Empowered: Life As An African American Entrepreneur In Nigeria
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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 nine 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 and construction program and project management firm.
I am also now the Managing Director and CEO of the Oasis Event Center (pictured below), my accidental investment.
WHY did you pick Nigeria as the place to relocate to?
After assessing all the countries in Africa, I felt my business could have impact and be profitable here, I choose Nigeria. Of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria is the most progressive and aggressive. I thought it would be a good challenge for me. Also, it’s capitol of Abuja is a big little city which made the transition to Africa easier. Abuja is like a little Houston.
What kind of business did you operate in the States? What brought into that sector?
My technical background is in design and construction. I have been a government contractor on some level more than 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. This also translates into my personal beliefs—that with one thought, I can do anything I want to do. This belief system has also led me to be an investor in Nigeria.
I have designed, built, and am now operating a multi-purpose 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. Oasis is something I never thought I would do but this “accidental” investment has been a great opportunity to stretch myself and grow into other areas. I also have a night club and shops that are under construction.
Did you study business in school?
I haven’t seen a day of business school. However, I am an avid reader of business materials. I also think I may simply have some natural gifts in entrepreneurship.
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 an extremely fast 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 such as a management team who share my long-term vision. Nigeria is a place where one can become a millionaire overnight. However, you can also lose everything over night. So, I take a paced approach to growing my 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 need done. However, it has affected how I get things done. There are some places in Nigeria that I can’t go and do the work that I do. For instance, I don’t do business in northern Nigeria. Most states there are Muslim and Sharia law is effect. Culture plays a huge role. For a woman to sit with a chief and drink palm wine and discuss a construction project up there is rare if it even happens at all. Culture dictates that women are treated a certain way. However, for many men here, if you are doing business with them and they know you are competent and serious about the task your sex is not an issue.
Any advice specifically for budding female entrepreneurs?
This is really 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?
Proceed with caution. However, if you are confident in the business and it is viable for the continent and the people, it will succeed.
What are some of the top business opportunities you have seen in Nigeria?
Just like most African countries, Nigeria needs everything. Africa is the last undeveloped continent. You could come, sell soap, and make money. With over 170 million people, any sustainable industry such as food, power, or even recycling plastic paper and glass would be viable.
If you have the money, how easy is it to set up a business in Nigeria? How open is Nigerian law to foreigners starting business there?
If the finances are in place it is very easy to establish a business in Nigeria. The hard part is finding a competent attorney or consultant to process 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.
CAN Americans move to Nigeria to live or do business THERE? 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. Once I decided to do business here I applied for a business visa as 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.
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 what I ever thought I could achieve.
What do you love most about living in Nigeria?
I love the idea what I’m doing really has the ability to impact people. I am in a very non-traditional role. I’m a woman in construction, an international investor, and an African-American. People really see something “different” in me and 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. However, 99 percent of the people I’ve met have been very kind. I’ve forged a few friendships I know will last a lifetime. I’ve not focused so much on socializing though because I’ve been working on growing my business. However, as time permits, I am gradually getting out and socializing.
What lessons have you learned so far?
Everything is possible….and sign up for sky miles!
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 African Americans to visit?
I’m not sure. Most people still see Africa as the village. I always try to share that there are some cities that are just as modern as the US.
Why is it an important trip?
When I first visited Africa and disembarked from 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 swelled in me. For all the things we forsake about ourselves as African Americans, this is an important connection to make—to see the place of our ancestors and understand there is no shame at all in who we are because Africans are a resilient, strong, beautiful, and 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 it's a decision I will never regret. When I’m old and in a 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 it 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!