King… The oracle’s lifelines for widows
As the MD/CEO of Oracle Experience, one of the leading experiential marketing companies in Nigeria, the father of four, who also owns Mabiso Biscuits, actually started out as a member of the defunct singing group, Felix & Moses. But in what seemed like a twist of destiny, he has since dumped the ‘Show’ and embraced the ‘Biz.’
“You know life itself comes in different stages. So, at that particular time, when we were playing music in the 80s, and early 90s, that was the phase in our life. We’ve done that phase, now I’ve moved away from that phase and I’m in the phase of doing what I’m doing now; the phase of being a typical entrepreneur, which also enables me to contribute to the development and prosperity of the country as a Nigerian,” he said.
In 2014, Felix King, as he’s fondly called, founded the Felix King Foundation, a non-for -profit organisation that helps vulnerable widows and rural women through different entrepreneurial support programmes. Funded by Oracle Experience, the foundation has inspired and incubated a number of life-changing initiatives for these women, their children, as well as the communities they live in.
“If you’ve never gone to bed hungry, sometimes you find it difficult to understand when somebody tells you, ‘I’ve not eaten since morning.’ It will sound strange to you,” he noted.
Growing up in his village, young Felix saw first hand how women struggled to take care of their families.
“For the children to eat and go to school, it’s usually the responsibility of the woman; some of the men don’t really care. I saw it wasn’t an easy task for a woman to shoulder such responsibility, even with the support of her husband, not to talk of a woman all by herself struggling.”
He continued: “I had a lot of challenges growing up; I had a lot of ups and downs. I could see how I struggled with my wife, trying to make something out of life. I now ask myself, ‘If myself and my wife could go through all these challenges, then imagine what a woman all by herself goes through to give life to her children.’ So, it’s more of a divine mandate for us to see what we can do just to make this our environment much better for the womenfolk. Women are the backbone of society; if you empower them, their children will have a guaranteed future and the community will make progress. Basically, that’s what we’ve been trying to do, inspired by the experiences I had growing up,” he said.
Counting himself lucky to have come from a fairly privileged home, King said, “I saw what other people were going through. I saw a lot of people, who couldn’t afford to eat; some only ate rice on Christmas day. Some don’t even know how the classroom looks like, not because they don’t want to, but because they are not in the position to be able to do so,” he said.
King’s encounter with realities of life was in 2006 when he left his job and wanted to venture as an entrepreneur; life became extremely difficult. Along the line, his daughter took ill and was hospitalised.
“I needed N6000 to pay her hospital bills, but I couldn’t afford it; the doctors refused to treat her. So, this is me, this is my daughter at the point of dying. I called everybody I know just to raise N6000, but I couldn’t get it. But somewhere along the line, God showed up; I was able to raise N2000 for them to commence treatment. Two days later, I was able to complete the payment,” he recalled.
With his daughter’s life saved, the Edo State native made a promise to God.
“From that moment, God opened my eyes and showed me a lot of things. I resolved that, if I’m able to overcome these challenges in business and get my bearings right, helping humanity is something I would love to do. If my wife and I couldn’t raise money to treat our daughter, just imagine what those women, who are all by themselves, go through. That’s why we started the foundation and decided to focus on women-related issues,” he explained.
From Widows’ Market Moni to Rural Women Cooperative Development, Wifarm programme, which support women farmers, Educational Aid for Widow’s Children, The Felix King Cooperative – a platform that enables rural women cooperatives to pitch for a $5000 (five thousand dollars) cooperative grant, the foundation has been in the forefront of giving succour to widows, especially in the rural communities.
“It has evolved over time; it’s getting much bigger. We started the foundation in Lagos, but along the line, we were having a lot of criticisms in the sense that people believe that we are from Edo State, but everything we were doing was in Lagos. When we did our conference in 2016, a lot of people from Edo State, especially from the House of Assembly, came to Lagos and saw what we were doing; they actually begged us to come and touch people in Edo. But most of the programmes we do, people come from Abuja, Edo, Ondo, Cross River, Oyo and other parts of Nigeria to attend in Lagos.”
According to King, the Market Moni was borne out of the desire of the foundation to grow a much more sustainable project.
“When we go into a community, we encourage the widows to form themselves into cooperatives. Once they do that, each group is given between N400,000 to 500,000. Then, every Sunday, they meet as a group and contribute N500 each to the purse of the group. So, if it’s your turn, you carry your N10,000 to join the N20,000 you already have. Traditionally, that’s actually how those women in the villages run their businesses.”
On the other hand, the Rural Women’s Cooperative is an equitable form of enterprise development in rural areas suitable for rural women’s development and empowerment. The objective is to help women in rural communities come together for a single purpose of making progress for themselves and their communities. This platform creates an opportunity for these women to work together, to share ideas, build partnership skills, strengthen community bonds, and participate in economic decisions that affect their community.
“The cooperatives are encouraged to come up with a business idea they can run in their communities that will not only impact them but also impact the community. For instance, one group came up with milling machines and we helped them set it up; the money belongs to the cooperative. If you are a member and you need money, you can borrow from the purse, while some part of the money is kept for running the business,” he said.
Farming is also an area where the foundation is intervening, especially in rural areas.
“Sometimes, the challenges these people have with farming is that you need to lease the land and some of them are unable to do that; you also need somebody to help you with labour. So, for Wifarm, we give then N100,000 each and support them with farm implements. Those basic things they need to engage in farming, we always provide them.”
Though the foundation started in the city, particularly Lagos, their activities today are more in rural communities.
“While we were in the cities, we were giving each beneficiary a minimum of N100,000 per person. But we realised that when we go to the villages and you give someone N20,000, that person will even do more than someone that got N100,000 in the cities. Now that we are going to the villages, we are reaching out to more people and the impact is more,” he noted.
On the criteria for choosing those to empower, the marketing communications expert explained, “First, we look at widows that have young children. Then, the next category is elderly widows without children to look after them; if you are a widow and you have children that take care of you, we don’t accommodate such people. We now have the third leg, which involves very active women in the community, who don’t really have husbands, but are single mothers; we consider them too,” he said.
In addition to the rural women programmes, the foundation is also creating the next generation of entrepreneurs in Africa. Dubbed The Startups, the initiative aims to connect, inspire and empower the next generation African entrepreneurs to champion the direction of a new world of possibilities.
“Through this initiative, participants will be involved in leadership development, mentorship, skills training, and partnership building. This experience will culminate in a business idea pitch competition sessions before judges, where participants will not only learn how to turn their ideas into action but get a $10k three-fold seed capital.”
On the possibility of partnering with government on his projects, King said, “For me, I tell people, I do things based on my belief that I’m capable of doing it; I don’t hope on people. Why we don’t really want to work with government is because, anything you do with them, they politicise it. So, for me not to be distracted, we try not to get involved with the government. Also, when you work with the government, the bureaucracy can actually spoil a lot of things. We don’t even collect donations from anybody,” he declared.
Anybody who knows Felix King will tell you the man is in love with white outfits. In fact, his office interior is all shades of white.
“I’m inspired by my father in the Lord, my pastor, from the Winners’ Chapel, Dr. David Oyedepo. Most times, he’s always on white,” he said.
To Felix King, being rich has nothing to do with amassing wealth.
“If you are a billionaire and all you think about is yourself and family, how to live in big houses and ride big cars, you are a poor man.”
Sharing his experiences with Oracle, he said, “One of the sacrifices of starting Oracle is the story I told you early about my daughter. Again, that’s what made me know that, when you believe in something, just follow it. There will be a lot of ups and downs, but if you don’t give up, there will always be light at the end. What we do here is a large events company serving most of the multinational companies, helping them to tell their brand story.”