‘Women are at the heart of building any nation’
Oyifijeh Roseline Aadum is a woman of many parts. Apart from being a corporate trainer, she is also an award-winning human capital development expert. The Founder of the Fijeh Roseline Aadum Foundation obtained her MBA from London Metropolitan University, London, United Kingdom, and studied Leadership Development at John Maxwell University, USA, after her first degree in Accounting at the University of Abuja. Happily married with three children, she is also convener of The Abuja Enterprise Summit, Invest Nigeria and Host of The Startup Dialogue Podcast. Her passion is to make a positive mark in Africa by supporting entrepreneurs, transforming businesses, developing leaders and helping people achieve results in life and businesses.
Aadum is currently helping many Nigerians displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency to find their paths. In North America also, the award winning bestselling author has devoted her time to making meaning out of the lives of struggling immigrants with her Immigrants Thrive Initiative. She shares her journey and plans with KINGSLEY JEREMIAH.
Tell us more about your career and your interest in enterprise development?
I Studied Accounting at the University of Abuja and secured a job afterwards in the pension industry. I left the mainstream finance industry after five years to join the family business, where I held a couple of roles, including finance and administration manger. The family business exposed me to government relations. I had a lot of dealings with the public sector because we did a lot of work for the government. This experience taught me the bureaucratic processes in governance, especially in Nigeria. I understood the gaps between the private and public sector and why it is difficult for the sectors to align.
We delivered a number of projects. Sometimes, we had to mobilise people to work, take massive loans to ensure the projects are delivered. Unfortunately, we have had to pay back loans from our personal pocket due to government hydra-headed process. In fact, we did not get paid for some of the projects, especially the ones we did for a state government. We tried the court and a couple of lawyers collected a few hundred thousands, but we accomplished nothing.
Seeing all the stress and the injustice endured by investors in Nigeria broke my heart. These challenges propelled me to research more about entrepreneurship and how entrepreneurs survive harsh environments. I was also curious about the roles of government in driving entrepreneurship.
I later went to study for an MBA in International Business at a London Business school and got recruited by a UK firm to establish a branch of their business in Nigeria. We did a good job at it, but the fiscal and monetary policies of the government again sent them packing as our partners all pulled out of the local market.
At that point, my research had led to a book. The book was published in 2016 and I later started a not for profit organization, Fijeh Roseline Aadum Foundation (FRAF), which aims at the enterprise development sector. I asked the most enterprising individual I knew; Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa to be the Chairman, and he agreed to chair the foundation.
We have made great strides in the past few years. I have been very passionate about changing the African narrative. This platform has been an elixir towards that dream. I have pursued this goal by supporting entrepreneurs, transforming businesses, developing transformational leaders and helping clients to achieve extra ordinary results in life and business.
We launched FRA Foundation in 2015 with aid economic and national development across Africa. The Foundation is committed to enterprise development and disadvantaged groups. In partnership with our sponsors, as at today, the foundation has offered mentorship and support to over 1,000 youths and provided financial support to over a 135 individuals.
The foundation is involved in entrepreneurship training and empowerment in disadvantaged areas like the North-East and The South-south parts of the of Nigeria. I am also the Convener of The Invest Nigeria Summit and The Start-Up Dialogue Community.
What is your take on the role of women in nation building and what really needs to change for women in Nigeria to play these roles?
I think that women are at the heart of building any nation. The reason I say that is because, the home or the family unit is where nation building begins and I didn’t say this to mean that women should be the one raising children alone; I don’t believe that the job is a woman’s role. I believe that raising a family is the job of the parents. In fact, in Africa, it takes the entire community to raise a child. We need to move past the idea that women are meant to raise a child; that is why we are raising half-baked children. We need to invest in our children and that is the role of men and women.
The God that designed the family to include two parents knows that they are needed. However, women are at the heart of nation building because they are so passionate and committed in all they do. Women are committed to long-term goals. No matter how challenging a woman’s career may be, she will still make a huge impact at home. So, if we’re talking about nation building, let’s not start with the politicians. While they have the responsibility, nation building starts in the home where the citizens are raised. If we get the right attitude and mindset in our children, we will succeed in helping the larger society. Before parents start condemning government, they must think about the children they have raised or are raising.
Nation building is a long journey. In Nigeria, it breaks my heart that we have not realised that we have so much work to do. People have given up. I was watching an interview recently where Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa spoke about his hope for Nigeria, following the beautiful narrative to the point that I felt aspired and felt the message would stir people up, but after being inspired, the comment section broke my heart.
People don’t believe in the country anymore; Nigerians are becoming very negative. We need to grow our nation; we need to look at options. We can’t lose hope now; we must build this nation. It needs to start with sacrifice. Women are best at sacrificing their own well-being and comfort; they give all they have sometimes till they have nothing. Personally, I don’t promote that. But what I’m saying is that nation building requires the involvement of women, and any nation that does not appreciate the role of women is losing a lot.
Overtime, the discussion has been about being on wage equality. Why do men get paid better for the same work with women? I understand that male domination has been an issue for decades, but if you look at the example of the pandemic, women lead all the three countries that handled it the best. This is a testament to the managerial capacity and ability of women. Women must not allow anything to stop them, they need capacity and they need to raise the bar above the ceiling. They need to know that in spite of the challenges, you must still make a difference because, if you don’t, you’re living your children, your nieces your nephews your family and the next generation worse.
Beginning from the home, women needs to give their female children more opportunities and voice; stop raising mentally impaired children. Women need more responsibility in government, in power, in executive boardrooms; they need more seats at the table. For me, I will take the seat; I don’t even want to wait to be offered. Women should also support other women instead of bringing them down or looking down on them. That challenge is everywhere.
What’s the brain behind immigrant thrive and FRA Foundation? What have you achieved through the platforms and your future projections?
These two companies are currently my heartbeat. I’ll start with the foundation; the foundation is focused on enterprise development across Africa. Our core goal is to help reduce poverty and the suffering of people by developing their entrepreneurial capacity and capability. We empower them with knowledge, skills and funds they need to make a difference. Starting with Nigeria and the situation in other African countries, you may end up without a job if all you do is to wait to be employed. The first country to bring up the idea of creating wealth is the United States of America; that is why people enjoy what they enjoy there today.
We are concerned about wealth creation and redistribution. You can actually create wealth by creating value. What we do is to build value; you can create wealth if you have the value. We don’t want people to wait for the labour market; we want them to be the market. I am aware that everyone is not an enterpreneur, but we can create them. With proper guidance, people can monetise their skills. And that’s what we do with Enterprise Academy. We have free training and we have paid ones too; we have enough free resources for people. With the Enterprise Academy, we intend to at least empower 1000 people, who are turning their talents, skills and knowledge into profitable ventures.
Meanwhile, I realised that I left a lot of people behind while focusing on people without needed skills. There are people, who are professionals across sectors of the economy. They have needed skills, so much knowledge and connections, but their potentials are limited because their job is so focused on one thing. If they decide today to go into business, they’ll face challenges because they are limited in their ability to solve problems from a multi-angle. But we have built an organised ecosystem and structure they can work with.
We are putting together a very detailed and explosive course called ‘Plan-to-profit’. We will help these professionals build a plan, taking them from start to finish on how they can contribute better to the society with their business. They can follow this course and come up with their own business plan and the tools, the resources and every other necessary things to start business. People don’t need to retire and struggle to thrive.
Talking about ‘Immigrants Thrive’, I am currently sojourning outside the country. When I got here, I saw the challenges immigrants face in North America. When I started investigating and digging into this, I realised that if you’re going to make it in North America, you need one of two things; either a lot of money or you need high-level knowledge. If you don’t have money or the right information, you will struggle to survive. That realisation gave birth to Immigrants Thrive, a community where we help educate immigrants and people in the community on how to thrive financially and in business, how to take control of your time, momey and resources to build generational wealth
What in your opinion is the solution to the growing poverty rate in Nigeria and why is it difficult for people to generate wealth?
Nigeria’s poverty statistic is depressing. It is also pathetic that the challenge is not abating given the current economic reality, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. I personally tried not to focus on those statistic anymore because it breaks my heart and as a mother, who worries about raising children in this kind of environment, I have not succeeded in removing the emotion I feel when I think of the implications of this level of poverty in a nation of over 200 million people.
So, for those, who are thinking that they and their children will be fine, prevailing realities across the world have shown that higher walls, thicker gates and bigger padlocks will not be a lasting solution. I like to focus on the solution and I believe that the solution to poverty is increased productivity. Our focus should be on ensuring the Nigerian worker is more productive. How can we ensure that? Through existing and new investments; across sectors; agriculture, manufacturing, energy, power and others.
I know, we have been talking about this for a long time, but it is high time to act beyond conferences, communiqués, etc.
How can we attract investment to our country? We can only attract needed investment if we guarantee investors return on their investments. Nigeria is not a competitive destination for investment; the indications are obvious. I shared earlier about the challenges we experienced with our business, and then our partners packing up only after three years of doing business here. Insecurity, power, sanctity of contract and other reasons hamper investment outlook in Nigeria. Power has direct correlation with productivity. I take this very personally because as a writer and a researcher, I know how frustrated I always got with epileptic power supply. At one point, we had two generators and an inverter with eight heavy batteries to ensure access to power. That was for the house, not even our office.
The truth is, the challenges abound, but we wont close shop because of the challenges. Rather, we are energised to do more because history has shown that people have more to do with building a nation than even the government some times. I am driven by the need to contributed to a better society and engage actively in building my country and the African continent that we desire.
With regards to the concentration of wealth in a few hands, this is unfortunate, because that is one of the reasons our economy is stagnated. One of the main stimulators of a nation’s economy is consumption. No matter how rich I am, I am not likely to eat more than three or four meals a day, drive two cars at a time or even wear five outfits all at once. This is why it is important that revenue percolates down the pyramid, so that more people spend more, output increases and the economy is more robust. It is therefore not surprising that a nation that has almost 90 per cent of its resources in the hands of four to five per cent of its population will be in the quagmire.
In studying wealth in America, I realised that the USA was one of the first nations to pursue the idea of creating wealth. Before that idea became popular, people talked mostly of redistribution of wealth and fairness in the system. However, even in a system that is reasonably fair, redistribution can only go so far. It is when people rise to the challenge of creating wealth that you get a nickname like, ‘The Land of Opportunity’ which the US was dubbed long ago.
Most Nigerian tertiary institutions are now coming up with enterprise centers to encourage students to embrace entrepreneurship. What is your assessment of this scheme across institutions in the country?
For me, this is a welcome development. I always share the example of California and the impact of Stanford university on that city. Do you know that the economy of the State of California is the largest in the United States, boasting a $3.2 trillion gross state product (GSP) as of 2019. If California were a sovereign nation (2019), it would rank as the world’s fifth largest economy, ahead of India and behind Germany. A lot of this is linked to the impact of Stanford University in that state.
I am glad that we now realise that education is not for certification, but to give people the ability to create. In my book, The Pursuit of Enterprise, the central theme is the fact that man was created to create and when we create, we are in our natural state. This is why the introduction of entrepreneurhsip into the curricular excites me so much. I can’t wait to see the impact of this five to 10 years down the road.
I was part of the launch of the entrepreneurship department at Afe Babalola University. After the programme, I had a long chat with Are Afe Bablalola himself, the founder and it warmed my heart to no small extent listening to his vision and plans for entrepreneurship in the school.
The potential of women is usually constrained when they combine career, family and other demands of life. How were you able to navigate?
I think being a mother has been one of the most fulfilling things in my life. Although challenging, my children are between the ages of 14 and nine. I am not someone that believes in limits; I rather believe in constantly raising the ceiling for success. I like to focus on what I can do because, the truth is human capacity is limitless. I have a pill that I take that makes me believe I can do the impossible; that pill is motivation. I just know that I wasn’t created to be limited. I also believed that the blessings of my life, the things that are making my life whole and joyful are not there to limit me, they are there to help me go forward and push me further.
This is not limiting the challenges of being a mother. I would have said being a mother may have literally denied me opportunities, but it has made me choose my opportunities carefully. Being married has made me make decisions, differently than I would have. If I have to tell you the truth, my children are key reasons that push me more when it comes to community impacts, which is at the core of who I am and what I do.
I push harder every time to ensure my community is better, safer and congenial. I will leave my children behind so they have to live in better community with other people. It is deceptive to think that you can be comfortable and safe when you protect your family. Everyone needs to be safer because, if we are letting poverty take over the young people and they are pushed into crime, we are not safe. I’m not satisfied with making money and enjoying it with my children alone; I want the society to be comfortable. I believe the best way to do that is to help more people to move out of poverty.
Navigating career and raising family is challenging, but my motivation is to leave society better than I met it. My schedule always looks impossible. Sometimes, I don’t get good sleep; I am working most times when others are sleeping. I do my best to utilise a time when my children are in bed so they don’t suffer the effect of my work. I’ve had to fashion my lifestyle a little differently than most people; I go to bed earlier, get a good rest and then I do my work. You have to study what works for your family and individual circumstance.
How do you relax and who are your role models?
Spending time with my family is the best form of relaxation. I enjoy watching my children pursue their hobbies; my daughter loves art and my son has a Youtube gaming channel. Assisting my daughter with artwork and my son with his his YouTube channel is fun. Seeing the creativity in them gladdens my heart and that helps me relax, especially when I have to assist them in making their efforts reality. My favourite thing is watching them use their creativity to impact society positively.
There’s an e-book I put together called The Creativity Devotional, and I did it because a couple of years ago, I started going the extra mile during devotion. Rather than just reading the Bible, we started doing creative affirmations. After a few years, I saw their creativity grew exponentially. My daughter is about 10 year old. A Chicago University recently requested to display her artwork in the University, arts gallery; I agreed to that without hesitation.
Although, I felt the gaming channel was taken over my son at some point, I had to provide proper guide. I could see how creative it meant to him and he loved it so we are able to come to an agreement. We need them to excel academically and do well with their creativity outside school. Family time is the best form of relaxation for me; I also love reading novels. I also listen to audio books because it allows me multitask.
I have a number of people I look up to. This depends on the aspect of life you are looking at.
I am a multi-passionate entrepreneur, so I have a lot of mentors and role models. Although I have not met some of them, but in this digital age, I have better access to them than people who even live around them. Let me start with life and family. I have learnt a lot from Pastor Paul Enenche’s family; I have not only leant from them issues around family, but I have learnt a lot on humanity. They live for people; they are companionate and work tirelessly for a better society.
In leadership, I love Sam Adeyemi and his approach to leadership. In enterprise development, I model Mazi Sam, who is the chairman of my foundation; I’ve learned a lot from him. He is a pinnacle of society and I love him for that. When it comes to impacts in the business world and being a multi dimensional human being and doing your best work, it’s Robin Sharma. I remember reading his book The Leader who had no title; I have fallen madly in love with his work.
I’m currently working on a book of fiction, RAHILA, which should be out soon. I love Ngozi Adichie’s works and how she brings stories to life; I also love Ben Okrie. I encountered one of his books and I had to read it severally because of the depth. And of course, there is Francine Rivers. The woman brings books to life; she’s a genius. My mother is one of my first role models because she was a woman, who married into a polygamous family at a young age, got separated but pushed very hard and that brought us to where we are today. Ever since I knew her, she’s been going to school; determined and dedicated to moving forward. I’m so proud of her.
Do you have regrets in life or it has been a smooth ride for you?
No way; I absolutely have no regrets. It has not been a smooth ride, but someone said the reason he is a successful person is because he has failed more times than a lot of person. There is nothing smooth about my life. The reason is not because I’ve never failed or I’ve never had challenges or I’ve never made decisions, I wish I could take or have done differently, but I have been wiser. If you learn from a mistake, then it is not a mistake. If you learn from a failure, then it is actually not a failure. Never ever give opportunities for regrets; there is no time for that. Try something, fail at it but try again and again. Edit, adjust, re-evaluate, improve, fail again, but you will succeed if you don’t give up. That is my formula.
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