Five Nigerian female entrepreneurs among others have continued to make great impacts across Africa in the media, health, fashion, technology, oil and gas industries. In this piece, RAHEEMAH AROGUNDADE takes another look at them.
Entrepreneurship is undoubtedly a genuine source of employment and wealth creation for those who want to avoid the rigours of working for others. People want to be their own bosses.
An increasing number of Nigerians are joining the ranks of entrepreneurs in the face of prevailing lack of job opportunities in the formal sector of the economy, poverty and other socio-economic challenges. The age-long aspiration for white-collar jobs is now waning.
The attempts made by the government at the federal and state levels to tackle unemployment by providing jobs, especially for youths, have yielded little or no results. It is towards filling this void that the searchlight was beamed on vocational training, to curb unemployment.
Nigeria is one of the countries in the world with the highest number of female entrepreneurs, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation. Women have contributed in no small measure to the growth of the country’s economy, as they clearly outnumber men in entrepreneurial development.
Today, female businesses are evolving and thriving in various sectors. Findings from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor annual survey showed that in Nigeria women are well-represented when it comes to establishing businesses. The survey records that 41 per cent of start-up businesses are owned by females, as against the 39 per cent by males.
Among such businesswomen are Ola Orekunrin (Brown), Anike Lawal, Linda Ikeji, Uche Pedro and Folorunsho Alakija.
Olamide Orekunrin, CEO, Flying Doctors
The astute medical personality and helicopter pilot founded Flying Doctors, the first air ambulance service in West Africa. It was established in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2007.
Having developed an interest in health care at a young age, she studied medicine at the University of York, United Kingdom, graduating at 21. Later, she got a MEXT Japanese scholarship that gave her the opportunity to conduct clinical research in regenerative medicine at Jikei University Hospital.
The motivation to start Flying Doctors came after an unfortunate family incident. It was during one of her visits to Nigeria. Her anaemic sister became critically ill and was taken to a hospital. But there were no equipment and drugs to revive her. Her family tried to use the available air ambulance service in Africa – the nearest air emergency service was in South Africa. Before the process to hire the helicopter could be completed, her sister died. That moment in Orekunrin’s life and the realisation that there were no air emergency services in Nigeria made her establish Flying Doctors to save lives.
“After the death of my sister, the importance of getting critically-ill patients to the right facility in good time spurred me to get started. I saw that people in Africa were dying because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she explained.
Apart from her specialisation in medicine, she is also a trained helicopter pilot, with emphasis on evacuation models and aviation medicine. Since its inception, Flying Doctors has acquired over 20 aircraft for evacuation and has about 44 employees across three major cities in Nigeria.
Flying Doctors has successfully evacuated victims of road accidents, bomb blasts, fire outbreaks and other mishaps across Africa. The business has saved thousands of lives, through timely airlift of victims to well-equipped hospitals while providing first aid.
Orekunrin is not just an entrepreneur; she is an impactful one, combining passion with humanitarianism.
“My job allows me to combine my passion for business with saving lives. Now, my ambition is to build a successful air ambulance service right across Africa,” she added.
Anike Lawal, CEO, Mamalette
The top Nigerian ‘techpreneur,’ in 2013, established Mamalette, a social media platform that connects
Lawal bagged her bachelor’s degree in Business Studies and French at Trinity College, Dublin and a master’s degree in Law and Accounting at the London School of Economics. Although her educational background is different from her current job, she is successfully managing the enterprise.
The inspiration to start Mamalette came after her first pregnancy. Like many expectant mothers, Lawal had gone online to search for groups where tips about pregnancy and childbirth could be shared. But to her surprise, there was no platform to cater for the needs of expectant mothers or first-time mothers. The lack of such information led to the establishment of Mamalette, which started as a website addressing enquiries from prospective mothers.
Currently, Mamalette.com has grown into a large online community for women generally, mothers in particular.
Apart from the growing online community, Mamalette also educates members, providing support, webinars and other online events. Since its inception in 2013, the enterprise has gained the confidence of Nigerian women, which is evident in the growing online community that boasts of over 70,000 mothers.
The platform provides practical and beneficial information to members to connect with other mothers across the country. It also hosts live events.
“I created it to help women make informed and life-saving decisions, and as a support, guide and friend to mothers and mothers-to-be during their first few years as parents,” she stated.
Lawal is filling a critical gap in Nigeria’s deepening health care delivery gap.
Linda Ikeji, founder, Linda Ikeji Blog
Considered a ‘mediapreneur,’ she founded the popular Linda Ikeji Blog and TV.
Born on September 19, 1980, the former Nigerian writer and model started her blog in 2006 (after graduation) at a time blogging was not very popular in the country.
The Linda Ikeji Blog started as one of the few gossip blogs in Nigeria. By 2017, it became famous for news, events, fashion, lifestyle and entertainment.
Ikeji studied the English Language at the University of Lagos. Her love for writing and journalism became conspicuous at a young age. She received an honorary doctorate from Trinity International University of Ambassadors in Georgia for her contributions to media and business in Nigeria.
The celebrity blogger had an interest in writing and journalism right from the start. At the age of 10, she started writing fiction. She was forced to sponsor her tertiary education because of the financial challenges experienced by her parents. To complete her education, she took on various part-time jobs working as an usher, waitress, model.
After her education, she floated Blackdove Communications, a media, modelling and event management outfit. Thereafter, she launched a magazine, FM&B. After facing some challenges running the two enterprises, she started LIB as a hobby. As an entrepreneur, Ikeji has proven that passion can win in earning a living.
Following the soar-away success of the blog, she started Linda Ikeji Social, where she connects with her audience on social media. After that, she started Linda Ikeji TV in 2018. Not satisfied with her blog and TV, she launched an online radio station. She has also written a book, ‘It Takes You – A book of Inspiration.’
She re-defined the blogging experience in Africa and has received several awards from prominent bodies for being an outstanding media personality.
Today, she is one of the most influential celebrity female entrepreneurs in Africa with a net worth of about $40m.
Uche Pedro, CEO, BellaNaija
Uche Pedro is the founder of the popular online entertainment, fashion and lifestyle magazine and brand, BellaNaija. Like Linda Ikeji, she also started blogging as a hobby while waiting for post-graduation appointment with Shell in 2006. She graduated with distinction from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, where she bagged a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
The consistent improvement in Nigeria’s fashion industry, as well as entertainment and business sectors, inspired her to start BellaNaija.
While in Canada, occasionally visiting Nigeria, her desire to showcase the rich sense of African fashion, entertainment and lifestyle to the world grew.
“BellaNaija.com is what I would call an entertainment, lifestyle and fashion portal. It is for the young, cosmopolitan, upwardly-mobile African,” she explained.
The success achieved by her blog led to the establishment of other facets of her brand: BellaNaija Weddings and BellaNaijaStyle. Currently, BellaNaija is one of the leading sites in Nigeria with millions of viewers across Africa.
Pedro, an award-winning tech and media entrepreneur in Africa, generates huge revenue through Google Adsense, direct adverts, sponsored posts, etc, which catapulted her net worth to about $4m.
Folorunsho Alakija, GMD, The Rose of Sharon Group
She is prominently known as the richest black woman in the world. She is a billionaire businesswoman and one of the most influential entrepreneurs in Africa.
A Nigerian, Alakija is into fashion, oil and prints. She is the Group Managing Director of The Rose of Sharon Group, comprising The Rose of Sharon Prints, The Rose of Sharon Fashion House and Promotions Limited and Digital Reality Prints Limited. She is also the executive vice-chairman of Famfa Oil Limited.
Alakija studied secretarial studies at Pitman’s Central College, London. Thereafter, she studied Fashion Designing at the American College, London, and the Central School of Fashion.
She said, “My return to Nigeria saw the birth of my first fashion label, Supreme Stitches, which was renamed The Rose Of Sharon House of Fashion in 1996. In 2001, we started mass-producing tee-shirts and thus changed its name to The Rose of Sharon Prints and Promotions.”
In 1993, the Nigerian government gave her company a licence to explore oil in the Agbami field.
She was one of the few first women in the oil business. Even when the government took away her oil block she remained focused and persistent.
“The oil block allocated and licensed to us was not wanted by any oil company. We accepted it with faith and it has become the cornerstone in West Africa and Africa as a whole.
“The government came back to take 50 per cent out of our 60 per cent. But after a 12-year battle in court, all was restored to the glory of God,” she added.
Alakija owns a series of businesses and properties across Africa. In 2014, temporarily unseated Oprah Winfrey as the richest black woman. She is worth about $2.1bn, which makes her the wealthiest woman in Africa.