Home CELEB COLUMNISTS Opinion (06/07/18) : Lessons From Alakija, Africa’s Richest Woman

Opinion (06/07/18) : Lessons From Alakija, Africa’s Richest Woman



“ I like to go the extra mile, where others would have stopped or gotten fed up, turned back or given up”.

  • Folorunsho Alakija

Recently, the Rose of Sharon Foundation, the brainchild of  Alakija, who is not only Africa’s richest woman but a pride to the nation and one with the milk of human kindness flowing through her veins, had a sweet story to tell. The Foundation which was registered on the 14th of February, 2005 and formally launched on the 23rd of May 2008 was borne out of a divine instruction from God. Said she: “I asked the Lord how I could be of service to Him, and He directed me to James 1:27 in the bible. The summary of which is to visit and assist the widows, their children and orphans.

Its noble and patriotic mission is to guarantee financial independence for widows and educational opportunity for their children and orphans. “We teach our widows to fish, rather than give them fish, by empowering them with interest-free micro-credits and overall long- term repayment policy arrangements. We also offer their children and orphans unconditional educational scholarships up to university level”.

Interestingly, the journey that started with three widows on 23rd May, 2008, has since metamorphosed into a network that has empowered almost 1,000 widows and awarded scholarships to about 1,400 widow’s children and 86 orphans. This is remarkable, isn’t it?

Out of sheer interest, I read about her inspiring life trajectory while working on my yet to be published motivational book, Unveil the billionaire in you some years back. So, what are these worthy attributes and lasting lessons to glean from her variegated experiences?

The first is the ability to identify one’s potentials, believe in them, hone them and showcase that to the world. She knew right from youth that she had talents that if developed would make her a special person, destined for greatness and stand out in the crowd. For instance, though born into a polygamous family of 52 and to parents who did not have the privilege of western education, she was determined to make a difference. She worked harder than her peers, such that as a secretary she was able to type 140 words -per -minute while her mates typed 120 words. Said she: “ I had to go the extra mile.”

The second vital factor is the importance of social intelligence. She was groomed on the importance of having the right carriage; making the right speech while she was at Hofadams Hall College in Wales, United Kingdom. This attribute has severally stood her in good stead, especially in her career as a secretary, banker and eventually in the highly competitive oil industry.

Worthy of note also is that the young Alakija mustered the needed courage to face life’s challenges when it mattered most. That singular abiding courage-in-the storm; to break down all barriers placed on her path to self fulfillment and prosperity became her guiding credo.

For instance, instead of studying law, as many had expected she went for a Diploma in Secretarial studies. Equipped with this, she was able to work as a secretary to Ooni Oba Sijuade(of blessed memory) before moving on to work with International Merchant Bank in 1974. She later became the Head, Corporate Affairs and the Treasury Department as a full -fledged banker.

Yet, another significant move was her decision to study Fashion Design even while married and already blessed with four children! This act was out of sheer determination to defy all odds as she had to go for her studies with her youngest child. The ambitious Alakija exhibited a similar walk of faith when she decided to take part in a competition on Fashion Design as organized by the Daily Times of Nigeria, Plc during which she eventually came out as the best. Her firm belief in self development saw her taking part in several in-house training programmes  and even studying  at the School of Fashion Design in London to hone her skills.

To further her dream, she developed an entrepreneurial spirit in her bid to add value to her course of study. It is interesting to note that even when she was working at the bank, Alakija would travel to the UK on Fridays to buy jewelries, scarves and clothes and be back by Sunday evening.  “I am always looking for something new to do, to take me the next level”.

Knowing full well that the rich would prefer those who approach them with veritable ideas than begging for crumbs from the master’s table, she began to sew clothes for the rich and famous including beauty queens, fashionistas and top government officials. Soon, the demand for fabrics was so high that ladies were queuing up to be attended to! That eventually brought her in contact with the former First Lady, Maryam Babangida. The rest, as they say is history.

One other sterling attribute in her determined quest to self actualize was the readiness to make sacrifices- of precious time and valuable energy. As the wise ones say, one cannot make omelets without breaking eggs. If you want to pluck the ripest of fruits you must stretch your limbs. Indeed, life does not give the goodies to anyone through the easy path.

So busy was she at her work on fashion design and sewing business that she could hardly find the time to eat, several times! Similarly, years later when she was battling for oil licence, she confessed to have fasted and prayed for as long as 40 days!  And before she obtained it she had to take the risk of putting in virtually all of her savings.

Contrary to the misconception in some quarters, she did not obtain the oil licence on a platter of gold.  She had to conduct some research to identify the aspect of the value chain that she could fit in. This led her to come up with transportation of crude oil.  Like Ray Kroc who invested in the Mac Donalds eatery business she knew that persistence pays. She was therefore, not disappointed when the then oil Minister, Prof. Tam David- West rejected her interest in foreign oil deal.  She was also not deterred when she was told off the transportation of oil because of oil pipelines. Instead, she went back with the proposal for catering services to the offshore oil workers.

Even when she was told that the oil licence she had been allocated was worthless and rejected by one big multi-national oil company, Alakija took it with a pinch of salt. The so called experts told her that it was a 5,000 feet- deep offshore, and that the  cost of exploration was prohibitive. Yet, she was determined to go the whole hog. She reposed her faith in God. Said she:“I had to see it to its logical conclusion.”

In a most inspiring show of gratitude she decided to give back to God through the needy people. That was what inspired the setting up of the Rose of Sharon Foundation. “God called me into it. I wanted to give it to God. I have developed a relationship with Him. All I wanted was a small contract but oblivious to me, God had bigger plans for me”.

One’s fervent hope therefore, is that millions of our fun-loving ladies and even young men who want come-quick-riches would humble themselves and drink from her fountain of knowledge.

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