As the oldest child of immigrant parents, growing up, Fanta Kaba found herself pulled between parental expectations and her desire to help others.
“I really wanted to be a social worker because I wanted to give back, but my parents weren’t having it because they felt like they had worked so hard for me to become a social worker and I wouldn’t make as much money,” she says. “That’s the story of a lot of immigrant children.”
At 3 years old, Kaba immigrated with her family from Guinea to the United States, where they settled in New York’s South Bronx neighborhood. Despite it being a “tough environment,” she says it helped her get where she is today and contributed to her desire to give back. “I feel like the way that I got into the position I am in now is because of community and helping hands along the way,” says Kaba.
Her parents’ own lack of education, however, fueled their desire for Kaba, as well as her three younger sisters, to aim higher.
“My parents really focused on education even though they stopped in middle school and high school to help take care of their families back in Guinea,” says Kaba. “There have been a lot of expectations for me with regard to higher education and setting a path for my siblings to follow, so when I was in high school, I was involved in a lot of programs — from out-of-state HBCU college tours to taking college classes at Lehman College. These experiences allowed me to see beyond the scope of where I came from.”
These programs and her many campus visits fueled her own hopes of one day going to college, and when the time came, to her parents’ delight, Kaba decided to study international business at SUNY Brockport. By combining her interest in business and culture, she set herself down a path that would allow her to both follow her passion and please her parents, while also helping others.
Now an MBA student at Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin Business School — where she plays a leading role in organizations like the Olin Africa Business Club and the Black MBA Association — Kaba is working toward a future in which she can use her marketing and technology skills to have a positive impact. A tech-savvy entrepreneur, she hopes to ultimately apply her learnings to her own business.
The Entrepreneur Hustle
Kaba’s interest in marketing began during an international marketing course, which she took her senior year of college. Entrepreneurship, however, was a curiosity sparked by her mother.
“My mom is an African immigrant, and in our culture, hustling is very important,” Kaba says. “She’s always been an inspiration because even with her lack of education, she still has been able to provide for herself — same for my dad.”
As a woman, Kaba says, she became really intrigued by women entrepreneurs and chose to participate in a CSTEP and McNair program that allowed her to dive into this topic. She was able to complete a research project examining how African women contribute to the global economy and to the continental economy of Africa. “That really inspired me, but I never really thought that I had the [nerve] to start my own business,” she notes.
Following graduation, however, Kaba joined Amazon in operations and quickly discovered it was not for her. Employed but unhappy, she began blogging as a means to foster her mental well-being. It wasn’t until returning to her home country of Guinea — for the first time since she left at age 3 — that Kaba began to see a clearer path for herself to entrepreneurship.“It was there that I started a self-discovery process where I learned about myself and my culture, and also about how my ancestors took care of their skin,” she says. “That started the grassroots of Golden Roots Essentials.”
Already involved in the beauty space, Kaba had noticed a lack of focus by many brands on black women and their skincare needs. “A lot of times, we’re an afterthought,” she says. “Often, it was really difficult to find foundation shades or skincare products that were meant for melanin skin, and if I was able to find them, they were super expensive. [Plus], a lot of times, I didn’t know the ingredients that were in them.”
Kaba seized the opportunity to launch a beauty and wellness lifestyle brand focused on women of color. With Golden Roots Essentials, she is on a mission to help black women “achieve skincare goals through healthy skin and body care products with ingredients derived from the African continent.” Using shea butter from Africa, she makes all of her skincare products herself, which she ships all over the country.
Having an Impact
It was a desire to grow Golden Roots that ultimately inspired Kaba to pursue her MBA, selecting Olin for its emphasis on global business and entrepreneurship. (Coincidentally, it was an executive she met from Estee Lauder who first introduced her to The Consortium.)
Originally looking to improve her marketing abilities — to help market her own products — Kaba soon found herself pulled in another direction. Realizing how much she relied on technology for her own business, she expanded her focus.
“I thought about technology companies that were doing great work on the African continent and were actually having an impact, and that’s what led me to Microsoft,” says Kaba, who completed an internship with the company last summer. She recently accepted a full-time position with Microsoft as a product marketing manager, beginning next spring.
“What I enjoyed the most was the support that I received, the culture, the growth opportunities and just feeling like, at the end of the day, I did something that was meaningful for the organization and actually had business impact,” she says of working at the tech giant.
Kaba has big dreams for her future — some that include Microsoft: “I want to be able to make an impact in regards to the growth of Microsoft specifically, because I do see myself staying there for quite some time,” she says. “Also, I want to take the things that I learn from my time at Microsoft and implement them in my own business.”
As a millennial and social media personality, Kaba also hopes to become “the marketing ‘it’ girl in the tech space,” she says. “What that essentially means is that I want to grow as much in the tech space in regards to marketing.”
While she hopes to one day turn her full attention to Golden Roots Essentials, for now, she is happy where she is. “I just want to learn as much as possible, get as far as I can within the technology space and eventually venture on to my own business, making it larger than what I can ever dream or imagine,” Kaba says.
Currently, business is good for Golden Roots Essentials, but she admits that, as a one-woman show, it is often more difficult than she thought it would be. But when the going gets tough, Kaba harkens back to her desire to give back.
“I really enjoy what I do, and I feel like because it’s a mission-based company, a lot of times, when I do get frustrated or down, I think about it as something that is beyond me and it would be selfish to give up,” she says. “It took a lot of hands to get me to where I’m at, and I feel like it’s only right for me to pay it forward. So, no matter what I do — whether it’s Golden Roots or Microsoft or another company — I will always try to give back.”