Nigeria: Bestie Atti - Raising African Women in the Digital Space

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(file photo).
29 November 2019
interview

Bestie Atti is a lawyer and the Founder of Bestie Network Africa, an initiative that is aimed at promoting entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity for women across Africa. In this interview with Maduabuchi Ubani, she shares insight on her journey in digital marketing and the need for entrepreneurs to share their stories of failure as well. Excerpts:

What motivated you into digital media even as a legal practitioner?

After my junior secondary school exams, I spent most of the holiday at a computer centre across my street, learning how to use Microsoft office packages and other computer tools. I think that was what sparked my interest in digital and ICT. I remember my first design was a black diskette, back when we used diskettes as storage devices and it is interesting how much tech and digital media has evolved over the last decade. I didn't pursue that career path, I instead studied law from the University of Benin, attended Nigerian Law School, Abuja and became a lawyer in 2014. But I didn't stop exploring digital platforms.

In 2014, while serving in Abia State during the one year mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program, I was assigned to a World Bank project where they needed a lawyer who was also computer savvy. I joined the project and after my service year, I was retained and offered employment by the organisation.

Around the same time, there was the Google Digital Skills for Africa Project. They were looking for digital skills trainers, so I applied, got trained and started my career in the digital marketing space. Later, I also joined the Facebook Boost Your Business project and carried out some other personal digital and entrepreneurship projects. So far, I have trained and worked with over 4,000 individuals and SMEs across Africa promoting digital skills, digital marketing and entrepreneurship.

How do you think digital marketing can make an impact in the Nigerian economy today?

There has never been a better time to be alive than right now with the level of technological developments across the globe. I always get excited thinking and speaking about it. Digital marketing provides small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which are the drivers of the Nigerian economy an opportunity to do business better. With digital marketing, SMEs can compete with the big corporations in the global economy and it is should not be taken lightly. We've seen small brands and businesses go viral and drive more sales by leveraging on digital marketing platforms, and it also applies to individual brands as well.

SMEs can become more visible with their products and services by leveraging digital tools and resources. In effect, these businesses can reach their target market faster and drive more sales and revenue no matter their location.

With digital marketing, people and businesses can easily be seen, found and heard via any four screen device, e.g. mobile phone, tablet, laptop or desktop, which is very good for the Nigerian economy. Digital marketing is also more affordable than traditional marketing, and provides easy access to customer insights and data.

What can take your focus off digital marketing?

I am an explorer by heart. I love to try new things, new platforms, new inventions. With technology comes innovation and the need to diversify into new markets/ industries. I think my interest in marketing may change in the future but not in digital technology as a phenomenon because I believe digital technology is here to stay and what is important is being able to leverage these tools to improve and solve problems in different sectors; including politics, agriculture, finance, environment, etc. The focus should be how we can use digital technology to transform the above sectors.

What did you have in mind when you started Bestie Network Africa?

Yes, Bestie Network Africa is an initiative focused on promoting education, entrepreneurship, leadership and innovation for young African women. We provide our target audience with tools, resources and opportunities to help them pursue their various life and career goals.

I founded the network as a community where young women could get support to become all they want to be and over the last few years we have built a network of young women in different parts of Africa including Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, etc. Young women who are building businesses and making a difference in their communities.

Having delved into Digital Marketing with so much wealth of experience, where do you think Nigeria is missing it in catching up with global trends?

I think that more than ever before, the world is more connected thanks to technological advancements, which of course has its advantages and disadvantages. To a large extent, Nigeria and Nigerians are more connected to the world and we are more aware of happenings in the world; "aware" being the keyword. And I must say that we have some of the brightest, forward thinking entrepreneurs in the country who are currently leveraging digital technology to bring change to our country and continent. Unfortunately, access is still very slow. According to the We are Social & Hootsuite Digital Report of January 2019, out of the 198 million people in the country, only 98 million people are internet users, which is less than 50%; so we still have a long way to go. Access to fast, reliable and affordable internet service is still a major challenge. Lack of electricity is still a big issue. So many well-meaning entrepreneurs and SMEs are struggling, yet they are the drivers of the Nigerian economy. If we could just get electricity and access to fast and affordable internet in Nigeria right, I believe we'll be able to catch up with the global trend and really transform our economy with digital technology.

You seem to have your hands in every pie. How do you cope with family and work time?

I would say it's all about balance. There's a time for everything, like the Bible says. All the things I do are connected to tech, business and community development so it's easy for me to create balance around them. Also, thanks to digital technology, there are tools that I use to manage my activities to stay productive and efficient.

Would you say you have achieved half your objective for the women empowerment and mentorship programme?

I think we have achieved half of our objectives. My women organisation - Bestie Network Africa is two years old, so far we have built a thriving network of young African women across 14 African countries. Our largest community of women is in Nigeria for very obvious reasons. Fortunately, I have very smart and industrious women on my team and we have recorded success stories over the last two years and yes, we're making a difference. But we are not stopping anytime soon. We'll keep building and raising women entrepreneurs and community leaders.

What next are you bringing on board for the African woman?

My team and I are working on a report that documents the work we have done so far and the impact we have made. We are also working on Business and Community Development Accelerator Programs to empower our community members so that they can build profitable and impactful businesses and non-profit organisations in Africa. Our ultimate goal is to raise women to actively contribute to the development of Africa by providing them with the requisite tools and support.

Clearly, your passion for women living their best lives gave birth to the Women African project. Is passion enough to make one a successful entrepreneur?

Oh no no no! Passion is not enough. It is required because passion is what will wake you up in the morning and push you to go out there to work hard and smart on that project but it is not enough. As an entrepreneur, it is important to be skilled and knowledgeable in the particular field you choose to explore. That's why continuous learning is very essential for any "entrepreneur". Learning has even become easier, thanks to digital technology. Anyone can learn anything online even if you didn't go through the four walls of the university. You can learn from YouTube, Coursera, Udemy and many more online platforms.

So for any entrepreneur, have a passion for what you do but also learn and understand the industry you are in, learn about team building and collaboration because no man is an island, always keep your eyes out for opportunities to create and give value, build trust, build integrity and don't give up. The journey of entrepreneurship is tough, most especially in third world countries like Nigeria but it is not impossible to succeed.

Could you share with us more about your mission to digitise Nigeria?

I have experienced the impact of digital technology in business and our everyday life, despite the limited access to electricity and internet. In 2018, my team and I started the #HerDigitalAfrica project where we trained women and some men on digital skills for free and also commissioned them to train others in their communities. Some of these people have started their own businesses, gained employment as digital marketing experts or trainers in several organizations. That project was in partnership with Digital We Ltd and Google Digital Skills for Africa and ended in April 2019.

We want more people to skill up and be ready for the jobs of the future because it is going to happen whether we like it or not. Robots are already taking over people's jobs, there's artificial intelligence and the likes. In a few years, many of the jobs done by humans will not exist, and that is why we must be prepared for the next. We're still looking for more organisations to partner to bring similar projects so that we can continue preaching the digital gospel.

What/who has been your motivating factor over time?

My parents motivate me a whole lot. When I consider their lives, what they've been through and survived, and all they were able to achieve with the little they had in their time when there was little or no access to the internet and digital resources, compared to what my generation currently has, it's amazing and inspiring for me. On days when I feel overwhelmed, because we all get there sometimes, I remember them, pick myself up and stay grateful.

When it comes to your line of entrepreneurship, what are the pitfalls that starters can avoid?

Firstly, my advice to anyone starting is to not think too much about the process. Instead, get to work. Sometimes, we get stuck over thinking the process and that can paralyse you.

Secondly, don't try to figure things out on your own. Look for people who have gone ahead of you, mentors who you can stand on their shoulders, who can show you how it's done and learn from them.

When it comes to digital entrepreneurship, there are ample resources on the internet at the moment, and there's a possibility that you'll find someone who is in that field or doing something similar. Reach out and ask questions. Ask for help.

Thirdly, don't consider money or capital as a stumbling block. I have learnt in business and with working with entrepreneurs that lack of capital is not the problem, the problem is usually lack of understanding of the particular industry and failure to put proper business structures in place.

Why do you think entrepreneurs need to share their failure failure as well?

Entrepreneurship is not as rosy as it appears. Just like life, it comes with good times and not so good times. Unfortunately, social media has created a sense of falsehood around business and entrepreneurship, especially because anyone can be behind their phones or laptops and say or upload whatever they want you to believe.

I think failure is what helps us to assess ourselves to determine where we got it wrong so we can make it right. Failure is what helps us to succeed. If you don't fail, you won't know what you need to do differently to succeed. If you don't fail, you may sometimes not know when you have succeeded. Failure is not a curse.

So it's important that we tell the truth about entrepreneurshipbecause I have seen entrepreneurs get depressed because they failed at some point in the journey, meanwhile it is part of the journey and the experience. It is part of what refines us as entrepreneurs.

What are your plans and vision for the future?

I have a daughter and more than ever before, I am more determined to contribute my skills and expertise to help build a new Nigeria and Africa that my child can be proud of. A Nigeria that is free from poverty and corruption. A Nigeria that we can all be proud of. I have made it part of my life's mission to do all that I can to not fail my generation and the generation to come.

What is your take on mentoring in your line of work?

I am a product of mentorship. I have been fortunate enough to have mentors who gladly and willingly let me climb on their shoulders so that I can get to my destination easily and I also have mentees.

So, I would say mentorship is important and necessary. Everyone needs a mentor. It is important however for both mentor and mentee to not abuse the relationship, especially for mentees. I'll refer to this warri saying: "climb my shoulder nor mean say make you press me die". Your mentor is not supposed to do everything for you, they are there to guide and support you.

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