‘Women should come together to empower one another’
Aisha Shuaibu is the Founder and CEO of Waffles Stop Restaurant, an Abuja based business concern specialising in confectionery food. She is a graduate of Business Studies from United Kingdom and holds a master in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management. She also serves as media consultant for the Dunes Centre and is responsible for all its new media and event management activities. A passionate advocate of youth and women empowerment, she has volunteered in several fund-raising projects for the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation (SCAF), the Dunes Foundation and also contributed to the works of the Neem Foundation. In this interview with ADELOWO ADEBUMITI she spoke about the challenges of setting up her business, women empowerment and to overcoming hurdles to succeed as a woman in Nigeria
How did you get so far in this business?
My current business, a confectionery food concern, is called Waffles Store. It is an establishment located at Dunes Centre, Maitiama, Abuja. I came about the idea basically when I was inspired to bring something very unique to Abuja. When I thought about the best way to execute it, one of the strategies I came up with was to partner with somebody that has the same vision like me. I thought that would also balance everything. I have my own area of expertise and he also has expertise in other areas. So the next mission was to execute plans and we were able to run the business in its first year from home as a delivery services. After that one year, we were opportune to be able to open up a very small branch at Thomas and Ray located in Wuse 2. At the beginning of this year, we got the opportunity to open at Dunes.
Tell us about this waffles store and the business you undertake there
Basically we specialise in confectionery food, namely waffles, pancakes smoothies, fruit juices, fruit drinks, and ice cream among others. It is basically a family-oriented kind of business. Our target market are the young people and families that are just looking for somewhere to go for fun and take something very delicious to eat. We take pride in the quality of our products, not only are they in line with standard of the Centre, but they are also in line with what we want to achieve in the long run. We want to be recognized as the business that delivers 100 per cent quality and we want to be able to give you the full benefit of your money as well. So Waffles Store is about the experience of not just coming for waffles but also see something beautiful in front of you, appreciate it, indulge in it and invite your friends to participate as well. And generally have a good time and spread the word.
As a female entrepreneur, do you face any challenges?
It is most definitely very challenging to be a female entrepreneur in Nigeria. Because being your own boss doesn’t only come with regular circumstances and obstacles, it comes with a lot of barriers that you will have to fight and breakdown. As a woman, a lot of times, you would feel a bit down and a little discouraged because things are not working out. The normal person would probably give up and say ‘I am a woman, I can’t be suffering like this, I don’t have to go through all this.’ For me, I can just be around people that can support me and I will be fine. I like to believe that we are in a different time where, as women, we are not only given a much bigger task to step up, but the world has changed. It is a balance between both the world of men and women. So you generally face challenges by trying to rise above expectations, especially as a northern woman where we are expected to be more conservative. But I like to believe that I am the complete opposite, especially when it comes to my work. I don’t put in as much passion on anything else as I do for the things that I want to see grow.
How did you come up with the idea of Waffles Store?
Actually, the idea came up when I was outside the country. I was in a place that has a lot of waffles on the street. It was just everywhere and it was so simple to set up. I thought to myself, this might work in Abuja. The execution process of course, was definitely challenging, because we thought that we could take exactly what they where doing over there, play the imitation game and execute it here. But it was a completely different story. We came and we tried to do what they were doing and it didn’t work. Then through trying to fix it up, we ended up coming with our own unique quality in the food, in the serving and everything else. That was how the idea came about and one of the most important things that we have been able to achieve as a business is trying to get as much feedback as possible from our customers and potentials customers. We spent a lot of time going through a lot of trials and errors and putting people through tests to give us feedback and let us know what they wanted. To be honest, Abuja needs us but they didn’t know it yet.
What do you think about female entrepreneurs in Nigeria?
It is such a beautiful age that we are in right now, because so many people, not only women, but many young people are doing remarkable things. I am personally surrounded by a lot of women in the fields of food, in fashion, beauty business, and in other different fields. In fact, even in things you wouldn’t expect women to do. For instance, the auto industry, the airline industry, we have women in power, we have female leaders, we have female presidents with other forms of leadership in different parts of the world. And that is the world we are living in right now. I think we need to come together as women, push each other and encourage each other to be better and to affect our community and the world in general because it has always been a man’s world. But what is the ability of a man without the influence of a woman? So, I would like to always try to use whatever platform I can get my hands on to speak to women in general to come together and empower one another. I will also caution them not to break each other down because regardless of the market that you are in, there is space for everybody. And that is one of the things that I feel people need to hear about.
More and more of my fellow northern females need to be told. They also need to believe that they are capable of anything they what to do. This year specifically, I said to myself that I would try and speak more and hopefully talk on radio. I have been able to do just that.
It appears you are an advocate for empowerment, can you share your thought on how we can get it right in Nigeria?
I believe that empowerment is not only an action but a state of mind. We need to tell ourselves what we are capable of before we can tell other people. This is because we are in a very judgmental, critical and watchful society where by the time you challenge yourself to gain a position of recognition, they now expect you to become a miracle worker. I think we need to tell ourselves what we are capable of doing inside and through that we would be able to set out positively. I believe that once you push out good energy, it will comes back to you and that is what the Nigerian people need. We need a switch mentally, with more people speaking of their struggles and experiences. We don’t need people that have already made it to come and tell us ” yes you can do it, never give up”. Rather, we need people that are giving us more of getting your hand dirty stories. If you are not able to relate then you are not affecting anybody, because even in poetry, music, the most powerful act out there are the most remarkable, and that applies to human nature and human behaviour.
Do you see yourselves as a role model to others?
One of my personal goals is to be able to create my own initiative relating to women empowerment. I feel I am doing it the moment I started everything that I am do right now. At a very young age, as far back as I can remember, I started to get involved in charity work. I started getting involved in business not necessarily my own, but just working with people. I was able to learn a lot of lessons, gained a lot of experience, met a lot of people through these things. It helps you shape your own journey, and I am still on a journey of self-discovery not just personally but career wise. I have always wanted to be able to affect people positively, but I just want to contribute to the strength of a community, a nation and I am on the road to achieving that. But I can’t do it alone and that why we need each other. I don’t think I can successfully call myself a role model until I am able to touch more people, and convince more people to join me in my vision or help them in achieving theirs as long as it generally contribute to building a better Nigeria.
Are your parents in support of what you do? My family has been a very strong source of strength, support and inspiration from the very beginning. They have always known me to be a little bit more energetic than the average person, yet they have always supported me. They always know that there is something because all these energies cannot be for nothing. Regardless of whether or not an idea that I have created failed, they support the effort and what better gift can any family give than support.
Do you have advice for the Federal Government on how to provide support for female entrepreneurs?
I think our female leaders have a duty. They have the duty of sorting out young women that have a voice and have the expertise and the intelligence to join them.
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