Afia Owusu-Forfie is the only child of her mother and the first-born of her father. She grew up in Ghana and moved to the United States when she was 23 years old. She lives in the State of Virginia.
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.
I spent my formative years attending 4 different schools – Baby Pearl, Cambridge International, Kings International and UST Primary & JSS – from Kindergarten through to Junior Secondary School (JSS).
I lived in Suame, Buokrom Estates and University of Science and Technology (UST) Campus, all in Kumasi, Ghana, at various points from birth until I was twelve years old with my male cousins and their friends.
I did very well in School and Sports like Soccer, Table Tennis and Lawn Tennis. I was also a great artist or into picture making. At thirteen, I relocated from Kumasi to Ghana’s capital to live with my Dad, step mother, step-sister and half-siblings.
I gained admission into a prestigious boarding Senior Secondary School (SSS) for girls and studied Science in a city called Cape-Coast in Ghana. As my mother prepared to move to the United States and eventually migrated, my separation from her affected me greatly.
I no longer cared much about excelling in School. Although I had good grades that was enough for me to be enrolled into the Mathematical Sciences program eventually for my undergraduate studies at the University of Ghana (UG) from 2003 to 2007.
In the last semester of my 2nd year in College, my lackadaisical attitude towards learning was no longer enough. Since Computer Science, Statistics and Mathematics, subjects that I was taking, were taught with heavy theory that required an initial dedication and intensity to get over the learning curve, I struggled.
I also started being apathetic about my faith in God during the majority of the years I was not living with my mother (from thirteen to twenty). But when I failed two courses in Mathematics and Statistics in my 2nd year at UG, I desperately cried out to God to help me to “enlarge my territory and not allow me to cause pain” to my family.
This prayer was modeled after a book called The Prayer of Jabez that my neighbor at the college hostel I was staying at loaned me. I got a new sense of purpose and mapped up what it would take to finish my college degree: Bachelors of Science in Statistics and Computer Science (Double Majors) in 4 years.
I was able to retake the two courses through counsel of a Course Advisor: Dr. Isaac Baidoo, graduated on time and selected to become a Teaching Assistant at the Department of Statistics at UG by the Head of Department: Mrs. Marjorie Danso-Manu!
On December 2, 2007, I attended the American Statistical Association’s Deming Conference on Applied Statistics in Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA. I met professionals in Statistics from Academia and Industry and decided to pursue Graduate studies shortly afterwards. On November 4, 2008, I returned back to the United States and began studying for the GRE and GMAT. Ultimately, I got admitted to George Mason University to enroll in two Master of Science degrees in Statistical Science and Operations Research from Fall 2010 to Fall 2012.
Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.
Yes. I have already described leveraging my faith to turn my grades around in 2004 while in the Mathematical Sciences program. Another life-changing moment happened for me when I left the United States to go and create a brand new chapter for Women Who Code in Ghana’s capital in November 2015. Both the Huffington Post and British Broadcasting Corporation – Africa covered the work. Through the challenges and triumphs of the work, I was advised by an Attorney to consider creating my own organization to close the financial and operational gap that existed for networks in Africa. So, together with the Lawyer and three co-workers across Mathematica Policy Research and Deloitte, Coders Who Travel Inc. was filed as a Not-for-Profit Organization in December 2016. Just 6 months later, we got our 501(c)(3).
Also, in February 2016, I woke up in an Intensive Care Unit after a personal relationship problem and a highly-stressful project at work caused me to get very sick mentally and emotionally. I heard an old hymn in my native language (Twi) that “Our ancestors worshipped other gods but as for us, we choose to worship Jehovah”. Upon waking up, I knew that God had given me a second lease on my life and decided to dedicate the rest of my life to Him.
In June 2018, I begun to receive brand new songs from God in my heart and have just released two maiden music albums featuring 24 original songs in English and Twi dubbed: The Anointing Breaks The Yoke on November 18, 2022 and Ngosra No Bubu Nkonnua on March 17, 2023.
The turning point in my life now means I am sharing my mental health journey to inspire others to leverage singing songs to God as a means of their breakthrough and healing.
Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea that made you start this brand? How did such a unique idea strike you, and what motivated you to “YES, go for it?”
The idea of Coders Who Travel Inc. came to mind when I returned from launching Women Who Code-Accra in December 2015 and realized the organization I was working with was unable to cover my expenses as a nascent organization. Through discussions with an Attorney, I was encouraged to begin this new organization. I wanted to close the financial and operational gaps that existed between launching meaningful coding ventures in developing countries like Ghana for traveling Computer and Mathematical Programmers like myself who are based in advanced countries like the United States. Even though I was not paid by the organization in my volunteering Director role, I said yes to Coders Who Travel Inc. because of the fruits in my maiden launch such as the impact on the lives of the Women in Ghana’s capital: Accra.
Tell us something about your initiative or current role. What is it about, and what impact are you trying to make?
I am currently serving as the President and Executive Director of Coders Who Travel Inc. alongside my regular job as a Senior Data Analytics Consultant at Deloitte Consulting LLP. We want other underserved communities such as Veterans, Women and Immigrants to enjoy the same lucrative career I have had through the gain of coding skills in SAS, TABLEAU, PYTHON and POWER BI. We also want to establish technology footprints in rural and remote villages through basic technology training such as Microsoft 365.
Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?
Managing high-profile projects brings stress inevitably. My coping mechanism now is to talk and receive prayers from my support system (a group of praying ladies every Thursday via my local church and mentors), writing new faith-based songs and working on the two albums and going for walks) Every once a while I play tennis and table tennis too. I also love chatting with my parents and friends when the opportunity arises
While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?
In March 2020, our planned global conference dubbed “The 2020 Coders Who Travel Summit’ had to be cancelled in the wake of the pandemic. Young Africans and seasoned American experts in Statistical Programming were gearing to gather in an information exchange in Fairfax, Virginia, United States.
Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?
I am the first woman to have obtained two Masters of Science degrees in Statistical Science and Operations Research from George Mason University in May 2013. In July 2019, I was invited and sponsored by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to speak at The World Manufacturing Forum in Cernobbio, Italy. I shared the stage with a Minister from Pakistan, an expert from Kenya and two high-profile representatives from the European Commission and the United Nations. We discussed Policy Framework for Emerging Economies on the theme: New Skills for the Future of Manufacturing. I am also very proud of my recent two music albums in English and Twi featuring 24 songs.
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
#1) Keep God first, because when you are at rock bottom, He is the only one who can help you.
#2) Take care of your mental health and sleep well every night as it is a foundation for excellent health.
#3) Do not quit your current job when you are dreaming of a better business or job. Because your current paycheck can fund your dreams.
#4) Surround yourself with smart and kind individuals who tell you the truth; who encourage you and correct you as befits the situation
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey?
When your heart and mind are both at peace and refreshed continually, everything else takes care of itself.
What is your personal motto in life?
Personal Motto: “One day, at a time, Sweet Jesus” I learned a song in my childhood by Christy Lane of the same personal motto and I sing it every time life brings me to my knees.
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?
I have been fortunate to witness a handful of great women leaders who have transformed my way of thinking and my confidence in my abilities both in my career and in my church. These women helped me override traditional norms in the workplace and religion. For example, my first corporate America supervisor at a Think Tank who tasked me with running national reports using my favorite programming language called SAS (Statistical Analysis System). My one dear friend who works at a Think Tank and is a twelve-time author and another dear friend who works at an e-Commerce company and is always available to help me streamline programs at the music album launch and my birthdays. Three of my women mentors are a former missionary, a former colonel and a survivor of mental health. My own mother is a force of perseverance. I myself have become some sort of a woman leader through Women Who Code-Accra, Coders Who Travel Inc and client-facing and marketplace opportunities at work at Deloitte. Through these experiences I have observed that the backbone of great women leaders includes a circle of supportive male friends and husbands and colleagues.
With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
Do not fit in. Do not listen to voices that say you are too much, too bossy, too pushy from crushes, boyfriends, fathers, classmates, religious leaders (both male and female) or anybody you care about just because they believe you are a woman and should only be limited to certain roles and temperaments. Recognize that God appeared to a woman alone to give his divine message without men for those of you who are Christians. Women like Samson’s mother. Jesus’ mother. The woman at the well. Mary Magdalene after the resurrection. If God trusted women in these scenarios, He can trust you! Before the foundations of the world, God fashioned you and called you by name and gave you a purpose! Be bold and walk in it!