Aisha Maina is the Managing Director of Aquarian Consult Ltd, a management consultancy services provider including recruitment and human resources training. At the sidelines of a business clinic organized by the company recently in Abuja, she told Daily Trust that 60 percent of retirees in Nigeria die out of worry as they had no post-retirement business plan and that most budding entrepreneurs fail in their businesses due to lack of knowledge empowerment. Excerpts.
What is it about your empowering business clinic?
The EMPOWER initiative seeks to empower 30, 000 Nigerians by 2014. We started it February last year. So far, we have empowered 8,000 people including children. We have a number of programmes which aim at supporting businesses to grow.
We have empowered childhood safety programme, which is targeted at making children aware of road safety. We realized that almost five or 10 seconds after a child crosses the road, a car passes. So many cases of children being killed for no reasons because of the lack of knowledge. What we do is to go to schools and address the students at their assembly and then we chose 12 children who will call the road safety champions. They then take down the awareness programme to other students.
When people hear about empowerment, they think about money? Is there an addition to that perception?
When you give people money you empower them but again, if people have no knowledge, no matter how much you give them, they will remain where they are. If you give a person N10 million today and if the person doesn't have the (investment) knowledge, he/she will lose it within days, but if you give somebody N100, 000 today, and the person has the right knowledge required, the person can turn that money into N500, 000 or even N1 million.
A lot of people, agencies and organizations, give out money anyway. But come to think about it. Even if they have been giving out money for a long time, the poor are getting poorer. We looked at that and said why don't we give people the kind of empowerment they really need? If somebody asks for money, why not give him the knowledge to turn it around? Empowerment is all about knowledge and networking. It is only when businesses do business with businesses that businesses grow. Only when people work with people do people grow and growth doesn't necessarily mean growing old. Empower is about giving knowledge and taking knowledge.
Our events are not paid for but even when they are paid for, they are highly subsidized, but we are also in business. In as much as we would want to add value to people's life which is out motto, we have running cost. We have also learnt that what you give for free is hardly appreciated. Even when we get sponsor, we would need people to pay for it not because we need the money but because we want them to appreciate the value of what they are taking.
Small businesses are known to be the growth drivers of the economy. That doesn't seem to be happening in Nigeria today. What do you think is the problem?
People. We have many challenges but am just going to narrow it down. We need to think. We hardly really think. It is almost like we are automaton. If we think, first and foremost, whatever it is and believe it enough, we can make it a success. Whoever said climbing a ladder is easy. You are climbing a ladder and you know there must be challenges. But you have to conquer your fears because you know where you are climbing. This is not taking away the challenges of power, cost of doing business and the rest. A lot of time, people do not structure their businesses. Do you have that structure? I would summarize it to the ability to think, properly, believe in yourself, and have the right structure.
You said about 60 percent of pensioners die shortly after their retirement because they didn't prepare for life after retirement. Can you explain that further?
Let's look at the Nigeria situation. Pension has not really worked. And I know when I was growing up, my parents' time, when you have a career, you face it, when you are a civil servant, you face it. It was later on that civil servants were now running businesses along side their job. But a lot of the retirees today were the crop of people who faced their career. The pension scheme didn't work and the kids they probably sponsored their education hoping that they will take care of them at retirement, they are still taking care of them due to unemployment and associated problems. If you look at all these challenges, you find that their health deteriorates quickly and they die because they worry all the time. Even as a young man, if you worry all the time, you fall sick. Now imagine that you have four children, maybe just one of them or two only have jobs which are not really paying. And you don't have a job any more. You don't have any pension and all your savings have been exhausted. What will happen?
Can you throw more light on your Empower Growing Woman initiative?
It is about empowering women with the ages of 25 to 45. Maybe we will go a little bit younger. Ask a girl what she does. She either selling clothes or she does events or hawks around. What occupation is it particularly? You find that these people have potentials; they can be good marketers, not in the sense of selling their bodies. But they have talent to convince people. Again, for whatever reasons best know to them, they say "I want to do it but I don't know o." Empower growing woman is about empowering that woman to know that she has got talent. And she can get a job as a marketer and not sell herself. She can get a job doing what men do. If people are getting money driving, why not do same
You are in the business of recruitment and there is wide spread belief that many graduates of today are not employable. How much of this have you seen?
I have seen it a lot. We have a data base of about five to eight thousand applicants. A lot of people there are not going to get job. We have a screening process. When you actually meet with them you will know that they will not get the job. They lack the soft skill. They have the technical know-how which is what they went to school to learn. Like an accountant knowing how to calculator one plus one being equal to two. But it takes more than technical skills that to be able to get a job. You should be able to know how to write good curriculum vitae. In a way, I don't blame these applicants them because we have challenges in our educational system but I also blame them. You have to find a way to improve yourself and not blame others in everything.
We have seen amazing people, who come to interviews and you ask them, 'did you really prepare or know you were coming for this interview?" They will reply 'yes'. But they look like they are going to parties or going to a friend's house. It is because of these kind of things we see that we came up with the empower CV writing and interviews clinics. I have personally looked at CVs that are three pages and I will be searching for information in the three pages and I can't find it.
We have had three highly subsidized trainings on CV writing and how to behave at interviews. And we didn't have a full class. It was on radio. It was a free class we ran for a week. We had only about three people in one class. We now said maybe they don't value it because it is free; pay a thousand naira. The same thing happened.