• Thursday, February 22, 2024
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BusinessDay

Mary Olushoga, powering small business success for African entrepreneurs

mary-olushoga

 Biography

Mary Olushoga is founder of awpnetwork.com, a platform powering small business success for African entrepreneurs. She is a 2015 Vital Voices Global Leadership Fellow, the first-ever Africa Data Challenge winner, the first-ever GOOD Maker/Oxfam America International Women’s Day Challenge Winner, a Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) Associate, and an Oxfam America Sisters on the Planet Ambassador.

Olushoga received a bachelor’s degree from Union College in Schenectady, New York and a Master of Science degree from Baruch College. She has served as a Public Policy Fellow at the University at Albany, Centre for Women in Government and Civil Society and participated in the Sub-Saharan African Women In Public Service Fall Institute. Olushoga has featured on BBC World News, Black Enterprise, iwantherjob.com, AFK Insider, Applause Africa, BET Network, BusinessDay Nigeria and has presented her work on women entrepreneurs at the prestigious Yale University, the Columbia University Africa Economic Forum, the United States Department of Labor Strategy Meeting on Inclusion, Entrepreneurship, and Disability, W!se Institute, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the United Nations ECOSOC Youth Employment Forum, and the Rockefeller Foundation Tech Salon. She writes for GE Ideas Lab, SciDev, and the Huffington Post.

mary-olushoga

​​Growing up

Growing up for me was fun. I am the only daughter of my parents and the only sister to my brothers. I had a privileged and normal childhood. My father was an entrepreneur, back then he owned Fisbol Nigeria Limited. He also worked as a consultant to several pharmaceutical companies to include AJ Seward, Pfizer, Eleganza, Doyin Industries, Cocosheen to name a few. Well, what he did I think sparked my interest in business – particularly in trying to help entrepreneurs figure out how to grow their businesses and reach new markets. Since starting my professional career, I have also operated in the small business development arena. My background plus my professional experiences I believe in someway inspired me to start the AWP network – a platform powering small business success for African entrepreneurs whereby we provide valuable access to business resources, educational tools and community support.

GOOD Maker/Oxfam America International Women’s Day Challenge

This was a very exciting time for me. Several people and their organizations entered the challenge and I won. I was up all night, calling, emailing, and encouraging people to vote for me. It wasn’t easy but it was fun. Felt like I was running for political office.

When and why AWP was set up

I founded the AWP Network in 2012 after my BBC interview. After years of working in the small business development space, I decided the time was right.  I launched the AWP Network as a solution to the unemployment issue facing Africa particularly in Nigeria as the most populous country on the continent. The idea is that if we provide a supportive community to African entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, they will be sustainable and in turn create jobs and hire, thereby reducing unemployment. Its not a easy mission but it is possible. At the AWP Network, we see entrepreneurship as a solution. This idea came to me after a number of years working in the economic development space. I saw firsthand how the resources provided, helped entrepreneurs become more successful in their endeavours. I saw how better access to business resources, education, and financing helped to transform the lives of entrepreneurs. I launched AWP shortly after a BBC interview in 2012.

Journey so far

The journey has been fun, interesting, and challenging… what other word can I use?

Personal and professional challenges

The more visible you become, or rather the more hardworking you are, the more responsibilities you are given. It is a wonderful privilege that people, sometimes total strangers trust me with such work and responsibilities but one also needs to learn how to prioritize. I spend lots of time travelling and that could be stressful too. I am also careful as to how I say “No” to people and the types of relationships I keep. I have noticed that when things don’t work out, the first response especially with the Nigerian market is that people are quick and may attempt to tarnish one’s image. One has to be very careful. Above all, there are all sorts of challenges but I am grateful to be where I am. My secret weapon to surviving it all are my praying parents. They always remind me that I am not alone.

 How young entrepreneurs can grow their businesses despite the myriad economic challenges around

Interesting question – in my experience, no matter how good your business is, sometimes the market and macro-economic situations sometimes determines the direction of your business. Be strategic, proactive, and ensure that your company can respond to what’s happening in the moment. Another thing that I have also noticed is that many entrepreneurs do not want to spend on Marketing/Advertising/PR – but this is a very important aspect of your business plan and market strategy. How does one intend to grow if no one knows about you, your business, and what it actually does?

Life’s philosophy

Be audacious. Be bold. Be fearless. “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Front Burner

The AWP Network just completed an entrepreneurial training program for secondary school students at Lagos State Model College, Meiran. For this program we received 200 applications and were only able to accept 50 participants. The program was very successful and we hope to replicate this across all Lagos State Model colleges. In addition, the AWP Network recently expanded its training program for  women farmers in Taraba State due to the major sponsorship we received from the Planet Earth Institute. We plan to establish major farming hubs throughout Nigeria.

 Final Words

Life is short – Enjoy the time you have here on earth. Work hard, create no excuses, and reach out to help others. Thank you again for this interview and for your time.

 

Kemi Ajumobi