By Anote Ajeluorou
“MY mother never treated me like I was a helpless child. From as early as I can remember, she treated me like someone who could understand our circumstances and had something to contribute. Now, I can say that this gave me the boldness with which I have approached life and business. I did not actively think of it as boldness until people would hear my business history.”
Above is the foundation stone laid for the phenomenal business acumen of Isoken Nwabunka, who was born into the family of Efemwenkeankean Yellow Igbinigie, Benin City. She has faithfully recorded her life and business journey in an interesting book entitled Isoken, with a unique subtitle ‘Building Boldly: A Fearless Woman’s Journey to Engaging in Business for Impact.’ Unlike the story of most young Nigerians though, Isoken was born into a privileged home, with her father being a medical doctor back in the 1970s. But that privilege soon slipped away upon the early death of her father. As with most Nigerian family heads that do not plan ahead by taking insurance or investing in the future of their families, that sudden loss of the family head soon plunged the family from its privileged perch to the very bottom: poverty.
This is how she wisely recalls that moment: “Life is full of twists and turns, so from a young age, I learned that I could not let unexpected events keep me down or define me. When I look back, I see that many of such events shaped me and led me to succeed, but I also remember that what spurred me (on) in the early days was not a self-cultivated desire for success. It was just about survival.”
Survival became the name of the game, as Isoken and her hard working mother begin the arduous journey to finding their feet alone. Born into a polygamous home, Isoken, upon the death of her father, became actively involved in her mother’s petty trade. She would set a tray of goods on her head and Isoken would walk the streets of Benin City hawking them. Of course, no child joyously, willing accepts to hawk goods, deeming it as punishment while he or she sees their schoolmates playing and having fun. But Isoken took her ‘job’ seriously, with her mother presenting her with the right tools and advice to make her succeed the treacherous terrain of street hawking. It was a hard life, but Isoken persisted and continued hawking even as a secondary school student and taking on other odd jobs to augment their meagre expenses. And then glaucoma hit her hard working mother in one eye, and then the second eye. Isoken became the sole breadwinner, with her only brother also having a debilitating accident that made life doubly hard for the family.
However, upon finishing secondary school, with not many opportunities in Benin City to engage her, she sought to relocate to Lagos, where she knew no one. But with her elder brother’s short stay in Lagos for seminary training, she was able to find someone to stay with while hunting for a job. Her attempts failed, but she fell back on what she knew best to do: hawk goods in Lagos! That was the beginning of the amazing story of a young woman who started life as a street hawker and would later climbed to corporate governance pinnacle where she started and built a microfinance bank that is at the forefront of providing seed capital for women to grow their businesses, an opportunity she and her mother didn’t have back in Benin City. For her therefore, it’s a passion to give back to society, extending a hand of fellowship to people still stuck in the barrel where she has emerged a heroine of today’s downtrodden women.
But her rise to building Grooming People for Better Livelihood Centre or Grooming Centre for short, a microfinance bank, wasn’t a straight line affair. The journey was as convoluted as all such human journeys to success go. She can best be described as a serial entrepreneur. From street hawking in her early days in Benin City and later in Lagos, she soon got sales jobs; she sold fire extinguishers, hair creams, became supplier of stationery to offices, started a saloon from where she got the name for her microfinance bank, went into fashion designing, fabric sales, and car spare parts importation and sales. And then she embarks on acquiring university degrees as a businesswoman and mother! Indeed, Isoken has seen it all. So whatever nuggets of wisdom she has dished out in this incredible book she has written is laced with uncommon business truths as someone speaking from the commanding height of experience.
Isoken is a treasury of lifestyle and business book, particularly for women and young people just starting out in life. The old are not left out. What dire circumstances do you find yourself today? Do you find yourself at the rock bottom of life? How do you navigate your way back to the top in spite of what life has thrown your way? This book will provide you with a roadmap of sorts, even as there are no two stories that are exactly the same. Isoken has had two strong allies in her journey to the top: her mother (now late) and her husband, a love story that began in an unlikely, risky situation. What is more, Isoken’s story is written with collaborators also giving insight into the unique person and character of the protagonist. From her university classmate to her first staff at Grooming Centre, her children and her chief cheerleader and husband, Dr. Godwin Nwabunka.
Isoken is recommended reading material for entrepreneurial classes of all sorts, whether for informal business trainees or artisans or formal classes. It’s a gem for the here and now.