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Courtesy of Ecobank, for women-focused businesses, it’s time to Ellevate

Ecobank recently launched the new Ellevate Programme for women-focused businesses with the aim to support women with tailor-made services by championing businesses owned by women, managed by women, with a high percentage of female board members or employees, who create products for women by providing both financial and non-financial support, cash management solutions, digital solutions, lending products and customised training offered through the SME Academy.

Panelists at the launch included CEO, Ruff ‘n’ Tumble, Nike Ogunlesi, Founder/CEO Health Markets Africa, Fola Laoye, and Founder, Waveline Growth Partners, Taba Peterside.

Fola Laoye

Founder/CEO Health Markets Africa

I started out as a chartered accountant. Also, having worked in accountancy and financial services, I took a decision of wanting to be an entrepreneur and also wanted pivot into healthcare. I can’t say there was any eureka moment but it was a situation that was staring me in the face which was the family business.

Both my parents were doctors and had started out setting up the private hospitals called the Lagoon Hospitals, which they started after many years of working in the university teaching hospital system. I grew up around that hospital and I was beginning to chart my career and looking at doing something less corporate (or so I thought), and more entrepreneurial.

I was concerned about how much impact the health care could have and notably, the private healthcare was beginning to grow more at this time. This was late 80s and early 90s and at this time, the private healthcare was very nascent but was becoming much more needed. One of the ways was how it helped to stem a bit of the brain drain that was happening at that time with quite a lot medical professionals leaving and going abroad.

The idea of formulating hospitals and healthcare systems was one that companies can keep or retain and train talents in the country. Not just because of that retention of talents, but I could see the amount of care that could be given through the private health system and how important it was not just to nurture it but grow it.

So, that was one key issue for me and I realised that this was something I could be part of and really help to make an impact.

The other was just to see how much healthcare can be provided, so while not being a doctor to medical professionals, coming from financial management, I knew just how much that sort of management skills was required in the healthcare and hospitals, and how much it was going to be needed to grow from one location to several locations which we then did. How much we were going to make to be able to create a corporate health system which we did.

At a point, we were running over 20 worksite clinics in corporate institutions around Nigeria. It grew from what many of us will call entrepreneurial mum-and-pop system to becoming a corporate healthcare institution.

While doing that, we also had started to focus heavily on health insurance, we realised the need for us to create a health insurance platform that would allow more Nigerians across all works of life to access quality health services. Healthcare has been difficult. At first, with the public system it had been free healthcare for all, which even though was free to the population, it was at a significant cost to government, and when government ability to fund healthcare started to reduce, we did realise that people had to pay more and more for healthcare.

As a matter of fact, today, 70 percent of healthcare spending is out-of-pocket and that is one of the most significant spend that most families will have to make, and they make it at a time when they least expect it. This is particularly the case for women. Women who, whether they’re or not the breadwinner of the family, are the main care giver of the family. They’re looking after themselves and the family, so once there’s a healthcare event, they’re the first ones to react to it.

So, I realised the importance of health insurance, and that our community could really save for that rainy day, put something away for that health episode where it will be required.

When I joined Lagoon Hospitals, I spent a lot of time focusing on how to create and grow a health insurance platform. We did this, first with government, putting together the work that was required for legislation with the National Health Insurance Scheme Act, and not just doing that, but also advocating because even though the Act was signed into law in 1999, we couldn’t implement it until 2005. So, it took six years of advocacy and a lot more work in terms of being able to execute.

In execution, we were able to form HMOs. At that point, for me, it became a very interesting situation because I was now part of the hospital system and very much at the forefront of the HMO market, and at the same time also using my financial training to do something that was very important for the space, which was to raise capital, and that’s why I’m so pleased to be at Ellevate today.

Because in forming these businesses, one of the biggest challenges we face and continue to face in the healthcare space is raising capital, and women particularly find this challenging. Finding funding from banks and other institutions is so key to the growth and sustainability of our businesses. This is something that is extremely close to my heart and I am very happy to support.

Nike Ogunlesi

CEO, Ruff ‘n’ Tumble

Women are under-tapped resource in all economies and this is a welcome platform. Any platform that champions and promotes the financial independence of women is definitely a platform that I will like to be a part and work with.

Ruff ‘n’ Tumble is a children’s premium cloth design brand with 18 retail location across Nigeria and with an e-commerce platform. Our brands include an Afro-centric brand which is made out of Ankara, and serving not only in Nigeria, but Africans all over the world along with a fashion school called the Betty-O school of Fashion named after my mother who was the most influential woman in my life.

This school takes about a 100 women every year and trains them on garment construction and garment making so that they begin with whatever they have to begin to get a sense of financial independence, and build up from there, so that they have better choices and create better choices for their lives. One of the greatest advantages of financial independence for women is the choices you can make to better yourself as you move on with your life’s journey.

The last foundation is ‘I Share Cuz I Care’ foundation which is very close to our hearts at Ruff ‘n’ Tumble, our ethos is making children happy and so we don’t limit the happiness to the children of our customers but also to the children that are within our community.

We partner with the ‘Feed A Child Programme’ and feed children within the local schools. But we’ve decided to take it a step further and we now clothe about 500 children every year with uniforms and buy them school shoes. This, for us, is one of the biggest highlights of what we do at Ruff n’ Tumble and it’s very exciting.

The Ruff n’ Tumble story is one of resilience and a story that shows what is possible for young Nigerians once you’re able to determine what it is that you want, and I can’t separate self and desire, and understanding myself and what it is I want to achieve from my business life because, everything for me, has to integrate especially for us women, the integration of all the different moving parts of our lives is key to the success that we do make of our lives.

So, it’s about how you take all the different moving parts of your life and how you integrate them to be able to live your best and most purposeful life.

It all started from the boot of my car and it’s a long way from there to where we are right now. We have a manufacturing facility called the Gatimo Apparel Manufacturing which is what came out of the resilience of our organisation when COVID-19 happened.

In 2017, there was the devaluation of the Nigerian currency, and we looked back into the business and the business model, and said “How can we use what we have to get what we want? What assets do we have that we’re not fully utilising and how can we better utilise these assets?”

We discovered that we have a whole garment manufacturing facility that has mono customers and a few other customers, but there is also the manufacturing of uniforms, and all kinds of medical attires, face masks and so on, and this speaks to the resilience that we’ve been able to build into the business because, when COVID-19 then happened, what happened was, we had already spent a year building capacity within this garment manufacturing facility to be able to now deliver on the manufacturing of over a million masks. So, there are so many moving parts within this business. Setting up the retail side, ensuring that we have the right people doing the right things also helped. So, the business is set on five pillars: customer, the people, the system, finance and the community.

For the customer, what we’ve done is that we have evaluated the customer’s journey, how everybody connected to the customer’s journey. Since this is an experiential economy, how do we better serve the customers happily? How do we understand not only the customer demographics, but also the customer psychography? How do we better understand what the customer’s needs are, and how do we ensure that the right product is in the right store at the right time for the right customer? This is heavily driven by technology and an enterprise resource planner that ensures that we’re able to do this.

So, there are a lot of systems and processes that are deployed to build and sustain the entire business. The technology people because people are our most competitive advantage. The people are the bridge between the products, services, and the consumer. How do you then build leaders? How do you build clarity and alignment between the people and the business goals? How do you ensure that soft skills and technical skills are aligned to fulfill the business goals? These are areas that we have to go back to work on to be able to deliver on our business. The systems and processes would drive efficiency and consistency, the structure will support the people to be able to deliver on these business goals.

On the pillar of finance, you have to manage risks, understand risks, you have to understand money, you have to understand what cash flow means in a business, you have to pay yourself a salary. You cannot just take out of the business at will.

The last thing is, we contribute to the community which is what the ‘I Share Cuz I Care’ Foundation does. It contributes food to food banks and contributes school uniforms to any school that we choose with where our businesses are. We’re planning to take this out of Lagos to Port Harcourt, Abuja where we have our locations in 2022.

So, ours is a story of resilience, it’s a story of making children happy, it’s a story of people and understanding and leveraging on talents to deliver on business goals.

Taba Peterside

Founder, Waveline Growth Partners

My story is one of moving from being an executive to an entrepreneur in the last four years. My background had been completely different from what I’m doing now. It’s been all financial services, investment banking and capital market. I have development finance also under my belt, financial research and all that.

On my last job before I started this, I went for a course at Harvard Business School for women in transition because I said that I really wanted to strike out on my own. That course was a light bulb moment because prior to that, I never thought I could make it as a business person.

From 2015 when I left The Nigerian Stock Exchange, I began to research the possibilities in the banking space. This is going from the capital market to the completely underserved. This was an area I’ve always had a passion for because in the course of my career, I had seen and experienced the difficulty that small businesses had in accessing finance. So, this was an area I’ve always been interested in.

The first thing I did, (and think it’s very important for any budding entrepreneur) is research. What kind of business model will I have, what kind of licensing review do I go into first? And so on but, there was a phrase that stuck with me in one of the books I was reading at the time. It said ‘just start, there will never be a perfect time for a launch’ and that really resonated with me.

So, I started in 2017. I had done the research; I spent a lot of time talking to people who had run successful micro institutions, and people who had failed at that. I was very grateful because people opened up to me, shared their success stories, their failures, and gave a lot of useful advice, telling me to do this, don’t do that, make sure you don’t fall into this trap of trying to go too fast and so on.

When I started the business, those early days, I had four staff, we gave our first loan of N100, 000 to one of the market women in the Ajah area in November, 2017 and I’ve been learning from that. This whole journey of four years has been tremendous. The 30-plus years as an executive in employment were a very valuable foundation. There were lessons that I brought to bear in running a business.

But there are certain things you will never find out until you start doing the nuts and bolts by yourself. So, at the beginning, you learn to know everything from which part of the generator is no longer working, to knowing if somebody shows up at your doorstep and said this agency has come, and that they need you to bring your license fee.

Also, you have to manage your treasury. As a lending business, you get funds from the capital you use to start the business as well as depositors, you get funds from there, you manage it, all these are happening while you are still doing the core of the business of lending and the risk management inherent in lending.

So, by the time we really started staffing up, I had a very good overview of all the parts of the business. It’s very important as women businesses that we have that overview, we know what the main drivers of the business are, we know what has to happen for a business to be successful and what must not happen to the business.

For me also, the business has been strongly built on values. My first discussion with a new employee, even though it’s on our website, I give them a piece of paper that has our values, our mission, our vision and I say to them that I can teach them any skills on which they are deficient, but I can’t teach them attitude. A number of people have been let go because our values are on empowerment, integrity, teamwork, passion, respect and trust. If you fail in any of these, and you keep coming short, you tend to draw the rest back and it’s a small team so, we really can’t afford toxicity in the environment.

We are now at a point where we have a large suite of loans. We have various start-ups and we provide micro and group loans for the very smallest, we have SME loans, for more established businesses and we also do salary loans.

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