Here on Whoot Africa, we not only showcase brands, but we also talk to the people behind those brands and have them share with us their back stories as well as give tips on how to successfully start and run a business.
Welcome to Whoot Africa’s – 15 Questions with the CEO.
Today, we will be talking with Mary Olushoga, CEO of The AWP Network.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and the AWP Network?
Mary Olushoga is a committed leader passionate about small business growth and positive development in Africa. She is founder of www.awpnetwork.com, an enterprise given honourable distinction at the 2012 World Summit Youth Award (WSYA) and listed as a 2012 Apps4Africa Innovation. She is the first-ever GOOD Maker/Oxfam America International Women’s Day Challenge Winner, a Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) Associate, and an Oxfam America Sisters on the Planet Ambassador. Mary received a bachelor’s degree from Union College in Schenectady, New York and a Master of Science degree from Baruch College. She has served as a Public Policy Fellow at the University at Albany, Center for Women in Government and Civil Society and most recently participated in the Sub-Saharan African Women In Public Service Fall Institute. Mary has featured on BBC World News, BET.com, Black Enterprise.com, the Columbia University Africa Economic Forum, the Rockefeller Foundation Tech Salon, the UN ECOSOC Youth Employment Forum, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, and the United States Department of Labor Add Us In Initiative on Inclusion, Entrepreneurship, and Disability. Her articles have featured in The Huffington post, Sahara Reporters, Omojuwa.com, and Applause Africa magazine.
The AWP Network seeks to eradicate poverty and unemployment by supporting women and youth entrepreneurs through business education, implementable strategies, and innovative solutions.
Currently, awpnetwork.com is an online platform powering small business success for African Entrepreneurs through business resources, educational tools, and community support. We are an internationally recognized award-winning small business platform that is dedicated to showcasing the entrepreneurial stories, business challenges, and successes of African women and youths.
We provide business education content such as webinars, competitions, and interviews about the start-up culture – with a particular focus on African women and youth entrepreneurs. We also provide inspiration by sharing these stories and help to promote the “I can do” mentality. In addition, we are a facilitator of business resources and it is our goal to help turn dreams into a reality.
2. How did you get started in Business and what did it take for you to get to where you are today, to also be able to lend a hand and a strong voice for Women in business?
My father was an entrepreneur and I’ve spent many years in the small business industry. The truth of the matter is that I am good at what I do because I love what I do, so that makes it all worthwhile.
3. What were you doing before the AWP Network kicked off?
I was a small business advisor as well as project and program manager at Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence. At the time, the organization was supported and sponsored by American Express Open. Count Me In provides support to women entrepreneurs throughout the United States
4. Did you know that you were going to be an Entrepreneur all along or did it happen by chance?
My grandparents and parents were entrepreneurs – so I always knew that I would enjoy being an entrepreneur.
5. What do you love most about your business and your life as an Entrepreneur and a “Women for excellence and success “advocate?
My favourite part is helping small businesses see their possibilities. Impact: We have engaged over 100 small business women and youth entrepreneurs throughout Africa and in the diaspora through webinars.
Webinar topics were selected based on small business trends – and included conversations on (1) how to use mobile technology to start, expand, and move business ideas forward, (2) the use of marketing, branding, and PR tools to start, grow, and expand business ideas, (3) building personal development brand and developing a personal brand strategy – program participants found these topics useful and educative.
These workshops have also helped entrepreneurs move on to the next level so that they can continue to position themselves for success.
Here are some of the feedbacks from our clients:
•Fabulous news Mary! I got into the business training program that you recommended. I just got the call. I am very, very happy. Thank you for all of your encouragement and advice. I was about giving up but you did not let me. I do hope that you won’t mind talking more about the program with me later. For now I have to start putting things in place for the program. I basically have only a week to prep for it.
Thanks again – YOU are awesome.
•Thanks Mary for such a great opportunity to work with you – I have never dreamt of such. God bless you real good.
•I love your online training, yet to recover from the webinar on mobile technology and entrepreneurship. Kudos to you guys, Keep up the good work!
6. What keeps you and the AWP Network team motivated?
What keeps us motivated is the simple fact that we are able to create value, change lives, and make an impact no matter how small. We are focused on creating a more just and equitable world by working with African entrepreneurs and empowering communities to plan and realize their futures.
7. What do you think are the most important personal skills someone must have to be successful in business?
You must be willing to learn and network – so people skills are very important here. In business, you will always need people. You must also be knowledgeable and prepared for anything – the best and the worst.
You must be willing to take advantage of opportunities as they come but this can only happen when you are prepared
8. How do you see yourself and the AWP Network in 5-10years from now?
We plan to continue to grow AWP into a global brand. Although we have a plan, we try as much as possible to live in the present.
9. What are the obstacles you encountered in your business journey and how did you overcome them?
Well challenges are a good thing – it forces us to redefine who we are as an organization and keep re-strategizing.
10. How would you describe your leadership style?
I describe myself as a committed, passionate, and inspirational leader.
11. Have you ever had to deal with the “Women Rivalry syndrome” and how do you encourage woman to look beyond the “label” of being their own worst enemies to bring out the best of their potentials and work together?
What’s wrong with competition – absolutely nothing! One thing that I know is that not all women are mentors and not all women want to help other women and I think that’s fine. To those of us that want to support, help, or mentor – we will continue to do so. My advice is this, when you find a woman who inspires you or wants to serve as a mentor, – stay in touch, ask questions, be humble, be authentic, be open to learning, and more importantly listen. Women have a lot of offer the world.
12. Who was the most influential person or mentor in your life?
It would be unfair to mention names and to choose one particular person but different people have made an impact on my life at different times.
13. What was the BIGGEST risk you’ve taken?
I have taken many risks and I’ve had many failures. One of the risks is leaving my 9 – 5 to start AWP. It was well worth it and I do not regret my decision.
14. What do you think about college education? Should kids go to college now or get into business if they feel it’s a better choice? Considering some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs never had a college education, your thoughts?
I have a Master’s degree therefore I cannot undermine the importance of a college education. Going to school is different from getting an education – or the act of learning. Someone determined to make a difference in the world might become very impatient when it comes to making that difference and for those people, I think that they are entitled to “skip” the process of formal education but that does not mean that they are not learned. In fact, many “great” entrepreneurs as you describe, are very proactive and are self-taught experts. They go out there, try new things, fail, fail again, and don’t stop learning. It’s very experimental but there is no right or wrong way to learning or getting educated. It all depends on the kind of person that you are. Not everyone bears that kind of self-motivation to keep trying new things or has the guts to go for it.
15. What would be the most important piece of advice you could give to young entrepreneurs and why?
Three (3) R’s come to mind:
- Be Relevant – this is very important because if you are not relevant your work will not be recognized. Questions to think about are: (a) what problem are you solving? If you are relevant and solving a problem, I strongly believe that you will create impact.
- Be Relatable – Can people identify with your product or service? Do you have a target audience or market? Are you providing good customer service? These are some of the questions that you need to think about as you try to be relatable to your market segment.
- Be Realistic – Is your idea plausible? Have you created something of value? Will your idea make money? Can you handle risk? – The questions that I pose are important questions to answer as you think about qualities that you need to become an entrepreneur.
I also think that it is important to remember that everything takes hard work and you have to keep going and be willing to fail. Depending on your type of business, you also may not make money in the first two years and the question that you need to deal with is: Are you in a position in your life where you are not afraid to take or handle risk or failures? If you are not in that position, then it’s best to keep your day job.
Lastly, it is very important to remember that not everyone can become an entrepreneur.
There are many tips to share but follow us on @Africwomenpower to learn more on how to move your business from idea to execution. After reading this interview, email us if you have more questions or concerns at theawpnetwork [at] gmail.com.