Females-In-Tech Spotlight: Tashie George
Written by Julia Loten
Tashie George, born in Liberia and now living in Minneapolis, MN, is the founder and CEO of IFRI LLC, a Life Solutions company connecting the U.S. with people and commerce in Africa. The term “life solutions” implies a difference from ordinary corporations; IFRI offers its users solutions to their everyday problems. Additionally, Tashie started each of IFRI’s brands in order to solve problems of her own.
Six years ago, Tashie faced a problem: living and working in the U.S., she wanted to provide for her brother back in Liberia. But she needed a way to ensure that he would spend the money appropriately, so she came up with the idea of an international grocery store through which she could purchase food online for her brother to pick up near his home. This solution expanded to help other people in Tashie’s situation; expats in America could provide for their families back in Africa without worrying that funds wouldn’t be used wisely. However, just as Tashie was implementing this idea, a bigger and better-funded company started a similar project. Tashie decided that she simply wouldn’t be able to compete with the low prices of the bigger company, especially considering the high import tax rates of goods into Africa.
While Tashie had to faze out her initial plan, this obstacle ended up spurring her to “flip” the online grocery store idea into what IFRI-MART is becoming today: a distributor of African food products to African grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses in the U.S. Now, customers of IFRI-MART are brands based in Africa, so purchases made through the online marketplace funnel money back to African businesses while exposing American people to African products.
And IFRI-MART is just one branch of IFRI LLC. Tashie is also working on IFRI TOUR, which she notes is her favorite part of the brand because it provides the most value to customers, who pay a membership fee for space on the site as well as for her social media development services. Tashie says that her reason for starting IFRI TOUR is to shed light on experiences she had whenever she would travel around Africa, as she found that these places were seldom advertised and were often entirely unavailable on mainstream travel websites. Tashie wants IFRI TOUR to be a “one-stop shop” for those who plan to travel to Africa, advertising particular cities, businesses, and experiences through the online platform. Similarly to IFRI-MART, the IFRI TOUR brand aims to expose the rest of the world to lesser-known parts of Africa, as well as direct well-deserved revenue to African businesses.
IFRI TOUR’s service is particularly important because in order for African travel companies to connect with travelers, they need advanced technological equipment as well as knowledge in online marketing. Some businesses simply do not have access to these resources, and Tashie’s aim to provide them with a full-service marketing experience certainly allows for more businesses to access an international, more technologically advanced market.
Like IFRI TOUR and IFRI-MART, IFRI PAY is another branch of Tashie’s company that arose from a problem. Tashie recognized that with the lack of advanced technology owned by individuals and small businesses across Africa, there wouldn’t be a simple way for travellers to pay for IFRI TOUR’s offered experiences due to currency conversion difficulties. Taking matters into her own hands, Tashie decided that she would have to do it herself, so she is working to create an entire API (Application Programming Interface) plug-in to convert international currencies to African currency, which she calls IFRI PAY. Not only can users convert currency for IFRI TOUR, but also money for tuition, medical bills, and groceries for family or friends in Africa. Tashie plans to pilot this program in Liberia.
Tashie prides her successes so far on creating opportunity for herself where opportunity was limited. As a way to give back to her roots, she has created IFRI-TRYV (as in “thrive”) which offers young women business courses, mental health resources, and mentorship to guide them into entrepreneurship. Luckily, IFRI has been able to partner with Mercy Corp. in Libera to fund the program. Tashie hopes to see those who go through the program go into the tech industry, but knows that there is lots of potential success in hospitality and tourism too. She calls IFRI-TRYV, “inspiring and empowering, not just for me but for [the young women] as well.” TRYV’s first program of fifty hopeful, strong-willed young women will be piloted in Liberia this fall (depending on pandemic conditions).
In addition to her IFRI brands, Tashie is also working on a few products of her own to generate some revenue while her programs are in their pilot phases. She is creating a ginger beer and a pepper soup, both in powder form, which she claims are delicious. The ginger beer can even be fermented by the user into an alcoholic form. With all her other projects, Tashie still manages to spare some creativity for innovation in food products! Both the ginger beer powder and the pepper soup powder will be sold through IFRI-MART, of course, once they are ready for market.
Even with the success she has had, Tashie still faces business struggles. With all of her employees working from various locations in Africa, it can be hard to connect with them during the day. However, Tashie keeps a positive attitude, relying on faith in her religion over her career and believing in open-mindedness and humility, as “what you have today could be gone tomorrow.” She reminds women striving to build their own companies that patience is the key in becoming successful. Lastly, Tashie encourages female entrepreneurs to “always give a piece of you back… and empower others,” recognizing the importance of providing for one’s community and helping however you can.