funding?
The beginning was difficult but I was lucky to receive a grant from a Norwegian institution called “Innovation Norway”. This gave me the chance to be able to start.
What’s the best thing about doing business in Norway?
The best thing is that you have a system that protects you compared to my home country, and of course the finance side is an advantage. I have to say that Norway is more advanced when it comes to gender equality in many areas compared to many countries, and they are still working hard to cover many other sectors. There are still challenges that make it difficult for some minority women. But it also depends on us. Nothing in life is free, there is no luck without you willing to change your own life.
How did you market your products in Norway?
I started on my kitchen table. Then I took my first Ging production to friends for test and to local coffee shops so they can sell it. It was not easy but hard work always pays off and I am grateful for that.
Were people receptive to try your products or were they rather skeptical?
People were curious because ginger is not like other vegetables such as tomatoes, onions or carrots. Norwegians are not familiar with ginger drinks the way I make it. They are more used to ginger tea. So I can say they were skeptical and also curious.
What is the impact of selling an African-inspired drink in the Norwegian market?
I think my product is the first African product made in Norway. It has a positive impact because many people are now getting used to my products and its benefits, and many shops are showing interest to sell my product.
You launched the Zomadré Women’s Project in your homeland of Ivory Coast. What is its mission?
The Zomadré Women’s project is about growing and harvesting ginger. I have hired every woman in my village, to plant, harvest and ship ginger to Norway where Ging is produced. I work with about a hundred women. Our aim is to create local jobs for women so they can take care of their families.
I care about working with rural women because we all know that women are the society’s keepers. Women always manage to help their family no matter what, so helping them will always go back to family and society in a positive way. I grew up surrounded by ambitious women who did not have the chance to finish their education but worked hard to support their family. These women, like my grandmother, inspired me a lot. They are my role models and I want to give them back what they gave me.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges young women face in Ivory Coast?
A lot of girls in my country don’t have the opportunity to go to school. I think this is the main challenge we face in most African countries. It’s an obstacle to development. School and education always open doors. When girls and women have no education, it limits them from being economically independent and in all aspect of their lives. Women are the key to society. If they succeed, society will always benefit from it and if they fail it is bad for them, their family and society.
What’s the best way to address these challenges?
I think the best way to address these issues is to involve women by giving them leadership tools. They have to be part of the solution. I work with women in my village, they are my partners not my employees. It makes all the difference.
What are you the most proud of?
The thing that makes me proud is first of all having the right people around me, from my village to here in Norway where the product is made. When I see the Ging drinks in supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops and when I see people buying my products, I feel proud, humble and grateful.
What would you do differently if you had the chance to?
I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning, so I will take it as a learning lesson and do things better.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
We are different. I think people should know themselves and run their own race. Believe in themselves, listen to their inner instinct, work hard and smart.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned during your journey that you would share with our audience?
Every time I made a mistake it’s because I didn’t listened to myself. Listen to your inner instinct.