There is no stopping the LR Team’s quest of “borderless motivation”. There is no stalling our celebration of ordinary persons doing extraordinary things. Our last guest feature was a Professor of Obstetrics and Gyneacology, who is contributing to saving mamas’ lives and helping them deliver healthy babies. This week, like one of the LR Team members said, “I am so excited, because it would take a million light years for any one of our readers to guess who our guest feature is and how the world is made a better place by people like this”.
Hands up, if you know what “Akara” is!
Wikipedia describes “Akara” as a dish made from peeled beans formed into a ball and then deep-fried in dendê (palm oil). It is found in West African and Brazilian cuisines. A recipe taken to Brazil by the slaves from the West African coast. Akara is found in West African countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Mali, Gambia, Sierra Leone and also traditionally encountered in Brazil’s north-eastern state of Bahia, especially in the city of Salvador, often as street food.
So, what does Akara have to do on this “borderless motivational” space?
AKARA – I BELIEVE I CAN FRY
Chinenye Stellamary Odili, the lady who has brought swag to the making of Akara has the answer – happy inspirational reading!
Chi-Chi Ventures, is a budding business focused on the hygienic production and selling of Akara, a staple breakfast meal in Nigeria. This business was conceived about two years ago; to be precise on Friday 30th January 2015, while I was still an undergraduate, just about to graduate from the University of Abuja Nigeria. It was borne not only out of my fear of being idle, but also, my desire to improve on the existing market and to carve a niche in the highly competitive Nigerian Entrepreneurial terrain.
Chinenye hails from the Igbo Nation, one of the three (3) major tribes in Nigeria, wherein there is an Igbo proverb which says ‘Aka Ajaja n’ ebute Onu Nmanunmanu’ this proverb when translated means ‘when you allow your hands to be soiled, it will eventually make your mouth to be oiled’ it goes on further to mean that ‘when you work hard, you cannot go hungry’. In my life I have always been spurred on by these words of wisdom.
It is no surprise that many people are curious to know who the brain behind this customer-friendly business is. I am Chinenye Stellamary Odili, from Ifitedunu in Dunukofias Local Government Area of Anambra State. I was born into a family of four in the late eighties. The second child, and ‘first amazing daughter’ as my dad often says. I attended the great University of Abuja, Vantage International Secondary School Port-Harcourt. I graduated as an Accountant in 2014 before going fully into the Akara business.
UNIVERSITY LIFE AND AKARA THOUGHT
I have always had a passion to serve and attend to others, giving them the desired satisfaction. Therefore, when the lacuna arose with nothing to do, it was not difficult for me to decide on exactly what to do, to make the most of the time and plug the gap. So it happened, that after my final year project in the university, we heard from the grape vine that our set would not be going for NYSC (National Youth Service Corp) immediately. NYSC year is the mandatory one-year service to our nation after graduating from the university. Looking at the time lag from October 2014 to November 2015 it seemed too far because I had already developed a phobia for inactivity during the ASUU and UniAbuja strikes when I was in university. I could not imagine myself staying at home for that long doing nothing while waiting for the NYSC Service year to start.
So, as my mind oscillated from one idea to the other, I remembered the woman in front of my School gate who fries Akara in the evening. “Chinenye, you already know how to make Akara, so why not go and visit this lady and learn any further tips you can?” I said to myself. However what I was planning to do after perfecting the Akara making skills and other useful tips from this lady became a heavy burden in my heart. How do I tell my close family and friends that I was tempted to become an “Akara seller” after just obtaining an accounting degree? These thoughts weighed me down and gave me cold feet. After a few weeks, I picked up the courage saying to myself that ‘I CAN DO IT’ and off I went to understudy my mentor.
STARTING UP THE BUSINESS AND THE SOCIAL STIGMA
Starting up the business proper was a big problem because nobody supported my idea. Losing my friends in the process was the biggest shock I did not anticipate. Even my loving Mum could not understand why I wanted to fry Akara . The societal belief and stigma in Nigeria is that the average Akara seller is not educated and belongs to the lowly social strata. The stereotype is that of a woman who at best is a Secondary School dropout, without any hope of landing a high paying office job and without the finance and intellect to start a mini small scale business – that is the Akara fryer. It becomes clearer now why my mother was worried. This stereotype is everything I am not.
Many intending entrepreneurs would first calculate that selling Akara, is dirty and degrading before even considering it as a promising and profitable venture. They cannot see beyond the curtain of this stereotype and fail to realise how the economy can be enhanced and many persons empowered, by creating a service- providing small to medium scale business that caters to the feeding needs of Nigerians.
I withdrew all the money in my account to buy the items needed to for an average Akara business such as oil, beans, yam, plantain and potatoes in the same vein I used all my School things like frying pans, spoons, turning sticks, 5kg gas cylinder with the remaining gas inside it and even my reading table and chair, to start up the business that faithful evening Friday 30th January 2015
CHALLENGES OF THE BUSINESS
Every business has what I call the ‘early stage challenges’ of which mine was not an exception. However, The challenges I encountered, aside from the usual “teething” challenges of starting new businesses have been unique. Apart from the stigmatization, which I have mentioned above, I had to deal with the incessant hassle by the men of the Abuja Environmental Task Force. Furthermore, there was the logistic challenge of finding a proper means of conveying my bought items to my place of sales. Customers paying with counterfeit money during the early morning rush hours amounted to unavoidable losses, which were a sad recurrence in the early days.
There was also the challenge of men trying to capitalize on the nature of the business hence, seeking to take advantage of “the said local Akara girl”. Getting employees was another big huddle. Finding other young girls or boys who would be loyal, respectful, hardworking, honest and who will be ready to maintain the high standards of excellence I require has not been easy. This is because they cannot imagine themselves becoming Akara sellers and as a result of that would not persevere for long before they quit the job. Some customers are impossible and disrespectful because in their minds the Akara seller does not belong to the intellectual class deserving respect, but I am working to kill the myth that frying Akara is mainly for poor and uneducated people.
After one year in this business, it has started yielding profit far beyond my expectation. I now have two very dedicated employees working with me. With their help, we are able to prepare and serve Akara in the most hygienic of environs and offer our customers a dedicated friendly and effective service.
PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
My plan for the future is to set up a garden which will be more conducive and accommodating and also to prepare more delicacies in order to satisfy my customers’ needs ranging from Akara, Yam and Pap to other local delicacies. Also, I am looking at expanding to be able to make home deliveries and empower more women and willing men to start this business. We cannot afford to wait on the government all the time to give us “white collar jobs” let’s get “ creative and dirty” as we jointly empower ourselves and industrially revolutionize our Nation.
All of us at the LR Team simply think this lady is just plain amazing and a real goal getter! When the team was first notified about her by a call from one of our readers, resident in Abuja, we were a bit surprised. Two months later, another person sends us an email, telling us about the same lady. At this point, an LR Team member was assigned to research, contact and review what this lady does. Our research confirmed how this ‘ordinary’ young lady and her team are making an ‘extra-ordinary’ impact. ‘Chinenye is very brave’ stated the Nigerian member of our team assigned to work on this story. “Why?” asked two of our team members of non-Nigerian origin. However, suffice it to say that by the time they both completed proof reading this work, the first one said: ‘this lady is simply resilient’ while the other stated “we all have a lot to learn from this – it pays to defy stereotypes”. The Chinenye(s) of our world deserve to be celebrated. This is a classic example of J.F Kennedy’s quote from is 1961 inaugural address being actualized: ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. Chinenye and her team are doing something for their country and for mankind. What are you doing for your own country and by extension mankind? It is time dear readers, for us to hit the comments section.