Always face criticism with grace — I am no stranger to failure or naysayers. In fact for every successful person before me and after me, there has been a failure at some point. In fact, sometimes, I feel like I have failed all my life. But with those failures have come new ideas and new ways of doing things. My friends will tell you “Benny is always going, doing something and never gives up.” They call you the lonely African warrior. I take it because to keep going is to have a chance of success. To give up is to die. I am not ready for that yet. I am still building my strength, because I have nieces, nephews, young girls and women that look to me to keep going. Because my journey makes them know they also have a fighting chance. Every failure and every naysayer has given me the power and opportunity to operate like I have every opportunity in the world. I am just a girl from Accra Ghana, who grew up in Tottenham with a global vision. I wear my failures in life and business with pride and grace, because I am human.
I had the pleasure to interview Benny Bonsu, of GiveMeSports. Benny is an award-winning global sports broadcaster and producer and currently the Head of Women’s Sport for GiveMeSports (GMS), an international sports media outlet and the number one sports publisher on Facebook. Benny’s high-profile career as a sports journalist includes previous roles at the London 2012 Olympics, BBC World service, Sky Sports, MTG Africa, BT Sport, and Matchroom Sport alongside producing some of the largest television shows in Africa. She has a long history with the NBA Africa family and is an avid supporter of youth development in sport as a founder of the Girls in Sports Foundation. Benny’s goal is to change the landscape of women in sport media with GMS Women by making it a platform where female athletes are championed and can inspire women and girls through original, honest and unapologetically bold content.
Thank you so much for joining us Benny! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a ten-year-old girl arriving in the UK in 1993, I didn’t speak a word of English. I attended a strict (at that time) Catholic school that was both famous for sports, graduating some of Great Britain’s best, and highly praised for its academics. I passed the entry test and that’s where my journey began. I played sports in school because my physical education teacher at the time believed it was the fastest way for me to learn the language — and he was right. I took part in every sport you could imagine. I was quite good at football, athletics, field hockey, road running and badminton. At the age of 18, our local sports development officer, Burk Gravis, encouraged me to complete my coaching qualifications in athletics, football and basketball. I went on to university to study for a BA in media and advertising, but while at university, I always went back home to volunteer for our local sports development team, coaching the local young people. My passion for broadcasting came after seeing Denise Lewis on TV — she was the first black woman I had seen talking about sport — and that was it. I wanted to be like her and when a couple of years later, my brother, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, made it to the NBA, we started our video blogs on sports from the kitchen of our older cousin Emmanuel — I never looked back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Since becoming the Head of Women’s Sport at GiveMeSport, it’s been interesting to see how people underestimate me as a woman in this role. Most people believed that I was recruited for just for show and they brushed me off. But as time goes by, I’m finding that the same people are amazed at what we have managed to achieve in a short time. The common assumption was that the vision I had for GiveMeSport Women was not achievable — until we started proving them wrong. It makes me smile every time I see these people.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the mistakes I made when I started this role was assuming that everyone in this space was ready for the change and ready for women’s sports coverage to be 50/50 with men’s. This was a huge assumption and a mistake — because as much as we see the progression of women’s sport and women in sport, there is still so much work to be done. Some people are ready (both men and women), some still think it will pass. I learned a lesson — I realized that education still needs to happen. Educating the industry, brands, agencies and consumers why it is important for women to have equal treatment in this space. As someone who has come from the grassroots on all aspects of the sport, I understand why it is important because of what I have faced on my journey to the top personally in sport. Not everyone has that background.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes GiveMeSport stand out from other publishers is their true belief in the journey and why women’s sport needs to be represented. We care about the “invested emotions, time, and story of women in sport/doing sport” but also how to grow a new generation where gender is not an issue. A platform where people who love sports go not because it’s for men or women but it’s sport.
GiveMeSport has a 65% male/ 35% female split audience and we want to move this to 50/ 50. Change the narrative and invest in a group of people who are underrepresented — and that is all women’s sport. Not just one sport. Since the launch of GiveMeSport Women (GMSW, reach has been an eye-opener. The stories of the athletes, teams and audiences who we have engaged with have been mind-blowing — and this is because previously they didn’t feel that they had a place to call their sporting home — we are that space now. Ten years from now, we want young people -girls and boys — to say that their first experience of women’s sport was on GMSW.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are currently working on our coverage for the EuroBasketball Women’s Tournament, Netball World Cup, Tokyo 2020 and our “CONVERSATION LIVE” Summit. Our digital series has been a phenomenal hit with athletes and our audiences globally. We’re taking it to them live, where our audiences, especially young girls who want to have a connect with their heroes in real life, will have the opportunity to not only hear their stories, but also about the challenges they have faced over the years — how they have overcome them, and how they have dealt with pressures in their sport, brands, social media and social issues that in the past athletes have shied away from talking about. It will be a space where they can connect, share and support visions and dreams for the future. We are really excited about this project because it’s about building a tribe and that’s what GMSW is all about. We get to take this to Tokyo 2020 with athletes from around the world as well.
45% of young people say that they don’t have positive role models — this is a perfect opportunity for them to connect with positive sporting role models — past, present and future sporting stars all in one place, with young people who look up to them.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
In this space, we have some amazing #HeForShe heroes that support and push us to do more and go higher. It is important that we acknowledge them. A lot of the time, you will be challenged (sometimes because of your gender, sometimes because they just feel like it) but great leadership is about understanding why people do what they do and having the ability to educate them without lowing your standards.
It is also about being human and being compassionate — understand, help, listen and be prepared to help build with your team. Be invested in your team, share their visions, appreciate their commitment to your vision and enable them to achieve their individual personal goals while also reaching the goals as a team or for your business.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Managing large teams can be a challenge for some and at times it can be a hostile environment for female leaders — some people at times want to challenge your authority and ability.
What has worked for me in my journey is having managers that I trust completely — people I can delegate to, people I don’t have to micromanage, managers that believe in the visions of our organization and journey, managers that are human but also have zero tolerance for nonsense. Managing a large team is not easy but if you have the right team, a supportive environment, an open door policy where people can speak up, and the right culture — it becomes not just an organization, it becomes a tribe.
None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Too many to mention — my family has been the greatest supporters of my journey and I can never thank them for what they have done for me. My mother, who has had four brain hemorrhages along the way, has been my backbone; my sister, and of course my brothers. But when it comes to my professional development, I have always watched, listened and learned from the best around me, especially in the sporting space. As an African-born woman, the journey isn’t like most. If anything, it is probably the hardest thing I have had to go through to be here, and it doesn’t stop. My success is based on the support I have had from John Manyo-Plange (NBA Africa Director of Strategic Planning), Amadou Gallo-Fall (Former NBA Africa President, and Director of the NBA) and Masai Ujiri (President and GM of the Toronto Raptors). These men are the heroes behind the scenes who have thought me everything I know. Mentoring and coaching are important and these men have always been open, honest and raw with the truth with me.
I remember two months into my role with GMSW, I received a text message from Masai Ujiri telling me to “stop taking to heart what other people think of me and focus my strength and energies into the end goal — building the number one trusted destination for women’s sports coverage.” To some people, they would easily get offended. I thanked him — I explained and apologized if that’s how I came across. He immediately told me not to apologize but to fix it.
These conversations I appreciate. I learned from the most successful and supportive system in the world in these three people and more.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Apart from spending years in my local community fighting for equal opportunities for young people, I’ve also focused on empowering more women and girls to have more access into sport across the UK and Africa through the Girls In Sport foundation, and the Ladies In Sport Conference in Nigeria. I am also a supporter of the Giants of Africa project owned and run by Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri — where the mission is to use basketball as a means to educate and enrich the lives of African youth, while creating awareness and support for underprivileged children and young adults through our camps, which place emphasis on hard work, accountability, honest living and positivity.
I also support the SEED Project in Senegal — these programs are designed to inspire, empower and equip young people with the skills they need to succeed in life. Through this, they will re-define the student-athlete model and develop socially conscious leaders that will continue to drive Africa forward. They currently serve 2,000 youth weeklyin Senegal, The Gambia and the United States,with after-school academic, athletic and leadership development programs.
I also volunteer as a mentor for young female sports journalists and broadcasters in the UK as part of the GiveMeSport Academy and the Women In Football movement #WhatIF.
What are your “4 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Always face criticism with grace — I am no stranger to failure or naysayers. In fact for every successful person before me and after m, there has been a failure at some point. In fact, sometimes, I feel like I have failed all my life. But with those failures have come new ideas and new ways of doing things. My friends will tell you “Benny is always going, doing something and never gives up.” They call you the lonely African warrior. I take it because to keep going is to have a chance of success. To give up is to die. I am not ready for that yet. I am still building my strength, because I have nieces, nephews, young girls and women that look to me to keep going. Because my journey makes them know they also have a fighting chance. Every failure and every naysayer has given me the power and opportunity to operate like I have every opportunity in the world. I am just a girl from Accra Ghana, who grew up in Tottenham with a global vision. I wear my failures in life and business with pride and grace, because I am human.
I like to lead with global knowledge, to allow me to understand, have empathy and awareness of different cultures, stories and journeys, but also to allow me to adapt to diversity at a global level and perform cross-border partnerships with the best of my ability. My work with Alibaba, London 2012 and NBA Africa over the years has taught me all these skills. Working with a wide range of people and having the background of someone from humble beginnings as a poor child from Africa, to growing up in Tottenham, one of the most deprived areas in London, the opportunity to learn about cultures and journeys has made me a global thinker with a local heart.
Communicating effectively — this is really important to me as a person. In business and in life, it is important that you are able to communicate clearly with everyone you meet. Whether it’s your team or an outsider, what comes out of your mouth is what they will remember for the time they have spent with you. Talk, share, but be effective and clear. This is something I am extremely passionate about. I am not big on emails — I love to get up and go speak with people. That is how things get done. I feel that as good as technology is, sometimes it takes away from what can be done easily. To communicate effectively is power.
I believe in the empowerment of future generations — someone believed in my journey that’s why I am here today. Some people get so high up in their careers and at times forget how they got there — it’s like having deep pockets with a shallow mind. Our future generations are our nieces, nephews, children — those who will grow to take over from us with bigger ideas, dreams and vision we may not have thought of. I spend a lot of my time mentoring, coaching and giving back where I can because it is important. I could have easily been that African kid selling water on the side of the road in Ghana if someone didn’t believe in me. If you can empower, you should.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I am extremely passionate about setting a good standard for young people to feel and be part of a global community. I am a big advocate for global citizen — meaning young people having the opportunity to learn about different cultures, contributing to society and shaping the world we want to see our own children grow up in — where all children can be children or young people without feeling like they have to be something other than who they are. Using the technologies we have now, we can do so much for our children and young people.
Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Every mistake is not a mistake, it’s a teachable moment.” I used to be so disappointed when I didn’t get that job, that interview or was passed over for roles because I was “too black,” “overqualified,” or just didn’t fit the face, because I wasn’t society’s standard of beauty in broadcasting. This used to hurt a lot and at one point, I nearly gave it all up. But as the years went on — I used those disappointments to ignite something in me — because I didn’t want other girls growing up to go through what I have been through and at times go through now. With growth, I have come to understand that every mistake is a moment to learn something new about yourself, and a moment to learn how to deal with current situations.
I am never discouraged by a “NO” because a “NO” means a new way of doing things and reaching a new tribe.
Some of the biggest names in Business, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this.
I admire Jeanie Buss, Michelle Obama, and Michele Roberts of the NBPA, and of course Oprah — all these women inspire me so much. Their journeys, what they have overcome and continue to overcome amazes me.