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Natasha Hadiza Akpoti, a lawyer also has an M.A. in oil and gas.  A former employee of Liquefied Natural Gas Industry in Brass, River State, she is a social entrepreneur and reformer.  She is the founder of the Builders Hub Impact Investment Program and Builders Hub Foundation, a social enterprise focused on creating jobs through the sustainable revival of Nigeria’s local industries.  Natasha is also a philanthropist, supporting 600 school children in Kogi State and 100 university students across Nigeria. She is also the leader of Ajaokuta/Itakpe Revival Movement. A movement towards the revival of Ajaokuta Steel Company and the National Iron Ore Mining Company, Itakpe, Kogi State.

She meets with the Women’s Torch’s Veronica Ogbole in her Abuja Office.

Who is Natasha Akpoti ?

I’m a mother of 3 children, my father is from Ihima, Okene Local Government, Nigeria and my mother is from Ukraine. An introvert, I love my own space, always question the existence of life, the deeper meaning of existence and service to humanity. I become transformed talking to an audience.  When talking to people I feel at home because of the energy that comes from the people.  I am connected to other people, because I hate injustice.  One of the things my father taught me, has become my nature – to protect the weak, the vulnerable in the society.  This makes some people think my intentions are against the government.

In our society, the strong are not playing their protective role that is why there is injustice.  I was able to identify this fact during my advocacy for a better steel company in Abeokuta, Nigeria.  Democracy is not practised for the people.

Some people have asked if I want to go into politics. Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Strive Masiyiwa from Zimbabwe are my role models because they are social entrepreneurs.  They are billionaires and they give a lot of their personal resources to create impact in the Society.  That is what is missing in Nigeria. We wait for Bill Gates to come and take care of Polio for us.   There are a lot of gaps between people’s development and the economy. The only thing that will make me go into politics is if I see Nigeria becoming what I want.  You have to make the change and the difference you want to see in the world.  People are calling me already, I keep asking if they are ready for an honest service?

From the lessons learnt from my advocacy, there is a problem between the leadership and followers ideology.  We don’t know who we are, we are in love with our oppressors, what I call ‘Stuck Home Syndrome’.  We protect our oppressor, just because of tribe and religion. Nigerian Pastors are the wealthiest in the country, while the people are languishing in poverty, don’t we see what is going on in other parts of the world? We’re inviting Beyonce Giselle Knowles – Carter, an American singer and we’re are the poorest. The power lies with the people, but the real problem is with the people. Before my advocacy, I used to think it was with the leaders, but it’s like 30 people ruling over 80 million people.

Life was difficult, my father died when I was 18 years and in the 1st year in University, life became difficult, relatives that I approached for help encouraged me to go into prostitution. Those who are supposed to protect and nurture the young, are the same people that destroy the future of the youth.

Natasha Facilitates a Meeting Between the Director General of Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) and the Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) @August 2017

The vulnerability of a woman gave me an insight – I traded, travelled to Lagos to buy and sell roofing sheets, made and sold Zobo (a local drink) with my mum and younger siblings, all to earn money to take care of the family. I was not attracted by the glamorous way of life, I did not look down on any little business.  And this up till now.

Some people feel I should be trading in oil.  No, I will rather work with the people. I like doing things that matter most in life. The thing that matters most in life comes to me – people.   People come with other things, opportunities, ideas, the grace that comes with it. That is one lesson learnt, when you do good whole heartedly without expecting anything in return, God pays you back. I began to have things that money cannot buy.

When I broke up with my husband, I lived in a boys quarters, I tell my story proudly, I am not ashamed of it, someone somewhere may learn from it.  I started from the rock bottom I sat down and told myself that I had a bigger calling somewhere, I was not afraid, because I knew I had to connect with my truth.  I made a promise to myself, set my goals.  God said we should speak into our future, we should set our goals, clarify our vision and purpose, a road map, it will be easy to follow.  I was motivated to follow my dream to have better things in life. We have to have a bigger vision for our self, I worked hard, without thinking of the years I did not have money, because I had a goal and vision, I took my first step in faith, I had my future defined, I had my challenges, but I looked at them as hazy curves. But now I have my Foundation, my properties and investments.

To make money is an art, not taught in school. I read a lot of motivational books, the world owes you nothing, every time, I spent pitying myself was a waste of time, I want to be a role model to my children, I prayed, connected everything to my purpose. I have never been more confident and sure of myself than now, even if I die today, I have lived a fulfilled life, because I have touched lives, I feel fulfilled.

Natasha and Some Community Stakeholders and Traditional Rulers During the Opening Ceremony of Builders Hub Community Learning Resource Centre in Okehi Local Government, Kogi State.
Natasha and her Adopted Primary School Pupils/Orphans @May 2017

What is your greatest achievement ?
I will not say it is any project, my greatest achievement is living my own truth. Speaking honestly about a situation is the only weapon. ‘He who speaks the truth says all’, I have had the courage to speak the truth, turned down bribes, I just feel that Nigerians need the truth. I have not achieved the greatest yet.  So far, I have adopted 600 children in my home state, Kogi State.  I pay their school fees, provide educational materials for them. I am sponsoring 100 young people in University’s across Nigeria. I empower women. I have business clusters that create employment for people. I offer entrepreneurship seminars free for university students.

Natasha Interacting with her Adopted Primary School Pupils/Orphans @May 2017

Other achievements I’m proud of are the building of the Hub Impact Investment – Nigeria’s first Entrepreneurship campus in the Niger Delta region through my Foundation Builder’s Hub with financial support from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN).

What motivates you to do what you do?

Since I was a little girl, I’ve had the ambition is to do something to improve the lives of the poor.   I grew up in the village, with my father, a medical doctor, trained in Russia with his communist lifestyle.  He rejected a job in Lagos and choose to work in the village with the people in Iheme, in Okene Local Government area of Kogi State, where he comes from.

With my father, I experienced first-hand what it is to work with the people.  Working in an Oil and Gas Company, I woke up one day and said to myself that I was not in the right place and that this was not my purpose.  So, I resigned and decided to go into Social Entrepreneurship.  Many people have asked her why?  That it is strange in Nigeria.  The Social Entrepreneur works to improve the ecosystem around the grass roots entrepreneur. “Anything that surround, anything that traces, motivates the grass root to survive, because Government is insensitive, too far away from the people.  The Social Entrepreneur is the bridge to bring that which is needed, bring a lot out of the box, like the Ajaokuta Steel Industry.  What policy, what advice can be given to the Government to stimulate the ecosystem of the vulnerable, the advocacy to bring back what Ajaokuta was, the opportunities – employment, poverty reduction, job creation and reduction of social vices, through the steel company.

If the Ajaokuta Steel industry is revived, Kogi state will be able to generate money, investors, not the Government will build hospitals, other industries  will be created, the steel industries will be the mother of all industries – construction, automobile, agriculture, equipment, defense/security, ammunition, packages, food and cooking utensils – so many through one big industry. Once the Ajaokuta Industry works, except if you are lazy, you will get something doing, which is the way to stimulate the ecosystem.

As a member of the Women in Nigeria (WIN) Organisation, an umbrella organization of 21 women organizations, I realized that Nigerian women are too quiet despite that fact that we about 49.68% of the population.  One begins to wonder despite the fact that more women participate in voting during elections, we decide to vote for men.  I asked myself why Nigerian women are so silent? I decided to commit my time to supporting other women.

Natasha Bags Africa’s Patriotic Amazon Award by the League of African Development Students (LEADS). @April 2017.

How have you overcome the barriers, visible or invisible to get to where you are today?

I see my challenges as slow progress.  Many obstacles I face are due to the fact that I do not play the game the way people expect it to be.  Not playing the norm, nor do I have godfathers, relations.  A man, a bank owner, once told me that I do not have pedigree, because I wanted a loan of 10 Million naira, I even begged for 5 million, as the time, all I had were my ideas.  He refused until I met all requirements.  During the same period, a former military president’s daughter made a loan request, which was granted right there.  I asked why, he replied “she is the daughter of a former military President, her father is her security.”

I then told myself and prayed that God should build my name to make me feel less than human.  Then I said that is not enough.  I want to become the woman of my dreams, for my sake and for others like me. I decided I wanted to be a Responsible Investor, Social Entrepreneur to help guide investment that matters, that is accountable to greater impact for a greater number of greater people.  I always consult on impact options; always want to go for the greatest impact to create wealth, creating value, creating opportunities for the underserved people, “ that is where her joy is.

Sometimes, I feel as if I’m living in the wrong country, sometimes you need the will be able to make a change. It takes somebody with a different idea to drive people in the right direction. It’s strange but for me, value is not monetary.  I want to build my wealth in the hands of people and for that no compromise.  As mothers, we should be role models, imbibe patriotic values in our children.  Even though I learnt many skills and value in the steel industry, I was moulded by my father.  He instilled all this in me.  Service for humanity is my foundation.

Natasha Bags Africa’s Patriotic Amazon Award by the League of African Development Students (LEADS) @April 2017.

What is your greatest fear or failure ?

None –  I view life differently and embrace it as a lesson. I do not see my being  single again as a failure, if you are married fine, if you are single mother, be a good one, every time in life, you have a new page to write your story, make sure in your story you love and accept your truth, teach our children the arts of entrepreneurship at an early age.

I also want to achieve my dreams early enough to have more time for myself.  I will love to remarry again, but it is not a do or die thing.  I do not a man that will come between me and my project.  He should have strong character, very principled.  As stated by Andrew Carnegie, the wealthy businessman who wrote the book “the gospel of wealth”, there – the people, the process the product must all be aligned” Most people do not know how to align the three.

Street in Abuja named After Natasha Akpoti @July 2017

What advice do you give young women who aspire to become leaders?

True, our educational system does not accord robust course choices, the system has a narrow scope when it comes to career choices, our educational system needs to open up, and we need to be up to date.   It is key to the demands of the future, the world in going into the 5th industrialization.

For now, we need to look inward into our strengths and opportunities, in tune with the skill set of today.  Young women should start now- there is never a perfect time, do not compete with anybody, everyone has a unique calling and gift, follow your own truth.

Natasha Joined Nigerians for Peaceful Match to Call Government Attention to the Need to Industrialize Nigeria and Diversify the Economy Starting with Iron and Steel
NTA’s Weekend Deal: One on One with Natasha on the Topic “The Extreme Level of Poverty and the Negative Spillover Especially in Child Labour @June 2017

Interview by Veronica Ogbole
Abuja

Central to the mission of social enterprises is the improvement of human and environmental well-being. Social entrepreneurs identify social problems and find innovative solutions to the problems. The sector is still developing and as such there exist variations in the definition of the concept of social enterprise. Nevertheless, the universal thread that runs through all the proposed definitions is that social enterprises are businesses that have a social impact on society.

As the definition varies so also does the structure differ across countries. And, until recently, there has not been proper legislation for social enterprises in Nigeria. Legally, there is no businesses form that is called social enterprise.

Regardless of how it is structured, the social enterprise business model is unique in its combination of financial and social objectives. Social enterprises may be the vehicles to accelerate change in the economy, while providing jobs and reducing income inequality.