Serial entrepreneur Danielle Kayembe is steadfast in flipping the centuries of male-dominated frameworks to usher in a global economy rooted in the empowerment of women. You have an open invitation to be a part of this vision, allowing you to take ownership over your unique form of leadership. As the Founder and CEO of GreyFire, Danielle Kayembe supports entrepreneurs to drive innovative strategies for the economic independence of women and youth in the United States and Africa. For Danielle, this is the key to dismantle the patriarchal systems and languages that shape the world; what Danielle calls coded patriarchy.
Shaping this call-to-action is Danielle’s own introspection, as she reflected – “from the outside people see a certain trajectory of my life, especially in the last two-three years. But, to me, the biggest change has been internal.”
Danielle’s passion is inspired, and in a recent conversation with Her Agenda, she shared about her motivation and personal growth, providing some messages of wisdom to shift your mindset around your abilities.
Her Agenda: What motivated you to start thinking about coded patriarchy?
Danielle Kayembe: One of my very good friends from college [married someone] who was living with a very severe disability. I remember the first time she told me, “[building] doors are designed for the tensile strength of an average man.” I never thought about that: the group of people who have access to spaces in cities are actually very limited.
Take no prisoners. Whatever it is, go for it.
There are ways in which we all experience our differences, or when what feels natural to us meets that barrier of the very poorly designed world that we live in. But I never had the words to talk about why it was that way. And I think, to me, that touched on a line of thinking and gave me a language.
Her Agenda: Were there experiences in your life that furthered this passion for you?
Danielle Kayembe: To be frank, as a woman – and as a woman of color who moves through the world – I’ve been very fortunate to have a very privileged existence. I’ve gone to top schools, and I’ve worked in investment banking, consulting, and international finance. But, none of those worlds were ever worlds that anyone envisioned me going through; there isn’t anything about those experiences that is actually comfortable. These experiences become a part of the pain points of your daily life. You experience so many frictions that it’s just a part of the life you’re living. It’s the air, the water.
Her Agenda: Can you share more about the relationship you have with your voice? If your voice had a superpower, what would its abilities be?
Danielle Kayembe: I think a lot about my voice, it has really become central in my journey, and my journey to self-actualizing myself as a woman and as a public figure. There was a part of me that was really resistant to being seen in a certain way and being seen by others. There was a process where I made this decision that if I was going to be here – going through this life experiment – that I was going to show up as all of who I was. One of the first things that I did was decide that I was going to start using my voice. And I realized after saying yes to my first panels or talks that I had a really unique perspective that was missing from the conversation.
There was a process where I made this decision that if I was going to be here – going through this life experiment – that I was going to show up as all of who I was.
I do think of my voice as something that has its own power. It’s something that I co-create when I bring ideas and thoughts into the world. In so many ways as a woman, we’re not taught to use our voices. And we’re not taught to show up at our best. And we’re not taught to trust who we are. And learning to use my voice was all about learning to trust who I am at my most intrinsic level.
Her Agenda: With your work being about women’s empowerment, what are the qualities that you’re trying to leave women with?
Danielle Kayembe: It’s so hard because the language that we use right now is really insufficient. The language that we use right now is coming in reaction to living in a system and in a world that isn’t designed for us. It is a highly reactive language.
One of the first things that I did was decide that I was going to start using my voice. And I realized after saying yes to my first panels or talks that I had a really unique perspective that was missing from the conversation.
Women are already powerful. Women are starting to step into a relationship with their own power. And, I think that the more I’ve gone on my own journey, I don’t think that you can impart a specific gift to people. And I don’t think that it’s good to try to do that. But I do believe that for me, there may be two gifts: giving women permission to step into leadership [and encouraging] leadership in the wholeness of who you are as the greatest form of service.
For years I thought that serving others meant helping each person individually. Ultimately, I stepped out of using my light to light each individual candle and stepped into being a lighthouse.
Her Agenda: What is your greatest hope for women that will lead the world of the future?
Danielle Kayembe: The way you truly help others is by being fully yourself. That is something that I don’t think I understood. I think so many women probably feel like they will be sacrificing part of who they are to become leaders, so they hold back. They hold back from being who they are, and from fully stepping into their light and their destiny. Knowing what you want, knowing what makes you feel fulfilled, that is a conversation that women need to have.
I think so many women probably feel like they will be sacrificing part of who they are to become leaders, so they hold back
Her Agenda: As a serial entrepreneur, what advice would you give our audience to find comfort in their pursuit of multiple interests and multiple projects?
Danielle Kayembe: It’s so important and, to be honest, it’s what fuels me. In order to fuel yourself, you have to feed all the parts of yourself. If you allow yourself to self-define and to not let other people’s ideas to limit your interests or limit your potential, then you can design a life that looks any way that you want. You can design a life that meets your needs and interests. I would encourage that. I would encourage women to follow what makes you happy. There’s no purpose in being here and participating in this experiment [of life] if you’re not making it fit your needs. And I think women just haven’t felt like they have permission to do that.
There’s no purpose in being here and participating in this experiment [of life] if you’re not making it fit your needs
Her Agenda: What are some last reflections you’d like to leave with the Her Agenda audience?
Danielle Kayembe: It’s such a good time to be a woman right now. I don’t think that is something that I would have always said. And, to be in your 20s and to be an adult at this time is such an exciting time because you can be ambitious and move through the world in ways that you couldn’t just a few years ago. It’s an exciting time because women can really have an impact on the culture, and on society in ways that would have been unheard of even five years ago.
It’s an exciting time because women can really have an impact on the culture, and on society in ways that would have been unheard of even five years ago.
I would say to anyone, take no prisoners. Whatever it is, go for it. Whatever it is, pursue it. There’s a changing of the guard. The people influencing the world are younger and younger. If you’re a woman, be fearless and ambitious in pursuing what makes you happy and pursuing the things you want out of life.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]