A Chartered Accountant and tax expert, Zuwaira Ikharo Shuaib is the Founder of Amal Botanicals, an African-Inspired, natural baby care brand in Africa. Shuiab earned a National Diploma in Accounting from the University of Abuja, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting and Business Administration from the Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo, Nigeria. A certified forensic expert from the International Institute of Certified Forensic Investigation Professionals, Kenya, an Entrepreneurial Edge programme In Lindin Business School and an Alumni of London Business School, Shuaib is a Fellow of the institute of Chartered Accountants Nigeria and Fellow of the institute of Taxation in Nigeria respectively. She worked with Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) as Manager Tax for a decade, before she went on to study and secure a Diploma in Natural Cosmetic Formulation with special focus on Babies and Children from Formula Botanicals, United Kingdom. Having built a team that truly care for babies and children, Shuaib is highly passionate about childcare and support, and has taken up several grassroots sensitisation and education against baby skin bleaching now highly prevalent in our society. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her entreperuerial journey and her passion for excellence.
Take us through your career journey as an accountant/tax expert and the switch to entrepreneurship?
My career in Accounting and Tax was an interesting and enlightening one. I started out practicing in an accounting/audit firm where I gained experience for seven years before moving on to Federal Inland Revenue Service(FIRS). There, I had the opportunity of working in the investigation department and moved to other departments for about a decade.
But of course, my focus began to shift after the birth of my triplets in 2016. As I began to search for natural products for their personal care, I noticed there was a gap in Nigeria and Africa for natural baby products. I saw this as an opportunity to delve in and create a solution, so I started taking up a lot of courses to help me transition smoothly into entrepreneurship.
What informed your interest in organic and natural body care?
From my research, I realised that while other parts of the world had gone on to formulating naturally-derived, eco-friendly and sustainable baby care products, the Nigerian baby care market was still rid of the age-old, household brand names we have known for awhile, and the innovation to develop baby care from our roots and natural ingredients was still underway; other than the popular neem oil or black soap grandmothers brought to Omugwo, the gap was still wide. And these baby care African rituals were what we wanted to develop at Amal Botanicals, the birth of my triplets was just the right opportunity and inspiration to help kickstart and drive the work we now do.
How would you say your career background has shaped your entrepreneurship journey?
My career background truly and in the most profound ways shaped my entrepreneurial journey. The managerial positions I held for those number of years, seeing through multinational companies and large corporations and sitting behind the scene of their financial structure, was just the right application and template I directly transferred and replicated as I began to weave the corridors of managing Amal Botanicals and our numbers.
You truly do not realise how important work and career experiences are until the opportunities for practicalisation presents itself. All those years of routine, diligence, service, structure, application in my 9-5 job is sort of like the background and foundation on which my company stands and is hinged on.
Being an entrepreneur in Nigeria can be challenging, what are some of the issues you have had to deal with over the years?
Being an entrepreneur in Nigeria is tough and highly daunting. From generating power for your business, dealing with several authorities and certification bodies, tax bodies, importation and exportation, logistics, customer management… the list is endless, which is why you must understand pertinently your ‘why’, your motive, purpose, as these are integral parts of your journey in business and the legacy after you. Every time challenges surface, these are the the factors that will remind you not to throw in the towel.
I believe seeing a vision or business succeed, and provide solutions to several thousands of homes worldwide is far more rewarding and fulfilling, irrespective of how much the conditions or stifling environment surrounding the business is.
There are quacks and fakes in this sector, how best do you think this can be stemmed?
Quacks are prevalent in the organic and natural sector, because these uncertified persons, whether by pure negligence or in-access to proper knowledge, do not know any better and have hence capitalised and taken advantage of the average consumer’s ignorance as well. Our off-the-counter knowledge in this part of the world is rather poor, whereby consumers pick up products off shelves without any knowledge of the ingredients in them. Which is simply why grassroot sensitisation and education is very key.
However, what is more demoralising is when these quacks are found even in the baby care sector; I think this should be highly frowned upon. These are infants we are talking about here, and in their most sensitive and formative years, there’s no room for quack infiltration or error(s) on the part of baby care companies nor the parents. It’s a highly sensitive sector and one that I am a passionate advocate for.
In what ways are you living out your support for childcare?
It’s amazing how life experiences prepare and mould us for our career and purpose. Growing up and loosing my parents early in life, I was the go-to-aunt for childrens’ care and safety in the family. I became introduced to child care early on and literally by experience; caring for several children whilst their parents were away groomed me for a greater purpose. You don’t go through these kinds of experiences without it leaving a huge deposit on you for what the future holds and for that I am truly grateful.
In your opinion, how can we create better opportunities for our local industry players in the global market?
Ease of doing business for African entrepreneurs are mostly governed by policies upon policies; importation, exportation, border issues, financial capital and funding to forex fluctuations all play a huge role. While there are also standardisations and certifications that are expected and required of a brand/company that is looking at the global spectrum, the ability to trade effectively in certain regions are dependent on their prerequisites. This is why it sometimes seems like a long haul trying to penetrate the global market as a local company.
Summarily, as much as African established brands desire to go global, I believe that our continent is large enough playing ground to thrive. There are more than enough products in the United States battling to be on the shelves of Sephora, Walmart and all, while we can grow our own space and economy. The focus can be on our certification bodies truly ascertaining what enters our markets, what organic and natural products truly mean as well as development of our retail to prioritise home-based products above imported ones. Perhaps, what we need and desire as local businesses is to thrive beyond measure locally; global expansion will just be a bonus.
How can we get more women to successfully thrive and rise to the top as you have done?
Women must understand that they already possess the power of magical hands by the several skills that we already inherently possess. What are you good at? Right there is your gold. Create a solution for a problem and sell it. Use what you have, run with it, start small but have a big picture.
There is never a perfect moment. These action pointers usually sound like a cliché, but it is what is. No one is coming to save anyone, at least not in the beginning stage. So, don’t be discouraged if while you’re building it feels like you are alone. It’s all part of the process, girl power!
How do you get inspired and stay motivated?
Motivation is so multifaceted; I try to pull from various areas. You have to first be self-motivated, and then of course my triplets are a large part of my daily motivation; just knowing having them helped me establish Amal Botanicals is an everyday driving force.
Then, the many reviews and feedback from customers across the world. The team at Amal Botanicals are a fantastic one; we could not have come this far without their relentless commitment to service. And lastly, just creating products that help cater to these adorable tots and children, caring and nourishing them is such a release of joy, reward and motivation.
What is your life mantra?
With me, the cup is always half full, not empty. You might want to change perspective as what you find on the other side of your concentration just might change the entire narrative for good.