‘Every problem, challenge poses an opportunity for innovation’
Titilayo Medunoye is the country’s first International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and economist with over eight years of management and leadership experience in the health, hospitality and manufacturing industries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana. Titilayo is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Milky Express, Nigeria’s first lactation company that focuses on manufacturing products that enhance both the quality and quantity of breast milk as well as offering lactation consultation services to customers. In 2014, she faced a challenge with breastfeeding of her daughter and it was this experience that led her to research how to improve the quality and quantity of breast milk. In 2015, she launched her company. Before leaving paid employment in 2017, she had worked across several managerial positions in competitive organisations, where she contributed to their overall business growth. An advocate for women empowerment, she strives to contribute her quota to bridge the gender gap that exists in Nigeria. An Obama leader and recently selected by the Obama Foundation as part of the 200 young Africans with outstanding leadership qualities and the propensity to change Africa, she is also a mentee at Women In Successful Careers (WISCAR). She holds a certificate in Breastfeeding from the Lactation Education Resources, United States and gives public lectures on the subject of maternal and infant health, lactation and thriving in business as a mother, both locally and internationally. A seasoned public speaker, human resource professional and business management expert, she talks about how her personal experience led her into setting up her business, leaving paid employment for the entrepreneurship life, the challenge of launching an unfamiliar product in the Nigerian market, five key things women entrepreneurs can do to be successful, influencing change for mothers among other issues.
You successfully crossed over from paid employment to full-time entrepreneurship a few years ago, how has it been like for you?
Well, it was a difficult switch. I always advise that if you want to start a business simply because your job is too stressful, that is not a solid enough reason, because being a business owner is a lot more stressful than being in paid employment. I say this for two reasons: the first is not having a stable and sure source of income and the second is playing diverse roles in the business from Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to operations manager and even to finance. But over the years, I have gotten a lot better in running the business and we have also been able to employ capable hands to take up certain roles and responsibilities in the company, so things have eased up a bit.
A lot of people are unfamiliar with who a lactation consultant is. Tell us briefly, what does a lactation consultant do?
An international board certified lactation consultant is the only health care worker skilled in the clinical management of breast milk and human lactation.
As the country’s first indigenous lactation consultant, how does this make you feel and what does this mean for nursing mothers and women as a whole?
I would say it is definitely, a rewarding one. I have been on this journey for a while and being able to get the certification makes me very happy and grateful to God. What this means for women is that Nigerian mothers can now get the professional help they need when it comes to matters relating to breastfeeding.
What is IBCLC and what is its importance to women and the country’s maternal health?
IBCLC simply means International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and an IBCLC is a part of the infant and maternal health care team. They focus on the clinical management of breastfeeding and human lactation. This means they work with mothers during their breastfeeding years to combat whatever breastfeeding problems they have. Their work also includes ensuring a child is adequately fed and growing properly while being breastfed.
You’ve spent almost a decade in the health, hospitality and manufacturing industries, what lessons have you learnt so far?
I have learnt a lot about resilience. The economic instability in Nigeria and Africa as a whole, makes it very difficult to thrive. So at every point, one must be willing to go far above and beyond to be successful. I have also learnt that one cannot succeed alone. It is so important to have partnerships and relationships in which we serve each other and then achieve all set out goals.
Was your journey into founding Milky Express from a personal experience?
Absolutely. I had a difficult pregnancy and I was really looking forward to having my baby and getting some sort of stability. However, after she was born, the whole thing became more difficult. I had a very difficult time breastfeeding and even experienced a lot of pain while I breastfed. I had my daughter in the United States and had an opportunity to meet with an IBCLC. Till I met with one, I didn’t know such a course existed, talk less of having it as a career. I started to use some lactation products and bought some with me back to Nigeria. I spent a lot of money to ship those products so I decided to see how I could make these products locally, as there was no one making it in Nigeria at the time.
After I made the products, used them and got good results, my friends started asking for them and were even paying me to make them. At this point, I figured this would be a product needed by many Nigerian mothers. When I decided to produce commercially, I got discouragement from people who felt that the Nigerian market was not ready for such but I remained resolute, forged ahead and started the business regardless. and today, I am proud to say we have served over 3000 mothers in Nigeria, across Africa and even in the USA and United Kingdom.
A lot of Nigerians believe breastfeeding comes naturally to every woman, and they should be able to do it without any help, what would you say to this?
While breastfeeding is a natural occurrence in the sense that after a baby is born, the mother’s breasts begin to lactate, it is not exactly an evolutionary process as every mother, at some point in time, will need to learn and/or re-learn how to breastfeed. This is because the breastfeeding relationship involves two people, who are constantly changing. A mother’s first baby will always have a different oral anatomy from her second baby, as such, no two breastfeeding experiences are the same. Also, the fact that a woman has breasts does not necessarily mean that she will be able to breastfeed.
Many factors go into breastfeeding such as hormones and even the development process of the breasts; so mothers should not be made to feel bad because of breastfeeding difficulties. She should rather be encouraged and given the professional support and help to breastfeed optimally.
As a self-described advocate for women empowerment, what active steps are you taking to bridge the gender gap that exists in Nigeria?
As part of our corporate social responsibility, we recently set up a foundation that focuses on not just bridging the gender gap, but also ensuring equity across board through the foundation. With support from other donor organisations and a team of passionate volunteers, we give free eye and dental checks, infant growth checks and general health screening, free healthcare to mothers and babies in rural communities as well as vocational and entrepreneurial skills to help these young girls and women build sustainable businesses and provide for the needs of their families. We also provide scholarships for their children at primary school level.
You were recently chosen as an Obama leader, as part of young Africans to change Africa, how are you leveraging on this?
One of the first things we did as Obama leaders was to go through a period of leadership training to help us understand what it means to be a social entrepreneur as well as to teach us the rudiments of properly making impact in our communities. The platform has also helped me to foster relationships with other young bright Africans in the area of health, education, politics among others and form partnerships with them to reach a wider audience and make bigger impact at home and across Africa.
Running a business such as yours can’t be without its challenges, tell us some issues you’ve had to face and how you dealt with them?
Well, we faced many challenges as any other Nigerian business would, but one of the biggest was getting the market to understand the value of our products and services. We put a lot of efforts into educating the people on what our products and services could do for them. We also gave out products for free to get people to try them and gave feedback. We then used these feedbacks as tools to attract other mothers and store owners.
Can you share some key lessons that life has taught you?
The biggest is that every problem poses an opportunity for innovation. In any area where you find challenges, don’t wait for someone to bring a solution. Rather, be a part of the solution or the solution to the problem.
Being a woman entrepreneur here can be harder than normal, what five key things would you recommend they do to be as successful as yourself?
First, be ready for the challenges that will come because nothing that is great and of great value comes easy. Second, be bold and courageous, as you will need these to achieve your dreams. Third, take advice from those who have gone before you; a mentor is a very valuable asset that will push you further, faster. Fourth, as you make your way up, hold someone else’s hand and take her along with you and finally, in everything you do, ensure you are making an impact.
How important do you think mentorship is for women?
Very important . We all need to know and they need to see that others who have gone before them have been successful and so they too can be successful in that field.
As a CEO, what does your day-to-day activities entail?
(Laughing) My day is usually packed. I’m learning more and more to create time to just spend by myself and do something I love. I have two little children under the age of five. I always make sure I create time to spend with them daily. Sometimes, I push my work to late into the night when they are in bed because I don’t want to miss out on them growing up and I do not want them to think I’m too busy for them. I also have a great team that performs excellently. This takes pressure off me too. My husband is also super supportive and I won’t even be here without him. A lot of times, I have to travel for work but I don’t worry, knowing full well that he is a great father and will do everything I normally do for the kids. That helps me stay focused when I’m away.
If you could influence change for Nigerian mothers, what would you do?
One of the first things I will do is to make changes to the policy on Maternity Leave. Mothers go through a lot during pregnancy, childbirth and after, they need a good amount of time to recover both physically and mentally to be able to perform well at their jobs. I would also push to ensure that every organisation employs women and provides suitable arrangements for them to either work from home when the baby is born or have crèche facilities where the baby can be at the office with the mother. I would also ensure that repercussions are taken more seriously with regards to issues that affect women, from violence to sexual abuse and even psychological abuse. Those who perpetuate these evil acts must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
Life as a mother, business owner, leader, wife and so on, can be tough, how do you make everything work?
It is definitely tough but I take it one day at a time. I have a daily schedule and always try to stick to it. I also have a great support system in my family as well as members of my team.
What last words do you want to leave with anyone reading this?
Be the change that inspires someone else to be great.
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