Unoma Okorafor launched Herbal Goodness, the number one supplier of superfood and super herb supplements and teas within the United States to empower others on their journey of living healthy. However, before she became the powerful entrepreneur she is today, her story starts with her Nigerian upbringing that grounded her passion for empowering others through health and education.
Now, with a successful platform, Okorafor not only owns a successful health and wellness company but is also the founder of Women to Advance African Women (WAAW), an impactful scholarship foundation working to make STEM education programs accessible for African girls.
Raised by parents who viewed education as a “great equalizer,” Okorafor was encouraged to pursue her dreams within her career from an early age, despite growing up in a patriarchal society. Both her parents worked in education, which created a love for learning for Okorafor. After attending all-girls boarding schools throughout her life, she was interested in pursuing a computer engineering degree. Going from this to attending university in the city of Lagos was an intense experience for Okorafor, recalling that her courses had a ratio of 20 boys to 1 girl.
Very few girls were in STEM, never mind her computer engineering program. In her first semester, she was a bright student who actively participated in class. However, by the second semester, her male friend informed her that the other males in her class were intimidated by her intelligence, and were planning on sexually assaulting her. Reflecting on this situation, Okorafor describes it as the “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,” and started to withdraw from her education.
In 1999, Okorafor earned a scholarship to pursue a master’s and Ph.D. in computer engineering in the USA. The program proved to be an eye-opening experience for her as she started to process the pain of being forced to feel ashamed over being educated. Realizing that many girls were also in the same position as she was, Okorafor felt a strong responsibility to take action for all African girls and established her WAAW foundation. Today, the organization provides teacher training, boot camps, and mentoring and coaching for girls between the ages of 13 to 30 while also operating in 34 university chapters and reaching 10,000 girls across 17 African countries.
Launching the scholarship program while she was still a Ph.D. student, Okorafor describes it as doing things in reverse – developing a charity before she became successful. After graduating, she went on to work as a successful computer engineer until 2011, when she became pregnant with her third child and decided to take a break from feeling burnt out. Having more time on her hands, she started transforming her lifestyle, wanting to eat healthier so her unborn child can develop a strong immune system and beautiful skin.
One beneficial fruit that she recalls from her childhood was the papaya, something many pregnant women loved eating in the community she grew up. However, she began to suspect a difference in taste profile, and upon further research, she discovered how papayas found in the USA were inserted with GMOs and less likely to be organically grown. Wanting to share the cultural wisdom of the papaya and all the nutritious superfoods she grew up with, Okorafor launched Herbal Goodness, officially going to market with her products in 2013 to make organic, non-GMO, luscious food accessible for everyone.
Herbal Goodness ensures to focus on natural foods from around the world, not just the ones Okorafor grew up with. Since its launch, Okorafor has traveled to countries in South America, Asia, and Africa, and has sat down with farmers and their communities to grasp their ancient wisdom of the benefits that nature provides. Through this entire journey, Herbal Goodness has come to promote three values: quality, impact, and sustainability. While sourcing all these superfoods has been a unique challenge for Okorafor, she prioritizes ensuring that what she puts out in the marketplace is tested to the highest standard and is completely organic and non-GMO. It’s also vital to maintain sustainability and that the company is leaving a positive impact rather than a damaging one.
While Herbal Goodness grew from its own funding, Okorafor’s entrepreneurial journey also came with its challenges, from handling the supply chain in a pandemic to taking her seat at the table as an African woman. For the company, it’s vital to stay transparent and traceable through all business practices and to also stay ahead of the curve, planning ahead, especially when incorporating technology.
Through this journey, Okorafor admits the many lessons she has learned, such as the significance of being customer-oriented when developing products. It’s important to be customer-centric and to empathize with their stories, especially when wanting to empower them to create a healthier lifestyle for themselves. Additionally, Okorafor has constantly felt an obligation to do business for social good as her platform grows, donating 10% of profits made to her WAAW foundation. It ties into her message of empowerment, whether it’s to support others through health or education or to collaborate with others instead of to compete.
To come full circle, Okorafor has also learned the importance of sharing her own story and feeling proud of her efforts to truly empower others. “If you have a great product, if you’re doing great work, the world will not know about it just by you sitting in your own quiet corner and doing your own thing and being really humble about it, shying away from talking about it.”
Herbal Goodness is transforming the health and wellness industry by approaching it from a different angle and emphasizing that health is a journey— “it’s not a once and for all, it’s a once and forever.” Unlike supplement companies that promise quick results that sound too good to be true, Herbal Goodness backs up its products with research and transparency.
Bringing superfoods from around the world to the center stage, the company cares for the environment and ensures that the farmers who are in charge of growing the foods and herbs are compensated at a fair market value. From the farmer, the foods are always checked for quality throughout the supply chain and are packaged into the most convenient product possible — from supplements, teas, pills, or extracts.
Since establishing herself as a powerful entrepreneur, Okorafor’s main takeaway is to always trust her intuition, and it’s something she would advise other entrepreneurs to do as well. It’s what’s leading her into her exciting future as her gratefulness constantly increases for the various opportunities she has received. In a few closing words about what’s next on her entrepreneurial journey, Okorafor says, “I’m in a place where I want to say yes to the universe. I think it’s about the journey more than the destination. I want to enjoy the journey, I want to build more community, and take people along with me on this journey, but I am excited to see what the universe has for me. I say yes – whatever it is- I say yes to the universe.”
Website: Herbal Goodness
Foundation Website: Women to Advance African Women
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