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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Any time you see a woman who tells you that her main job is to take care of her children 24/7, know that you just met a stay-at-home mom. The definition for this term is someone who stays at home all day to raise her children and manage her household, while her spouse gracefully assumes the position of a provider.
This term has become a cliché in some countries —thousands of women proudly wear this badge in a show of their sacrificial parenthood. In many societies outside Nigeria, stay-at-home moms are often seen as good models of motherhood because it is not everyday you meet a woman so selfless and willing to let go of her financial independence. But the question remains; what does a stay-at-home mom do all day? Is cleaning and doing laundry a daily routine or is she watching ‘Zee World’ or ‘Telemundo’?
In this part of the world, there is something so ordinary and basic about being a stay-at-home mom. Out of personal experience and data check, most stay-at-home moms in Nigeria take on this role out of frustration of not getting a job after childbirth or lack of zeal to further pursue career goals. It is, sometimes, very easy to give up trying but the consequence of this decision is a grave one.
If by staying at home all day and writing occasionally qualify for being a stay-at-home mom then, I label myself a reluctant one. The state of not being able to be financially independent is one of the lowest that I found myself in. Nigeria happens to be a peculiar country where the depth of one’s pocket determines who the boss is.
These days, it is not safe to solely depend on one’s spouse for everything —financial independence is a must for every woman regardless of marital status. Nigeria is a patriarchal space, where being a woman is enough trouble, talk less being a jobless mum.
Loss of who I am
There are three things that I lost in the period of being a stay-at-home mom. I lost myself, my voice and my bravado. As someone who has previously worked in several highly structured organizations, full time motherhood threw me off balance. Day after day, tiny pieces of my self-confidence began to ebb away as I helplessly watched other women excel in their careers be it as entrepreneurs or career women. Nothing robs us of our joy like the helplessness of not being able to determine one’s fate.
I would feel inferior every time I heard the success stories of my colleagues. I began to look for excuses to stay indoors and revel in self-pity. Before I know it, I became a recluse instead of the strong, extrovert and go-getter I used to be.
Being a full time mother opens a door of vulnerability; it reduces us to helpless creatures. I had a rude awakening of this in my second year of marriage when an in-law came around and subtly hinted at my ‘jobless condition’. He constantly tore at any suggestion I made during our family discussions. To him, I was just “an entity whose main job was to breastfeed a child”, as he put it then.
The mere fact that I wasn’t bringing in any income was enough reason to shut me up. To him, I didn’t exist, likewise my thoughts, in his mind, I was just a human with mammary glands and a womb to frequently push out babies.
One day, I decided that I had had enough, I began to outline ways to get out of this pathetic state.
Have a time line
It sure doesn’t matter what made me a stay-at-home mom, what is important is the time line for my exit.
A frustrated stay-at-home mom, like me, definitely needed a detailed plan on how to put an end to the cycle of helplessness. Questions like these should be included in your time line:
When do I pull the plug?
How do I integrate myself into the chosen career or business?
What are my new strengths?
These questions will best guide you on the next step to take when considering an exit.
Never stop learning
Don’t ever be deluded into thinking that motherhood takes all your time and energy. There are millions of women who are beautifully juggling child rearing with careers; so even while you are stuck being a stay-at-home mom, compel yourself to take lots and lots of self-development courses.
Nothing stops an online course or even a distance learning course. These courses will one day help to advance your career. I must confess that it is hard to get back into a career or a business after a hiatus, but it is doable. Since I decided to get back to the corporate world, I have constantly learnt how not to take NO for an answer —I don’t get fazed by the number of rejections, I just keep on pushing.
Keep on dreaming
This is one thing that kept me sane in my five year stay-at-home mom experience. I never for once stopped dreaming about who I would be in my chosen career. This vision kept me awake at night and gave me a clear perspective on how to attain my career goal.
Never allow anything or anyone to rob you the power of dreaming big. I once read online about how children of career women excel in life compared to children raised by stay-at-home moms. Children need to see their mothers in places of strength and independence and let’s be honest, being a stay-at-home mom will never create that reality.