The Fufu sessions: Conversations with women who empower is a quarterly interview series where inspiring women of African heritage share their views on work and life.
Fufu is a dish typical to a vast amount of African countries albeit sometimes under another name (eg. pap, nshima etc). It is empowering food. It is also the type of meal that is traditionally consumed with company for a time of enjoyable conversation. The series targets women whom I can picture myself getting together with for a tête-à-tête over a pot of mouth-watering fufu and stew!
It’s a pleasure to feature Menaye Donkor, philanthropist, model, entrepreneur, Miss Universe Ghana 2004 and honoured by the Chief and elders of Agona Asafo in the Central Region as the development queen ‘Nkosuohemaa’ of her home town in Ghana Agona Asafo for her contributions to charity. During our correspondence I was moved by her warmth and self-insight. You’ll see what I mean.
Let the food be served…
Menaye, you are an entrepreneur, model, philanthropist and actress. It requires self-esteem and courage to pursue as many different passions as you have done, how did you come to be empowered to wear so many hats?
When I want something and have a goal I don’t give up. It has not been an easy road to pursue any of my dreams, with people and discrimination getting in my way from both old age thinkers who see women as the lesser sex, as well as people who stereotype me as a footballers WAG and use it as an excuse not to support me. You have to believe in yourself first or how can you expect anyone else to. I was lucky to have a supportive family around me which continues to grow each day, they are what keep me grounded and get me to step back and put things into perspective. There are so many other goals I want to reach and avenues I want to go down both in charity and business, my mom says what i really need is for someone to put the brakes on me!
I can see where your mom is coming from! Despite the challenges, you have emerged as one of select known African women engaged in philanthropy. I’m humbled by the inspiring work you’ve done with the Menaye School of Hope. Who are the people that inspire you in your field and what have you learnt from their work? Also, what skills would you encourage African women aspiring to be philanthropists to acquire?
It is actually my father who provided me with the most inspiration for my charity work. I learnt the importance of giving back to the community from him at a very young age. In fact my whole family have always been very supportive of my philanthropic work and involved in the running of the Menaye School of Hope and the Menaye Charity Organisation. I would therefore say that it is important for young women to acquire a strong support group of similar minded people who, even if they cannot provide hands on support, can provide emotional strength. In terms of practical skills, my advice would be to think of your charity work and philanthropic endeavours just as you would a business. You need to have a plan, have a head for (or at least a good understanding of) the numbers involved, always be looking at ways you can make savings or make certain aspects more efficient and employ great people whom you trust. The principals are the same for any business.
Speaking of trust and numbers, as a former Miss Universe Ghana, and as the wife of AC Milan and Ghanaian international footballer Sulley Muntari, you are familiar with the concept of competition in a real sense. What are your thoughts on winning and losing in life? As in, what’s your attitude regarding competition?
As a model you ‘lose’ all the time. You go to castings continuously and more often than not, you don’t get the job. You have to develop a thick skin, but the job also tells you how to be a good loser. When you lose you learn a lesson. You take a step back and look at yourself and what you did, reflect on what went wrong and why your plan didn’t work and you make improvements for next time. You can, and should, learn from it, but you shouldn’t be overly critical or dwell on it. It is the same for footballers who suffer a loss, they will come back stronger next time by analysing their performance. We all need to experience losing in some way at some point in life, as it makes you a stronger person and allows you to grow by challenging you. But when you win, you should celebrate! Acknowledging your successes is very good for self belief and a great confidence boost, which are vital for the next challenges you face.
Imagine that the year is 2500 and a student of history decides to write an essay about you. They are instructed to write a one-sentence proposal on why your story is important to share. What would you hope their proposal would be?
The thing that I am most proud of, and what still keeps me driven today, is remembering where I came from and doing what I can, in any small way, to help my community. I would therefore hope the proposal covered this…. so that one sentence would (hopefully!) read something like this; “Menaye Donkor, from the central region of Ghana, kept her promise to her community and made a difference (even in just my small way!) to the next generation of young Ghanaians’.
Let’s time travel some more! If your present self could speak to your eighteen-year-old self, what three main things would you advise her?
- Do not give up on your goals. Dream big, and with hard work and dedication you will achieve something amazing.
- You will find true love and when you do, appreciate everyday you get to spend with them (life will get busy!)
- Take risks and take chances, you only live once and you never know what will happen tomorrow.