As a female business owner, you would encounter all forms and manner of harassment, but you must ensure you rise above it. The odds are stacked against women naturally from a sexist society, why increase it? In my opinion, it is foolish for women to think they are equal to men; we are actually superior to men.BORN in 1959 in Okene, Kogi State, Mrs. Munira Shonibare describes her early years as a chequered one for the simple reason that her father was in the Foreign Service. So her formative years were spent in very different countries. Being a diplomat, he served in numerous capacities in various countries before retiring as a former Ambassador to Canada.
Her mother was an enterprising businesswoman and she is the oldest of eight children. “As far back as I can remember, I had always traveled a lot and to be honest, this ignited my interest in arts, culture and languages,” she said.
“I had my education in different countries while growing up. I actually started kindergarten school in Accra, Ghana, had part of my primary school education in Cairo, Egypt and the second half of my primary schooling was done in Corona Schools here in Lagos.
“I went to Queen’s College, Lagos for my secondary school education. After this, I obtained my first degree from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where I studied Industrial Design and majored in Textile Design, despite my family’s plea to consider a ‘well respected’ career in either architecture or teaching.
“I had always been passionate about Industrial Design and was determined to follow my dream and nurture my passion. During my service year, I worked as a textile designer at the United Nigerian Textiles Limited in Kaduna before working as a Fine Arts teacher at the Federal School of Arts and Science in Lagos for a year. Shortly after, I got a scholarship to go and study Interior Design in Florence, Italy, ” she reminisced.
She is married to a solicitor and blessed with three children, two of who have graduated from the university. Her last child, is in final year in the university. “With that being said, I can say IO Furniture is my fourth child, my baby presently, as it is taking up all of my time and attention,” she laughingly discloses.
“Truthfully speaking, I never envisaged a career as an entrepreneur because I have always imagined a career as an interior designer as this has always been my primary passion. This is because I’ve always been fascinated by human behaviour in spaces and it has been proven that your immediate environment affects your wellbeing. Wellbeing has always been a priority for me, until I attended a life coach course and my priorities were graded.
“I had always thought security was my priority, because I felt I should be financially independent and secure but my priorities turned out to be wellbeing, love of family and the importance of relationships and then security was last. With that, our philosophy at IO Furniture is making sure that we hone our interior design skills to ensure that people experience the maximum wellbeing which will in turn create equilibrium in the home as well as the work environment. These days, most people spend the major part of their lives outside their homes but are not comfortable. If we change that space and environment, you will discover that you achieve equilibrium,” she remarked.
Speaking on her experience as a female entrepreneur in Nigeria, Mrs. Shonibare insists that her experience is in line with what most other women’s experience. Manpower is a great problem, she says.
“We have to invest in our people. Even with all the infrastructure and technology in the world, if you do not possess skilled, informed, educated, focused and purposeful people to drive the machines and processes, it is all useless. The right set of people is very important as they can make or break your vision. Truthfully, we have failed as a nation because we have refused to invest in our youths. Driving home daily, I see hordes of young people and I can tell from their body language that they have no sense of direction or purpose.”
She continued: “As parents, we have failed because it is no longer enough to focus on your children alone as they do not live in isolation. They live and function in communities and when the community is dysfunctional, with whom and how are they going to relate to? If I ever ran for public office, I would tackle our sense of identity with urgency. It is sad that Nigeria’s history no longer exists in schools’ curriculums.
“If we as a people do not know where we are from and do not have a strong sense of identity, how do we progress? If you ask the average 15 or 16 year old who Obafemi Awolowo or Ajayi Crowther was, they have no idea. As a female entrepreneur, you have to work twice as hard as the next man just to prove yourself and to be taken seriously.
“As a female business owner, you would encounter all forms and manner of harassment, but you must ensure you rise above it. The odds are stacked against women naturally from a sexist society, why increase it? In my opinion, it is foolish for women to think they are equal to men; we are actually superior to men. As a female entrepreneur, you have to be extra careful in doing business, always have self-preservation at the back of your mind”.
Going further, Shonibare also lists funding as one of the major challenges Nigerian entrepreneurs face. She states that the interest rates, which are usually between 25–27 per cent, are not favourable and this, coupled with other normal hurdles business owners face, it is no wonder that many businesses collapse as quickly as they are formed. She goes on to add poor and non-existent infrastructure and lack of qualified manpower as factors that stifle the growth of businesses in the country. If you are not mentally strong, you cannot run a business in Nigeria, she avers.
Shonibare knows that being a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is hard work but she admits that she takes it a day at a time. “Some days, I scream, and other days I just let go. You have to learn to pick your battles and know which things are important or which things should be ignored. You have to be very focused and not get distracted. Set clear targets and ensure your team buys into your vision. I won’t lie, being the boss is tough, but if you have the right set of people around you, you can overcome most challenges.”
She believes that gender does not define most people these days, as a lot of people have come to appreciate competence over gender. She is convinced that anyone who is willing, focused, committed, and diligent and is disciplined as well can get ahead in today’s world. She insists that it had never crossed her mind that she was operating in a male-dominated field.
Dishing advice to other women who might want to toe the furniture and interior design line, she emphasizes that they should know all the numbers. “Women usually jump into business without doing the numbers. We mostly turn our hobbies into businesses and then get consumed by it. This is good, but it is better to ask questions and understand thoroughly what you are getting yourself into before committing yourself fully? Go for trainings, courses and court mentors. Identify people who are in the same industry as you are and ask them for advice and direction. This is very important.”
Speaking on her company’s innovative award, which was launched in May of this year, and is the first of its kind, she said it was borne out of the need to fill a gaping hole in the society. The IO Furniture Innovation Award aims at promoting the raw, untapped talent of the youth today through a competition that requires them showcasing their creativity in furniture and interior design.
She said: “We cannot wait for the world to promote us; we must do it ourselves and by so doing, we create a ripple effect of empowerment so each aspiring designer knows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel forcing them to aim higher.
“Nigeria has no formal interior design schools unlike what obtains in other developed countries. We called for entries and have selected four finalists from the hundreds we received. A winner would be announced at the end of this month and the design would be produced, and the winner would get a royalty from every piece that is sold. It has been difficult choosing a winner, because all the designs are breathtaking as well as highly functional. I hope this would encourage other youths to do something positive with their time and talents.”