CEIBS Alumni in Spotlight | Empowering Change: Yemi Chukwurah's Journey of Entrepreneurship and Social Responsibility

Yemi

Yemi Chukwurah is a successful entrepreneur from Nigeria, celebrated for her transformative journey from initiating a modest uniform supply to spearheading a flourishing textile enterprise, Seams and Stitches Ltd. A proud alumna of two programmes at CEIBS, Yemi attributes a significant part of her success to the invaluable learning experiences at the school. Beyond her business achievements, she is also committed to fostering cross-continental business ties and nurturing local talent.

As we celebrate CEIBS's 30th anniversary this year, we also celebrate her nearly decade-long journey with us, showcasing the enduring impact of our institution.

A passionate advocate for female entrepreneurship, Yemi challenges traditional competitive dynamics among women by promoting collaboration and mutual support. Her initiatives, including providing microloans to women deemed "unbankable," have empowered over a hundred female entrepreneurs, showcasing the transformative power of small-scale financial support. Through her actions, Yemi exemplifies CEIBS WELA alumni’s deep commitment to social responsibility, paving the way for a brighter future through collective empowerment and support.

CEIBS: Shaping the Fabric of Yemi's Entrepreneurial Destiny

Originally a literature student, Yemi's entrepreneurial journey began unexpectedly while working for a local company. Tasked with sourcing uniforms from the UK, she faced disappointment with the quality and suitability of the products for Nigeria's climate and environment. Recognizing a gap in the market, Yemi was inspired to leverage her mother's legacy in tailoring to start her own venture. In 2015, her early successes led to a Women Entrepreneurship and Leadership for Africa (WELA) scholarship opportunity at CEIBS, which she describes as a "game changer."

"It was mind-blowing," Yemi recalls. She soaked in the learning and took steps to improve her operations by visiting textile companies in China, gaining deep first-hand knowledge about manufacturing processes and production management.

Strategic Reinvention: Returning to CEIBS for More!

During her time in China, Yemi acquired foundational knowledge for her business's evolution. The need for further development prompted her return to CEIBS in 2018 for the CEIBS Owner Director Programme (ODP), which led to a strategic overhaul of her business model.

"I realised I could do even better with an improved enterprise strategy. I hadn’t gotten it right. I needed to go back to the drawing board." Consequently, Yemi closed her previous business and established a new structure. Today, she thrives with her five businesses along the entire textile value chain. "We changed our entire production process," Yemi says. Her ability to supply textiles on time, with consistent quality and competitive prices, has made her a key supplier for many brands and hospitality chains. Her fabric is partly imported from China and partly locally sourced, ensuring a broad supplier base.

"We now have a China delivery timeline without the shipping period," Yemi notes. By incorporating Nigerian design into t-shirts and hoodies, she even exports textiles to Europe and North America, where she has a following in the Nigerian diaspora. "We have a clear growth plan that we put into action!"

Alumni reunion

The Dual Faces of Entrepreneurship in Nigeria: Overcoming Challenges and Seizing Opportunities

Yemi's journey underscores the challenges and opportunities inherent in Nigeria's business landscape. Despite obstacles such as inconsistent power supply, exchange rate fluctuations, and bureaucratic hurdles, she has demonstrated remarkable resilience. Now in its 24th year, her business thrives on self-reliance and innovative problem-solving, setting a precedent for success in challenging environments.

"In Nigeria, as an entrepreneur, you do everything on your own!" Yemi states. "I generate my own power, I pump my own water, I fix my own road." Yet, she finds it rewarding, considering Nigeria one of the best places to run a business due to the direct implementation of global business insights into her local market.

Yemi is optimistic about Nigeria's economic future, citing the country's burgeoning population and untapped market potential as key drivers for growth. She also highlights the cost of production, a growing labour market, and improvements in production management as positive factors. The establishment of more factories simplifies the procurement of products for supply chains directly within Nigeria. Additionally, as an oil-producing country, Nigeria offers better fuel security and prices than other places.

Yemi contrasts the saturated opportunities in the West with Africa's vast possibilities, especially in manufacturing and production, where Nigeria offers significant advantages. "Opportunities in the West are kind of maxed out, but in Africa, there is a lot of untapped potential," she states. The ease of doing business and the expanding labour market are among the positive factors she emphasises.

The CEIBS Connection: Fostering China-Africa Business Links

Drawing on her early experiences, Yemi learned much from the textile industry in China. Today, she aids Chinese companies looking to expand their production into Nigeria.

Yemi's involvement with the textile industry in China has not only enhanced her business acumen, but also established her as a crucial link between Chinese companies and the Nigerian market. Her advice to Chinese enterprises exploring opportunities in Nigeria showcases the tangible benefits of the CEIBS network in enabling cross-continental collaboration.

Yemi

Re-writing the Narrative of Female Entrepreneurship Through Community Outreach

Yemi is passionate not only about her own success but also about supporting her community to achieve their growth objectives. She observes that traditionally, women were competing for the attention of their male superiors, leading to a reluctance to help one another. However, this dynamic is shifting. "One man can have five wives, and they all compete for the husband's attention. So naturally, we weren't collaborating. But that narrative is changing now. You see a lot of women entrepreneurs working together, and the growth is remarkable."

Together with the 2015 Nigeria class of the CEIBS WELA programme, Yemi launched the “The WELA Angel Investor Initiative” to provide small credits to women who were previously considered unbankable because their working capital was less than fifty or even twenty dollars. Not only have all these women repaid their loans in full after a year, they have also used the funds to invest in their own small businesses. With these small loans, they can significantly impact their own lives and those of their children. Over the past four years, they have reached more than a hundred women and plan to expand further. Yemi hopes more people will support this cause, not only financially but also by mentoring these female entrepreneurs and providing access to technological solutions. Yemi proudly states, "We are changing narratives about female leadership and about female entrepreneurs."

If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be?

“Be unapologetically yourself. There is nothing that shines as bright as your true self. You may not be perfect but guess what, you will make it work. Be yourself, stand bold, own your own your voice and let it be heard.”

Yemi believes in the power of networking. She is not only very active in the alumni network of CEIBS, but she notes how CEIBS creates a common ground for those who come to Nigeria. By talking to Nigerian CEIBS alumni, you can immediately tap into a large network of local expertise and connections, and Yemi never fails to underline the importance of her CEIBS experience for her journey toward her impressive success.

For more information about CEIBS and its Accra Campus, learn more here.

Writer:
Wiebke Hein
Editor:
Jessica Linsen and Michael Russam