BusinessDay

Ifedayo Durosinmi – Etti is leading a financial platform to empower women

Ifedayo Durosinmi – Etti is an author, entrepreneur, and young global leader with over 10 years of management and leadership experience working in the fashion, marketing and manufacturing industries. Ife holds a first degree in Biochemistry and an MBA in Global Business.

Prior to moving back to Nigeria in 2012, she worked with Arcadia Group Plc, a British multinational retailing company headquartered in London, and also worked at Aspire Acquisitions. Ifedayo joined Nigerian Breweries (Heineken Operating Company in Nigeria) as a Young African Talent (YAT) and transitioned to their Corporate Communications Department in the position of 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).

In 2018, she was invited to Harvard University as a panellist, to discuss the role of women in democracy and how it impacts businesses in Africa, during their African Development Conference. She was recently appointed as a Youth Advisory Group Member for Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE), a global coalition formed by the World Bank, aimed at providing catalytic support to employment and productive work for 150 million youths by 2030.

Ifedayo was selected as a Mandela Washington Fellow in 2021, the flagship program of the U.S. Government, launched in 2014 for Young African Leaders. She was selected as a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum and is currently the Project Lead for Startup Dome, a project launched to bridge the gender gap through the socio-economic empowerment of women in Nigeria.

She is the proud founder of Herconomy (formerly called AGS Tribe), a community she developed driven by her own experience. Herconomy is a community for empowered women, combined with a financial platform, with a mission to empower women through financial services, capacity building, jobs and networking.

What story of your growing up years influenced who you are today?

I had an aunty who took care of me from the time I was a baby. She was my mum’s cousin. She was always at our house. I grew up to really love her and she got married at a very young age. I was actually her little bride. When she got married, she and her husband had nothing. She was actually more stable financially but it was really humble beginnings. He then started a business which started thriving and he became a completely different person, not just to her, but to everyone in the family. He abused her physically and financially. He never allowed her to work or travel or do anything that will even boost her self-esteem. He didn’t let her go back to school. She became a shadow of herself. This went on for about 13 years. Like many other women, she endured all the abuse but she couldn’t fight back or leave because she was fully dependent on him financially. He was the one paying the fees so she endured everything. Then he died. He died when I was about 18. His family took everything he left behind. At the point when they wanted to also take her kids away too, she ran. I sat her down one day, advised her to move to a particular area of town, I remember the words I said to her. I was like, ‘even if it is ‘face me, I slap you’ kind of house you can afford in this area, take it, your children will thank you later. Move there and start hustling. I was only 18, but very weirdly, she listened to me, and today, I am so proud of her. She’s standing strong. Her two children have graduated from University and the last is still in secondary school. The business she started is thriving. She has also built her own house. She is comfortable. This situation, amongst others, really shaped me. You can restart your life again at any age.

Asides these, growing up for me was great. I had most things that every child needed to develop themselves. I’ll say I was quite privileged growing up. My Dad is a Chemical Engineer. My mum is a Lawyer. My dad pretty much handled 80 percent of the financial responsibilities while we were growing up and my mum gave up her career very early on and focused on nurturing us. I think we turned out to be good children, but as usual, life happens. We had some good times and some bad times but I grew more in those down seasons. My Dad for example, always rang it in our heads that education was important and that was what every father owed their children. His Dad said same to him, he believed him and worked very hard to finish school in flying colours. He had 31 other siblings, so he knew he had to work very hard to build his own life and not be entitled to any inheritance, so he brought us up the same way. From a very young age, I knew I had to be independent. I also knew I needed to help other women, hence why I started Herconomy.

What has your 10 years of management and leadership experience working in the fashion, marketing and manufacturing industry taught you?

My experience as a professional has thought me many things but at the top of my list would by leading with empathy, being visible, building relationships and networking are as important as your skillset for the job.

I’ve had so many amazing bosses and I know exactly what good leadership looks like but more importantly, I also know what bad leadership can do to your colleagues. I had a boss at a point in my career which felt like I was competing. I never did anything right. She was also abusive, eventually I found out the person was going through things in their personal life but didn’t know how to compartmentalise issues, so they brought that pain to work.

I have also learnt that as a leader, you have to keep growing and improving yourself to be able to add value to your team and organisation. You also cannot grow in isolation, you need people.

Share about your experience with Arcadia Group Plc and lessons learnt

Arcadia Group Ltd (formerly Arcadia Group Plc) was a British multinational retailing company headquartered in London, England. It was best known for being the previous parent company of British Home Stores (BHS), Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Debenhams, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Topman, Topshop, Wallis and Warehouse. At its peak, the group had more than 2,500 outlets in the UK, as well as concessions in UK department stores and several hundred franchises operated internationally. I used to work at their Head Office in Marlyebone, and the 2 top things I learnt while working there was how to treat customers right and also the reality of fraud.

With them, like you are taught, the customer is always tight. A customer calls to complain that they paid for next day delivery but it came a day late, the customer had to be refunded the delivery charge immediately. They’d do that and on top of that, offer the customer a percentage off their next order, to ensure the customer is happy and returns. Everyone was in control and every discussion with every customer was documented in writing and also recorded. I’ve seen these instances happen in Nigeria but the Nigerian brand in this instance will just apologise and keep it moving, not realizing that they have lost that customer for life.

With Fraud, this was a thing. We really do not understand the extent customers will go to defraud a company. From customers lying that they didn’t receive their orders and expecting a full refund, to using the details of others to place orders. We saw it all and it became apparent that no one could actually be trusted. It opened my eyes to see that sometimes, even though you want to be very customer-centric, if you do not put some checks in place, fraudulent people can run down your business. Thankfully, they were big enough to have a special fraud unit, but smaller companies may not have that luxury, but it’s important they are aware of these situations.

From Biochemistry to business and now helping businesses, how did you make the shift?

In all honesty, Biochemistry wasn’t really a course I had planned to do. I got into University at 15. I had no clue what I wanted to study. My mum helped me fill my forms. I was a strict science student from secondary school. I loved Chemistry and Biology at the time. My University didn’t have Pharmacy as an accredited course. My Dad is a Chemical Engineer, like I mentioned earlier, so the closest course that my mum felt was aligned to my skills, was Chemical Engineering. She chose that for me and I didn’t mind. I got into school and Engineering Math was extremely difficult for me. So after my first year, I wanted to change my course to Management and Information Systems (MIS), but because I wasn’t failing, my Dad didn’t really understand when I tried to explain that I was struggling and like any loving Dad, he encouraged me to continue pushing so I decided to continue. After my second year, I knew I couldn’t continue again but this time, my University wasn’t allowing people to change to MIS anymore (I’m still pained by this though because MIS is more in line with what I do now). My only other choice was Biochemistry. So I changed to that. I started enjoying the course actually but when I did my internship with one of the biggest Pharmaceuticals for 6 months, I realized I only enjoyed reading it, not in practice. I knew I was going to work somewhere else, but definitely not as a Biochemist. My goal then was just to graduate.

When I graduated, I did my NYSC at Standard Chartered Bank. I loved the experience. I loved meeting different people every day, solving different challenges. So I decided to work some more, then do an MBA, hoping that no one will send me back to a lab or a brewery. That’s how I made the shift.

What did you learn at Aspire Acquisitions?

Aspire Acquisitions was a direct marketing company in the UK. They signed on several accounts, from the Telco’s to Charities and we had to get them, new customers, every day. This job was the hardest job I ever had to do but it built me. It felt as if we were working in the Army. Firstly, every day, when we got into the office, we couldn’t sit down. We had to jog on the spot. Fill up ourselves with energy. If you were caught leaning on a wall, you had to do 10 press-ups. The energy was always high at work and I loved it. Every day, our goal was to speak to 100 customers with a goal to sign up 3 customers daily. We had a base pay but we were also paid an additional 20 pounds for each new customer we signed up and if we got more than 3 customers, we were paid double from the 4th customer signed on.

This job thought be everything I know today about storytelling, sales, and how to deal with rejections. I already knew the statistics. I knew I was going to get 97 negative responses on average daily so I never got upset when a customer told me no. I was prepared for it. I grew very fast within the team. I topped the charts week on week because I pushed my team to even move out of London so we could easily sign on new customers. Imagine you being extremely scared of dogs but you’re trying to sign up new customers for the RSPCA. The RSPCA is the UK’s largest animal welfare charity. I had to develop all kinds of tactics during this time and they’ve stuck with me till this day. Sometimes in life, you have to do uncomfortable things and all that is on your mind is hitting your goal. It taught me the power of tunnel vision. I had one goal and I had to hit it.

Share with us on being invited to Harvard University to discuss the role of women in democracy and how it impacts businesses in Africa

Speaking at Harvard is a story on its own. My friend, Folawe Omikunle was invited to speak at Harvard. I was in New York at the time for the UN Women’s Conference. She told me she was speaking there and she randomly complained that she didn’t know anyone there, so I told her I’d go with her. I saw it as an opportunity to visit the ‘Almighty’ Harvard, so I flew in from New York. Getting, there, I was just happy being there. We attended sessions together and during one of the sessions, I asked a question and before I knew it, when it ended, about 10 people were lining up to ask me different questions. I was so confused. One of the people on the line then invited me to join her panel the next day. I was extremely scared. The only other place I had spoken in my own capacity was NYSC. This was new grounds. This was Harvard. I was the youngest professional on the panel. I felt so unqualified but I did it anyway and the feedback was good. I spoke mainly about the fact that we need more women in political offices but we didn’t have as much because they lacked the financial muscle to compete against the men. This eventually has a ripple effect on business because if you do not have women at the table contributing to issues, then we are missing out on diverse views/solutions on issues. If you even check the statistics, we have more female-owned businesses in Africa, but who are the people coming up with policies guiding these businesses, 80 percent of them are men.

Tell us about being advisory group member for Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE)

I was appointed as one of the 17 Youth Advisory Group members for S4YE in 2019 as a result of my contribution to entrepreneurship and youth empowerment in Nigeria. Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) is a global program launched by the World Bank that brings together donors, governments, foundations, private sector companies, NGOs, and youths to support catalytic programs to increase the number of young people engaged in productive work.

The S4YE Secretariat is housed in the Jobs Group of the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice at the World Bank. S4YE acts as a strategic gateway to connect youth employment stakeholders with over 150 youth employment operations of the World Bank. S4YE partners include the World Bank, Accenture, The Rockefeller Foundation, Mastercard Foundation, Microsoft, Plan International, International Youth Foundation (IYF), Youth Business International (YBI), RAND Corporation, the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Governments of Norway, Germany, the UN Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, and multiple private companies (over 35 large corporations1). Other bilateral partners that support S4YE through the Jobs MDTF include UK Aid, SIDA, and Austria.

This initiative is fuelled by the need to address a growing challenge: In the next 10 years, more than 1 billion young people will enter the job market. This means that 5 million jobs are needed per month to accommodate this influx and maintain current employment levels in the developing world. We work individually and collectively to ensure we come up with projects that provide employment for the youth. I have hosted capacity-building training, and worked with them to facilitate workshops on different topics. Just last week, I was a facilitator on the Youth Knowledge Exchange, a program launched by S4YE, discussing how business owners can finance their projects.

What is Herconomy about?
Herconomy is a community for empowered women combined with a financial platform to enable the success of women and level the economic playing field. On our platform, you wouldn’t just save and earn 10 per cent interest per annum, you can also save as you spend on things that you need. We are building an ecosystem where women can thrive and have access to financial services, capacity building, opportunities and community.

So far, we have trained over 80,000 women online and offline, mentored about 500 women, and provided grants to over 50 women-led businesses. In 2021, we raised $600,000 for our business in 24 hours. We have implemented programs in partnership with organisations like Amazon, Google, Meta (Facebook), and numerous other organisations.

Read also: NGO unveils photobook on 30 inspiring Nigerian women

When you look at the impact Herconomy has achieved, how does this make you feel?

I get goosebumps whenever I think about it. It’s been only a few years but I have seen so many lives transform and will give an example. We have a great example of our impact, which shows the ripple effect of our company. I met Maryam Salami in 2018. She attended our training and also received a $5,000 grant in 2019. Since then, her business has quadrupled in revenue. She now has over 27 distributors across the world, she has moved into their own factory space, they’ve been able to employ more people and they have been able to move her children to better schools. Because of this one woman, her community is blessed. We have many more success stories like this.

Why the drive for women empowerment and gender equality?
I am passionate about gender equality because I have experienced firsthand what it means to have reduced opportunities in the economic sector during the early days of my career just because I am a woman and more importantly, a woman in Nigeria. I had to work twice as hard to show that I was capable enough to handle projects with large budgets. I also had to work extra hard to show that I could lead a team of diverse people which included men.

Gender inequality in Nigeria is influenced by different cultures and beliefs. According to a report released by the World Economic Forum in 2017, Nigerian women have it tough living in terms of indexes such as economic, educational, health, and political opportunities. This report also states that with the current trend, it will take another 217 years to achieve gender parity. This is quite alarming because women makeup half of the world’s working-age population and effectively employing these women or giving them the skills to thrive in entrepreneurship will drive a higher standard of living for all of us and lift millions of individuals and families out of poverty. In most parts of Nigeria, women are considered subordinate to their male counterparts, especially in Northern Nigeria. It is generally believed that women are best suited as home keepers. Women are also denied equal treatment in inheritance rights, human resources development, and sustainable economic growth.

According to a McKinsey Global Institute report issued in 2017, if the full potential of women were realized, where women play an identical role in the labour market to that of men, the global GDP will increase by $28 trillion by 2025. That’s the equivalent of the GDP in U.S and China combined. Talent is one of the most essential factors for growth and competitiveness. To build future economies that are both dynamic and inclusive, we must ensure that everyone has equal opportunity. When women and girls are not integrated as both beneficiary and shaper, the global community loses out on skills, ideas and perspectives that are critical for addressing global challenges and harnessing new opportunities.

Giving women the power to thrive in their business, workplace and life begins when girls enjoy quality education as a critical component, especially in developing countries like Nigeria where girls’ education is often not a high priority. UNICEF estimates that 63 million girls of school age are out of school and 15 million never set foot inside a classroom. Educating girls breaks the cycle of poverty and creates a ripple effect of opportunity that can influence generations to come. It also shows that educating a girl equates to a 10-20% increase in earning potential income that goes back into her family and community. It is important for us all to work together to unleash the collective power of women everywhere so we can live better lives and at the same time make the world a better place.

What are you looking forward to in the nearest future?

I look forward to seeing a world void of gender inequality and a place where women can be who they want to be without being restricted by factors such as societal expectations, religious barriers, financial limitations and so on. I look forward to building Africa’s first female-focused digital bank that makes it easier for women to succeed.

Why are women challenged in terms of getting funding?

There are a number of issues which have and are contributing to limiting the amount of funding accessible to women-led businesses. As a gender-focused organisation, we have seen this sad reality play out several times. Interestingly, it was also a major aspect of conversations at our recently concluded conference which took place in the month of March 2022. Some of the reasons can be summarised into:

a. Women being treated as homogeneous groups. It is not practical to lump women-led businesses into one group and expect that that one size will fit all

b. The reality as at today, when you go to a financial institution to access funding especially loans, the process is tedious. You are literally asked to bring all you have just to show your credibility.

c. The interest rate. Although this is not peculiar to women alone but you understand that for a woman, this is more pronounced as you already have the odds stacked against you by other factors. Adding a high-interest rate makes it more difficult. This is why you see a high number of women-led businesses go to unconventional credit lenders.

What can organisations and government do better to support this course?

Considering the aforementioned, it is clear what the government needs to do.

1. Create female-focused funding programs that are addressed at the different categories of female entrepreneurs.

2. Reduce interest rates, present interest rates are high and doesn’t support business growth.

3. Increase capacity-building programs for female entrepreneurs. This is to balance the quality of women-led businesses that are able to access funding.

You can also read up more when our report is released.

What is it that any woman who wants to access funds needs to know?

a. Be solving a real problem.

b. Your business needs to be properly structured and your books in order.

c. Your business purpose and goal needs to be clear.

d. Build a solid team.

e. Work with a financial expert.

f. Be visible

What mistakes do women make when requesting for loans?

a. Not having knowledge of the type of funding they need. You don’t need some funding at certain stages of your business

b. Unstructured business

c. Working in isolation

d. Seeking funding like it’s a favour

Day never to be forgotten

Personally, it was the day I found out that my brother died. Business-wise, it was the day we raised $600,000 in 24 hours. It still feels like a movie. We actually got commitment of over $5,700,000 but we couldn’t accept all because we didn’t need that much at the time and we didn’t want to dilute too much.

Final words

Keep doing it afraid.