Ifedayo Durosinmi-Etti: ‘Self-doubt is the biggest quencher of creativity’
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, manufacturing, and most recently, the tech industry. A Biochemistry graduate of Covenant University with an MBA in Global Business from Coventry University UK, she is the managing partner of Herconomy, a Social Enterprise and Cooperative of like-minded women, focused on connecting women to various opportunities such as scholarships, grants, fellowships, and job opportunities.
In recent times, she has broken several glass ceilings by being part of the Africa Startup Initiative (ASIP) Accelerator Programme and becoming a recruitment partner with Amazon. She is a recipient of the Women’s Advocacy Award from the West African Leadership Organisation for her exemplary leadership and dedication to socio-economic development in West Africa. An alumnus of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, she was named a Peace Scholar by the Dutch Ministry of foreign affairs and 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 youth by 2030.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion for empowering women led startup and equipping them with the right financial literacy.
You have a long and illustrious career, take us through your journey so far?
VERY early on in my career, I thought I was all over the place and confused, but now, it looks like all that ‘running around’ is turning out to be the experience I need in my business today. I got into university with absolutely no idea of what I wanted to study. My dad is a Chemical Engineer, so my mum just filled out Chemical Engineering on the form. I got into University, but after the first year, I knew engineering math wasn’t my calling. So, I changed my course to Biochemistry after my second year of crying (which was the only other course I could change to without losing two years in the University). I knew I wasn’t going to practice as a Biochemist.
After my undergraduate degree, I went to do an MBA in Global Business, because I believed it would give me the opportunity to have a different career path from the laboratory, and it did. From having an educational background in Biochemistry to doing an MBA, I have also worked across quite a number of sectors and in many roles. From sales to marketing, to communications, to fashion and corporate social responsibility. I wouldn’t say it been that long, but it has been an interesting journey.
Now, I’m in the fintech space, which is a very scary place to be in. But I’m surrounding myself with the best mentors and I am learning fast too. I’m excited to have built a platform that has improved the lives of so many women. I am enjoying the journey.
How are you able to hone your skills?
To be honest, I learn every day and at this stage in my career, one of the most important skills I’m intentionally trying to work on are my leadership skills. Leadership is a complex array of skills and attributes and it can be difficult to sum up in a concise definition. Some people believe that leaders are born, not made. Others think one can develop and hone leadership skills, just like any other ability; I happen to fall into the latter category. I believe I can learn anything I want to learn.
One of the ways in which I hone my skills and improve on myself was to first work on my mindset and believe that I could. Self-doubt is the biggest quencher of creativity. It’s easy to give up when you don’t believe in your work and others aren’t cheering you on. Don’t let the fear of other people’s judgement stop you from creating or innovating.
Judgement ties in with self-doubt. Also, I do not compare myself with others; I do what I can each day without putting too much pressure on myself. The third thing I do is to focus. In a busy world, it’s easy to get distracted. Sometimes, you look at a blank canvas or paper, and you think that’s as far as you will get. I take time out, disconnect from distractions; sit and relax your mind; block out everything else, focus on the energy of what I am creating. I also keep it simple. I try not to complicate issues, build on what I am good at, and I delegate the rest to a great hand. Lastly, I stay thankful.
Share with us your vision for Herconomy, what informed this initiative?
Growing up, I saw many women, including my mum, put her career on the back burner so she could take care of us. It was an awesome sacrifice, but as we grew older and she wanted to start a business, she realised she didn’t have the capital she needed and she couldn’t just pick up her career from where she stopped, because over 17 years had gone by. She basically had little or no savings.
There are so many women on the continent who fall under this category and for many, they regretted it in their later years. I also saw other close family members who lost their breadwinner and things went downhill from there. I knew I didn’t want that to happen to me or any other woman I knew. I needed to create a safe space for women so they could either empower themselves or empower someone else, and we all know that its difficult to empower anyone without an element of finance and capacity building.
When I think of Herconomy, the vision is huge. I think of a Wakanda (world) where women can thrive. To thrive, we will need our money, friends and knowledge gap to be filled and this is exactly what we provide at Herconomy. On our platform, women can save money and earn high interests, connect with other likeminded women, build their capacity, so they can become empowered.
On the continent, women have been pushed to the back in all aspects of their lives. Imagine a world where a woman can live life on her own terms, purchase from vendors who believe that women have a voice and must have access to equal opportunities. Imagine a world where women can have access to loans without requesting for approval from her spouse, or a world where you can meet likeminded people who have been through something that you are about to go through, your life will be simpler and sweeter for it. This is what we have built with Herconomy. By the time we are done, so many women will be empowered and Nigeria will be empowered for it. Our GDP will grow, we’d have a better pool of leaders to lead us in the public and private sector, more children will be in school, our communities will be better, there will be better access to decent jobs. The benefits are endless.
What is your take on women and their financial literacy awareness?
Financial literacy is so important; there are so many things I didn’t know before. I used to cringe when I hear ‘come and buy stock in company ABC’. This was mainly because it was such a complicated process in the past. But these days, there are tools that can help you manage your investment portfolio, but if I didn’t join platforms like The Green Investment Club and Money Africa, I wouldn’t know as much as I know now, when it comes to being financial literate.
You are quite passionate about women and youth development, how have you been empowering female entrepreneurs?
I’ve been passionate about the empowerment of women from a very young age, because of some of the things I saw growing up. These issues weren’t issues I saw only in Nigeria; I saw them across the continent, probably even worse outside of Nigeria. The underlying issue was access to funding, information and mindset and I came up with a platform – Herconomy. This is a platform where women will just not save and earn high interests on their savings, but they will also be able to save money as they spend on products and services they need to thrive on a day to day. From lifestyle products, to salons, restaurants, consultants, car dealerships, airlines… we have a plethora of local and global brands who have also partnered with us to offer up to 30 percent discount to our members.
Over the years, we have seen lives of so many women change because of our model. Gender inequality is not just something I read in the news, I have lived it, my mum has lived it, my friends have lived it, but not anymore. We will continue to do our quota to ensure even more women are empowered, because we understand what the ripple effect and impact it brings, not just your immediate family, but your community as a whole.
Together with other brands such as Google, Facebook, several banks in Nigeria, who are also passionate about the empowerment of women, we have been able to train over 90,000 women online and offline on different topics that can improve their businesses, careers or personal development. We have also been able to connect them to grants for their various projects.
Are you satisfied with the number of start-ups and SMEs owned by women in Nigeria today?
To be honest, when you look at the numbers, you will see that we have a very high number of female owned businesses in the country than any other country on the continent, so our problem really isn’t in the number of female owned businesses; it’s in the kind of businesses our women feel more comfortable doing.
A 2020 report released by the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has shown that women in Nigeria accounted for 41 per cent ownership of micro businesses in the country. Even when they have the potential to scale, many women would prefer to leave it small while maintaining full ownership. You will also find out that even in the workplace, very important results are emerging and it has been proven that there is an even 50-50 split in the workplace between men and women. However, as both sexes climb up the corporate ladder, women begin to decline in representation on the senior leadership teams and at the board level.
I run a programme every year called the Herconomy Enterprise Challenge. Even though we have a high number of female entrepreneurs in Nigeria, we find it hard to find credible female entrepreneurs to give grants to. Every year, we have had to extend the deadline. If we opened it up to men, our emails will be flooded with applications. This is the 4th year running on this programme; it’s always very sad when we can’t find credible startups led by women to invest in. Women need to take advantage of opportunities.
Do you think that more entrepreneurs are leveraging the digital space to drive their businesses?
Oh yes. Any entrepreneur who is not leveraging the digital space to push their businesses is not really an entrepreneur; the person is most likely just whiling away time. Its way cheaper, you can target your exact audience and you can also track what worked or not. It’s the easiest way to reach your target audience, especially if they are millennials.
How best can the nation deploy technology to drive financial inclusion and create social economic opportunities especially for women?
Financial inclusion is defined as the availability and equality of opportunities to access financial services. It means that individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs – transactions, payments, savings, credit etc. Fintechs are at the fore front of fulfilling and promoting financial inclusion and Nigeria as a nation needs to come up with more policies that will enable Fintechs to thrive, just like the UK.
The traditional definition classifies FinTech as ‘products and companies that employ newly developed digital and online technologies in the banking and financial services industries.’ Going by this definition, FinTech companies are uniquely qualified to drive financial inclusion by leveraging their access to technology and lending ability at lower costs through automation. Financial inclusion has gained real ground over the past few years. It helps in reducing extreme poverty, supporting inclusive development, and enhancing the well-being of the people.
More than half a billion people got access to financial services for the very first time between 2014 and 2017, according to the World Bank’s Global Findex Database 2017. In 2011, the global ‘unbanked’ population stood at about 2.5 billion, but just six years later, that figure has dropped to 1.7 billion, and today, it has even dropped some more. Giving access to the hundreds of millions of men and women (all over the world) who are presently excluded from financial services would provide the possibilities for the creation of a large depository of savings, investable funds, investment and therefore global wealth generation.
Another way Nigeria can leverage technology to drive financial inclusion is to continue pushing and creating policies that promote mobile penetration. As people get a mobile device, they can connect to a financial institution. They can set up a checking account; they can have access to mobile banking. They don’t have to go into a branch; they can get a direct deposit of their income to that checking account. This could be Nigeria. As at January 2021, there were 187.9 million mobile connections in Nigeria which means penetration is extremely high.
You wear many hats, how do you combine them, including family life and still be at your best?
The only way to attempt to live an almost balanced life is to have a good support system you can rely on. This support system is different for everyone. For some, it may be the support of their mum or mum-in-law in their home that will help, for others, it may be an extremely supportive spouse. For more, it may be hiring a team at home to help with chores, for others, they may be resources like school bus, ride sharing etc that helps lessen the load, its different for everyone.
What is important is to find a rhythm that works for your own family. The way I have been doing this personally is to have help at home that fill the gaps when I’m not able to. For example, I have a driver and nanny who help us at home. At the beginning of your business, it needs a lot of time; there are many days I’m extremely tired and I cannot get up 5am. I know my children will still get to school by 7am, because I’ve put in the structure. I once tried to do it all at the same time, but I realised very quickly, that it was not sustainable. I spoke to many older women who are successful and that’s the only way they were able to do it.
Some even went as far as saying that, at a point, they had three Personal Assistants for different reasons. You already know you may not be able to attend all the PTA meetings or cook every meal at home, or be at every school drop off, or make every work meeting, but you have to empower people around you to be able to stand in for you when you can’t. You are human, not a robot.
What do you hope to see Nigerian women do differently?
I’d love to see Nigerian women earn more without being afraid to take on risks. I’d like to see more women doing businesses that have the potential to scale into multimillion dollar investments. I know we have many more Funke Opekes, Ibukun Awosikas and Tara Fela-Durotoyes in our system. Let’s bet on ourselves and build big businesses that can create real impact globally.
What is your life mantra?
My life’s mantra is to ‘Do it afraid’ while living my best life.