Thursday, 8th June 2023

How empowering women bridges gender gap by GroFin Nigeria

As the world celebrates the International Women’s Day 2020, GroFin Nigeria Limited - an impact-driven specialist SMEs financier - has reiterated its commitment to empowering women entrepreneurs because

As the world celebrates the International Women’s Day 2020, GroFin Nigeria Limited – an impact-driven specialist SMEs financier – has reiterated its commitment to empowering women entrepreneurs because of the profound impact that they can have on their communities.

Latifat Balogun, a successful Nigerian woman entrepreneur and Chief Executive Officer, Hatlab Ice Cream, who is incredibly closing the gender gap in an unexpected way – through ice cream, attested to GroFin’s track record.

A Cherie Blair Foundation Awardee, Latifat has grown her business, Hatlab Ice Cream Delite from a single store in 2003 to a large retail chain with multiple outlets and stores across five states in Nigeria, she told The Guardian in a chat.

GroFin Nigeria has invested nearly USD 12 million in women entrepreneurs in Nigeria and Latifat is one of the beneficiaries who benefitted by taking part in the Vital Voices GROW Fellowship (VV GROW) – a global accelerator program for the women owners of small and medium-sized businesses. The program includes customized business skills training, leadership development, technical assistance, and access to networks.

According to her, “Hatlab started in Abuja with a vision to replicate the brand in many other locations and regions. Therefore, for the company to achieve expansion, funding became an issue. However, at a point, we contacted GroFin.

Latifat Balogun. Photo: SHEISNPIRESHER

With a background in banking and finance, Latifat said her commitment and determination to succeed in the face of daunting challenges, resulted in the success story of her entrepreneurial journey.

She submitted that “GroFin was a good opportunity for her business. After the initial business assessment, I realized that certain procedures had to be followed in order to access the loan. Things that were hitherto taken for granted became critical to accessing the loan.

Having the right books in place has really helped. GroFin gives business support services including recruitment, business restructuring (which we did twice), and when we had a major challenge that seemed like we were not going to pull through, GroFin was with us.”

She advised women aspiring to be successful business owners to “strive to do the right thing at all times – keep records straight, resist cutting corners, and be ethical. Once you are above board, discrimination or rejection for being a woman would be difficult. GroFin has been very supportive of women. Recently, the company recommended me to be part of 69 women across the globe that attended a business support program – the Vital Voices GROW Fellowship.

The Hatlab Ice Cream boss noted that “from personal experience, women should have the right mentors simply because there is no field that someone has not worked before. So, it is always very important that women find persons within their space who have trod the same path to learn from experience.

The common saying is ‘only the curious will survive’. Women should make it a habit to always ask the right questions from the right persons, at the right place and time and seek out for help where necessary. This is the only way they can cut an edge from others. To rise above others, women must be well informed, have the right mentor, and get educated about the field chosen to operate.”

Although she lauded the government’s initiatives to grow SMEs and reduce unemployment, she believed more needs to be done, especially in terms of more loans without collateral.

She concluded “government should support SMEs by creating more public enlightenment, educate them on the need to pay back loans so that other people can have equal opportunity. Also, there should be a lot of buy-ins, carry the stakeholders along and be as inclusive in policy implementation.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs need to do their bit by keeping clean records, ensuring due diligence, prudence and resisting attempts to take money from investors for frivolous reasons. No matter the incentive put in place, self-discipline is very important.”

GroFin specializes in financing and supporting small and growing businesses in emerging markets. Since its inception in 2003, the company has invested in over 700 SMEs in 14 countries in Africa and the Middle East to sustain over 90,900 jobs.

Felix Ezeh, GroFin Nigeria’s Investment Executive, stressed that “this year’s International Women’s Day theme: #EachforEqual – recognizes that gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive. Women entrepreneurs can play a powerful role in fostering economic growth and creating employment in Nigeria. But lack of equality means they will continue to face greater obstacles in growing their businesses than their male counterparts.”

GroFin helps women entrepreneurs to overcome the biggest challenges of inability to access finance, business skills and a network of contacts, by offering a combination of finance expert advice and technical assistance that improves their business skills.

The company also partners with organisations which focus specifically on women entrepreneurs to give its clients access to additional mentoring, networking opportunities and capacity building programmes. Currently, GroFin is partnering with the International Trade Centre (ITC), the SheTrades Invest Initiative, and the Vital Voices Global Partnership.