• Sunday, June 16, 2024
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BusinessDay

‘Entrepreneurship that is focused can empower the Nigerian economy’

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Frank Chukwuma Godfrey, property developer at Mara Diversified Property Holdings (MDPH), a global company involved in the construction, management and ownership of highways, hotels and hospitals, is a mentor in Mara Mentor.

Mara Mentor, an online community where young and ambitious entrepreneurs connect with experienced and inspiring business leaders, is an initiative of Mara Foundation, and was founded in Nigeria in 2014 by Ashish J Thakkar, with support from the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Frank Chukwuma Godfrey speaks on entrepreneurship, empowerment, and mentorship, with freelance writer Mary Ajayi.

In an interview where you advocated the need for Nigerians in the Diaspora to move back to Nigeria, you said you’d realised that skills and competencies of Nigerians were better off in Nigeria. You spent your formative years in the US and also went to college there. How does it feel to be back in Nigeria? Are your skills and competencies better off here?

Indeed, the professional business skills and competencies of Nigerians are better off applied here at home than in Europe or North America, for the simple reasons that the business environments are significantly different, not only in the approach to finding solutions to challenges, but also in terms of managing the expectations of customers, service providers and government regulators.  In a nutshell, it is my personal experience that the practical way to save time, money and achieve results in a timely manner is to adapt the business practices from abroad to the realities on ground in Nigeria. Further, growth, in most of Europe and North America, has ‘plateaued’. They are themselves looking to open new markets in Nigeria and Kenya over the next several years. This is a situation that is tailor-made for determined entrepreneurs with decent education and cutting-edge skill sets.

I am curious about how and why you made a switch from law to real estate. How long have you been involved in real estate?

Property Law and Contracts was a significant part of my legal training, so it wasn’t difficult for me to make the transition to real estate practice from just handling conveyances of immovable property between Buyer and Seller, and registering Transfers with Deeds Offices.  However, it took the proverbial wisdom of Solomon and patience of Job for me to transit from a property professional to a property developer; a role that demands familiarisation with every single component of the property value chain. I have been a property professional for 14 years, but it is a learning experience.

What does ‘empowerment’ mean to you?

Empowerment, to me, means doing for people what they are unable to do for themselves, having taken the first steps to find a remedy for the challenges they face at the particular time. In the context of property development or real estate in general, empowerment means that the Federal Government shall mandate the banks to ease the extraneous requirements that inhibit the ability of property developers and young graduates to access funding for developing property and or owning property. It should be a basic right. Empowerment means that Nigerian commercials banks should be further consolidated such that they can make the kinds of loan that only the Bank of Industry (BOI) is making, presently.

Let’s look at entrepreneurship. With some national platforms giving opportunities to young entrepreneurs to receive funding, is there a strong connection between empowerment and entrepreneurship?

There is indeed a nexus between entrepreneurship and empowerment. Lack of the latter is what impairs the ability of the former to come to fruition. For example, there are alternative building technology methods that government can deploy to seriously mitigate the 17 million housing deficit that we are facing in our country, but they are disinclined to attend to the homelessness that Nigerians are battling with in any significant way. In other words, any entrepreneur’s effort to deploy alternative building technology will be dis-empowered at the level of the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) before it can even get to the National Housing Fund, Federal Mortgage Bank, or Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company.  Empowerment doesn’t even have to always be in funding terms. It is as simple as fast-tracking approval for new technology to address a pressing problem, or doing away with red-tape and needless bureaucracy to get approvals and authorisations by government and financial institutions. These can empower entrepreneurs to achieve success.

Would you say that entrepreneurship is the solution to unemployment in Nigeria?

Entrepreneurship, with the strong private sector that it will engender, is the solution to unemployment in Nigeria. With the kind of entrepreneurship that comes with having 24-hours electricity, tax breaks and single-digit interest rates, unemployment shall become a thing of the past in our country.

How does the focus on entrepreneurship empower a nation like Nigeria?

Entrepreneurship that is focused can empower the Nigerian economy if you consider that we are a hardworking people by our very nature. From the young people wiping your windshield in traffic, to the hawkers plying their trade across neighborhoods in Nigeria, entrepreneurship is the very soul and essence of who we are as a people. All that is required is concerted effort by the government to unlock the full potential of the Nigerian entrepreneur.  Focused entrepreneurship is a tried and tested method of eradicating poverty. China and India are examples of countries where the entrepreneurial spirits of their people (no different from Nigerians) have addressed and mitigated poverty, leading to growth in GDP.

Some people believe they are not entrepreneurial in nature, and not business-oriented. Do we truly have people like that, or is there an entrepreneur in everyone? 

There is an entrepreneurial spirit in every individual, but there is a variance in the degree of entrepreneurial spirit that each of us is gifted with at birth. l believe the general idea is to aim for perfection of your entrepreneurial skills, so that you can at least end up with excellence, seeing as nobody can attain perfection, except God.  Although it is easier to make excuses for not achieving than to face life with fortitude and tough it out, doing well in whatever you’re currently doing that adds value to your life is a form of entrepreneurship, albeit on a ‘personal’ level.

As one of Mara’s mentors, committed to the principle of paying it forward – sharing resources and opportunities with people who want to walk where you’ve walked –, do you consider what you do a form of empowerment?

I consider property development as one of the strongest forms of entrepreneurial empowerment there is. From land acquisition to clearing, building, leasing, maintenance, security, landscaping, sale, transfer and conveyance, there are between 50 and up 350 workers and service provider entrepreneurs involved in the erection of a single building. It could be more if it is the development of a mixed-use property, for example.  I strongly encourage entrepreneurs to become property developers. Housing is a Maslow need, and there is massive opportunity for property developers in Nigeria to empower themselves with the skill sets and profitable benefits of building structures.

To what extent would you say Mara Mentor’s one-on-one mentoring platform is effective?

Mara Mentor’s one-on-one mentoring is a veritable platform for inspiring and mentoring dedicated individuals who are serious about achieving success in their chosen fields. Ashish Thakkar, who founded Mara, and has taken the company global, is a shining example of the immense degree of success that can be attained by mentoring other people, because you learn from even the individuals whom you mentor.  In the entire history of civilisation, everything that has been achieved to date has been on the back of the efforts of those that came before, and Mara’s One-on-One mentoring is a testament to the effectiveness of that philosophy.

Do you have anyone you’re mentoring at the moment? If yes, what is the journey like?

Yes. I am presently mentoring two individuals, who are without previous experience. However, they are keen to understand the fundamentals of property development, from a pure and applied perspective. I believe in results, so l can only tell you how successful l am as a mentor by judging the performance of my mentees, years from now. But if my own achievements over the years in both Nigeria and South Africa are yardsticks, l believe they are destined for great things in the property development space in Nigeria.