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‘It’s time to break stereotypes and encourage girls to be anything they want to be’

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Nkemdilim Begho is the Managing Director of Future Software Resources Nigeria Limited (Futuresoft)

A seasoned professional in the IT Service Industry, Nkemdilim Begho is the Managing Director of Future Software Resources Nigeria Limited (Futuresoft), one of the top Digital and IT solution providers in Nigeria.

As a change catalyst, Begho recognized that the African technology space is budding and requires significant innovations in order to leap-frog and compete in global spheres, spurring her to design initiatives and solutions that ensure Futuresoft provides tailor-made solutions for scaling African businesses that are delivered in accordance with global standards.

Passionate about delivering quality education to African children, i-Connect Project an ICT4D initiative focused on education and ICT was borne.
Respected and recognized as a leader in her industry, Begho regularly speaks about the future of ICT in Africa, challenges of African entrepreneurs as well as the role of Information Technology for development and change. She is also the co-founder of three thriving tech driven startups, Anne Li Unique Ideas, Compare Insurance Nigeria and Fucaire Lifestyle Limited, publishers of ASPIRE Luxury Magazine.

An active board member of the World Summit Youth Award, she regularly volunteers for mentoring and empowerment programmes like the PIN Ajegunle.org Initiative, the W.TEC Initiative, IMPACT, The Visiola Foundation, Techquest and the Educate The State Initiative where she shares her ICT knowledge, business and life experience. She is also the co-founder of The Bake for Change Development Foundation, an NGO focused on empowering street children through skill acquisition, vocational training and educational scholarships.

A firm believer in mentorship, she is part of the pan-African Mara Mentor Network and SME Boutique Women’s Exclusive Club (SWEC) Mentors. Furthermore she is currently taking part in the MIT Enterprise Forum (MITEF) Coach the Coaches Entrepreneurship program, which commits her to mentoring the next generation of top performing startups.

Beginning her professional career in Germany before returning to Nigeria, she is a graduate of Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) and Technical University Munich (TUM), Germany.

In this interview, she talks about breaking stereotypes and encouraging more girls in STEM, how the Nigerian patriarchal society keeps away more women from solo entrepreneurship amongst other issues.

Tell us a bit about your growing up years and education?
I grew up in Lagos and attended the German International School before moving to Germany where I studied Bioinformatics at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich.

When and how did you get into tech considering it wasn’t really common for women to do so?
As so aptly captured by the Tech Women Lagos Audacity exhibition, I have been at home in tech since childhood.

As the daughter of Chris Uwaje, the Oracle of the Nigeria Tech Industry as my dad is fondly called, I was surrounded with technology from birth and my dad ensured that technology became an everyday part of my life at home and at school. He ensured we understood the power of technology and computing and made tech fun.

At 16, I was taking coding lessons every weekend and quickly fell in love with data and what well-written code could do. I was always at the computer doing one thing or the other, so I think I am doing what I have always been destined to do.

Tell us about Future Software Resources, did you set out to be an entrepreneur from the jump?
Futuresoft is a full service digital agency and IT Solutions company, providing a broad range of business solutions for the scaling African enterprise, to consistently attract and retain its target audience.

Futuresoft has over 10 years of experience in designing and managing digital properties and online activities of businesses across various industries. Our understanding of technology, lateral thinking and process based approach allows us to provide tailored, innovative and sustainable solutions for businesses; empowering them to leverage all relevant channels to improve user experience, increase customer engagement and grow profits.

Our goal is to build lasting relationships and function as part of your team to achieve overall company success. Simply put, we are the technology partner that you need to accomplish your business goals. I have been working since I was 16, mainly odd jobs like washing dishes in a restaurant or tutoring kids.

When I started University at 19, I started working in research and worked all throughout my time in university. I returned to Nigeria at the end of 2005 and worked in various tech start-ups before I started my own company in 2008. I think the start-up world I ventured into after moving back to Nigeria and the plethora of problems that tech could solve, like putting Nigerian businesses on the digital map, made me venture into entrepreneurship at 25 and I have not looked back ever since.

Why do you think women are grossly under- represented in tech and entrepreneurship?
I wouldn’t say women are grossly under represented in entrepreneurship as there are a lot of female entrepreneurs. What I would say, however, is that women who are able to scale their businesses and become successful are few and far between.

This has many reasons; a critical one is about women not getting easy access to finance in order to scale their businesses. Women in tech on the other side are few and far between, however, there are more and more women who are venturing into tech from other career paths such as finance or consulting. I think we need to watch this space, as women are ready to take over, especially when it comes to senior leadership positions.

Reasons why women often don’t venture into STEM related fields at an early age and we are seeing more cross-overs at later stages of the careers, are systemic and cultural and have deep roots in the way girls are raised across the globe and especially in Nigeria. It is time to break stereotypes and encourage girls to be anything they want to be and empower them with the same opportunities as boys; why should girls simply learn to look pretty, keep the house clean and cook when their male counterparts are learning to fix the TV, watch the mechanic and have access to game consoles etc. from an early age because that’s what boys do.

African parents must ensure that girls are given equal opportunities in STEM related programs so that we do not end up with an ecosystem desperate for women participation.

In your opinion, what are some of the key issues startups face, especially in Nigeria?
Some of the key issues startups face in Nigeria are, Human resources – although there are high levels of unemployed youth, a lot of them are unfortunately unemployable as they lack relevant skills that can be applied in the business; access to affordable finance – with the high interest rates of commercial banks, it is very hard to get a loan to help entrepreneurs starting out.

Especially in fields like tech there are also not that many willing local investors and logistics and infrastructure – for manufacturing and retail brands one of the biggest challenges still remains electricity and transportation infrastructure to get items across the country and to consumers fast.

Few women go into solo entrepreneurship and even fewer have access to funds and grants. Why does this issue persist and what would you tell women regarding this?
I think that this issue persists mainly because we are in a patriarchal society. That being said, women often don’t structure their businesses properly, thus don’t match all the eligibility requirements to access loans, investment or grants. Women are often not as bold and audacious as their male counterparts.

My advice for female entrepreneurs is, understand the requirements, structure your business properly, ensure that you meet all the requirements and keep pushing and applying. Someone out there will say yes, don’t give in. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted; it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

What are some of the challenges you face as CEO?
I would say the biggest challenge I am currently facing is human resource related. Finding skilled, highly motivated and extremely driven team members is very hard as most young Nigerians do not understand that you must learn before you earn, so they have lofty ideas about remuneration, but do not have the adequate skills, or lack the motivation and willingness to work hard which adds value to an organisation and allows the organisation generate revenue.

As a mentor to young, under-privileged children, what can be done to change the status quo?
I think that each member of society can pitch in and help through donations in cash and kind, supporting existing initiatives that focus on making the lives of those less privileged better by empowering them through education and skill acquisition.

As board member of the World Summit Youth Award for almost a decade, how are you working towards implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
The WSYA is part of the World Summit Awards (WSA) an online contest focused on selecting and promoting local digital innovation to improve society.

Combining an ongoing series of international events and activities with a global network of start-ups, social entrepreneurs, mentors, jurors, speakers, experts, government leaders, academia and civil society, WSA is an international platform for cutting edge examples of how ICTs can impact society in a positive way and bring solutions to SDG related problem statements.

With over 15 years of international experience, WSA is a quality seal for digital content with societal impact in over 180 participating countries.

My personal involvement over the last 10 years has been as a judge, facilitator, mentor and ambassador of the network. By supporting this network and the innovative solutions that it showcases the SDGs are solvable.

What advice would you give female founders and entrepreneurs?
I would say six things, don’t give up – you can do this, learn like your life depends on it, pay attention to details, know your market, give yourself an edge and stand out and last but not the least, use being a woman to your advantage.

Tell us something that has influenced your career positively today?
I would say bosses and clients that pushed me to deliver excellence have really influenced me positively and this has led me to put the yardstick of standards very high, which I am proud to say reflects in everything I do.

Do you think today’s woman has managed to break the glass ceiling and what would you tell a woman that wants a seat at the table?
I think there are many layers of the glass ceiling that still need to be smashed, but we have definitely smashed a few. With regards to the seat at the table, take it, don’t ask for it! Do what the boys would do.

What does Balancing for Better mean to you and how are you working towards making this a reality?
To me, balance for better means equality, but beyond that, equity. A seat at the table for women, be it in a management meeting, at C-level or at the board level, women have a lot to contribute and must be included in critical decision-making.

Who and what inspires you?
I am most inspired by the fruits of labour that hard work brings. Hard work is something that I admire as it is borne out of discipline and consistency and is truly not easy, but as the saying goes, it really pays off. I am very inspired when I see fellow entrepreneurs who are smashing their goals and moving on to bigger and better things. I find success stories on all levels extremely inspiring.

You wear several hats, how do you balance them all and make them work?
I would say that actual balance is a myth. You just have to be okay with not being able to do everything.

So I pick and choose every single day and find ways and systems to prioritise all the things that need to get done. I also delegate as much as I can and ask for help when I need it and beyond that I think it is just grace that keeps everything afloat.

What do you do to relax? What is your guilty pleasure?
I love getting a massage to relax, or taking time out to go to the beach, the sea breeze and ocean are extremely calming for my soul. My guilty pleasure is chocolate fondant and to be honest anything super chocolaty and sweet.

What last words would you leave with women reading this that have been inspired by you?
You are enough!


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