Thursday, April 4, 2013

You can do it

Becoming an entrepreneur is a very difficult task, especially in a developing country like Nigeria, where businesses have to deal with huge challenges - lack of basic infrastructure, hindered access to capital and other issues - which other parts of the world take for granted.   It is even more challenging for women who have to deal with these impediments in addition to managing their homes in a very conservative environment.  To encourage upcoming young women entrepreneurs the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy put together an interactive session.

The program in commemoration of Women History Month featured a panel of women achievers, who shared their experience and success stories in starting and running their own businesses.  They included Hajiya Aisha Aliyu, Mrs Esther Adebayo, Ms Mary Immanuel, and Ms Caroline Istifanus.

Hajiya Aisha, a former President, Nigerian Association of Women Entrepreneurs, comes from a very conservative part of the country, but despite the odds, she was determined to achieve the goals she had set for herself.  Married at an early age she was still able to continue with her education up to a degree level while managing her business and raising a family.  She started the first interior decoration company in her state and despite opposition because of the conservative nature of the society she was still able to run a successful business.  Hajiya Aliyu said today she is fulfilled and although she has not made money she has made her point that women can compete in running a business.

For those who see finance as an obstacle Caroline shared how she was able to access capital through the Nigerian Government’s YouWin program.  She revealed that people tried to discourage her from applying because they said she would never get it.  She however went ahead and successfully got the funding she needed to start a fish farm where she’s currently employing four people and has plans to expand.

Mary Immanuel on her part shared her journey of exploration and research which culminated in her initiative ‘Ecomission,’ a fusion of the words economic and mission.  Her drive to become an entrepreneur started with a term paper she wrote as an undergraduate on trade between the U.S. and Nigeria.  She defines poverty as “not just the lack of resources especially financial whether local or foreign but the lack of knowledge on how to use what we have to get what we want.”  Also a YouWin grantee Mary developed a unique project for grassroots economic empowerment called the Brunch CafĂ©, a service platform to provide breakfast, lunch and phone recharge stamps using manufactured goods like beverages and dairy products and branded recipes of pastry and quick traditional meals and drinks dispensed from mobile carts powered by solar panels. “It is a fast-casual operation with eat in, take-out, and delivery within the neighbourhood,” Mary enthused.

For Madam Adebayo business acumen runs in the family, passed from great grandmother down to her, and she built it to what it is today, an agro processing industry.

The stories of their different journeys was meant to encourage the participating young women to understand that no matter their challenges – background and circumstances – they can still achieve their goals of becoming entrepreneurs if they are determined and focused.

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