Ally Angula: Explore, Dream, Discover

When Ally Angula dreams, she dreams big. The ambitious mission of this Namibian’s multi-sector business venture, Leap Holdings, is to impact one million lives through the creation of sustainable manufacturing jobs. Less than five years since the day she walked away from a lucrative career as a partner in a global accounting firm, Ally has proven to her fellow citizens they can shift from their role of consumers to creators of innovative brands and contribute to the strengthening of an economically powerful Namibia.

“I’m no longer a disillusioned African. I avoid those dinners where the discussion is centred around the direction of this country and how things are not working because I feel, if we choose, we can be part of the solution. I’ve always been a dreamer, I guess we all are. The difference comes with following through on your dream and having the ability to make it a reality.”

Courtesy of Vtoriia Photography

Ally was born in a SWAPO refugee camp in Lubango, Angola, where her parents fled as exiles during Namibia’s fight for autonomy. Her mom was the head nurse and her father oversaw operations. With her parents taking pivotal roles in the camp, Ally led a happy and fairly unrestricted childhood, a situation that continued when they returned to Namibia in 1990 following independence. “My parents were very open and allowed us children a lot of leeway. The one rule we had to obey was that we would all get a university education.”

On that count, Ally did not disappoint. The mother-of-two has an honors accounting degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and business certifications from prestigious universities like Harvard, London School of Business, and GIBS. Ally qualified as a chartered accountant because she found she didn’t have to work too hard understanding accounts, it came naturally to the logic-minded Namibian. She spent eleven years with a global accounting firm, KPMG, the last five and half as a successful partner. In her own words, “life was pretty perfect” until a trip to her husband’s native Zimbabwe turned her world view on its head.

Returning from a late night of dancing in Harare, Ally and her co-revellers, a group of equally accomplished professionals, were waylaid by a policeman seeking bribes. “We were arrested for loitering and expected to pay up, but when we called his bluff and asked to see his ID, the officer took us to jail and charged the females with prostitution and the men, including my husband, with solicitation! In the end, we had to hand over some ‘bread money’ to get out of there,” she recalls. 

After the ordeal ended, the group laughed it off, but Ally was left shaken with an underlying feeling of dismay. “Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of Southern Africa. How could things have gone so wrong? I read as much as I could about the continent and began to see a pattern. No country has grown its economy on the importation of goods. By consuming locally produced items, we can reduce our import bill and the need to hold significant foreign currency in our reserves, which is expensive for our economy. Even though it is vastly different from Zimbabwe, I visualized what Namibia could look like in 20 years if we Africans did nothing — if I did nothing. It was at that point that I became highly motivated to make a difference and decided to get into manufacturing to create sustainable jobs. But in all honesty, it was partly selfish too because I didn’t want my kids finding themselves in a similar situation where the system fails it people.”

“I’m no longer a disillusioned African. I avoid those dinners where the discussion is centred around the direction of this country and how things are not working because I feel, if we choose, we can be part of the solution. I’ve always been a dreamer, I guess we all are. The difference comes with following through on your dream and having the ability to make it a reality.”

Manufacturing it would be, but what? Ally shared her plans with many, but only her husband, Manna, thought her driven enough to see it through. “Most people thought I was burned out or still traumatized by the event in Zimbabwe and all I needed was time. One friend even suggested it was a mid-life crisis,” she laughs. It took about two years to figure it out, but she finally settled on garment production. “My driving force is to engage in sectors that create sustainable jobs. We wanted to manufacture something the world understood, something we could export. People know clothes so that’s where we started.” 

In 2013, together with Manna as co-founder, Ally launched Leap Holdings with funds from her partnership days and eventually some debt financing from banks. A small factory was started in Windhoek producing garments which lead to the My Republik clothing brand, the first Namibian commercial clothing brand of its kind, being announced during 2014. The entire brand is designed, developed, cut, trimmed, and sewn in Namibia and sold in own-branded outlets in Namibia with plans for branches across Southern Africa and eventually the global market. At the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, My Republik was selected as the Best Woman-Owned Business in Africa. Around the same time, the manufacturing facility was relocated  to Witvlei, expanding to 100 employees and offering job opportunities in an area where unemployment is higher than 90%. In addition to the My Republik brand, the factory produces a wide variety of garments, such as personal protective wear and t-shirts on demand. 

Ally’s goal to control as much of the value chain as possible is what led the business into agriculture, its third business line after manufacturing and retail. “At first we thought we could grow our own cotton to make fabric, but that wasn’t possible due to pest contamination of food crops so we considered bamboo. When we sought funding to do some testing, the banks were not interested so we spoke to the Agronomic Board to find out what food products Namibia imports the most. It turns out potatoes and onions are lucrative so we figured we’d make some money to fund the research and it grew from there.” Today Leap Agribusiness produces local crops sold wholesale all over the country. The company is considering venturing into food processing as the next natural step. 

In addition to running the Leap Group, Ally serves as a director on the boards of multiple companies including the Bank of Namibia, Oryx Properties, Rössing Uranium, and the National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia. Positions which give her great insights into other industries and ideas she can apply to her own small-but-growing business empire. The 38-year-old has also been recognised for her achievements: she was selected as an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Fellow in 2013, and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and Dangote Fellow in 2015. 

Because she feels so strongly that Africa’s future lies in the hands of home-grown entrepreneurs, Ally announced the Dream Namibia Launchpad, which invites aspiring entrepreneurs to submit business plans to a panel of private equity and angel investors, VC firms, and bankers every quarter. The best ideas receive mentorship during the one-on-one sessions. “Give us a blank canvas and we will not only splash on it a million dreams; we will have a good go at making them a reality,” she says simply.

As you can imagine, it’s difficult to balance work and family life, but Ally credits her husband of more than 14 years. “Manna is super supportive. He manages to keep all of us together. I am trying to get the balance tight but it’s a struggle, I haven’t cracked that yet,” she admits sheepishly.

For Ally, it’s all about hard work and determination. “If you want to be successful, you need to put in the time. Be prepared to get up early and work late. Everything comes from the effort that you put in, act even in a small way towards realising your dreams daily. Excuse the naysayers for they do not understand the strength of your will and ability to execute your vision.”

Who knew getting arrested could lead to such an amazing journey?

This story is part of a collection of 60 stories of African women entrepreneurs available in the book Women Creating Wealth. You can order a copy by clicking here.

Ally Angula’s startup tips
  • Regardless of age, gender or position, leaders are able to get people to follow and respect them such that they have team buy-in for proposed plans and actions. Strong leaders listen to their people but also act when it’s in their best interest.
  • The follow through is just as important as the first action, if not more important!
  • Back your dreams with action. Stand up for what you know is right and don’t let anyone tell you that it cannot be done.
  • In terms of planning, set goals for the month, broken down into weeks and then set three main goals for the day to help you be intentional. Do block sessions during the day focusing on these goals.

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