By Amanda Lewan
September 11, 2013
Yodit Mesfin-Johnson’s story starts with a beautiful baby boy named Tyson. An entrepreneurial, career-minded women, Yodit had to cut back her activity in the community when her baby boy was born in 2009. Yodit felt overwhelmed as a wife, a mother, and an entrepreneur.
She began to ask the difficult questions many female professionals face: How can I do it all? Why hadn’t anyone told me how difficult it would be? Where can I turn for help and support?
Out of these questions grew a community full of answers, support, and advice. Lips & Hips
started as a Facebook page, but quickly turned into an online community and mentorship program for women in metro Detroit. Other young professionals were drawn to Lips & Hips mostly because, as Yodit points out, there aren’t many resources that address women’s needs holistically.
"I wanted to address who we are personally, professionally, spiritually and financially, all the components of our overall wellness," says Yodit. And, like any entrepreneur, Yodit took the initiative to start and grow the community herself.
Yodit launched the first personal leadership program this past year, graduating 12 Detroit women from the pilot class. The curriculum was informal, focused partially on leadership development and partially on mentorship and support. The program is built around the mantra "Dream. Plan. Do.", inspiring women to invest in exploring all of these facets of themselves with other women facing similar challenges.
"Our goal is both micro and macro," says Yodit. "While supporting a woman and her individual needs, we’re hoping to engage her in a new model for feminism, one that gives women permission to define feminism for themselves.”
Originally from Detroit, Yodit grew up in a northwest neighborhood not too far from Brightmoor. A long-time entrepreneur and marketing and sales professional, Yodit specifically works around accelerating vulnerable populations through social entrepreneurship. As the Director of Business Development for NEW (Nonprofit Enterprise at Work), she works in the community one-on-one with entrepreneurs.
As a young professional working in Detroit, she noticed a clear leadership gap with women in the city. Yodit believes we can’t start with changing systems and infrastructure to accelerate women. Instead, we have to start from the ground up, empowering the women to take action themselves.
"We believe there are many more women in this community who have valuable contributions, and who have a desire to show up and make a difference in their community," says Yodit. "If we invest in them, they’ll invest in their respective communities, neighborhoods and the business community."
The Lips & Hips program is currently under development for their next class, aiming to start in 2014. Yodit says it will continue to focus on holistic leadership development. They are working on refining the curriculum, and in the meantime continue to inspire women of Detroit to become the leaders they are born to be.
A cause that can have a national impact is started to leave an imprint on Detroit. As Yodit says, it’s about empowering women to define their future for themselves. "We are unafraid and bold, but we are tested and researched. We don’t ask a woman to be something she’s not. We don’t ask them to adopt the habits of a man or change who they are. We’re asking them to be the best person they can be. We’re giving them the tools and support to achieve that."
All photos by Doug Coombe.