‘It’s sad we have to prove ourselves for roles we manage better than men’
Okeyinfu Ajayi, an experienced and certified evidence-based educational entrepreneur and startup business consultant, founded Busy Minds Centre in 2013. Using her skills as a curriculum integration expert and an assessment lead, she audits school practice and provides on the spot suggestions for sustainable and affordable improvement and started Kavabe Hub in 2018, with focus on women start-ups. In her quest for a more inclusive education for all children, she currently does some work with the office of Education Quality Assurance, Lagos and is one of the Executors of The STEAM-UP Lagos Project. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her ideals, passion and drive for business startups, including the educational sector.
Tell us about your work at Busy Minds Centre?
Busy Minds Centre is an educational institution in Lagos, with both online and physical business units. We cater for children aged three months to 16 years from two campuses. In addition, we have a Teacher Education and Leadership Development Centre.
When we started in 2013, I was fully involved in the day-to-day running of the school, inclusive of teaching, learning and administration. However, my role has evolved overtime and one of the things that take a lot of time is teacher and school leadership development, which are the critical pillars necessary for high education quality and school culture.
Of course, I enjoy innovating with the school team on programme for the students and ensuring we stay accountable to the parents and our vision. Programme Evaluation and Learner Assessments is still a huge part of my role.
What endeared you to education and entrepreneurship?
I love what I do and one thing that has kept me, even though it is terribly cliched, is the golden opportunity to ‘catch them young’ and make a difference early on. Within every child is the future, our future. It only makes sense that they have the tools they need to make a lasting difference for our collective good.
With entrepreneurship, I have always liked being helpful and when I was in the university, I used to make hair to get extra money. Being in the space of creating and distributing value gives me a buzz.
With education, there are so many facets and extracting all that value, be it via early years and secondary school learning spaces, teacher training, school finance clinics, etc, is a joy. It is hard work, but seeing the impact makes it worthwhile.
You consult for startups and create relevant process maps for businesses. How are you able to achieve this?
I can safely generalise when I say that the first step to getting something done is knowing what needs to be done. Once that hurdle has been crossed, the next becomes visible and functional connections in the workplace.
When working with organisations, I deconstruct their systems, ensuring they understand that no task/process is independent of another. Every task is connected via direct or indirect links and these must be seen. The issue is usually a lack of visible links between the systems and this leads to corporate apathy towards work integration.
A process map seeks to remove that disconnect by ensuring everyone within an organisation understands their connection within a system and their place within the whole. A good process map will show the connections across systems and how processes are interwoven.
What do you consider a major challenge for startups?
Most of the time, we all have fabulous ideas, but lack the discipline and understanding of execution. Design thinking is a huge challenge. If you think about it for a minute, you will find that the concept of solutions and the marketplace is the same, regardless of the sector. The issue is usually context.
The first thing for me is to get the start-up to articulate their big ‘why.’ If they are able to do this, they are taking the first step towards defining their market and entry strategy. If they cannot, hopefully, they can reach the conclusion quickly that the idea is not viable and look at the needs of the market again.
Value is always attractive and it is usually just a matter of time to get the connection going. If you have a waiting market and your solutions are recognised by the buyers, you are relevant. The rest is discipline and the commitment to stay the course regardless.
What is the future of the dwindling educational sector in Nigeria?
I will not like to say the education sector is dwindling; I prefer to say the way we are looking at education is changing and as a nation, we are getting used to the changes that need to happen.
This aligns with one of the milestones that I am excited about, which is STEAM Education and Curriculum Integration. In our classrooms, entrepreneurship and innovation are woven into our methodology, providing a platform for self-expression.
COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the education sector. How can students and school owners alike cope?
As a business and as individuals, it is always important to be responsive via an agile feedback process. Responsiveness is like oil; it keeps things moving.
The future is looking very digital and collaboration seems to be the new platform. We all need to understand this quickly and align our minds and systems to this reality. We could sink, swim or dominate. It is not okay to just cope (swim), because education births all other professions. Nothing was mastered that was not learnt.
When we understand and accept this, as school owners, we can begin to reskill our team and prepare them to create learning spaces where students get the tools and skills they need to find their place.
We, of course, have our work cut out for us when I think about how we need to get parents to buy into the future today. However, the first step is for us, as school owners, to accept it and begin to see the possibilities of learning spaces without walls and have a functional feedback loop.
Do you think female business owners face gender specific challenges running their businesses?
It is more of a cultural perspective that stems from the perceived role of the woman. It is sad that we have to prove ourselves in roles we are better suited to and able to manage better than our male counterparts because of our gender.
One area this is hugely visible is in the space of finance, and of course, technology. Even my auditor is always surprised when he looks through my books.
The reality is that if we consider the way a woman’s brain is wired, she finds it easier to do several things at the same time and still manage time remarkably well.
As a purpose driven educator, business professional, writer, capacity development coach and speaker, how do you blend all these roles with family and still be at your best?
Honestly, it is hard. I, however, have a really good support system and I lean heavily on it. In addition, I lay emphasis on capacity building and team development.
Very early in my career, and this carried on when I started my business, I have always developed my team and those who work with and for me. I cannot do it alone. This philosophy has proved invaluable to me.
What advice do you have for younger women seeking direction for growth?
In 2000 or 2001, I saw a job opening that I really liked, but I was worried about applying because of some of the requirements. My cousin said to me, ‘if one person will be taken, believe it will be you.’ I got the job against all odds.
To the young woman out there, please believe in and trust yourself. You also need to develop yourself, so that when you walk through the door, you will get a seat at the table. Have a support system and do not be afraid of hard work.
What values do you live by?
Everything I do, I do as unto the Lord. I might start small, but I will grow quickly. I was not brought into this world to be ordinary and make no impact; thus, everyone I meet must experience a deeper level of themselves simply because we met.
Finally, because I want to go far, I find ways to collaborate and increase my reach.