The importance of saving for a rainy day can never be over-emphasised, moreso as a woman living with the current harsh realities in our country. Enter Ife Durosinmi-Etti, founder and CEO of Herconomy, who, through her platform, champions high-yield, low-risk savings opportunities for women to help reach their savings goals faster. Through her platform, she has brought together a community of like-minded women focused on connecting each other to various opportunities such as scholarships, grants, fellowships and job opportunities.
With a BSc in Biochemistry and an MBA in Global Business, Ife has recently worked across several industries from banking, fashion, FMCG to Tech and has built relationships, which coincidentally is a huge part of what she does today. She is also part of the Africa Startup Initiative (ASIP) Accelerator Programme and a recruitment partner with Amazon. In acknowledgement of her achievements, she received the Women’s Advocacy Award from the West African Leadership Organisation for her exemplary leadership and dedication to socio-economic development in West Africa. She was also named a Peace Scholar by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and appointed as a Youth Advisory Group Member for Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE), a global coalition formed by the World Bank to catalyse employment support and productive work for 150 million youth by 2030. This week, she lets Ruky Salako in on her journey so far, building Herconomy, the fintech industry and her plans going forward.
What was the ‘lightbulb’ moment and motivation for launching Herconomy?
Ha! Everyone always asks me this question. I’ve always been an advocate for women since I was very young. I never liked seeing men bully women. I saw many women give up their careers after getting married, but the men later abandoned them, mainly because they didn’t measure up anymore. I saw domestic violence happen; women couldn’t save themselves or move out because they didn’t have a choice. I saw men lose their jobs, and my friends lives changed for the worst because their dads were the only ones bringing in income. I saw many policies that didn’t favour women because they weren’t in those rooms where the policies were created. Also, as I got older, I noticed that things started getting a bit better for women but at a certain class. I didn’t like all I had seen and experienced. I saw only the same women in specific rooms, so I knew that information was now a problem. At this time, I was a lot older and more informed; I knew I had to do something about it with the little I had. So, I created a community called AGS Tribe to empower women by giving them access to an amazing community of empowered women, capacity building and access to opportunities that could boost their careers or business. This community grew very fast over a year.
In between, I shared my story with my community members about the fact that I couldn’t save and how it was challenging to save even though I was earning well and working at a multinational company. I shared how now, as an entrepreneur, I started saving ₦1,000 a day and now was on ₦10,000 a day and how I felt saving was more of a mindset thing that became addictive once you start seeing your money grow. Many people began reaching out to me to say they also had the same challenge, so we decided to host a savings challenge to encourage more women to save. We called it the AGS Savings Challenge, which was done on another savings platform. We got over five hundred women to join us on this challenge. When it ended, our members still requested to save more and wanted it to be more consistent. At this time, we had also built our mobile app for our community, so we wanted the savings feature on the mobile app, and we were going to do it in partnership with the company again, but their tech platform wasn’t ready for us at the time. The pressure grew, so I decided to build the savings product from scratch in-house, and that’s how we also decided to change our name, so Herconomy was launched.
I knew I had to do something about it with the little I had. So, I created a community called AGS Tribe to empower women by giving them access to an amazing community of empowered women, capacity building and access to opportunities that could boost their careers or business.
Did you have any prior experience which prepared you for this?
Haha. Honestly, nothing prepared me for this life. I was a strict science student who never thought I could do anything business-related. When I did my MBA, I didn’t really enjoy the finance classes. I don’t know if it was because I was young, but I honestly didn’t enjoy reading finance, but my interest in it grew as I got older. I realised that because I didn’t enjoy it growing up, I could explain or break down things better, making it easier for people to grasp. I am now keener to learn. I recently took a Fintech Course with Saïd Business School University of Oxford. I ask a lot of questions. I also believe in the power of a team. I cannot know it all, so I am happy to delegate things to trusted team members and focus my energy on areas I am excellent at, and things have worked for us this way. I am a big risk-taker and am happy I took on this huge challenge that didn’t seem qualified on paper. In my books, all that is jargon. God qualifies the called. My job is to be willing and open to learning, make mistakes, learn from them and grow FAST.
I imagine it wasn’t an easy task building an online-based community of women. How did you go about it? What were your biggest issues and challenges?
Building a community was actually second nature for me. As I mentioned, I have intentionally built my network from primary school. It wasn’t stressful at all. I knew my target already was women. I understood the needs and created ways we could address those needs, and in a year, we grew to over 1600 paying members. Still, I knew I wanted to reach even more women, and some of those women may not have been able to pay, so we decided to introduce a free membership tier which was still valuable. Today, we have over 17,000 members.
How far have you come in realising your mission?
Haha, I’ve not even scratched the surface. I am still very far from my mission. I aim to have at least 1 million women with at least ₦100,000 in their bank accounts with us by 2025.
How does Herconomy work, and what are the benefits of being a part of your community?
With Herconomy, you build an amazing savings culture. On our platform, you not only save and earn high interests, but you also save as you spend on things you need as a woman. We currently partner with restaurants, retail stores, hotels, accommodation, travel, healthcare companies, etc. These are brands women need. On top of this, once you start saving with us, you can access our weekly capacity-building sessions and networking events. We understand women’s peculiar needs, which is why we are building the future of banking for women. We understand that women cannot be empowered through bank accounts alone. According to Melinda Gates, women need access to a network of like-minded women and training. We are creating an ecosystem that provides just that.
How can participation in your network help empower females already in leadership positions?
Leadership is about service, and as leaders, your number one responsibility should be to create other leaders. That alone is empowering. When you can see another woman grow just because you created time and resources to pull her up. You also grow your network; People do business with people they know and trust. A community is a place where you can grow that network. Yes, you’re already a CEO or in a top position in your organisation, but do you know how to serve on boards? There’s always something new to learn; if you aren’t learning, you are also giving back. We need to look more at how we can give and not just ‘take’.
Speaking of communities, how has your experience with Herconomy impacted you as a person?
Building a community like Herconomy has been a blessing for me. I have seen so many people grow right through my eyes. We have come through for different families, and I am happy that, as a community, we go through so many issues together. I will give two examples, a happy one and a sorrowful one.
I actually get goosebumps when I think about how far we have come. I met Maryam Salami in 2018. She attended our training and eventually received a $5,000 grant from us in 2019. Since then, her business has quadrupled in revenue. She is now NAFDAC certified. She now has over 27 distributors across the country; she has moved into her factory space. Her business has been able to employ more people, and she has moved her children to better schools. Because of this one woman, her community is blessed. We have many more success stories like this.
Another example of how we have come through for our members is Olamide Alli. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, her fiancé, who later committed suicide on the same day, murdered her. It was such a horrific and painful situation, but we swung into action as a community. They had two kids, and in less than a week, we raised ₦26 million and kept it in a trust fund for her children’s education. Building this community has brought me so much peace and direction, and I am honestly so glad I decided to risk it all and pursue it. It has given me a sense of purpose and fulfilment.
Let’s talk about the Fintech industry; what do you think are the major barriers to the advancement of women in this space?
This industry is tough, period. I do not think it’s peculiar to women, though; it’s tough generally for everyone because it is highly regulated, but guess what, you’re dealing with other people’s money. It needs to be regulated seriously.
Do you think society should be doing more to encourage women and young girls to consider a career in tech?
Oh yes, for sure. We need to encourage so many young women to choose careers in tech not just because it pays more or gives you flexibility but because Technology is the future. It was a huge task when I was looking for a Chief Technical Officer (CTO) to join me in building Herconomy. I wanted it to be a woman, primarily because of what we were building, but it was extremely hard to find one; but I am glad we did, in the end. Today, we have about 13 people on our tech team asides from our CTO, and they are all men. Very painful, but we need to build with the current resources. I love them too, but we need more female tech talent.
Where do you see Herconomy in the next ten years?
I see Herconomy becoming the choice bank for women in Africa. I see many women in the network growing because they met in our community. I see many more women deciding to build their careers and homes without having to choose because they saw other women do it within the community.
Drawing on your experience, what advice would you give to all those women who are on their road to success but encounter challenges on the way and are an exception within a male-dominated company?
You will meet even more challenges; use them as fuel to push you to the next level. Never give up. You are closer than you think.
Anything else you would like me to know?
Oh yes, for sure, Save with Herconomy by visiting our web app on dashboard.herconomy.com or download our mobile app on the Play Store. Our platform is straightforward to use. Join us on our journey to build the future of banking for women. Saving is just step 1!