Today the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world are celebrated. Therefore, it seems appropriate to highlight the Nigerian businesswoman Habiba Ali.
7 min read
The opinions expressed by employees are personal.
Today is International Women's Day , which celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world. Therefore, it seems appropriate to highlight Nigerian businesswoman Habiba Ali, CEO and managing director of Sosai Renewable Energies . This company, founded in 2010 for profit, is one of Nigeria's largest renewable energy distributors, and provides solar lamps, water purifiers, solar panels and more to communities and urban areas. Its energy consulting service offers market analysis, feasibility studies, advisory services and strategic guidance.
Ali's mission is nothing less than closing the energy gap and providing clean and renewable energy solutions to disadvantaged communities in his country. Despite that aerodynamic goal, Ali began at street level, delivering solar lamps to the women in his neighborhood, to replace his kerosene. lamps, dangerous for your lungs.
With guts and intelligence, he finally founded his company, taking advantage of the mentoring and training he received from VV GROW Fellowship, a one-year accelerator for women owners of small and medium enterprises in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa
Today, his company based in Kaduna, Nigeria, is thriving, with 20 employees. Ali wants to empower other women entrepreneurs by teaching them to sell renewable energy products in their communities and “pay” them in the process. In his own words:
I never planned to start a business. My husband and I had originally founded a non-governmental organization focused on renewable energy. In this position, I was invited in 2009 to Uganda for the Forum of the Association for Clean Indoor Air (PCIA). Did you know that using a kerosene lamp for only three hours can create smoke equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes? I didn't do it, and it scared me: I passed by street vendors in my neighborhood who sold their products with a kerosene lamp for not less than five hours a day.
I was buying bread from women whose lungs were turning black from smoke. One day I bought 10 solar lamps and lent them to the women in my neighborhood to use them instead of the kerosene lamps.
A month later, they didn't want to give them up. This was the beginning of Sosai renewable energy. Today, we offer renewable energy products and sustainable energy consulting to communities in Nigeria. While celebrating International Women's Day, I wanted to share my story and the advice I learned as a businesswoman for women looking to find their voices and improve their lives through entrepreneurship.
These are the lessons Ali learned:
1. Identify a critical need and know your client.
In Nigeria, we have a big energy problem. Many communities are not connected to the network and families have to use kerosene generators and lamps to illuminate their lives. At the same time, many Nigerians are very poor. While our lamps are cheaper than kerosene lamps or long-term batteries, they can be a great investment for Nigerians with very little income.
To succeed as a company, we had to balance this critical energy need with the reality of our customers' lives. We have worked hard to close that gap by securing enough financing to provide customers with rental payment options with purchase options and others for renewable products.
2. Be smart.
Over the years, I have faced numerous barriers in the construction of my business. In 2015, I participated in a one-year accelerator program called Vital Voices GROW Fellowship. The program allowed me to explore my capabilities as a leader and provided me with the training to grow my business successfully. The most important thing an entrepreneur can do is find training and a mentor who can help you establish your business for success.
3. Build a strong network.
As an entrepreneurial woman in Nigeria, building a community of mentors and support has been very important for my career. Last year, the VV GROW scholarship connected me to a global network of women entrepreneurs. It has been surprising to see the growth and success that these women have achieved since our training, and to know that I was there with them from the beginning. Now we are a group of friends and sisters, holding hands by obstacles and growing together without any animosity.
4. Don't listen to detractors.
I've been in business long enough to know that the trip, especially for a woman in northern Nigeria, is full of challenges and frustrations every step of the way. Many did not approve of working so hard outside the home and it was difficult to obtain funds for my business when I started. But business also changed my life. It allowed me to discover the “me within me”, my driving force and my strength. I think any woman can start a business, if she really proposes it.
5. Pay forward.
It had always been a dream for me to involve women in the sale of renewable energy products. Renewable energy is not a very “feminine” business, and for that reason, I think women really need to show their skills in this field. That is why I launched the “Matan Arewan Sosai” energy entrepreneurship initiative, which aims to help women become energy entrepreneurs and use clean energy technologies such as solar refrigerators, kiosks and grinding for income-generating activities.
So far, we have recruited some 30 women and are working to obtain additional funds to be able to extend more income-generating activities to women. In doing so, I pay for it and help more women stay financially on their own.
The Vital Voices GROW Scholarship is a one-year accelerator program for women owners of small and medium enterprises in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. In partnership with the ExxonMobil Foundation, the VV GROW scholarship offers personalized training in business skills, technical assistance, leadership development and network access to help women grow their businesses and increase their impact on leadership.