Entrepreneurship businesses are known all over the world to be the engine of economic growth in any nation. Their productive capacity helps greatly in stimulating local production of goods and services. But in Nigeria, the sector is not receiving the desired support from government. This concern was recently expressed by the Chief Executive Officer of Simply Exponential Consult Limited, Mrs. Fayo Williams in an interview with Ugo Aliogo. Excerpts:
You have tagged yourself as Africa’s No. 1 Communications Consultant, why do you think you deserve this title?
I tagged myself as one of Africa’s number one and leading communications consultants because I have done a lot in the area of communication. I have been a compere at various pharmaceutical society of Nigeria annual conferences. The pharmaceutical industry really encouraged me to blossom in that regard and I became a public speaker.
I have delivered lectures at various fora and served as moderator even for the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI). I have served as a book reviewer and red carpet host. I was also fortunate to be the hostess when the current Ooni of Ife visited Lagos for the first time after his coronation and this was at Lagos country club. I have discovered that communication is the key to passing your message across and getting your contributions heard in the world.
From the varied experiences that you have gained, what are you passionate about?
I am passionate about two major areas. The first is safety. I ensure that at home and in the office, people act with safely and conduct their tasks in a very safe manner. The second area is entrepreneurship; this involves setting up businesses and ensuring that they grow to outlive the founders.
What are the underlying challenges in the industry that you operate?
There are underlying challenges in the industry, especially in the field of training and management consultancy. I discovered that after delivery, the skills are not passed to the participants. In some cases, participants just hear, but they are unable to apply these skill. So in our line of training, we place a premium on having hands on training, so that within the classroom, the participants have an opportunity to carry out what they have learnt and the skills that are supposed to be imparted to them. Then they have the opportunity to learn those skills that are supposed to be passed to them. So it becomes goal oriented and practical.
You mentioned that there is a yawning gap in awareness. How can this be improved?
Safety awareness needs to be tackled head on by providing the knowledge through the curriculum in primary and secondary schools respectively. We can go back to primary school and see how to teach children about safety. I have been involved in that recently. We need to ensure that people obey traffic signs, instead of violating it. We need proper enforcement, the right laws to be in place and public enlightenment above all.
Those who listen to your programme on health and safety say you are a good presenter with the sense of humour that you have introduced. Were you trained as a communicator?
The gift is God-given and I have strived to develop it. I develop this gift daily as a volunteer myself with various religious bodies and business organisation sharing my thoughts and ideas. I believe that this is the way to go for anyone who wishes to excel in communication. I have discovered that there is low level of awareness in terms of health, commuting attitudes and behaviours that are necessary to achieve safety. Therefore, I am going to be reaching out to some of the big brands to see how we partner increase the level of safety awareness in the country and I hope to take even beyond the shores of Lagos state. I would like to appreciate Lagos Traffic Radio for giving me the platform to disseminate safety and health knowledge.
What are some of your achievements in the communication space?
As previously mentioned, I have fond memories of the day I performed the role of the hostess during the Ooni of Ife’s visit to Lagos Country Club. I also served as moderator for the power sector discourse at the LCCI summit which was linked to the Lagos Trade Fair. These were humbling experiences for me and I cherish them so much and would love to do more in the future.
What would you say are the peculiar challenges faced by entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs specifically?
I believe that women entrepreneurs have been held back because of the cultural practices we have in this country, where women are only to be seen and not heard. Therefore, it took some time before they could find their voice. Women are good organisers, they have natural skills and they succeed as good business individuals, but most times they are not allowed to own property and have their own funds due to the cultural and religious beliefs. Some of the challenges they face when accessing funds is that they are being asked to seek permission from their husbands.
Sometimes, the husband gets questioned when a woman seems to be doing very well. We should be able to raise advocacy for women to come into their own and contribute their quota to economic development because in country where the 49% population are women, if they continue to practice these restraining cultural beliefs, we will not achieve economic growth and development as fast as we want to. This should serve as the impetus to allow women to come into the fore front and practice their businesses.
Women tend to return loans better as discovered by a number of studies. One of the women organisations which I belong to, that is the NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women (NNEW) floated a Micro-finance Bank where over 2,000 women have accessed funds and the pay back rate is almost 100 %. This is a very interesting indicator that government can pick up and take further.
Has there been any help to you as an entrepreneur?
Nigeria banks have been of help. I have come to understand that money in banks is other people’s money and this is why they are being careful in loaning it out. However, I would like a situation where the banks don’t take a stance of “we versus you.” I believe it should be a partnership; more banks should be interested in providing capacity building to entrepreneurs and making them achieve the standard for getting them ready to access funds. I would like to appreciate the banks that have been involved in small and medium scale enterprise (SME) capacity building. But I would also like to see other banks reaching out to the entrepreneurs and helping them to achieve the requirement for accessing loans and having access to export grants, instead of leaving the entrepreneurs to do that on their own.
You were invited by some Universities to give motivational talk to Students. What led to that and how has it gone so far?
I believe it was due to my years in entrepreneurship and my activity in the social media space. This led to my being invited at the University of Ibadan and the University of Ife, where I addressed the graduating class in Pharmacy who need to look at issues such as transferring skills from the laboratory to the market. It is something that that is very fulfilling for me to be able to do that, I am hoping to go back to the University of Ibadan as a panellist to discuss further on how we can really build up the new graduates for the world of work.
This is very important because around the world, companies are concerned about employability skills, written and oral communication, problem-solving skills, and being good team players. These are skills that would serve the young graduate and help them to get properly grounded in the world of work.
If money is not a problem, how would you like to offer your service for the next five years?
If money is not a problem, I would like to offer my services through the media (television). I see myself hosting a talk show or being a co-host to a talk show whereby we can teach people enduring principles of wealth creation and entrepreneurship. It has been established that you don’t grow rich by serving people forever. I would like to help people uncover their real potentials and make a difference in the world.
You were on the assessment panel of the federal government YOU WIN programme. What was the experience like; are you tracking some of the recipients of the government loans?
I was privileged to serve as assessor and mentor during the YOU WIN programme. It was an eye opener for me because I realised how creative the Nigeria entrepreneur could be. There were people offering catering services to people who had certain medical conditions and had some items in normal menu excluded. We also had people packaging ideas that would help to solve problems in the society, we had social entrepreneurs. Even though some people have good ideas, they may not have the necessary networking skills to attract the right finance. Schemes such as the YOU WIN, and the current one tagged the Big Portal where deserving entrepreneurs are being given grants are very essential to helping development in the country.
Which books would you recommend to those who want to be successful as entrepreneurs?
One of the books I would recommend is an audio book which I co-authored. It is titled “Seven Proven Steps to Starting Your Business”. We actually distilled what an entrepreneur needs to do take a business idea from a concept to an entity. Other books I would recommend are Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad and Poor Dad” and Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. These books will help you to develop from somebody who is dependent on others, to someone who is dependent on him/herself. These books are needed to expand your mindset and stop believing that there is scarcity; you need to shift your mind to believing there is plenty. It is all about getting the right idea and implementing it in a step-by-step manner.
What training programmes would you recommend that women attend?
The training programmes that I believe in are the ones organised by the international labour organisation (ILO) start and improve your business master trainers and trainers. I’m a certified ILO master trainer and what we do is that we ensure you have a practical training. At times, it involves field visits and interviewing current entrepreneurs. It involves simple research methodology to find out more about your business ideas. It includes group work, as well individual exercises which will help you to generate your own business ideas and carry out the steps to start your own business.
In what way do you think the federal government can support entrepreneurs?
The federal government have done commendably well through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) intervention funds, which is being offered at 9%. However, I believe the entrepreneurs need more handing holding. The concept of business development service providers needs to go into the office of every local government. Entrepreneurs cannot be left on their own; they need technical knowledge and the business skills as well as the funding. The federal government can also come with the policy of buying made-in-Nigeria products. We need to see these policies in place.
For instance as an entrepreneur, I still encounter tenders from various agencies where foreign products are still requested for, where local alternatives exist. Considering the new development in retail trade, we should be looking at what is being brought into the country. We should encourage local production of goods, it will help us to diversify and reduce the import dependency habit of Nigerians. We should put these policies in place and put our money where our mouth is.
What are your biggest challenges?
There are various challenges ranging from infrastructure to funding. At this time in Nigeria’s development, we should be saying goodbye to power outage, poor traffic control that tends to waste a lot of man hours etc. I believe we can leverage on technology to get things moving better. We need to look at the ease of doing business, and the time it takes to process things is too long. So we should be having some service charters so that entrepreneurs can move as fast as they ought to move. If we don’t step up, we cannot attract the right foreign direct investment. Foreign direct investment happens when we are open and receptive. Nigerians should be an agricultural food basket, where once we have satisfied local production, we should be able to produce for export. I am glad that local production of food and development of agricultural businesses have been identified as one of the major areas of diversifying our economy.
How can people connect with you on social media?
They can connect with me with me on the following addresses, Twitter: https://twitter.com/fayowilliams, on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fayo.williams and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/fayowilliams. In this way, we can connect, engage and exchange ideas. I have been able to network quite successfully some of the social media platforms. For instance, we are currently running a STEM education boot camp in conjunction with Brainacs NG for children between ages 5-16.
This is taking place in Yaba. I met them on twitter and I have been able to foster relationships with them on science, mathematics and engineering educational tools to the young ones.
Nigerians in the Diaspora should be encouraged to contribute positively to skills acquisition of the teeming population that we have in the country. Soon, Simply Exponential Consult Limited will be reaching out to the big brands in the telecommunications and manufacturing sectors. If the nation doesn’t tackle youth unemployment, it will turn around to hunt us.
I am offering a caveat that every progressive organisations should look for ways to tackle youth unemployment, while improving self -reliance and productivity. I would like to appreciate Andela, an organisation focussed on training a crop of young Nigerians in software development in order to service top international brands. We need to look at how to replicate this in other areas. In communication, we can set up a band of trainers who can be teaching people Yoruba language. We can use the opportunity to setup our traditional culture in place.
If you were to face Muhammadu Buhari for just five minutes, what advice would you give him?
I will advise him to setup special economic zones where the land can be leased by those who wish to invest by exploiting the resources in that area. In every state, we have one mineral deposit or the other. We have industries that are peculiar to certain states. In Plateau, you have the leather works, in Ogun state, we have the Adire industry. You have various industries that are peculiar to certain parts of Nigeria. In those economic zones, infrastructure and a layout plan is put in place there. We have telecommunication coming in order to ensure that there are connected with the outside world.
There is also broad band service and there is some kind of separation so that you don’t have food industry next to possible contaminants, again, there must be a proper layout design. Local investors will be encouraged to invest. They would be geared up to employing people who will help exploit these resources and then the country will be looking at export. These economic zones have been setup in countries such as Rwanda.