At Leading Ladies Africa, our mission is to promote leadership at all levels to create the next generation of African Leaders who will provide sustainable solutions to Africa’s most pressing and socio- economic challenges. At the grassroots level, we have discovered some women doing incredible things and we are excited to share their journies with you. Today, we put the spotlight on Cynthia Chisom Ezechukwu, Founder “The Aboki Shoe Repair Africa”, she says “There are times where I wanted to give up, but what keeps me going is the vision I received concerning The Aboki Shoe Repair Africa about where we are going to and the people that are connected to the vision…”
Cynthia Chisom Ezechukwu identified a gap in the level of itinerant shoe cobblers popularly referred to as “Aboki’s”. Understandably, these cobblers live from hand to mouth and most can barely afford a basic decent lifestyle; the proceeds they make cannot support a more humane lifestyle. Cynthia understood this and decided to do something about it.
Her thought process at the time was “what if I learn how to produce standard shoes at decent rates and in turn use the proceeds to cater for the basic professional needs of these craftsmen, teach them how to use modern tools to facilitate production which in turn will help their business scale” Her fascination and zeal led her into what she is doing now with “The Aboki Shoe Repair Africa”. Ofcourse! she heard dissenting voices. “People” told her it was not achievable and she might run out of means to sustain the vision. Well, Cynthia is not only doing shoe repairs, she is killing it!
So far, she has raised the standard of living of THREE shoe cobblers, in less than 6 months of the vision taking flight in Abuja. She has also reached out to over 100 clients and has done well over 200 repairs without complaint and hopes to do more. We got Cynthia on our interview seat recently and had her share with us her dream for this initiative. Enjoy our chat with her!
Hi Cynthia, It’s good to have you here, Can you briefly introduce yourself? My name is Cynthia Ezechukwu, CEO and Founder The Aboki Africa. I love bringing life back to old and worn out shoes. I am young, vibrant and passionate about bringing change everywhere I find myself.
That’s Great! so tell us how the name “The Aboki’s girl” now brand, came to be?
It all started back then in university, I found myself in the middle of an argument between a cobbler and a student. It was majorly about the poor work done and the delayed time for getting the work done. It was then that I saw the gap, the need to get high standard shoe repair service. During the holiday, I made my way straight to Onitsha to get the required shoe repair skill for the service I plan to offer the next semester. Unlike the existing shoe repair businesses in school then, I was bringing the service to the students doorstep. I was able to create a customer base in school and made a lot of students happy.
I went for my NYSC and started to think through how I can create a brand out of this. I started doing research on the best way to implement this idea for a larger market. My eyes were opened to the pain of internally displaced persons turned “aboki’, the power of capacity building and social media. I reached out to one of the Aboki’ s, from 1 it became 3 Aboki’s, built their capacity and connected them to an online market space. I began solving two great problems, the problem of the standard of living of aboki’s and the problem of high cost of shoe repair service. It became a social enterprise called The Aboki Shoe Repair Africa.
Being so young and a student, how were you able to raise funds for the workshop and how do you handle logistics?
I have been able to raise funds via personal funds, family (My mum has been a great supporter of The Aboki Africa, although at the beginning she didn’t understand what I was doing though, LOL) and grants from an internationally recognised foundation, like ACBF.
That’s interesting! Given your accomplishments through your craft, i.e helping three “Aboki’s” launch their business on a more professional scale, what in your own estimation has been your greatest achievement so far?
I have achieved some feats, winning the grant, opening a branch but my greatest achievement is being able to put a smile on the faces of the aboki’s, and just seeing how excited they are when I am around them gives me great joy. I am now part of a new family.
At twenty, a lot of young women haven’t come into their own. Many do not understand what it means to have a vision and run with it. What would you say makes you different? What exactly inspires you to be who you are?
I am inspired by the Spirit of God to become who I am. I don’t take a step without the leading of God. I am also inspired by my mum and my younger siblings. Being the first of 4 is not an easy thing. Just knowing that I have 3 siblings and numerous cousins looking up to me gets me to buckle up and to set a very good example.
Have you had mentors and role models along the way?
I believe in mentorship. I look up to Ibukun Awosika and Ahdora Speaks. They are a combination of everything possible.
Of course there must have been some challenges and bumps on the journey, can you share some of the challenges you have faced, and what has kept you going?
I have faced many challenges from building customer’s confidence in us to availability of funds to expenses management to building a good operational system. There are times where I wanted to give up, but what keeps me going is the vision I received concerning The Aboki Africa about where we are going to and the people that are connected to the vision. I can’t give up it is too late, I am too deep to come out. LOOL
Wow! you are so passionate about what you do. How have you been able to balance your studies and what you are doing now?
I am currently doing my MBA and its not an easy one balancing studies and work but it all comes down to time management and prioritisation. What come first and what comes next. Honestly there are days where I don’t feel like reading, what I do is to call on the grace of God to help at this time of need. It all works together for my good at the end of the day.
MBA at 20 is definitely a big feat! Where do you hope to be professionally and otherwise in the next five years?
In five years, I have to raise the standard of living of 10, 000 aboki’ s and create a brand that will be recognised globally for just shoe repair. Such that the name of The Aboki will be mentioned on the lips of foreigners with interesting accents.
We would love to know something unique about you?
Something unique about me? hmmm, I love working hahahaha *we can definitely tell*😆
Cynthia’s story is quite inspirational and is infact a fitting source of motivation and empowerment to every woman or youth on
1. Not letting an environment define you even in the most challenging conditions.
2. Refusing to allow age or status confine you to dreaming small.
3. Pushing through even when others say it is not achievable.
Cynthia Chisom Ezechukwu can be reached on Instagram: @theabokishoerepair
Via e- mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The LLA Grassroot Series is a monthly interview series that highlights the achievements and journey of African female who have demonstrated exemplary initiative at the grassroots level.
The vision is to showcase the Leading Ladies who are transforming Africa and the African narrative through impact at the community level.
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 at the grassroots level, email email@example.com, and she could possibly be featured.