Amara Agbim is the Founder and Proprietor of The Nanny Academy, a leading childcare recruitment agency for in-home child care service, nannies hiring and nannies employment in Nigeria. A 2010 mentee of the Women In Successful Career (WISCAR) mentorship school, she spoke to Ferdinand Ekechukwu about its benefits to female entrepreneurs, the success of her personal and professional growth, career enhancement and empowerment, following the mentoring programme for career women

Can you tell us about yourself?
I am the founder and proprietor of The Nanny Academy. I am 2010 mentee of the Win with WISCAR mentoring programme; a 2013 Youwin awardee; a 2010 Building Entrepreneurs Today (BET) awardee; a 2013 ‘Special Recognition Award’ recipient from Businessday Newspapers / Federal Ministry of Industry; a 2016 Cordes Fellow; a 2017 Sangster Youngster Fellow; and a 2017 Programme mentor for Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme.
Currently, I’m enrolled at the Coady International Institute, Canada, for the Community Development Leadership by Women Programme. I studied Media and Communications (M.Sc.) at the Pan African University and holds an M.A in English Language from the University of Lagos. I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Education/English from Imo State University, Owerri, graduating with second-class honours in 2000.

How did you learn about WISCAR and what prompted your decision to sign up for its mentorship?
I learnt about WISCAR on the pages of a newspaper (I can’t remember which now). I was at a critical period in my life. I had got married immediately after NYSC and two babies followed quickly in succession but the job was not forthcoming despite the applications. I was getting alarmed that my life was slipping into a pattern I didn’t want and I was losing confidence in myself. I decided that whatever was keeping the job interviews from coming out successful was not going to stop me from looking out for other opportunities for growth. In the meantime, being new to motherhood, I was getting my share of managing my childcare and I noticed the problem of nannies. I freelanced for a couple of magazines and later started my own publication, ‘WORKLIFE magazine. I did an article, ‘Vibes of a Nanny’ pouring out my concern for the state of nannies in Nigeria. In the background, I was doing my master’s programme. I was groping around with an open mind and then WISCAR came along. The offer was too attractive and my joy was awesome when I was selected for the programme.

As a woman, have you encountered any form of gender discriminations in your career?
Luckily, I have not encountered any in my line of work. However, I am privy to the fact that when we do placements for male and female nanny/housekeeper candidates, families hiring tend to want to pay the male candidates up to N10,000 more than they would pay a female on the same job description. I had asked why that is so a good number of times and I was told flippantly, ‘Well, he might just be the breadwinner of his family!’ Does this mean that women are not breadwinners too?

Will you say that WISCAR has enhanced your personal and professional growth through the mentoring programme?
Yes; WISCAR has enhanced my personal and professional growth through the mentoring programme which is highly structured. They have helped plant a hunger for continuous learning in me by bringing successful women in close range and enabling us to engage in deep conversations. Naturally, these conversations scale up confidence. At the personal level, I keep saying to myself, ‘If Mrs. Oyagbola can do it, then, I can. If Mrs. Lynda Saint can do it, then I can. If Mrs. Ogunlesi can do it, then I can.’ They do so much professionally and are still thriving in their personal lives.

Have you faced any challenges having a woman-to-woman mentorship? Would you have preferred a male mentor?
No, I have not faced any challenges having a woman as my mentor on the programme. I think a female mentor is perfect and enhances the mentoring experience through mutual empathy and trust. For example, a fellow woman would detect mood swings, family pressures and other things. I did share a couple of those moments with my mentor, Mrs. Funke Amobi. It is the little things that matter. In one of our mentoring sessions, Mrs. Amobi thrust into my thoughts: ‘Would you want us to change the time for our sessions so you can go home earlier?’ That was such a huge relief. My babies were quite small then. I would not have preferred a male mentor. I think same-sex mentoring is best. Mentoring is holistic and what better way can there be to deliver it than through someone with whom you can mirror life in entirety?

In what ways was the mentorship provided?
The mentorship was structured and enjoyable. We had the book reading sessions, one-on-one mentoring sessions, the win with WISCAR School of effectiveness and the meet a WISCAR series. All these structured sessions were always uplifting and all the facilitators and role models unbelievably approachable.

How have you been able to use what you have learned from your mentor?
The programmes that I designed and run at The Nanny Academy remain inspired by my WISCAR background. Our students get more than childcare training; they get mentored along the way and go away with more than what they bargained for. This is especially true of our CPC (Certified Professional Childcare) six months programme.

Will you say that undergoing the WISCAR mentorship has helped you to make informed decisions in your career?
Definitely! Most times, the quality of decisions we make or do not make could make or mar our career. I remember in our second year of The Nanny Academy, I was greatly discouraged at our inability to make sustainable income and I was ready to quit. I spoke with my mentor, Mrs. Amobi, about it. She was very supportive. She said it was OK to take a career break. That was the first time I heard that expression. She did not stop there. We talked through it more trying to identify the problems and challenges I was facing. It was at this point she said, ‘Amara, The Nanny Academy should have a corporate profile and a business plan ready. She shared with me the business plan she prepared during her time as a Chevening scholar. That put a halt to my plan to quit. When the ‘Youwin’ opportunity came, that profile became an easy platform to build on to submit my application which turned out to be successful.

Do you feel empowered by the WISCAR mentorship?
I do not feel empowered. I am empowered.

Have you learned key skills that have aided your career?
Yes; I have learnt a lot about business etiquette and corporate culture; about setting boundaries and setting goals. It is hard for my clients to believe I had no prior work experience before starting out Nanny Academy. Recently, some background check company did a check on our office and asked if I studied ‘Nanny Services’ at a school and I laughed!
Looking back now, the most important skill I acquired from WISCAR is the skill of reading for self-development. Right now I am reading, ‘The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur’ by Jonathan Lewis and I think everyone should read it. It is available on Amazon.

Do you see yourself as a mentor under the WISCAR platform for younger career women in the future?
Yes, I do see myself as a mentor in future under the WISCAR platform. I have already started practising by volunteering as a mentor with the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme.

Do you have any advice for young women who are budding in their careers?
Oh yes! Find yourself a mentor and a good support network and system.