#LadyBossInterview: “Our company through agriculture is creating millions of jobs needed to address the over saturation in the Nigerian labour market” Lola Masha, Co-founder and Executive Director at Babban Gona Farmers Services Limited

Lola Masha is the Co-founder and Executive director at Babban Gona Farmers Services Limited, a social impact organization focused on supporting small holder farmers increase their yields 3 times above the Nigerian national average. Prior, to her joining Babban Gona, Lola was the Director for Trust and Safety at OLX Group, Country Manager at OLX Nigeria, with previous experience working at Google. Lola was one of the earliest Googlers in Sub-Saharan Africa when the technology company began its operations in the region. She shaped the regional strategy, executed on several core initiatives and led business development efforts. Consummate Professional and Business Leader joins us on the Lady Boss series this week. Be Inspired!

 

It’s great to have you on LLA. Can you briefly describe yourself and the work you do at Babban Gona Farmer Services?

My name is Lola Masha and I am the Co-Founder and Executive director at Babban Gona Farmers Services Limited. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from the University of Virginia and a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Berkeley, California. I am a passionate and impact driven individual that is always seeking to make a positive impact wherever I am. I am happily married with two lovely kids.

My firm is a social enterprise that is empowering smallholder farmers through an innovative model that helps them to improve their yields by around 2 to 2.5 times the national average, thus enabling them to on average triple their average incomes relative to the average non-BG farmer. I oversee Finance Operations, Sales, Marketing, Supply Chain and Logistics, as well as drive Business Intelligence and Development.

 

As Executive Director for Corporate Services at Babban Gona, you bring to the table a host of business and technical skills. How do you manage to do all these and more?

I have had a great career journey cutting across various sectors. I began from Engineering and have moved through Consulting, Banking, Technology and now, Agriculture. I would say that the skills I bring to my role as Executive Director I garnered as I grew and developed myself on the previous jobs I have had.

Over time, I have also learnt the importance of building a great team, and actively delegating where necessary. To be successful in managing my teams, I try not to micromanage and ensure that task delegation is clear. I also make sure that everyone has the needed resources to deliver on their tasks.

Prior to your role at Babban Gona, you were the Country Manager for OLX in Nigeria where you were responsible for driving all elements of the business, including Business Development. Have you always been drawn to entrepreneurship? Why entrepreneurship?

My motivation has always been the ability to make significant impact, regardless of whether I was in paid employment or running my own firm. I am always excited by new challenges and so the decision to become an entrepreneur was quite an easy one for me.

I was attracted by the opportunity to learn about an industry I was not previously familiar with and the ability to apply my knowledge and experience in a new environment. I was also drawn by the opportunity to make immense social impact profitably. Our company through agriculture is creating millions of jobs needed to address the over saturation in the Nigerian labour market. As an entrepreneur, you give back to society. The work we do in empowering them with best practices in agronomy through training, providing them with financial services, agricultural inputs and harvest and market services through a profitable model is immensely gratifying.

 

You bring significant leadership experience in business development, entrepreneurship, operational transformation across several industries, how have you been able to build yourself to this point?

As mentioned earlier I have had the opportunity to work in varied industries and environments and this has given me a chance to gather a plethora of skills that have benefited me immensely. Particularly, I would mention that I have always applied myself to be the best at what I do, whatever my job function.

I cannot discount also the positive influence of notable peers in industry who have helped me on my career path. I love to constantly grow and challenge myself in new areas and evolve. Businesses and trends are constantly evolving, and so to remain relevant I have not stopped learning. I believe it is important to keep up with industry best practices and constantly gather knowledge that drives business growth, transformation and optimization.

 

What’s the biggest misconception about entrepreneurship that you’ve heard?

I think the biggest misconception I have heard about entrepreneurship is the assumption of having more freedom or time. It is said that the average entrepreneur works an average of 52 hours a week, plus weekends- this is 63% longer than the average worker.

 

How do you manage to infuse innovation into the businesses you run?

I have found that embracing change in my work has been a critical factor in remaining innovative. For instance, one way at Babban Gona we achieve this is by leveraging technology to make our work more efficient and smart. Interestingly, one of our core values is ‘Continuously Innovate’. Remaining dynamic is key, and we ensure that our process and approach to solving smallholder farmers problems is constantly evolving and that we find innovative ways to meet their needs.

 

As an entrepreneur, you must have encountered different kinds of people, what have you learnt most and what will you say has been the highlight of your journey so far? 

The key learning for me as I interact with different types of people is that everyone has their own unique strengths.  The challenge is ensuring that they discover what their talent is and they find the ideal role, company, function etc that fits their unique capabilities.  No man is an island, entire of itself. For us to collectively succeed, it is important that we recognize the talent in others, provide support in areas of gap and encourage each other to be the best version of ourselves.

What will you say is responsible for your success in the world of business?

Constant innovation, constant learning and development and constant re-invention of our processes and product offerings. Our process of learning, especially around the needs of smallholders farmers has been very iterative. We began as an agricultural enterprise meeting the needs of smallholder farmers by providing much needed support in terms of training and development, financial credit, agricultural inputs and harvest/market services.

In 2018, we expanded our product offering to include more income generating streams such as our Last Mile Retailer (LMR) and Last Mile Distributor (LMD) programs to enable our top performers earn more income through the retail sale of FMCG goods and other products. This year 2019, we also launched 2 new programs targeted at creating more agri-entrepreneurs within our franchise.

Success for me is in the number of lives we are able to impact, and through our model, we have cumulatively over our 9 years of existence provided 140,000 loans to smallholders who have produced over 200,000 MT of grains. 

 

Based on your experience, would you say that there are any unique challenges that female entrepreneurs face?

If I may borrow a quote from Seneca, ‘The wise man counts all adversity as training’. I believe every experience on the entrepreneurial journey is an opportunity to learn and become better. We have hit some bumps along the way, especially in terms of third-party dependencies and logistical support, which if not managed could affect the efficiency within our systems. Because of this we are constantly being innovative, changing vendors where necessary, and generally driving excellence in all our operations.

Yes, there are definitely unique challenges faced by female entrepreneurs. We are often underestimated by our male counterparts, but more concerning is that we also underestimate ourselves. There are still stereotypes around what we can and cannot achieve and well as what types of roles we should be performing.  However, I think there’s a significant opportunity for us to convert this misperception into strength; by over-delivering when others expect less from us and by leveraging our collective strength in any environment we find ourselves to shine and achieve stellar results.

 

Can you share some strategic tips for upcoming female entrepreneurs to be successful in this path?

For any upcoming female entrepreneur, my advice is to believe in yourself, remain positive, and know that everything will be okay. To achieve success it is important that you keep your priorities front and centre, assemble a strong team that helps you in achieving your goals, and do not be deterred by challenges because they will come. However, maintaining a positive attitude is your first step.

Also, be deliberate about the people you surround yourself with. Create a strong team at work; at home; have dependable support structures whether at church or any other religious body you affiliate with and finally, never neglect your social support i.e. friends that can provide positive encouragement and frank, fair feedback.

 

The LLA Lady Boss Series is a weekly interview series that highlights the achievements and entrepreneurial journeys of African female entrepreneurs. The idea is to showcase the Leading Ladies who are transforming Africa and the African narrative through enterprise and business.

It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes leadership, inclusion and diversity for women of African descent.

If you know any kick-ass women of African Descent doing phenomenal things in enterprise, email lead@leadingladiesafrica.org, and she could possibly be featured.

 

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