“Always choose your network wisely” – CEO and social activist Anyier Yuol’s top tips for business success

Commitment, organisation and motivation – these are the three main skills young people need to be successful, according to fashion entrepreneur and social justice advocate, Anyier Yuol.

And these skills are the reason Anyier has become so successful, as well as an inspiration to many young people around the world. 

Apart from having a huge social following, Anyier is the CEO of Miss Sahara and Anyier Model Management. She is involved in the United Nation High Commission for Refugees and is an advocate for women and minority communities within the beauty and fashion industries.

Anyier is just one of the speakers at the Future State Youth Symposium on Wednesday, June 9, at the Pioneer Theatre. The event will also include career stalls, prizes, food and a chance to network and hear from other influential young people about how they turned their dreams into a reality.

Focus sat down with Anyier to discuss entrepreneurship, the importance of being organised and how to find a mentor.

Q: Why did you start Miss Sahara and Anyier Model Management and what were the first steps you took to make this happen?

A: I started Miss Sahara and Anyier Model Management because of the lack of equality and representation that I was facing in the fashion industry. I was competing in the Australian beauty industry, particularly beauty pageants like Miss World Australia and Miss Grand Australia, and I would always find myself as the only woman of colour or as an African woman without any other minority groups. So I took notice for quite some time and then one time I competed for one of the biggest pageants and I was told that Australia wasn’t ready to crown a minority to represent Australia at an international pageant.

I think that fuelled my motivation to start talking about diversity and inclusion in the Australian beauty industry. At that time there were a lot of issues when it came to portraying African people and there was always negative representation of the African community in the media – this was back in 2016 to 2018. So I decided to take action, make a change and be the voice for some of the young African women who wanted to get into the industry and who might find it hard to get involved because they might not see the representation. So I told myself to go for it, take a stand and create something that can bring the Australian community together and also create opportunities for African women.

I went around and did my own research about the industry, about diversity and inclusion, and what that looks like in an Australian context. I then decided to launch Miss Sahara, which at the time started as a beauty pageant to train young African women and give them a platform, then encourage them to go in to the mainstream and be part of the bigger world of the beauty industry.

From there, I took that initiative and got in contact with some friends to come on board as a committee. Two years after Miss Sahara was launched, it was really successful and I saw that we were more than a beauty pageant and we were actually bringing young African women together to have a safe space and a platform where they can talk about some of the issues they might face in their own communities. I also saw how they could tap into my resources and the network I have around me so they could better themselves in whatever career they choose.

While that was happening, I recognized that I wasn’t representing other communities – the Muslim community, the South East Asian community, the Indigenous community, any community that are underrepresented and don’t have that voice in the fashion industry. So I decided to launch the modelling agency and that agency was a platform to say “look I’m not just focusing on promoting the diversity of African women, I want to promote every community that feels underrepresented”. And that’s how Anyier Model Management was established as a business in the industry over two years ago.

Q: What do you think is the key to a successful start-up?

A: I think the key to starting up your own business or stepping into the entrepreneurship field is being motivated. You have to have a cause and a reason for doing what you’re doing because that will determine how far you can build your brand and business and how successful it can become.

First is knowing why you are doing it and the second part is being motivated. Make sure you’re guiding the conversation, working with artists to collaborate and making sure things are happening.

My brand has been established around social impact. I have branded my start-up business around that and it’s close to my heart so when I am working on projects I don’t feel like it’s too much work because I love it.

Obviously you need to understand the concept of financial literacy and all the basics but in general I think having a vision and knowing your cause will allow you to really develop something.

Q: Last year presented many challenges – how did you maintain your businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: With Miss Sahara, it is an annual event so unfortunately we did have to cancel which did have a financial effect on us. What we did instead, given that most of my projects are built around social impact, was move everything online and we ended up scheduling a workshop for African young women online to attend. We invited and collaborated with people from the community to start that momentum.

Miss Sahara became more than a beauty pageant; it became a leadership program for African women so we continued to really cater to our young people and young women and started creating conversations to guide them. We also tried to take a step back, in a way, to really look at what the vision was long term.

With the agency it was a bit different because there were no photoshoots and things like that. We were definitely impacted by not being able to get people to book us for jobs. We’re also not a medium sized business so we couldn’t get funding so everything was pretty much on hold.

Q: As well as being the CEO of Miss Sahara and Anyier Model Management and former chair of the Australian National Committee on Refugee Women, you are also involved in the United Nation High Commission for Refugees and advocate work. How do you manage your time? Do you have any tips for others?

A: I always say this to everyone I speak to – in life you have to be organised. Organise your time from when you wake up in the morning to when you go to sleep. You need to know what is happening in your day. Knowing will reduce stress and will also allow you to function and work better.

I am a very organised person. From 7am to 11pm, I know what I’m doing. I have my professional work calendar integrated into my personal calendar. That has always been me and I work that way. I always encourage young people to be organised because that is a skill that you need in whatever work you pursue. If you’re not organised, things can get out of hand and that’s how people find themselves stressing.

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve received and still live by?

A: Always choose your network wisely. That’s something that was taught to me when I was young – make sure you surround yourself with likeminded people. I think that has stuck with me over the years. We need to choose wisely who we surround ourselves with. That is what will set you apart and help you to focus on your vision because it is easy to be influenced by others and easy to go in the wrong direction. So that has definitely been ongoing advice that I get and that I give people.

Q: Do you have a mentor? If so, how have they helped you?

A: I have many, many mentors. I think it’ so important to have a mentor, regardless of how successful you think you are. I have business mentors and personal development mentors. I have people that I know I can just tap on the shoulder and have a conversation.

In my career right now and in my lifestyle, I am an entrepreneur on one side and I am a community activist on another side. I work on a lot of advocacy within the United Nations. Each of these areas will have a person who has expertise so it’s important to get a different wealth of knowledge and as much advice as I can from people. I have mentors who guide me through these conversations, who I can turn to and say I’m struggling, how can you help me.

Q: Do you have any advice on how to find a mentor?

A: Do your research but also start with people that you already know. Often we have people in our network and we don’t realise they can be our mentor. Start within your network and identify what you want to be mentored on. Once you identify this and you know exactly what you want, the next step is always to draft a letter or an email that you can send to your potential mentor expressing why you want them to mentor you, acknowledging what they bring to the table and then send it.

The first step is always doing your own research. Know what you want and take a chance and send the email. You never know, the worst thing they could say is no and then you move onto the next person. Not everyone can be your mentor and that’s okay. Someone will always resonate with your vision for your business so it is important for an individual to first identify what they want to get out of that mentorship.

Q: Why do you think events like the Future State Youth Symposium are important?

A: The pandemic really caused chaos in every part of the world. The way of thinking and doing things around the world has shifted, through technology, and we are coming up with ways to start our own business, to engage with communities.

These types of events are really crucial for young people to understand that there are so many ways that you can build yourself up, whether through your leadership or developing businesses. It’s an opportunity for young people to ask questions about what they can do and how other people do it. No matter how successful you are, we all struggle in different ways and it’s a chance for young people to listen to some of the barriers people may have faced during their journey and how they can use that to their advantage. These types of events are important because the work is changing and young people need to think about how they can tap into their entrepreneurship but they also need to learn that it’s not that easy. You have to be committed and that’s the conversation that they need to have face to face.  

Q: What advice would you give your younger self before you started Miss Sahara and Anyier Model Management?

A: My advice would be to never give up. The world is ever changing and there are always people who can support you. When people believe in your vision, you’ll always have someone behind you. 

For more information about the Future State Youth Symposium and to register for the event, click here.

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