African American in Africa: Jocelyn in Nigeria
Meet Jocelyn (pictured above in the middle) currently living in Nigeria! The U.S. recession sent her packing and boldly moved to Nigeria to continue her entrepreneurial dreams. Jocelyn shares her life as an African American in Nigeria below.
Where are you living and how long do you plan to stay in Nigeria?
I currently live in Yenagoa, Bayelsa, Nigeria. I have lived in this state almost 9 months but I’ve been in Nigeria a little over two years. I plan to stay as long as the environment is safe for me to do business in. I have currently leased land for 20 years.
Is Nigeria the first African country that you've visited?
No, I’ve also visited Liberia.
What brought you to Nigeria and how did you end up creating your own business?
The recession in America brought me to Nigeria. I was a business owner in the U.S. but the recession hit it very hard. So I had to take a decision to either sit and wallow in my situation or do something about it.
I established a company in the same line of business that I was doing in the U.S. so that was the easy part. I sold or gave away assets I had in the U.S. and trusted God to fund my venture/adventure. However, I have come across a few good business people here in Nigeria that have supported the company as it is growing.
What kind of company do you have?
I am currently the managing Director and CEO of ALYN Global Services Ltd. It was established in 2010 as a design, construction, program and project management firm www.alynglobal.com.
I am also now the managing Director and CEO of the Oasis Event Center (pictured below), my accidental investment www.aquabluewaterhole.com.
How did you come to pick Nigeria out of all of the other countries in Africa as a place to relocate to?
After assessing the countries in Africa I felt my business could have impact and be profitable, I choose Nigeria. Of the countries in Sub Saharan Africa, Nigeria is the most progressive and aggressive. I thought it to be a good challenge for me. Also, it’s capitol of Abuja is a big little city which made the transition to Africa also easier. Abuja is much like a little Houston.
What kind of business did you operate in the States and how did you originally come to work in that sector?
My technical background is in design and construction. I have been a government contractor on some level for the last 12+ years as a small business. I have a passion for seeing things start from nothing. Design and construction is like that. With one thought we can create. That also translates into my personal belief. With one thought I can do anything I want to do which has led to me also being an investor in Nigeria.
I have designed, built and am now operating a mixed use event center called the Oasis in Bayelsa Nigeria. It has an international fine dining restaurant, a sports bar, a garden sit-out and a working commercial fishery on the pond at the site. I also still also have a night club and shops that are under construction. Its something I never thought I would do but this “accidental” investment has been a great opportunity to stretch myself and grow into other areas.
Did you study business in school?
I haven’t seen a day of business school but I am an avid reader of business material. I also think I may simply have some natural gifts in doing business.
What are the challenges you faced while starting your business in Nigeria?
My initial challenge was understanding how Nigerians do business. There is no set business model you would ever be able to follow to do business here. I’ve had to stay agile and alert to a very very quick pace of business where the “system” will chew you up and spit you out if you are weak.
What are some of the challenges you continue to face as a business owner in this industry?
My greatest challenge as a business owner is finding individuals i.e. a management team that shares the long term vision. Nigeria is a place where one can become a millionaire overnight but you can also lose everything over night. So I take a paced approach to growing the business in hopes of creating long term value and stability for both firms.
Has being a woman affected your professional experience in business?
In general, being a woman hasn’t affected my ability to get what I needed to get done but it has affected how I get things done. Some places in Nigeria I can’t go and the work that I do. For instance, I don’t do business in northern Nigeria. Most states are Muslim and sharia law is effect. Also, culture plays a huge role. For a woman to sit with a Chief and drink Palm wine and discuss a construction project is rare if it even happens at all. Culture dictates that women are treated a certain way per se. However, if you are doing business with men and they know you are competent and serious about the task… for many of them sex is not an issue.
Any advice specifically for budding female entrepreneurs?
Advice I would give to anyone… trust your instincts and believe what you are trying to accomplish is possible. Give it to God or the Universe through thought, speech and meditative deliberation. Work your plan and it WILL succeed.
What advice would you give for African Americans who want to start a business in Africa?
One should proceed with caution but if you are confident in the business you do and it is viable for the continent and the people, it will succeed.
What are some of the top business opportunities that you have seen in Nigeria?
Nigeria just like most African countries needs everything. Africa is the last undeveloped continent. You could come and sell soap and make money. With over 170 million people, any sustainable industry such as food, power and even recycling plastic paper and glass would be viable.
If an African American has the finances, how easy is it to set up a business in Nigeria? How open is Nigerian law to foreigners moving to and starting up business there?
It is very easy to establish a business in Nigeria if the finances are in place. The hard part , finding a competent attorney or consultant to do it legitimately and at a reasonable cost.
Actually, the President and most of the State Governors have given an open invitation to the world to come and develop Nigeria and to maximize its resources. I have found the law to be very user-friendly for what I do.
Are African Americans allowed to move to Nigeria to live and/or do business? What are the immigration regulations?
Americans are required to have a visa to visit or do business in Nigeria. My first visa was a visitors visa. It gave me a chance to figure out if doing business was viable for me. I then applied for a business visa because I took the decision to set up the business and I knew I would be in and out of the country often. Once my company was established, I began the process of permanent residency. So when I travel in December, I will submit my final docs to the embassy for the residency. It’s a process…little by little and step by step.
What lessons have you learned so far?
Everything is possible….and sign up for sky miles!
ON EVERYDAY LIFE
What’s life like in Nigeria for you?
Life is many things for me here. It’s exciting. It’s lonely… sometimes. It’s challenging and a spiritual awakening for me. There’s more good things than bad or I wouldn’t be here. I am definitely enjoying the journey. It’s pushed me way past that which I ever thought I could achieve.
What do you love the most about living in Nigeria?
I love the idea that something I’m doing really has the ability to impact people. I am in a very non-traditional role. I’m a woman in construction, I’m an international investor, I’m African-American . People really see something “different” and can imagine the possibilities for their lives.
What were the most difficult things to adjust to?
The most difficult thing to adjust to has been the food… it’s spicy and no part of any animal goes to waste.
What’s your social life like?
I was leading a pretty isolated life when I got to Nigeria because I was paranoid by stereotypes etc. but 99 percent of the people I’ve met have been very kind and I’ve forged a few friendships I know will last a lifetime. I’ve not focused so much in a social life because I’ve been working in growing the business but as time permits, I am gradually getting out and doing some socializing.
Did you always dream of living abroad?
Yes. I have always had a wandering soul. It was just a matter of time.
Do you think enough African Americans visit the continent?
No. And they are really missing a once in a lifetime experience.
What would you say to encourage more of them African Americans to visit?
I’m not sure. Most people still see Africa as the village. I always try to share there are some cities that are even just as modern as the US.
Why is it an important trip?
When I first came to Africa, as I left the plane; my spirit was jolted. Another part of me woke up. I saw faces and body types that looked like mine. A sense of pride welled up in me. For all the things we forsake about ourselves as African Americans, it is an important connection to see the place of our ancestors to understand there is no shame at all in who we are because Africans are a resilient, strong, beautiful, resourceful race of people.
Anything you'd like to add?
We all only have one life to live. Make it the best life you can for yourself . I have found a source of my joy in Africa and its a decision I will never regret. When I’m old in my rocking chair somewhere, I will always have these memories. Actually, I always joke about there being a book in the making from this experience. I think I will come sooner than later!
Is there somewhere we can follow your experience?
I often share my journey with my Facebook friends. Send a friend request and I will surely add you (Jocelyn Campbell).
Thank you Jocelyn! You've inspired us to see Nigeria!