Monday, 12 October 2009

Greening talks with Mosunmola

S he had intended to study Medicine, and actually got admission to the Bayero University, Kano; but had to relocate following riots and crises in the North in 1997/1998 and never returned. She then settled in for Zoology at Lagos State University. “I was curious with regards what life would be upon graduation. I then began to take elective courses in Fisheries”, recalls Mosunmola Umoru in an interview recently; as she reflects on her agricultural business, among other issues.

Farming is a male dominated field, how have you been able to rise above so many others?
I have been elevated solely by grace through diligence, focus and a strong determination to be the best in all I set out to achieve.
Where did you find the courage to dare to be different?
It is innate and I owe that firstly to God, as He deposited in me the ability to be all that I wanted to be. All through my journey in life, I was not sure I felt anything too big or impossible to achieve. I just dared to venture. I must also say that my father, Mr Bamidele Umoru, also identified this intrinsic characteristic and encouraged the enterprising spirit in me. I learnt early in life that if I dared to be different, then greatness was certain. All my life, I have desired to be an agent of change and this was greatly influenced by my upbringing.
Did you ever ask yourself if you were in the right field?
Oh yes! I did that in my moment of solitude, particularly when things got very tough and rough; and almost impossible as is apparent with the challenging business and socio-economic terrain in Nigeria. The beauty, though, is that each time that question came up, it gave birth to an elevation, which reassures me that, I am on the right track.
What do you do in moments of doubt?
I must confess that when I started out and got to the point of doubt, I cried when everything seemed to overwhelm me. In those early days, I cried my eyes out and sincerely asked God to help me. Now, I talk to older people in business, who encourage me and share their experiences with me when the going gets tough. Along the line, I learnt to trust solely on God for direction by praying and meditating on God’s promises.
Did you always want to be a farmer; what did you love so much about farming?
On the contrary, as a young girl, I wanted to be a medical doctor, but you know life is one interesting puzzle. In secondary school, I was an active member of the Young Farmers Club at Eva Adelaja Girls’ Secondary School, I enjoyed seeing the crops grow and eventually harvested. The bigger twist came when I started my undergraduate programme at the Zoology department of Lagos State University. The urge to nurture is an intrinsic characteristic of a woman. This I soon discovered about myself in my final year in university, which gave birth to my desire to become actively involved with agribusiness.
What is your driving force; your inspiration?
I am a great dreamer, as a result, I see no impossibilities. Every mountain is a step to a great destination for me. My cause in life is a rather intrinsic one. Thus, I approach life’s journey with the end in view. I am totally convinced that I can be all that I dare to dream. I am my own greatest motivator drawing inspiration from God. I learnt early in life that I alone could demotivate myself. Finally, I enjoy celebrating other people’s successes and achievements particularly in my low moments. I have learnt to overlook my pain and be a source of comfort or support to other, and through that phase, God sorts me in an unusual way. I am not intimidated by anything, because I am simply limitless. I look forward to seeing youth participation in relevant sectors of the economy in the near future. With this in view, I am fired up to aspire, strive and achieve. My dreams are huge and inspirations come from the deep-rooted knowledge that I can influence my environment positively and as I result, I am always willing to serve.
Did you have a mentor, putting you through the ins and outs of farming?
I didn’t have a mentor in farming! Though I have other mentors. My knowledge of agribusiness has been largely from personal education and research. The Internet has served greatly as my resource bank.
Has your work brought more attention to farming in Nigeria?
Gradually, I can say yes, though it took five years to gain relevance. My involvement in the agribusiness sector is really impacting people particularly young people like me, who I always hear say ‘if you are involved with farming then it is probably not as bad as it seems’. Farming, before now in Nigeria, was termed business of low-lives and with the barrier to entry being so high for young people to actively participate. I have successfully, in my little way, impressed on my generation that farming could be glamorous and cool enough for us to trade places with the business executive in the large conglomerate and also the bank’s middle management cadre, which is the initial attraction for most young graduate in Nigeria.
Do you think you have encouraged more women to enter the farming field?
That is an ongoing process. I am encouraging female participation on an on-going basis. My advocacy campaigns are not entirely for women to be involved in subsistence farm practices, rather it is further to educate female participation on a commercial scale with great focus on running structured and successful businesses, to encourage women to stop running their businesses out of their handbags but rather invest in operations that would outlive its founders. Like one of my mentors puts it “ Building businesses that last”.

What are the milestones you have achieved in the past year?
I woke up on the first day of the year 2009 with such huge dreams and aspirations for the year. On January 19, I was announced winner in Future Awards Business Owner of the Year category and that has greatly impacted on my life and business. Several Stories and articles in prints have been circulated in the last year; I have been able to adopt better business practices at Honeysuckles Ptl Ventures. Since winning the awards, I suddenly realised so everyone around expects much more from you, and that did keep me extremely focused. I have been able to influence more people in a subtle manner with a few individuals in my business incubator scheme. I have been able to reach out to so many people across the nation, preaching the agribusiness development and adoption gospel. I have also worked closely with other youth agencies to empower many more young people to aspire in Nigeria. One of such agencies is the Harambe Nigeria Endeavour. We are also working on new alliances. Just to mention a few
Do you think that having a mentor makes work easier for those that want to excel in their chosen fields?
Life is a continuous process of giving, receiving and learning, so, I believe that having GOOD mentors has great ways of impacting your life as a start-up entrepreneur. However the greatest mentor I have found is the Holy Spirit, who would lead you in the way of truth. One of my mentors is Pastor Taiwo Daniel Odukoya. We all need mentoring for different phases of our lives. Trust me, mentoring helps a great deal. Most times, people think you need money when starting out a business. In my journey, I have come to cherish the support and physical involvement of my mentors more. Those times they sit to listen to me and just ask the right questions save me from making unnecessary mistakes. As a young entrepreneur, in my very early days, I lost a lot of the seed capital I got from financial mentors to poor and bad business decisions I took because their was no one to talk to.
You have been working with the Future Nigeria project, tell us about that?
My journey with The Future Nigeria project started in March when we began the Post awards seminars, which involved “telling my story” around secondary schools in Nigeria. The aim of which is to educate these youngsters to aspire, strive and achieve. The project also afforded me the opportunity of interacting and meeting with key public officers within and outside Nigeria. I, alongside other winners, had to travel, albeit, but it was all fun in the last nine months. We were hosted Lagos State by several schools such as Binta International Secondary School and Kings College, Lagos. Now I am reliving the whole experience. The expression on the faces of these students each time I was introduced to them as a farmer. They just wondered and asked ‘why I would choose such an unattractive, non-lucrative venture’. This always ended up in an educating and extremely interactive session. I remember our trip to the Henry Alex Duduyemi Memorial Secondary School in Ile-Ife. We had such an interactive time with the students and I for the first time I tasted yet another Nigerian vegetable soup a delicacy in the town called efo-woro wo. It was heavenly. In June, I also had the privilege of being invited to join a delegation on a youth exchange programme in Latvia, Europe. We also paid a few courtesy visits to The Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. (Mrs) Dora Akinyuli at her office in Abuja. We visited the British High Commissioner, His Excellency, Mr. Bob Dawer, at his residence in Lagos. That was a great meeting. The last official visit this year is scheduled for this month to the Vice President, Jonathan Goodluck. We had one charity visit to the Hearts of Gold hospice and I was awed by the kind gesture of the proprietress of that facility. I can go on and on.

You have also done some work with Harambe, you went to Liberia with them could you shed some light on that?
My journey with Harambe is also an offshoot of the Future Awards. In June this year I facilitated the monthly workshop with the HISARD Fellows at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile Ife and we interacted a great deal and eventually accepted to be on the youth panel of their yearly conference in August. It was at that meeting that gave room for the invitation by Father Godfrey Nzamujo of the Songhai Centre to the Federal Republic of Benin, at his Farm Institute in September. That visit saw us meeting with two African Presidents H.E. Dr. Thomas Boni Yayi President of the Republic of Benin and his Liberian counterpart, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in one day.
What is Goldman Sachs?
Goldman Sachs is - the United States and world’s most powerful investment bank. In 2008, they launched an initiative, 10,000 Women, across the globe in collaboration with Enterprise Development Services of Pan African University, Nigeria. 10,000 Women Over Five Years Will Receive a Business and Management Education: Goldman Sachs is supporting partnerships with universities and development organizations that will lead to 10,000 Women receiving a business and management education over five years.
You received a Goldman Sachs Award? How has that affected your life and work? It was indeed a humbly experience to be part of the premiere recipients globally. I enjoyed Mentoring and Post-Graduation Support. In addition to funding my tuition for business and management education, 10,000 Women is establishing mentoring and networking channels for women. Programs provide career development opportunities that extend the benefits of the 10,000 Women beyond the classroom, leveraging the overall impact of their educational experience. We had such great facilitators to handle the workshops that women were just completely engaged to through the period. I applause the generosity of the Team at Goldman give this great privilege to me as a GS Scholar which is how we are termed. The networking within the past year has been truly overwhelming and I have been able to fully articulate a sense of my future potentials in business. since being on 10,000 Women project, I have been able to truly work with the Enterprise for Development Service organizations to better understand the local challenges women must overcome so I can ultimately realize my potential through access to greater economic opportunity. This exposure is truly awesome for me. I was truly amazed by the time commitment and Dedication of Goldman Sachs People: In addition to the firm’s financial commitment, Goldman Sachs is also contributing its most valuable asset – its people – to the success of 10,000 Women. Building on the firm’s strong history of service and community engagement, the people of Goldman Sachs are volunteering their time and expertise through various opportunities such as interacting with scholars on the I-MENTOR platform. I met with Senior executive of Goldman Sachs and we had a few exchanges. The company also paid for us to get one year free Business mentoring and support form Consultant in Nigeria and during one of the Expert In Residence (EIR) sessions, I met an expert Mrs Mope Abudu of Nexton Business Services. She took an exceptional interest in my dream, project and business model above all my willingness to “pay it forward” and she has worked closely with me in restructuring my business and has also volunteered in developing the frame work for Abira. I have in the last one year enjoyed support from great individuals from the EDS such Dr Christopher Kolade, Banky, Nneka-Okeakaru and most recently Dr Audu Ogbeh. My Business journey has changed tremendously and I Life has become a lot easier. I am no longer the lone entrepreneur I used to be running my business out of my handbag.

You own the Abira Foundation, what is the inspiration behind that?
My whole life has been one bundle of testimonies and scholarships Upon graduation from EDS on the platform of the 10,000women project in October 2008, I was greatly touched by the generosity of an International company giving to me from such distance. It dawned on me that I as a Nigerian really had to pay it forward to my fellow NIGERIANS. This made me rethink my community service project. Firstly I started a one-on-one personal advocacy campaign by enlightening men and most especially women within my circle of influence over the need to acquire formal business education and it thrills me to announce that it has started yielding results as two (2) ladies from my church are currently on the CEM 9 programme at the EDS, whilst some of the women who cant afford to come to the EDS are enrolling with The FATE Foundation a smaller enterprise development education center. Within my cell group at church, I make good every opportunity to enlighten everyone over the need to gain enterprise education, and above all empower themselves by acquiring formal business training If good success must be achieved. My window came right after I was announced the Business Owner of the Year 2009 in January by The Future Nigeria Awards. I am currently involved with the Future Nigeria in the post award seminars by “telling my story” around secondary schools in Lagos State and. The aim of which is to educate these youngsters to Aspire, Strive and Achieve. This further birthed my current project Abira Business Support- we have two platforms namely: Abira Womens Agribusiness Support { Abira WAS} and Abira Youth Empowerment Scheme {Abira YES}.
Could you shed some light on what you hope to achieve with this project?
Abira Foundation is offering a blended MSME solution that comprises a hands-on business development support and an on-going training and information services consultancy to clients, within the Agric-business sector. Our approach is unique in the sense that we intend to get ourselves involved with the success of our clients’ business enterprises on an on-going basis. Up on till now, the trainings available to intending entrepreneurs in this industry are short termed. Usually for two days with no follow-up on the effect of the knowledge imparted.Product Focus: Agric Enterprise development, Business promotion and Youth Advocacy/Engagement. Our mission: To support economic growth and employment generation through agribusiness development.
Objective: To enable agribusiness enterprises to effectively utilize Business Development Services to enhance products, productivity, market diversity/ penetration and profitability. This Project would be on-going but has an initial Impact Pilot phase of Three (3) years.
We would focus our work within certain Local Government Areas but we are focusing on three (3) major cities for now Lagos and Benin and Ile-Ife in Nigeria. This cities where chosen for adequate impact assessment. Lagos is a Metropolitan State, I am an Indigene of Edo State and finally I am already working with the HISARD (Harambe Incubator for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development) fellows of the Harambe Nigeria Endeavour at the Faculty of Agriculture at The Obafemi Awolowo University as a mentor and an advisory council member.

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