New York – Day 2 – Habiba and Jo

Melissa Graham, Vital Voices Senior Program Coordinator, Economic Empowerment & Entrepreneurship

Habiba Ali is a mentee in the Global Ambassadors Program New York City event. She is CEO of Sosai Renewable Energies, a social enterprise offering efficient, reliable and sustainable products including solar lamps, solar home systems and water filters to the people of the rural and peri-urban communities of Northern Nigeria. Forty-two percent of the country’s population of 186 million lacks electricity. Habiba wants to change that statistic through the sale of low-cost light, fan and television kits – all powered by solar energy.

She is paired with Global Ambassador Jo Russell, senior vice president of Corporate Communications and Investor Relations at Pearson. Melissa Graham of Vital Voices spoke to them during the program.

What led you to decide to apply for the Global Ambassadors Program?


I have always seen the GAP adverts. Last year I saw it again and something just kept telling me, you still don’t have this finance thing all put together. I kept getting people telling me to pay $30,000 USD to do my business plan and my finances. So I thought ok, just when I got the application they asked what do you want to gain, so I wrote that I wanted help with my business plan.


One of the reasons I wanted to go through GAP is because I would very much like to help someone. I’m from a life of doing finance and I thought hopefully with what I do as a day job I might be able to help someone fulfill their dream in what they wish to do.

Habiba (left) and Jo (right)

What are your main goals for the week?


Spending my life in finance, I see a lot of business plans and I see a lot of opportunities. I think Habiba’s got a great opportunity, which really resonates because she’s actually trying to help people, too, and in today’s world, that’s very special. What we started with was the opportunity, distilling it down and putting it into what she’ll do this year, next year and the year after. We’re also creating a model that when she goes back she can see where the revenues are going to come from and how much she needs to invest to have a clear strategy of what she wants to do.

Rural Nigeria has a got a great demand for Habiba’s business, but if we can bring focus to it then the implementation will really help. That will help grow the business and make it successful. More importantly, Habiba will be able to help an awful lot of people in her country.


Jo has said, “You need to limit it to what you can do realistically.” We’ve had to focus on what is doable. It’s making me focused and giving me that. I see the business plan being a living document. Other plans I’ve done in the past, I’ve done just because you have to do it and you file it away. But this one already I am thinking “I need to achieve this.”

A freak spring snowstorm hit NY during GAP week

What’s special about the mentorship experience with the Global Ambassadors Program?


I feel stronger and the one-on-one experience is hugely important. We’re both looking at the same thing and talking about the same thing. Jo is living it with me. It’s making me feel responsible because someone else is there to look over my shoulder and I think this is what I’ve always needed. Someone to look over my shoulder and say, “Focus.”

With the goal of wanting to walk away with a more focused business plan, what are you most excited to do after you return home?


I’m most excited to start selling the inventory waiting at the port because I promised I was going to meet the demand for these life-changing kits!

Habiba and Jo work during a on-on-one mentoring session

Stay connected to #GlobalAmbassadors this week:

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram.

Watch the program’s YouTube playlist.

Visit the Global Ambassadors page at Bank of America and learn about their other women’s empowerment programs.

Photography: David Hume Kennerly