design, Interviews

Celebrating Women in Creativity: Fatuma Abdullah


'When my daughter started crèche, she came home one day and said, 'Mama, I want my hair to be straight', and I looked at her and said 'No, our hair is not straight; our hair is curly.' She responded that she wanted her hair to look like so-and-so and I thought to myself, 'I need to do something about this,' recalls Fatuma Abdullah, author and believer in positive self-worth. Born out of a quest to empower her daughter and other African girls, Fatuma's creation – the Akiki doll – is helping to create a positive self-image for African and black girls by giving them access to a special playmate, so that they grow up appreciating and celebrating their identity and uniqueness.

The Akiki doll and Akiki’s Short Stories (Fatuma's first book) launched in May 2016 and are used as teaching tools to portray a message of self-love and appreciation, while addressing the diversity gap and celebration of African children in children’s play and literature. The word 'akiki' (the Swahili word for ruby – the precious stone) is associated with nobility courage and confidence. 'These are the qualities our children must develop.'

'This was confirmed when bringing up my children: the toys and books most readily available are very Eurocentric and unrepresentative of us. Akiki came into existence so that African children have a positive kiddie character with whom they can identify, affirm positivity and connect children through stories in an African context that teach and entertain.'

Like any, Fatuma's business has come with it challenges, especially as she faced undiscovered turf first-hand. 'I jumped into the deep end, entering an industry I knew nothing about, so the challenges have been numerous, and they keep coming. 'Initially I thought retail was my best channel, only to realise it doesn’t work for me – specifically for self-published books. I had to look for other avenues, like having an online shop and working with other SMEs who have similar values; I had to relook and revise my business model to find a fit for customer reach.'

Fatima's dream is for Akiki to be an established reader brand for foundation learners in schools across Africa; a medium for children to learn to read with African stories, starting at foundation phase. She'd like her stories to journey to different African countries to educate and inspire; to become a channel for children to embrace their diversity, appreciate their differences and develop a sense of self-worth. For more information and to purchase an Akiki Doll or book, visit