Empowered by Design

Getting Creative

I grew up in Jamaica with strong examples of career women whose work ethic I admire. But while female professionals excel here, it’s less likely they’ll start a business. In Jamaica 59% of managers are women, the highest rate in the world, but only about 37% of companies are women-owned and they tend to be micro or small enterprises.

I took the plunge at 29 and left the security of my middle management Marketing job to build a creative design and sound studio. I still recall the trepidation in my mother’s voice as she bravely said “If this is what you want, I’ll support you.” As a writer and artist herself, she understood that Jamaica isn’t a forgiving environment for creative enterprises. But she also believed in the value of pursuing one’s passion, which I did.

Designing a Business

My goal is to design a business that I’d want to work for and that’s in keeping with my core value of helping others become the best versions of themselves. So I’ve fashioned my company to reflect this in what we do, from instituting paternity leave, to yoga Fridays and being a safe space for open conversations. I heard once that people don’t leave jobs, they leave people. With a small company, I get to work alongside amazing people who have helped shape a relaxed, creative environment where we are motivated to continuously improve and do great work people love.

But building this hasn’t been easy. The women in my family taught me to be polite, defer to experience and play well with others. This helps if you’re building relationships, but carving a new business out of thin air often takes a firmer approach. For those moments, I’ve developed a ‘boss lady’ mode, a sneaker-wearing ‘get things done’ version of my usual more easy-going self. With these shoes on, I’ve wrangled solutions out of challenging situations that push me and my business to grow.

“I’ve developed a ‘boss lady’ mode, a sneaker-wearing, ‘get things done’ version of myself”

Balancing these personas of ‘easy going’ and ‘boss lady’ isn’t easy. My feminine sensibilities say ‘downplay your successes Kenia, don’t claim authority; pay your dues.’ But I’ve learned in ‘boss lady’ mode the value of taking credit, and celebrating success following Usain Bolt’s example. This leadership journey and a strong support network of colleagues, friends and women’s entrepreneurship groups have helped me become more comfortable in allowing myself to be the things I want to be. I think this also applies to other ladies I’ve discussed this with who form part of the 37%.

Designing the Future

Greatercakes StoriesMy mission is to empower girls and boys through literacy and inspire self confidence in kids who can see themselves in the afrocentric characters we design. This is why we developed GreaterCakes Workshops, which have helped kids in Trench Town and neighbouring at-risk communities write and publish their own stories in sessions specializing character development, storyboarding and inking with a tablet.

We learned the power of unlocking the kids’ desire to learn through doing what they already love and witnessed our workshops’ positive impact on their willingness to read and their performance in school.

GoLexiGo Characters

Our desire to empower kids through literacy is also why we designed Lexi, the lead character in our soon-to-be-released educational games, as a 10 year old black girl with big poofy hair and an eye for adventure. 

I want to encourage more people who look like me to find their mode, so they create, influence and shape their world- our world- for the better.





This blog is a part of the September 2017 series on Empowering women, in partnership with SPRING.

Read the full series for insights on business models that empower girls and women, a new analysis of gender impacts of value chain interventions, tips on gender-lens investing and many inspiring personal stories from women.

Kenia Mattis
Kenia Mattis
Kenia Mattis is a founder of ListenMi, a creative design studio that helps companies, communities and NGO’s create messages that excite and connect with their audiences through non-traditional brand-driven storytelling. Founded in 2013, ListenMi...

1 Comment

  1. Profile photo of Caroline Ashley, Editorial Advisor Caroline Ashley, Editor says:

    Kenia I love the way you describe the tension between your feminine sensibilities and your ‘boss-lady’ other self. I’m sure others gain from it too. Good luck growing the business, supporting other women entrepreneurs and sharing your get-go approach with kids through Lexi and her adventures.

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