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Daily Trust - - BUSINESS - By Vic­to­ria Onehi and Olayemi JohnMen­sah

Ug­wunna Ehi Com­fort al­most lost hope when she wanted to start a school in 2004 due to lack of funds. All ef­forts to get a loan from de­vel­op­ment and com­mer­cial banks failed. But she re­fused to give-up.

With her sav­ings and some fi­nan­cial sup­port from fam­ily and friends, Com­fort be­gan Global Model Academy in DeiDei, an Abuja sub­urb.

“The be­gin­ning was rough. We started with four rented thatched class­rooms; four pupils and two teach­ers.

“The ma­jor chal­lenge I faced as an en­tre­pre­neur was fi­nance. My fi­nance was very lim­ited and most peo­ple did not have con­fi­dence to give a woman any fa­cil­ity/loan. The banks asked for col­lat­eral and I did not have col­lat­eral to give though I had a gen­uine busi­ness idea. So, with my sav­ings and lit­tle sup­port from fam­ily mem­bers, I started out,” she nar­rated.

Com­fort said hav­ing started; they made do with the lit­tle fees from pupils. “There were a lot of sac­ri­fices. Then, I was not earn­ing any salary. At the end of the term, any money we gen­er­ated, we used it to build a class­room or fa­cil­ity that we needed. My hus­band then will use his salary to pay staff, just to keep the school go­ing. And when an­other term starts, we started from scratch again.

“Along the line, how­ever, we ap­proached the Abuja Enterprise Agency for a loan. When they saw the ef­forts we have made on our own, the agency gave us a loan. They did not ask for any­thing. They only had con­fi­dence in what we were able to do and we have not dis­ap­pointed them. Now we have over 20 teach­ers and the pop­u­la­tion of the school is over 250 pupils and stu­dents.

“We built more struc­tures and have good lab­o­ra­to­ries and our school has been ac­cred­ited to write WAEC, NECO and NABTEB,” she ex­plained.

For Hal­ima Abba, CEO of Mal­abis Lin­ge­ria, fund­ing still re­mains a big chal­lenge for fe­male en­trepreneurs.

“Most times, more men tend to get loan than women. There is just the per­cep­tion that women can­not man­age fi­nances. But funny enough, women are bet­ter man­agers. Most women you give loan will re­pay the loan, but men will take-off. Be­fore, when you go to the banks ask­ing for loan, they just look at you but now they are chang­ing. Some banks have pro­grammes geared to­wards women. First Bank has FirstGEM geared to­wards women, Ac­cess Bank has its W ini­tia­tive too. But then, they will say come and take loan but when you get there, it’s a dif­fer­ent ball game,” she said.

How­ever, Hal­ima said she found an al­ter­na­tive way of get­ting fund for her busi­ness.

“In my own busi­ness, I found an­other way of sourc­ing for funds. We do ‘adashe’/ con­tri­bu­tion. There is spe­cific time you get your own money; it works and you plan to­wards it. You could do N10,000 or N100,000 and get N1 mil­lion. It is an in­de­pen­dent way of sourc­ing for your own fi­nance,” she ex­plained.

Jolly Nnenna Abani, CEO of Spices Lounge, a di­vi­sion of Mother of Mod­els Fash­ion, Video and Au­dio Pro­duc­tion, said get­ting fi­nan­cial sup­port for busi­ness has not been easy, adding that most times her movies are self-spon­sored.

Ac­cess­ing loan has been a her­culean task for her as a re­sult of lack of prop­erty to of­fer as col­lat­eral. “I have not been able to take loan be­cause of col­lat­eral at­tached to ac­cess­ing loan. I don’t have a house in Abuja to use for col­lat­eral or landed prop­erty. That is all they al­ways asked for when you are pro­cess­ing loan.”

How­ever, speak­ing on the is­sue of fund­ing for women and small busi­nesses at the re­cently con­cluded Mi­cro, Small and Medium En­ter­prises (MSMEs) Clinic in Abuja, the Deputy Di­rec­tor , De­vel­op­ment Fi­nance of Cen­tral Bank of Nigeria, Mr Osita Nwanisobi, said the N220 bil­lion MSMEs’ loan could be ac­cessed through mi­cro­fi­nance banks, fi­nan­cial co­op­er­a­tives and fi­nance com­pa­nies.

He said: “To em­power the women, and women in par­tic­u­lar, be­cause we recog­nise that women have fi­nanc­ing chal­lenges, we tar­geted about 60 per cent of this funds to go to the women folk,” adding that “112,000 women have ac­cessed the MSMEs loan.”

Nwanisobi, said sta­tis­tics from SMEDAN and McKin­sey & Com­pany showed that Nigeria has 9.6 tril­lion fi­nanc­ing gap for MSMEs.

“When you see this, you be­gin to see the enor­mity of the chal­lenges that we have. And when you bor­row this money, you need to pay so that oth­ers can get it,” he added.

Sim­i­larly, the Tech­ni­cal Ad­viser to the Vice Pres­i­dent on Mi­cro, Small and Medium En­ter­prises, Mr Tola John­son, while speak­ing dur­ing a visit to some small busi­ness own­ers prior to the MSMEs clinic, said the govern­ment saluted the courage of Nige­ri­ans do­ing small busi­nesses. “Given the harsh chal­lenges/con­di­tions some of them face, they try to live above the wa­ters. Govern­ment will try and per­form its own role. Were govern­ment can sup­port, were the pri­vate sec­tor can sup­port, let them try and sup­port.

“The truth is that sin­cere Nige­ri­ans who start up busi­nesses will al­ways grow. Like this woman (re­fer­ring to Com­fort) who owns this school, she has been given sev­eral loans by AEA and she has not de­faulted in any. Now she is go­ing to get school buses be­cause she has col­lected funds which she has paid back. If you col­lect a fa­cil­ity and don’t pay back, then you can­not go back to that place,” he said.

The Project Of­fi­cer, FCT at the Bank of In­dus­try (BOI) said for small busi­ness own­ers who have in­vested in their busi­nesses al­ready and have gen­er­ated em­ploy­ment, BOI will as­sist and en­cour­age them.

How­ever, Mrs Ekaette Umoh, founder and MD/CEO of Busi­ness Sup­port Mi­cro­fi­nance Bank, Abuja, a Char­tered Ac­coun­tant, while speak­ing on why some women found it dif­fi­cult to ac­cess loan said some peo­ple were not able to ac­cess loan be­cause they were not qual­i­fied.

“There are some qual­i­fi­ca­tions you must have. You can be asked of your bank state­ment, busi­ness name, what your busi­ness goals are, your busi­ness plan and how sell­able your idea, prod­uct or ser­vice is. There has to be some ev­i­dence that you are in­ter­ested and se­ri­ous. An ev­i­dence that your money is in the busi­ness. Not that you want to start busi­ness, and you want a bank to give you loan to start and you have no idea how the busi­ness works. When you start with your work­ing cap­i­tal and they see how it works, the bank will give you the loan. ”

Umoh stressed that some­times , some peo­ple didn’t even need a loan. “Again, some of them don’t even need loans be­cause they have not done the ground work they need to do. And for some of them, the money they think they need as loan, they al­ready have it but didn’t look in that di­rec­tion.

So you have to look at your­self first. There are some things we have that we don’t need. If we sell such things we can raise some money,” she said.

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