CONNECTING KIDS TO THE DIASPORA
a conversation with Watchen Nyanue, co-founder of Little Doebahyou
Nneka Ude, founder
WILLIETTE & WATCHEN NYANUE
CO-FOUNDER, LITTLE DOEBAHYOU
“You must believe in your product. You will face so many questions about what you are doing and why you are doing it. If you aren’t proud of it, don’t do it.”
- Watchen Nyanue, Cofounder, Little Doebahyou
Building a business takes focus, vision and raw determination. Turning a business into a community requires leadership, tenacity, and an even stronger sense of purpose. When I met with Little Doebahyou’s cofounder, Watchen Nyanue, earlier this year, it was clear that she and her sister and cofounder, Williette, were doing more than creating a great product for children. They were reimagining the future of cultural education.
As a monthly subscription box, Little Doebahyou introduces the sights and sounds of the African Diaspora to elementary school kids ages 6 - 11. Each cultural activity box comes equipped with games, recipe cards, and other fun educational materials that speak to the culture and history of a country within the diaspora. “We always talk about society being global, but very little is being done to bring that reality to life for black and brown children,” says Watchen as she reflects on the whitespace Little Doebahyou aims to occupy. “As a kid, if the first time you are introduced to someone from another country or culture is in a way you can understand, it makes it easier to accept and embrace your differences and not fear or judge them.” Making culture approachable and accessible to children was the impetus behind Little Doebahyou. “Right now, in the public-school system, there are only certain countries that kids are learning about. Before we started, we did a nationwide survey where we asked parents how satisfied they were with the level of cultural education, black history, their kids where getting in school. The highest score we got was a 3, and that came from parents with kids attending a culturally based school.”
The drive to create a brand that demystifies and connects through culture was shaped by Watchen’s own experiences as a Liberian immigrant growing up in the U.S. “When I started school here, there was a part of me that wanted to assimilate really quickly. No one wants to be made fun of because of their accent, or that your mom sounds a certain way, or because your lunch isn’t a sandwich and potato chips.” These memories and a desire to ensure her nieces and nephews take pride in their heritage has become Little Doebahyou’s north star. The challenge of feeling different is something that many children of African and Caribbean parents face in the U.S. What it means to be Black in America, but not African-American, has yet to be fully dimensionalized in a meaningful way for kids and adults alike. Little Doebahyou is reframing how kids see the diaspora; broadening the conversation and connecting the dots one country at a time. “The content that we create bridges the gap between a country within the diaspora and the United States,” Watchen explains. “We try to find the commonalities between two places so that a kid can understand and have something concrete to relate back to. For example, hopscotch in Haiti is the same as hopscotch in America.” Small connections can make a world of difference. By designing products that educate kids through family-oriented activities, Little Doebahyou is closing a knowledge gap that has plagued black and brown communities for far too long.
Shifting the worldview of children isn’t an easy task, but it is one the company is poised to tackle. In less than 12 months, Little Doebahyou has grown from just an idea to a revenue generating engine. Much of their growth is attributed to an intense focus on product quality, customer service, word-of-mouth, and strategic partnerships with nonprofits, school districts, and community organizations. Product demos and in-home play dates have helped build awareness and foster loyalty among existing customers; and a partnership with the YWCA Metro Chicago’s YShop will help to extend their reach and grow their audience.
By the end of 2017, Little Doebahyou expects to have touched more than 2,500 families with their product. A solid illustration of progress and growth for a company that will have only been around for 14 months by the end of the year.