In 2017, Senegalese entrepreneur Souadou Niang opened Palms Luxury Boutique Hotel in Dakar, Senegal. However, behind this amazing accomplishment lies a story of an African woman who started out as a hotel cleaner in the US.
“I started cleaning toilets. Today, I am the manager of my own five-star boutique hotel with 60 employees,” Souadou Niang told BBC Africa.
Born and raised in Dakar, Souadou Niang moved to New York when she was 18. When she got there, she had to work to pay for her studies.
“Then I moved to Washington DC and one day I walked past the Ritz Carlton. I saw how beautiful it was, and I asked if they had a job vacancy. So I worked as a cleaning lady while studying,” Niang recalled.
Despite working in the lower rank of the hotel, Niang was confident about her potential.
“My vision was to be part of the management. It was a melting pot with Mexicans, Ghanaians. So as a Senegalese [woman] I thought I also have my place,” she said.
After working for 10 years in the hotel in Washington, Niang got her Bachelors degree, and she got a job with the management team at the same hotel she started working as a cleaner.
“I rose through the ranks and that’s where I got the passion. I said one day I will go back to my country and show that luxury and quality of service can be achieved there.”
Sure enough, after returning to Senegal, Niang opened Palms Luxury Boutique Hotel, with a unique characteristic— 80% of the staff is female.
“I decided to set up a structure led by women. As a woman, I knew what I was capable of, and I saw it in African women. For me, women are born managers, because they have the capacity to manage a lot of things. You only need to do a short training course to have what you want,” she explained.
Niang told BBC Africa that things were difficult initially.
”I only had answers such as ‘You won’t get far’, ‘It’s not for women’, ‘It is not for African women’, and I had no guarantees in Dakar. Unfortunately, banks aren’t shaped like in the US, where you don’t need guarantees. I knocked on the door of several banks,” she said.
However, things started to change for the better when she met an investor who believed in her project of building a luxury hotel in Dakar.
“One day I got lucky. In one of the banks, there was a risk committee, and the director who manages all the bank’s branches in Africa was present at one of the meetings. He said to me: “I see your determination. I see your eyes sparkle when you talk about your project. I believe in you. I’ll take the risk of lending you money.”
Now, this Senegalese woman wants to expand her business across Africa, and other countries outside the continent.
“My dream is to conquer Africa, and why not the world. As the international hotel franchises in Africa, we should be able to adapt our Afro-chic boutique hotels in Western countries, and show African women can run luxury boutique hotels with the same standards as the international hotels,” concluded Niang.