DISSIRAMA LAO | FOUNDER OF MANYATTA NETWORK AND CONSULTANT AT KPMG
A bit about Dissirama. Dissirama is a Senior Consultant at KPMG Advisory Services where she specializes in Financial Risk Management. With over 8 years of experience in Financial Services experience she has built an expertise in Corporate Governance and Risk Management. She is also the Leader of the Manyatta Network, a networking group which advocates for stronger relationships within the African Diaspora with over 700 subscribers in Toronto and 250 subscribers in Montreal.
SAYASPORA: Why did you decide to get involved with /start the MANYATTA Network? What were some of your motivations? In other words why was it so important to have a professional network for African Diasporians in Montreal and Toronto?
DISSIRAMA: First of all for readers who may wonder what Manyatta means, Manyatta is a Maasai word for settlement or compound, often temporary, established by a family or clan, or as an encampment of young warriors. Are we all Maasai warriors trying to build huts forming a unit within a common fence? No. But we do embrace the culture of mobility, dexterity and community that Manyatta entails and so should you.
The origin story behind Manyatta Network is that many years ago, a group of Kenyan professionals used to meet for drinks every once in a while at a restaurant in Yorkville, Toronto, called “Manyatta”, the group grew, became more Pan-African but unfortunately stopped meeting for a few years when the leader of the group, Anthony Kimani (great guy! I love to call him the founding father which he shies away from), left to pursue his MBA. I met him a few months after I moved from Montreal to Toronto to pursue my career and during a casual discussion about our respective networks in Toronto, he told me the story and it clicked: Manyatta Network! Our community needed this, but we had a leadership problem. It took me a year to consider and develop my vision for the group and how to carry it forward in a way that would make my parents proud! That is my benchmark for a lot of the things I do and it never failed me. Jokes aside, the goal was for me to put together a simple but effective concept that would benefit our community. Changing our experience in Toronto and beyond in a simple but meaningful way: by coming together.
I decided to lead “Manyatta Network” which I “re- launched” in November 2013 by combining my network and Anthony’s. The main goals were to first provide a networking venue for professionals who understand the value of building lasting relationships and to facilitate growth in social capital in the community by getting these professionals to give back to community organizations (not for profits or charitable initiatives) making amazing things happen in the cities and communities where we live via an annual gala called “Manyatta Cares”.
SAYASPORA: The raison d’être of our organization SAYASPORA is the African Diaspora and we are very much concerned with the experiences of African Diasporians and Africans at large. This is something we share in common with the MANYATTA Network. In your opinion what are some of the challenges that face African Diasporians particularly in business and in the professional sector?
DISSIRAMA: One challenge I may speak to is the lack of opportunities, and venues to meet for professionals standing in their own rights, on an upward career or business trajectory willing to create opportunities for others directly or indirectly. This is a self-inflicted barrier we are breaking with every single networking session. Whether you are an Intern, Partner, Senior Vice President, Founder, or in between careers, we create a space where you to get to know the people beyond the titles and this is what makes for a solid foundation that can take you to the next level.
SAYASPORA: We pay special attention to the stories of women and their stories as well their projects in the diaspora. As a women of the African diaspora what have been some of your biggest challenges and how were you able to overcome them?
DISSIRAMA: I cannot say I have encountered challenges or struggles per say specifically related to me being a woman. Instead I have met and worked with talented men and women within the Diaspora that were driven by the reward to making a positive and a long lasting impact in the way professionals relate to each other in the cities where Manyatta Network has set up a tribe: Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City. I also want to say that Manyatta Network would not have been where it is if we had not been able to break through the Diaspora realm. We have volunteers, attendees, sponsors, partners and supporters from diverse backgrounds which adds to the value we were able to offer our members. We value a global-mindset. As a team leader of course the biggest test is to lead by example, set the tone for success and ensure the people you need the most, which are the team members are fulfilled in the ways they contribute. The next step is to ensure that we meet our vision and goals, not just at year-end but consistently for every single event we organize. Can I say I have the utmost respect for women in the African Diaspora who work hard and set aside stereotypes to fulfill their dreams and purpose by bringing creating solutions to the table? Then yes, I totally do. I support you. I admire you. Keep on moving forward!
SAYASPORA: Since we started our web platform in 2015 I think what has had the greatest impact on me is hearing the stories of different women in the diaspora and how they have been able to overcome and make names for themselves in their own right. What has impacted you the most working at MANYATTA?
DISSIRAMA: Great question! I cannot pinpoint a single event that impacted me but I can honestly say that this entire experience has raised my game. Working behind the scenes to achieve this is hard work, therefore if one does not have the passion discipline, and execution required it will not work. My team as well as attendees I have met at each networking session have made me a more effective person, even at my day job! A very wise man once told me that the difference between what you say and what you do is called hypocrisy therefore, execution is everything.
I have also learnt that networking is not about you going out there and handing out cards to make a name for yourself, it is about building genuine relationships that may or may not be directly related to your field. It is about getting access, building a wealth of knowledge. It’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, it’s what they know about you that determines your future therefore be ready to act in a way that lets us see you and do not hide behind your title.
SAYASPORA: Looking at your page I was delighted to see African women who are professionals and excel in their own right and the diverse professions they are all in. It was refreshing to see because sometimes among Africans we tend not to celebrate certain professions as much as we do others. How do think we can overcome this?
DISSIRAMA: As you have mentioned this can be overcome by networking beyond our immediate connections attending networking sessions bringing a diverse group of professionals or attending events going beyond for specific professional field but that still represent an area of interest. I believe groups like SAYASPORA have that mission as well, to bring a diversity of successful professionals to light. Among different Diasporas or even for “locals” you will always have a stereotype of what success looks like: a banker, a doctor or a lawyer maybe? But it come down to having more examples and awareness of what success looks like in other fields.
SAYASPORA: Lastly, what is next for MANYATTA? Will you be extending the network past Montreal and Toronto?
DISSIRAMA: Oh yes! As mentioned in my previous answer, Manyatta has set up shop in Quebec City as at 2016 and you can sign up for their newsletter or ask your connections in Quebec City to sign up at www.manyattanetwork.com. Our model is fairly simple but it take tremendous dedication and a strong team to see it come to pass. Manyatta does not grow by numbers but by strength of professional connections and in term of the difference we are making to building social capital whether we live. Therefore, Manyatta Network would consider setting up a tribe in Riviere du Loup even, as long as two or three people are gathered!
For more info about the MANYATTA network please visit their website www.manyattanetwork.com. Be sure to check out their Link to Africa Series on May 13th. For more details bout the event visit Manyatta Network on Facebook.