Unoma Okorafor is the founder of Herbal Goodness, a health and wellness company that has become the number one supplier for superfoods and special herbs with their own natural benefits. Okorafor’s mission is to empower others through healthy alternatives heavily influenced by her Nigerian background. While she uplifts health through this company, the inspiring businesswoman is also using her platform to empower other women through education, encouraged by her own journey of success.
Born in Eastern Nigeria, Okorafor was raised by a family that highly valued education. Both of her parents worked in the academic space. Her father worked as a professor who strongly believed that “education is a great equalizer,” a perspective that challenged a society that upheld traditional gender roles. Her mother was the first woman from her village to pursue a college education and was a principal.
In addition to prioritizing school, Okorafor’s childhood was shaped by a love for nature. At eleven years old, she recollects joyful memories of gardening with her mother and helping her grow pineapple and mango trees, grapefruits, oranges, tangerines, and vegetables. Her childhood nurtured this love for learning and mother nature, citing it as the reason that shaped her journey and who she is today.
While in middle school and high school, Okorafor attended an all-girls boarding school. A bright student, she recalls that one of “the beautiful [things] about being at an all-girls school is that you don’t realize that you’re female. Whatever you love, you have the opportunity to do.” However, this was quickly challenged when Okorafor started attending university in the city of Lagos. Taking courses with a ratio of twenty boys to one girl, very few girls were a part of her computer engineering program.
During her first semester, Okorafor was an active participant in class, receiving amazing grades and asking questions. However, once the second semester started, a male friend had warned her that the other males in her class were intimidated by her intelligence, and were planning on sexually assaulting her. Okorafor describes it as the “first experience that opened my eyes to being female and that I was not supposed to be smart. I wasn’t supposed to deshine the boys. That broke me…I had accepted this narrative that girls should be seen and not heard.” Following this incident, she started to pull away in class, participating less and sitting in the back, feeling discouraged about pursuing something she was passionate about.
In 1999, Okorafor was awarded a scholarship to pursue a master’s and Ph.D. within computer engineering in the USA. It wasn’t until she started attending her program that she started to process the pain of not being “allowed to be smart or speak up,” solely because of her gender. She realized how many girls were probably in a similar position as she was, discouraged from pursuing their education in addition to having unsupportive parents. Feeling an obligation to take action, Okorafor felt this need to elevate the voices of girls in Nigeria, establishing Women to Advance African Women (WAAW), a need-based scholarship program that assists girls wanting to study science and technology in college. The foundation also provides teaching training, boot camps, mentors, and coaches.
Today, the foundation successfully operates in 34 university chapters within 17 African countries. However, when Okorafor started the program, she could only offer one $500 scholarship because she only received a graduate stipend of less than $1,000 monthly. Growing this foundation became an important priority and a passion for her as she increased the number of scholarships with each passing year. “A journey of 1,000 years starts with a single step. If you truly believe in what you’re doing, take that first step,” Okorafor describes as she discusses the initial steps of starting her foundation.
The journey of Herbal Goodness started with that “single step” as well. In 2011, when she was pregnant with her third child, Okorafor expressed an interest in becoming healthier. Her friend recommended eating papayas during pregnancy. After buying them from her local market, she realized that the taste differed greatly from what she was used to from her childhood back in Nigeria. After researching, Okorafor discovered how genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are present in our food and that papaya is the first GMO fruit made available for human consumption. A new passion was born where Okorafor wanted to start promoting healthier lifestyle practices and natural alternatives. Through Herbal Goodness, she began to offer products containing the superfoods she grew up with.
Herbal Goodness has expanded beyond the natural alternatives originating from Okorafor’s childhood. With the opportunity to visit global communities, Okorafor has met farmers who carry ancient wisdom about the nutritional benefits of different herbs and foods. She emphasizes the significance of hearing these stories and educating the vast international market of the benefits often overlooked within mother nature. Herbal Goodness’s products are 100% organic certified, non-GMO, and tested to the highest standards. The company remains sustainable through its business practices and offers complete transparency with where its products come from. In addition, farmers get paid a fair market value, as Herbal Goodness values fair trade practices. Through Okorafor’s passion for empowering others, 10% of profits are donated to her foundation, WAAW.
Feeling an impactful sense of gratitude, Okorafor prioritizes empowering others through health and education. She highlights, “health is a journey. I would love to see a world where the first place of living healthy is going to Mother Earth and nature to look at what nature has given us to stay healthy.”
Okorafor’s journey has made her realize, “I used to back off from reaching my dreams because I used to think that I was too little, too small, too that. Now I realize that I’m doing others a disservice. The more I reach for my dreams, the more successful I am. The more I share my story, the more I empower other people to reach for their dreams. We should all do that because each of our dreams is valid.”
Website: Herbal Goodness
Women to Advance African Women
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