In case you don’t know Ida Faal, she is a trailblazer, a Gambian female Auto Mechanic Engineer and entrepreneur– unapologetically owning the automotive industry of The Gambia! She is the Founder of ClockTvet Foundation, a foundation that advocates for TVET (Technical Vocational Educational Training) in The Gambia. But wait, is it easy to take up the automotive space of The Gambia as a woman? We are about to find out.
From growing up in a neighbourhood termed the ‘centre of spare parts in the Gambia’ to being inspired by an aunt who was into the automotive business, Ida knew entrepreneurship and auto mechanics was her way at an early age. Despite being shamed and stereotyped by society and even family members, Faal followed her dream and started a career in auto mechanic engineering striving through all odds.
After many years of working under men in a male-dominated field, she took the bold step to start her own business in the auto mechanic field using digital innovations to provide auto mechanic solutions in The Gambia. Fita Faal Autos — the company she started is an e-commerce platform providing auto mechanic services, including rental of vehicles, repairing and selling cars and spare parts.
The Sisters Show caught up with the Gambian Auto Mechanic engineer — to know what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated field. We also spoke about the importance of mentorship and inspiring young girls to take up STEM careers, the future of Fita Faal Autos, among other things.
This interview has been edited for clarity purposes.
The Sisters Show
You Recently started Fita Faal Autos, a very bold move by you, I must say. And the responses have been excellent, especially on social media. But what was the journey like starting it?
Well, I must say, the journey was challenging, and it’s still challenging because it’s always hard building a new brand or a startup, especially when you are in a male-dominated sector, you always have to work extra hard to prove yourself.
Talking of working extra hard to prove yourself, What is it like to be a female Auto Mechanic in The Gambia, and what challenges have you overcome? Were they attached to your gender?
Yes! Women in the skilled sector always have to work twice harder as their male counterparts to be recognized. And most of the challenges I faced were attached to my gender. Right now, even though the response of FitaFaal Autos is impressive on social media, but we are facing challenges. Most car dealers will not want to do business with us(Fita Faal Autos) because women run it. November 2nd was the second anniversary of the Female Automotive Service Provider, and yet we are still struggling to get recognized as an automobile service provider. All the challenges I faced were attached to my gender and stereotypes of being in a male-dominated sector.
Did you ever feel you chose the wrong field when you started your business with all the mentioned challenges? Have you ever doubted your capabilities because of stereotypes?
Oh yes! There was a time; it got harder and harder until I was thinking of changing careers. But due to passion and determination, I decided to modernize my business’s work techniques. We started offering mobile mechanic services to people by meeting them in their homes or offices to service their cars, and we ensure that the best service is provided as promised. This technique has proven successful, and our honesty and patience in our work have paid off, and people started realizing how good we are at our chosen vocation. So, these obstacles along the way have made us know that since the word “Female Auto-Mechanic “is attached to our name, we will always strive to deliver the best services.
Despite the mentioned challenges, Fita Faal Autos is up and running. How did you navigate the transition to entrepreneurship?
Navigating the transition to entrepreneurship was easy for me because I always believed in running my own business from an early age. That’s why I decided to learn skills to be self-employed and create more job opportunities for my fellow youths, especially women in the skill sector. We all know how hard it is for a startup; even when the chances are out there, you still have to be on top of your game to deliver the best services and products.
On creating opportunities, providing solutions, and the importance of mentorship.
Can you share with us some of the opportunities your company is creating for youths who wish to go into auto Mechanic, especially young girls in The Gambia, and how?
FitaFaal Autos is working hand in hand with the Female Automotive Service Provider; we offer career mentorship and practical skills to young girls who have a passion for auto-mechanics. The female automotive service provider also has auto-mechanic ambassadors in most high schools in The greater Banjul area; we also provide internship places for young girls who finish their programs.
You are a Mandela Fellow and a big-time advocate for girls’ vocational training and development. Please share why it’s essential to have more women in STEM while celebrating their achievements to inspire young girls in The Gambia.
These role models need to come out and inspire these young girls; as I always say, careers have no gender. And now, if you look at The Gambia and the number of girls in STEM careers is impressive.
All we need to do, as Gambians, both the government and the private sector, is to empower these young girls and provide them with opportunities that will enable them to break the stereotype. That will also motivate the young generation to cultivate and show passion towards STEM careers.
As a woman, I know how determined and passionate women are; full of passion, commitments, integrity, and self-assurance in whatever we desire to achieve in life, with women being role models in our communities and societies. So celebrating women is like observing a whole nation. Shining light on how women are shaping our beloved country will also motivate our youths, and this will help the young generation know some of the most outstanding women in our country.
Technology is becoming everything in the world; innovation and solutions are coming up every day. What innovative solutions is Fita Faal Autos providing or delivering in the Automotive space of The Gambia?
The automobile industry in The Gambia is still operating traditionally. There is no digital market platform for vehicle and spare part dealers and qualified auto-mechanic technicians. This makes business slow for both dealers and the general public.
And this is where we come in as a business. FitaFaal Autos creates a digital market platform for selling, buying and renting vehicles of all types and models, selling spare parts, and providing auto-mechanical job service carried out by qualified auto-mechanic technicians. The digitalization of the automobile industry will affect economic variables and growth by structuring markets, increasing sales, production and growth rate by 15%.
Speaking of the growth of the automotive industry, where do you see Fita Faal Autos in 10 years to come?
Fita Faal Auto targets vehicle dealership companies at both local and international levels to use FitaFaal’s e-commerce platform to sell its products to its vast audience. In that regard, come ten years, I am seeing Fita Faal Autos as a woman-led business providing mechanic solutions recognized internationally while creating employment, inspiring young girls and contributing to Africa’s growth.