‘Mentoring changes lives forever’

‘Mentoring changes lives forever’

Internationally-acclaimed business consultant and President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mrs Toki Mabogunje, is living her passion to nurture young and budding entrepreneurs into global players. The is also bringing her skills, expertise and experience in public and private sectors to bear on running the affairs of LCCI as the leading voice of the Organised Private Sector (OPS) in Nigeria. Assistant Editor OKWY IROEGBU-CHIKEZIE writes.

For business consultant and President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mrs Toki Mabogunje, nothing, perhaps, can be more rewarding than to see as many business mentees as possible blossom into successful global players. This is why she seems to get her thrill from offering fresh ideas to young and budding entrepreneurs, through structured mentoring programmes, to solving their routine problems, particularly those relazting to the growth and management of their enterprises.

“One thing about mentoring is that you can change a person’s life forever and help people achieve their goals. It also helps people to develop their strength, identify and overcome their weaknesses and to have a plan for their businesses separate from their homes, Mrs Mabogunje, who is also founder, Toki Mabogunje and Co. (TMC), a firm focused on SME development, said, adding that ”it (mentoring) is a very experiential way of giving people opportunity to learn.”

As proof of her mentoring prowess, she has designed a mentoring programme for the chamber with over 300 companies in the past eight years. She also designed and implemented a five-year mentoring programme for students at her alma mater, Holy Child College, Lagos. The programme is in its fourth year with over 400 students enrolled in it, and it has proven to be sustainable.

Indeed, the programmes have been successful. “Every mentee l have had is unique and have made leaps in success,” Mrs Mabogunje said.

It wasn’t an empty claim. One of her mentees went from having a pre-school nursery facility to setting up a full-fledged primary school. Another one went from not knowing and being sure of herself to being an owner of a thriving furniture company.

Yet, another mentee, who joined a company, where it wasn’t possible to be promoted within three years, was promoted within a year. “The thing about mentoring is that they (mentees) will continue to be with you throughout your life; they develop the ‘l- can-do spirit’. You continue to see them progress in life,” Mrs Mabogunje emphasised, pointing out that it’s not only women that she mentors, but young and budding entrepreneurs male and female.

Mrs Mabogunje has also mentored many on the Federal Government’s Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YOU WIN) for two years and served on the programme’s panel of judges. YOU WIN was launched on October 11, 2011 by former President Goodluck Jonathan. It was aimed at empowering over 100,000 youths financially to establish their own businesses and to be self-reliance.

She recalled that in a particular year, when Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was the Finance Minister, the YOU WIN programme was just for women. Mrs Mabogunje said in her journey in mentoring, she has seen young minds come up with the most fantastic ideas for business. “They are not as much as concerned with the limitations but the possibility of rising above them such as bad road, poor electricity and dearth of infrastructure generally,” she said.

According to her, these young Nigerians, despite being born into no light, road or water, are primed to overcome the challenges of bad road, epileptic power supply and lack of water. “They develop a positive attitude and ‘can-do spirit’ to succeed. I have the privilege of offering them fresh ideas to solve ordinary routine problems, Mrs Mabogunje added.

But how did this woman achiever and business consultant develop her interest in the growth and management of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) via mentoring? Her qualifications appear to have made her career choice a natural fit.

Mrs Mabogunje has a degree in Law from the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, and a postgraduate degree in International Business Law from the University of Exeter, England.

She also had executive management training in Strategic Organisation and Management at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, California, United States of America, training in SME Policy Design and Project Implementation, Enterprise Development through value chains and business service markets (both from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Training Centre in Turin, Italy) and several workshops and seminars all related to the development of SMEs.

Mrs Mabogunje’s international exposure also boosted her interest in business development. Apart from representing her company at several international fora, she has consulted for various development organisations including the World Bank, British Council, Department for International (DfID), ILO, Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPI), German International Aid Organisation (GIZ), and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Her extensive international engagements afforded her the opportunity to see the kind of policy framework other countries have to enable businesses thrive and the environment that enabled them to succeed.

“Unlike here, men and women battle to succeed and I made up my mind to come back and make it possible for others to succeed.  I came back at the beginning of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 1979,” Mrs Mabogunjesaid, noting that, before then, there was lack of awareness of the huge potential in SMEs and the need to support them.

Over the past 37 years, she has also been involved in commercial and business enterprise from both the public and private sectors’ perspective. For instance, she was at some point Assistant Legal Adviser to the Minister of Defence and later Senior State Council in the Mercantile and Industrial Law Department of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Nigeria.

The LCCI chief was also involved in public sector policy formulation, regulation and monitoring of commerce and industry nationwide. She also provided legal advice to the Federal Government in its cross-border business negotiations with other governments and commercial enterprises worldwide.

Her exploits in the private sector have also been sterling. She worked as Company Secretary, Group Head Legal and Corporate Affairs for a start-up broadcast enterprise, which grew into a global business concern, known as Minaj Media Group. She was part of a dynamic management team that grew this local broadcast firm into a satellite television.

Her experience with Minaj Media Group extended to other markets within Africa, Europe, and the United States. Her management expertise and skills earned her the position of president of Minaj Inc., which is the American subsidiary of the group.

Nearer home, she founded TMC in January 2000. The company’s aim was to make business easier for companies in Nigeria. Headquartered in the thriving business district of Ikeja, Lagos, TMC has since grown from a sole-proprietorship into a partnership with other professionals who use their valuable skills and experience to serve the business needs of a wide variety of clients.

They include international development partners, the public service, SMEs, foreign investors, large corporates, and a few Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs). With ‘… nurturing enterprises for growth’ as its tagline, TMC has, in the past 20 years, been delivering top notch business development services not only in Nigeria, but also in other parts of Africa.

Some of the company’s services, which are supported by its diverse business network and reliable corporate alliances both local and international, include due diligence, capacity building, business plan development, corporate strategy, business advisory, legal advisory, project development, growth management, access to finance, knowledge and skills management.

Mrs Mabogunje’s transition from the public to the private sector gave her a well-rounded perspective of business enterprise in the Nigerian, African and global business environment. And the sufficient strength and expertise she drew from traversing both sectors are being replicated at the LCCI where she has been giving the Chamber’s advocacy agenda a fresh boost.

Indeed, since last December, when she became LCCI’s third female president, the chamber, which is the representative organ of the business community and the leading voice of the OPS, has probably never had it so good in its 132-year-old history. The foremost private sector group has continued to wax stronger.

For instance, under her charge, the chamber’s engagement with the government  to improve the business environment has been robust. She has continued to push for more improvements around the ease of doing business initiatives, as well as other policies that will positively impact businesses and lives of Nigerians.

One of the issues that have topped the LCCI’s advocacy agenda, and which Mrs Mabogunje has been quite vociferous, is the country’s rising debt portfolio. “We are deeply concerned about the country’s rising debt portfolio without corresponding impact on output growth and economic development, she said.

Citing statistics from the Debt Management Office, she lamented that Nigeria’s public debt stock grew by eight per cent to N31 trillion at the end of the second quarter, which, according to her, is equivalent to 21 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The LCCI chief, however, noted that the increase in public debt stock was fuelled by fresh domestic and external borrowings required to plug the wider fiscal deficit in the revised 2020 Budget given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on oil and non-oil sources of revenue, as well as the impact of recent exchange rate depreciation on the country’s level of external indebtedness.

“The growing level of the country’s debt is fast becoming unsustainable in the light of dwindling oil prices and production. Our position is that this high level of debt servicing continues to hinder robust investments in hard and soft infrastructure, which are key to stimulating productivity and improving living standards.

“We seek for the implementation of policies that will improve the lives of the people. The government should partner the private sector to achieve common goals. In addition, there is a need to dispose and free dead assets to invest it in infrastructure development,” Mrs Mabogunje said.

Despite striving to strike a better deal for businesses, particularly SMEs, the business consultant, in her spare time, still expresses her creativity in writing poetry. She started writing at 17, and has since co-authored some poetry publications, interestingly, with her second son, Damola Mabogunje, who took after her in literary works.

One of their works entitled: “The Duet,” published in 2009, was an anthology of poems, and was performed in theatre in 2011 and 2013.  The work is available online at Amazon.com, other platforms and bookshops.

Some of her poems have also been published in the Anthology of Nigerian Literature by the PEN International Nigerian Centre entitled: “Silver Lining.”

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