Oluwatoyin Egedi is a Civil Engineer by training but an entrepreneur by decision. She currently sits as the CEO of Rullion Capacity Builders Foundation – a social enterprise that seeks to empower women with skills to start profitable businesses right from home.
The vision for her is to use the vehicle of skill acquisition to ameliorate women’s capacity and enhance their chances for economic enrichment.
Why did you start a women empowerment center?
I started Rullion Capacity in 2014 – a women empowerment center from a personal encounter and insight into the need for women to be skilled and have the capacity to generate income as stay at home moms.
This center was born at a time when I also needed to be empowered – I had just had my third baby and the few job interviews I attended didn’t expressly say, but once they learned I was married and had children, the odds tilted away from me.
Later, I realized that in an employers’ eyes, a married woman with children meant more off days, more sick leaves, the bottom line, fewer work hours. Without getting any offers, I decided that rather than just sit at home idle, I would learn a skill. I settled for small chops and cocktails.
The program was very affordable as it was subsidized by the church and I was amazed at the number of women who attended the skill empowerment. With the knowledge, I garnered from working in the advertising industry before being a stay at home mum, in no time I was selling my finger foods at events and was making some income even though I was working from home.
Soon, I discovered that a lot of the other women who attended that program with me were not grounded in basic business skills and were waiting to get funds to rent a space before they start a business. Instantly, I knew this was an error, and thought about how I could change this.
I gathered a group of friends and with further discussions, we saw there was a need to change the mindset of so many women who think being a stay at home moms meant being without avenues to generate income.
We launched a skill acquisition program laced with business skills in financial literacy, customer service, brand management, legal aspects of business, marketing and sales.
Our first program was a flop as we were still quite unknown but we persisted and created more awareness. Using social media as a very strong marketing tool, we had more attendees.
So far, we have trained over 400 women who have largely gone on to start their small businesses and some who do not have the financial capacity to start, are currently employed until they can.
There are quite a number of women empowerment organizations, what makes yours stand out?
In striving for excellence in a sector where there are so many mushroom operators, in 2016, we became an accredited vocational center for Trade Test 1, 2 and 3 and NABTEB (National Business and Technical Examinations Board) exams which further qualifies our trainees to work anywhere in the world.
Last year, we observed that a critical challenge our trainees had was having access to capital to purchase equipment. This led us to seek and partner with MISS – Micro Investment Support Services (an equipment leasing company led by Mrs. Elizabeth Ehigiamusoe).
With this, our trainees can purchase equipment on loan of up to N500,000 over a tenor of 12 months with a very affordable interest rate.
Furthermore, we observed that though our students now had the equipment and technical know-how for business and already had products, a bigger challenge was getting ready buyers. The answer to this was The Women’s Entrepreneurship Fair (WEF) with the vision to connect our women to customers, investors and the government.
We had 2 editions last year with women-focused brands such as Access Bank Women banking, Molfix Diapers, Guardian Life, Nobel Carpet and rugs (Lush Hair), Cake World, Orijin Zero, Bella Naija, Fero Mobile, De-united Foods Limited, Cadbury, United Capital Limited, LSETF, among others throwing their weight behind the massively successful event.
A lot of our women are still reaping the dividends of those shopping exhibitions and we are looking forward to having more in the near future
What Challenges have you encountered on this journey?
Remember I mentioned I was thrown into this journey not of my own will but because of circumstances around me at the time. So it has not been a smooth journey but I’ve been determined as I currently enjoy what I do. Below are some challenges I faced:
1. Wrong Structure: We are a registered social enterprise with the CAC but without any formal educational background in the team, we struggled with the structure a bit before we found our footing.
Working with the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity’s trade test modules and syllabus likewise NABTEB’s has helped us put a proper structure in place
2. Getting skilled workers: This was difficult for the courses we offer at Rullion but we had to overcome. Courses such as Cosmetology ( hairdressing, nail fixing, makeup and gele tying, Fashion design and accessories, catering and hotel works, and so forth) but as trainers, we have embraced the importance of training and re-training.
Some people are of the opinion that if you train your staff, they’ll leave you and become competition. But what if you don’t train them and they stay? It comes back to hurt your brand and what you aim to achieve. Besides, collaboration is a new competition.
We can’t do all the work, so if our ex-staff leaves and sets up hers, that’s great as we then have a branch in that other location where we can refer willing trainees
3. InadequateFunding: We initially set out to offer our training programs at no fee at all but without a fund base, we couldn’t keep up with the standards we seek to deliver.
Therefore, we asked our trainees to pay a small fee which we use to cover the overheads of running our programs but even with that we still require help to bolster the training programs we deliver and further enrich our capacity as learning is quite dynamic.
We also offer small short-term loans to the women we train. We want to include an internship program to our curriculum which we believe will further help deepen the knowledge of our students. A deterrent for an internship is funding – employers are willing to take on interns but are not willing and/or ready to give them an allowance to cover even their transportation.
If we could access funds, we can do this and much more
4. Online access: We are based in Lagos, Nigeria. Though we’ve held training programs at Ogun State, Edo state and Rivers state, there is still a lot of work to do. With the explosion in the use of technology, it’s necessary and import to now migrate some of our training programs to online learning platforms and offer a Blended Learning curriculum.
If we can do this, we will have more reach. Funds have been the deterrent to properly execute this as we have inquiries from all over Nigeria which we cannot cover.
5. Partnerships: If only a lot of us embraced collaboration rather than competition, we can all do the work better and faster.
We have approached a number of organizations who are doing similar work in the women empowerment space to partner with us especially outside Lagos state so that more women are economically empowered and in the process, mitigate and eventually eradicate poverty but the response has not been so encouraging as financial gratification is a key factor for a lot of them.
Do you think Government involvement can help with the challenges?
Yes, of course. There is almost no business that does not depend on infrastructure from the government – power, water, roads, etc.
At the moment, there is no room for growth in the micro business space because the cost of setting up even such a business is so high. You consider things like accommodation (there’s no regulation – the landlords are the alpha and omega and decide whatever rent they want), power.
You have to purchase your own power generating plant because you can’t rely on government’s supply, transporting yourself from one location to the other to offer service to customers eventually becomes a chore with bad roads and many man-hours lost due to traffic gridlock!
If all the government can provide for us is an enabling work environment with a stable economy, I tell you, we aren’t a lazy bunch – we will really go far.
Do you think there’s room for more women empowerment centers?
Of course! It is not enough! Women are quite pivotal to the transformation of any nation’s economy- history has a lot to say about this. We at Rullion have carved a niche for ourselves by targeting women, who have a minimum education of O’Levels, are somewhat computer literate and can communicate in Basic English.
What about illiterate women who only speak pidgin or just their local dialect? How about younger girls in secondary school who need to embrace the culture of entrepreneurship even before they go on to higher institutions to study?
The jobs they target are all the top corporations like Dangote, Nestle, OandO which were all started by entrepreneurs.
We also have to think about those outside Lagos and in other states of the Federation. So, the answer is Yes! We need a lot more women empowerment centers.
The challenge I see however is how to ensure the quality of what is taught at these centers. Because we wanted a certain standard, we had to push ourselves to put in some structure and we keep updating that as we go along.
A lot of these centers have just one facilitator teaching 100 people per time and then you wonder what exactly the people are learning because they don’t go further to carry out any practical sessions and the next thing is a graphic designer/printer issues them certificates.
There needs to be a body that ensures that centers comply with a certain minimum standard.
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