Entrepreneur Spotlight: Saran Sow Barry, Founder of Afro Baobab Events

Tell us about your background and journey to becoming an entrepreneur.

My name is Saran Sow Barry. I was born in Paris and raised in Guinea Conakry in West Africa where I stayed until end of high school. I left Guinea to go to London when I was 17 to pursue my university studies. I have a Bachelor in Business Administration and a Master in Change Management.

I started my professional career in investment banking at BNP Paribas Arbitrage as a documentation specialist. Later, I worked in the credit insurance industry at Euler Hermes as a Business Analyst. There have been many gaps in my career due to maternity leaves and family responsibilities. These gaps in my CV led me to become an entrepreneur. I wanted flexibility and independence in my professional career, and traditional corporate jobs could not give me these. From that point, I knew that being an entrepreneur was best suited to my needs and ambitions.

What is the inspiration behind your company, Afro Baobab Events.

The diverse and multicultural aspects of Dubai, and the easiness to set up and start a business made Dubai a perfect place for me to initiate a business like Afro Baobab Events. Additionally, I noticed the absence of authentic and traditional Francophone West African cuisine in Dubai. Most West African restaurants in Dubai are Nigerian restaurants, so there was a gap to be filled. Then, I imagined that it would be nice to have a complete and immersive experience to differentiate myself from restaurants. So that’s how the whole African experience came to life by not only offering food, but with the entertainment and African decor included. I wanted to make my guests travel and to be immersed by the West African culture with food, music, decor, and entertainment.

What does your company Afro Baobab Events do? And why is it unique?

At Afro Baobab Events, we are dedicated to transporting our guests to West African lands by crafting premium, unique, authentic, and curated experiences that leverage on creativity, innovative thinking, and passion for the African culture. We specialise in meticulous event planning that exceeds client expectations and creates lasting memories for all participants.

Our events and services are unique to Dubai and many parts of the world. We bring a premium experience to our guests at their chosen venue. We concoct food that is authentic and unknown to most people in Dubai. We offer djembe drumming to bring that energetic vibe that only the djembe can create. We have brought unique African artefacts such as calabashes, African masks for our guests to paint on and go back home with them to remember their experience. We have also brought traditional African instruments that are performed live during our events. It’s just the perfect blend and unique experience for people who are passionate about traveling and discovering different cultures.

Tell us more about the kind of events, locations, and options you offer. What can clients expect when they book an event with Afro Baobab?

We offer three types of services:

Africa at home experience: This is a package we designed to organize premium African themed events for any kind of celebrations at the client’s home or chosen venue. It includes an elegant and chic African themed décor, a four-course set menu of West African authentic cuisine, a session of dancing and djembe drumming, a live traditional music performance and lastly a fun and artistic session of painting on African masks and calabashes.

Retreat to Africa lands: We customize this package to offer a unique, premium, and engaging experience for team bonding events, inspired by West African culture, for Dubai-based corporate teams who are craving a different and refreshing approach to team activities. We design team bonding experiences through African art, dance, djembe drumming and West African cuisine to complete the journey.

Educational School Workshops: This package is specially designed for nurseries, schools, and universities. We immerse students in the vibrant and diverse cultures, histories of the African continent through engaging and interactive experiences, unique blend of hands-on activities, captivating presentations, and immersive storytelling.

Entertainment Services: We also provide various entertainment services such as African-themed children entertainment, hiring services of our talented master drummers/dancers and traditional African instrument musicians, etc. Our goal is to become the preferred partner for all African related entertainment services in Dubai.

You offer team bonding experiences for corporates, what are the benefits of this?

We celebrate cultural diversity and inclusivity during our team bonding events, and the UAE is the perfect place to demonstrate this. Our approach is fun, authentic, and unique because our hands-on experiences such as drumming, art, dance, storytelling, and our culinary exploration all in one package will enhance team members’ creativity, sense of collaboration and contribute to an overall spirit of togetherness.

Traditional djembe drumming is a mood booster that helps improve communication, concentration, and listening skills among the team members. It also fosters a sense of unity, collaboration, and creativity which are all great team bonding outcomes. Drumming has also been linked to stress reduction and relaxation. The rhythmic patterns and focus required during drumming can help participants enter a meditative state of mind.

Traditional dance: Our traditional African dances are performed in groups, and they emphasize community and social cohesion. Participating in these dances fosters a sense of belonging, strengthens social bonds, and promotes unity within a community. African dances often involve complex rhythmic patterns and intricate footwork. It can be quite challenging for beginners, but it is so much fun. Learning and practicing these dances can enhance rhythm and coordination skills, contributing to improved motor skills and body awareness.

African art: With its diverse forms, styles, and cultural influences, African art holds numerous benefits such as educating teams about the continent’s history and cultures and raising awareness about the diversity and complexity of African societies. Additionally, African art is known for its innovative use of materials, techniques, and symbolism. Exposure to these creative elements can inspire participants to think more innovatively and embrace their creativity in various aspects of life.

Culinary exploration completes the whole journey. The teams will discover and share West African super foods with countless nutrients for the body. For example, our Baobab tree fruit contains six times more vitamin C than oranges, twice more calcium than milk, and 15 times more antioxidants than kiwis.

What has been the biggest success you have experienced with Afro Baobab Events?

Our last event with a F&B company anniversary went really well. The feedback was amazing, and they told us that they really felt they travelled to African lands, which is our main goal. Most of the feedback we get is great, people love the concept, they find it unique and detailed as we are in charge of every aspect of the events. Our guests feel welcomed, humanised, appreciated, and cared for. This is the message we want to convey. We are not only here to organize events, but to make our guests feel special. This is African hospitality – we make our guests feel at home even though they are in an estranged place.

With an extremely successful corporate background, what has been the biggest challenge in your entrepreneurial journey?

I’m not sure if I would call it extremely successful but yes, my few years in corporate have helped navigate smoothly through some challenges that I encountered while being an entrepreneur. My biggest challenge so far has been multi-tasking as setting up a start-up and dealing with family responsibilities have been overwhelming. I’m trying to delegate some operations if the business can afford it so that I can focus a bit on myself and my family.

What does a day in the life of the CEO of Afro Baobab Events look like?

I start the day early around 6am, prepare the kids, and then take them to school. After dropping them at school, I go to the gym and work out for one hour or so, and then I go back home.

After a quick session of meditation, I begin my day of work by checking my emails, work on my monthly goals, and attend some meetings if scheduled. Event planning requires a lot of coordination, so I also meet with my clients and suppliers to make sure everything is flawless ahead of the event. I’ll stop around 3pm to pick up the kids and do our rounds of pickup and drop offs to the kids’ extra curriculum activities. If I have more work to do, I will log back in at night after putting my youngest child in bed. That’s basically my day.

What advice would you like to give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

To never give up and be patient. I know it’s cliché, but it’s real. I’m on my fifth business idea and had many failures which I now call learning experiences. When the right time comes, things will start happening.

What is next for you? What are your goals for the next 5 years?

My goal for Afro Baobab for the next 5 years is to be the preferred partner for African-themed entertainment services in the UAE. I would love for us to expand in other Emirates and to be seen as the best service provider in our field.

Where can readers find out more about you and Afro Baobab Events? 

Readers can visit our website at www.afrobaobab.com to find out more about what we do. Everything is explained in detail, and the website is very user friendly.

They can also follow us on Instagram to have regular updates about our events at @afro_baobab, and finally they can find us on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/company/afro-baobab-events/.

Editor-In-Chief of Bizpreneur Middle East