‘I’m passionate about promoting gender equality’
Prior to moving back to Nigeria and launching a business, she worked with Arcadia Group Plc, a British multinational retailing company headquartered in London and Aspire Acquisitions before joining Nigerian Breweries as a Young African Talent (YAT) and transitioning to their Corporate Communications Department as Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability Support Manager where she successfully managed various corporate social responsibility and sustainability projects. Ifedayo is also an associate member of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON).
With her passion for women and children, she is the co-founder of Parliamo Bambini and Philos and Zoe, start-ups disrupting the baby and child industry through sales of locally manufactured furniture and clothing with the aim of reducing poverty and empowering women. A global shaper of the World Economic Forum (WEF), she is the project lead for Startup Dome under the Global Shapers Community, a project aimed at bridging the gap through the socio-economic empowerment of women in Nigeria.
A mentor at Young African Leaderships Initiative (YALI), she is also an alumni hub lead for the South West region of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) and a 2018 Harvard University Panelist for the African Development Conference on the role of women in democracy. In this interview, she bares her mind on entrepreneurship, her work in empowering Nigerian women and challenges businesses in the country face.
Why do you describe yourself as Africa’s relatable entrepreneur?
A friend of mine, Moji Folawiyo, actually mentioned it to me once. She said, ‘Ife, you are a relatable entrepreneur’ and it just stuck in my mind.
Entrepreneurship is such a scary journey filled with many ups and downs, but I try to tell my story with all the sides, not just the ups, but the struggles, the cries, the rejections and also the wins, I guess that is what makes Ife, relatable.
You have been in the fashion, marketing and manufacturing industries for over a decade now, tell us about your journey?
(Laughing) My journey is quite funny. I never thought I could do anything business related. I didn’t even do business studies for JSCE. I was a very strict science student right from secondary school.
I loved biology and chemistry so I thought the best thing was to do a science related course but I realised early on that even though I didn’t mind studying it, I hated it in practice and so I decided to change.
That was when I decided to do an MBA, so it opened me up to new opportunities.
I worked in London at a marketing and sales firm, at some point; I literarily had to go from door to door to sell different products.
Every day, I had a target to speak to at least 100 people, and I knew only three would say ‘yes’ to me. I had to do this in the rain and sometimes even in the snow.
That was one of the toughest jobs I had to do, but everyday, I thank God for letting me go through that path.
It toughened me up and prepared me for the may ‘nos’ life throws at you.
I then moved on to a British multinational company, Arcadia Group (the company that owns Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins etc), before I got a job with Nigerian Breweries as a Young African Talent (YAT) and I moved back to Nigeria.
What inspired your move back to Nigeria?
I already knew I was not going to live in London, so it was not even up for discussion.
From day one of my MBA, I was already looking for jobs in Nigeria and I got an offer six months before I graduated.
I knew I had to come back to contribute to developing Nigeria. I knew Nigeria (and Africa has countless opportunities) so I am happy I made the right choice.
London would always be my second home and I can always go back if I want to, but I have made up my mind to be here and impact lives.
How has your experience been since moving back and what would you tell anyone looking to make the leap?
The experience has been eye-opening, but I will tell everyone who wants to make that step to just do it!
You have worked with several big brands both home and abroad; what advice would you give a young woman trying to start up her career?
To be honest, to everyone starting up their career, I’ll tell them to explore themselves. You will never really know what you are good at or what you love if you don’t try it.
I think I am actually just finding myself now but I am grateful for the journey that led me here and I am still happy to explore other parts of me.
You currently run two startups, what led you into this field?
When I had my daughter, I bought her furniture from a company in London and it cost so much. At the time, that was the norm, so I did not think anything of it.
So I shipped it into Nigeria. When it got to Nigeria, I got a call from Customs saying it will cost me a certain amount to clear because furniture was contraband.
I thought to myself, ‘How did I not know this, how does everyone else do it?
We then said we’d find a way to reduce the cost for other mothers, so my partner and I thought to ourselves that we could start producing our own line of baby furniture in Nigeria and we will be even more affordable.
We did our research and we just went in and the rest is history. The clothing line happened the same way.
I could not find contemporary casual clothes for my kids, and I could not find affordable options, so I decided to start selling some myself.
In your opinion, what are some of the key issues startups face, especially in Nigeria?
I would say finding the right talent, scaling their businesses, finding the right ecosystem to flourish and lastly, funding.
As a global shaper of the WEF, what does this entail?
The Global Shapers Community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum, is a network of Hubs developed and led by young people who are exceptional in their potential, their achievement and their drive to make a contribution to their communities.
Global Shapers look for opportunities to have impact on a global scale by joining forces with other hubs.
We represent a network of peers connected through technology, events and joint projects that contribute positively to the society.
As a mentor on YALI, how do you specifically help young women?
Mentors on the Young African Leadership Initiative program act as role models and guiding lights that are crucial to developing the alumni of the program to positively improve their communities, enhance their leadership skills, and become global citizens.
The goal of the relationship is to offer both parties a chance to learn from each other and to build understanding across generations, culture and backgrounds.
Under the YALI program, I have been opportune to serve both men and women. As a mentor under the program, I use my own experiences to provide some perspective or guidance to my mentees.
You say you are passionate about women and bridging the gender gap through the socio economic empowerment of women, how are you going about this?
Oh yes, I am a proud feminist and I am very passionate about promoting gender equality because I believe women have been marginalized for too long.
I lead and volunteer many projects that focus on empowering women. Last year, I launched the AGS Enterprise challenge to promote, showcase and fund female led businesses.
Last year, we were able to showcase almost 2,000 businesses and fund three businesses.
Running a business cannot be easy, what are some of the challenges you face?
Business is very tough in Nigeria. We do not have an enabling ecosystem to thrive, for example, in other parts of the world, you go to the wood market, and they have different grades of wood, you just choose the one you want and you’re good.
You can even get the supplier to start delivering it to you whenever you need it, but here in Nigeria, you cannot trust that the supplier will deliver that exact type each time.
It is almost as if you have to go yourself each time to select the best, and that time and process can be invested doing other things.
Talent management and funding is also an issue. But in all of this, having the right mindset, passion and perseverance will keep you through the challenges till it all works out.
Nigeria lacks the basic infrastructure and logistics to support entrepreneurship. If you must run a business in Nigeria, you must have the financial muscle to support your own infrastructure.
To manufacture locally, you need to provide your own electricity, water and other amenities that smoothens business operations.
This single issue lengthens the time frame from initial planning to full business operations when you want to compare it to developed countries.
This also eats into your profit as a startup and sometimes, it is difficult to plan because there are no certainties.
What makes your brand stand out in today’s competitive world?
The quality of our work and our customer experience helps makes us stand out.
There’s no customer who has seen our work when we deliver, and you don’t see this smile on their face like, “I cannot believe this was made here” and even when things do not go as expected, we go the extra mile to please our customers.
You launched a book recently, tell us about that?
I wrote the book, Accessing Grants for Start-ups to help entrepreneurs across Africa access grants and other opportunities that can take them or their businesses to the next level and to also democratise these opportunities.
I noticed that a lot of entrepreneurs were winking in the dark, they had amazing products and no one knew about them, they were not getting grants or access to self development opportunities and these opportunities kept revolving round the same set of people and I knew it was not right.
So I initially started hosting free classes and webinars but the questions kept coming, ‘How do I apply? How did I hear about this opportunity? Are grants real? What is a grant?’ and so on so I decided to put something together to explain all of this and teach people how to respond professionally to these questions, and that was how the book came out, and I was fortunate enough to get the Executive Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode to write the forward of the book.
It was also praised by several people who are active in the entrepreneurial ecosystem such as Professor Jacob Olupona (Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University), Adebola Williams, Akin Oyebode and many others.
I’m also very passionate about solving youth unemployment and one of the ways I do this is by promoting entrepreneurship.
So, I would say the book is one of my contributions to develop the African Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.
Tell us something that has influenced your life and career positively today?
The people around me today have influenced my life. I am around so many young people who are doing amazing things in their own little ways, so I have no choice but to continue being positive and do whatever I can against all odds.
Who and what inspire you?
My kids are my greatest motivation. I’d want them to grow up and say, ‘Wow, that’s my mummy, if she could do it, I can too, no limits’ but I do look up to some people, people like Ibukun Awosika, who managed to be successful against all odds in Nigeria.
I also love Duchess Meghan Markle because she learnt to have her voice from a very young age and she used it to empower and inspire other women and she makes her happiness a priority.
You wear several hats, how do you balance them all and make them work?
To be honest, I do not really think there is anything like balance. I just enjoy each day and I try to be there each day for the important things. I don’t over plan or put myself under unnecessary pressure.
I do not sweat the small stuff. I also have a very good support system that helps me at home.
There isn’t one formula that works for everyone. Just do your part§ and do not feel bad about whatever decision you take, but if you decide to run a business and raise a family, make sure your support system is solid because it can be difficult but at the back of your mind, just know that the phase will not last forever.
What do you do to relax? What is your guilty pleasure?
I love to chill with my family and friends, I love to gist, I love the beach, I love to swim and I love to dance.
I am never too tired to do these things. Put on some good music and I am ready to get my groove on. Lol.
What last words would you leave with women inspired by you?
Do not let fear stop you. Fear has stolen so many dreams that could pay off the world’s debt.
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