Boldly mooring mores like a firm fisher out to tie down a leaky boat that had better be grounded, not courting coarse conventional mindset and marshalling mysterious nerves for victorious verdicts, ravishing Rashida resolutely mingles mighty Masters in academics with seasoned simplicity upstairs to dare brazenly into the bustling ‘big-boy’ bazaar known as the business world.
With the enviable ease of a practiced queen, the clearly born-to-be and trained-to-be entrepreneur, has both her background and schooling dovetailing positively to explain the awe that emits effortlessly from this simple-to-a-fault but steely brow-raising business-brain.
Business is often said to be a male-dominated world, and in the Muslim community – where female modesty is held at a premium – one might think, that was doubly the case.
This is expected to be the mentality the more, especially among fundamental Muslims who do not even want western education.
However, a new crop of female Muslim entrepreneurs is defying this stereotype and cashing in on the rapidly growing digital world through education.
Rashida Sanni Nassmu, the focus of our attention today is one of such who could not be confined within this mentality bracket, thank God for her parents, who had not enjoyed education in this direction but galvanized their children to embrace this modern reality.
She started her company, IZAR GROUP in Accra, the capital and entrepreneurial hub of Ghana and has been steadily proving she is set apart for business though ‘still just on the way up,’ as she modestly insists.
In this interview with Pleasures Magazine, she revealed that she started her company, IZAR GROUP, knowing very well that if she was to compete and get ahead in the male-dominated field of communications, she had to innovate, stand out, and prove herself. This is but one of the traits that make her who she is- she is realistic about challenges and does not romantize them away with wishful, wishy-washy approaches.
Like a good battle planner, she takes the turf from her drawing board with painstaking meticulousness. Her strategic decisions and hard work therefore paid off.
As CEO, she built her client base and brought on customers from within and internationally.
Rashida received a first masters in communications (international public relations) from the UK and an Executive MBA from the university of Ghana.
It was indeed the pleasure of Pleasures to be honored with this interaction. The tin goddess emerging in the business world shared her views on the current entrepreneurial ecosystem in Ghana, her experience working as a Muslim female entrepreneur in a predominantly male – dominated industry and being based in one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, Ghana.
Be with us for the excerpts:
Thank you for your time . Who may we say is Rashida SaaniNasamu?
➢ A strategic communications consultant, who has branched into other entrepreneurial activities such as properties, supplies, retail and still growing. I believe in passion, value and substance in women.
Tell us about your childhood- where did you grow, and what were your favorite moments growing up?
➢ I grew in a simple but typical Muslim home where virtue was a daily echo with resounding social control. I had so many women I called “Mma”(mother) and a fundamentally practical man of peace with so much intellect who had no formal education but a strong love on the need to educate his children. I called him ‘Baba’ (father).
My cherished moments are those times of fun, growing amidst 24 other siblings. It felt like we all came from the same mother.
What about your educational background?
➢ I usually like to keep it simple by mentioning my most relevant educational achievement. A first masters in communications (international public relations) from the UK and an Executive MBA from the university of Ghana.
But I couldn’t do this without mentioning my basic education, which was backed with good values that may have contributed to my launch pad into the world of business.
I had all basic education in Tamale. Attended the famous Tamale secondary school where I became the senior girls prefect. That was when I actually commenced fetching my strategy on leadership and people management. My tenure was characterized by so much crisis management due to a riot because some students were suspended over a misdemeanor.
What aspect of your background has been most helpful to your experience as an entrepreneur that should resonate with the average Ghanaian youth?
➢ Values! Values my father instilled in us. Indeed it creates the need for substance. I don’t believe in short cuts in life…in context though! I believe in a life full of daily challenges until we are put in our graves. A life that makes young people think outside the box, strategize and work hard/smart towards achieving their goals. Not a life of “dreams of building castles in the air”. The force of gravity will not allow that!! Once you are healthy and in the right state of mind, there is a need to be productive. This could mean working out of home or at home or even a full time responsibility of taking care of your family while your spouse works out. This resonated in my father who was my first love and mentor. He was considered a successful man in his days. He lived a life of purpose, combining wealth creation with strong faith in Islam. He believed that being busy and rich did not have to stop one from worshiping Allah, being generous, honest and focused.
He ensured his kids served as Shop attendants in his hardware business at particular points. It was my turn when I finished SHS and awaited my results. I sold paint, nails and other building materials.
In essence, Entrepreneurship is all about thinking outside the box, finding solutions to challenges and devising ways of selling solutions through service delivery, whether tangible or intangible.
You were once on TV, hosting one of the most popular morning shows in Ghana, so what’s the connection? How did you merge these two?
➢ I multi tasked. Izar was in operation while I was on TV. I went straight to my office after TV each morning. In some cases, I visited our sites before rounding the day up in the office.
Let’s talk about your company: what really motivated and inspired you to start I-ZAR GROUP?
➢ They say there are five prominent stimuli that drive most entrepreneurs, Money, Flexibility, Control, Teamwork and Legacy. But this differs in some cases. I am the daughter of a merchant whose single line of trade took care of all 25 children. He was hard working and committed to his trade. It grew into a family business where most of his children started their own branches in the same line of business.So entrepreneurship has been a generational handover in my family. It has been a calling for me since childhood. Aside financial freedom, I believe being an entrepreneur also made sense if I identified the opportunity. Today, it simply justifies my inclusion as a Ghanaian who is contributing to growth and prosperity. Not just a spectator, but also a young productive lady who employs young graduates and pays taxes.
What informed the name of the company, I-ZAR GROUP and how did you figure out your business model?
➢ Izar is an acronym. A Special one indeed! I will tell the world when I finally actualize by God’s grace.
Aside my core mandate, I don’t have a special dedicated time to do creative thinking for my business. I think on the move and encourage my staff to do same.
I don’t have a business plan for my consultancy.
I have a profile and move with the rhythm of contemporary business dynamics. This precedes any planning because it informs my rout at any particular time.
I prefer that to rigid business plans based on hypothesis.
I am a master of amendments based on opportunity once it falls within my capability.
I multi-task even in odd situations. While on a WC waiting to bear the consequence of the previous day’s bad food, I respond to mails, write proposals, query or praise my staff,etc.
I have a good distribution of attention on all I do, changing the narrative to a jack of all (my) trade and master of all!
I try not to start what I cannot finish.
I loved my chosen career in Communication and knew I was going to start a service delivery company to help organizations that needed to communicate their brands beyond just the tangible office beautification with signs and posts. I wanted them to communicate strategically, with few words and aesthetics but loud presence with a quality brand image. I call it the ‘loud silence’!
Per the same rhythm of business dynamics, we used proceeds of the consultancy to build a house, got tenants to rent in Dollars. This ignited my taste for construction into what I will call my mad love for brick and mortar today. Then we started building again and again and still building. Good thing is we don’t have all our houses in an estate. We manage risks of possible empty houses apart from the fact that we are still growing in that business.
Another model under my model of dynamic contemporary business theory got us to invest in an ultra – modern factory facility which is still under construction in the northern part of Ghana. It may cost over 3 million Dollars to complete and get fully operational. So I’ve themed it the retirement endeavor. It will process Shea butter and other commodities while building skill for my people in the north. Hopefully by the end of the second quarter of next year, we should be ready for a grand commissioning by the president of Ghana.
The latest of our businesses is the “Alhaji’s wife” concept. Don’t ask if I am an Alhaji’s wife because I am not yet. But that’s the fun of it. “Alhaji’s wife” is a food joint that will serve dishes made best in the North. A networking hangout with WiFi drive through service and indeed good food.
As an entrepreneur, how did you secure funding for start-up, or is there any support from the Ghana government for entrepreneurs?
➢ I didn’t need money to start Izar. All I needed was a computer/phone and my brains. But I created the need for money to come knocking on our door just in case we needed it at a point.
I had convincing business cards without an office. I met potential clients first to prevent them from coming to my office since I operated from the dining table of my home. Sometimes I wrote proposals while I cooked or breastfed. I also insisted on pitching in cases I suspected potential clients never read proposals. This is where the power of my job as a television anchor played a role. After my first job, I went for an ultra – modern office in the business hub and heart of Accra, sat in the office for another year of long proposals and no job. I used my savings to pay backup staff who left one after the other. Then the second year showed its beautiful face full of grace and glory. I mounted on a search for people who shared my vision and the rest is history.
How do you find good employees? That seems to be quite difficult these days. Or?
➢Well, You are right to an extent. What do you do when theory creeps deep at the expense of practicality? Not withstanding, the average classroom in schools is beginning to take practical lessons serious lately, I believe. But there are still people out there who may even be smarter than the employer recruiting. But as much as possible, I hire attitude. Indeed with some level of skill, though. Skill can be taught but “Attitude” can hardly be changed. It’s a key element in the human anatomy that defines us. With the right attitude, staff will support our vision and work collectively towards achieving goals; they will not be apathetic nor disloyal. In the case of skill however, a good level of understanding satisfies my expectation of staff because you can be groomed to our corporate/professional taste.
Share with us a major lesson you learnt while starting your career.
➢ My Rule number one was the need to stay focused and remain humble while keeping an eye on the ball. I embraced what made me unique and most importantly filtered who I let in my life.Who you allow in your life will either help or hurt what you’re trying to create. It is expected that negative people will feed into your doubt, fear, and self-limiting attitudes. It’s therefore better to surround yourself with people who will lift you and be the support you need to push through failure.
What’s the motivation for young people to do something innovative in Ghana, where many come from under – privileged backgrounds?
➢ Do you need motivation to live a life worthy of emulation by your kids and generations after?
Do you need motivation to make life better for yourself? Maybe I don’t understand your question. But frankly, my Quran says even on the day of judgment God will ask us questions on productivity. He will ask what we did with the strength he gave us once we were in the right state of mind. This, I believe shall be a part of many other questions!!! Hahahaha
Has it ever made a difference that you are a woman, a young Muslim woman for that matter? Or was that completely irrelevant for the development of your company?
➢ Indeed all of the above have been absolutely relevant.
Being a Woman
Yep womanhood because you will attest to the fact that women are more meticulous, passionate and make good leaders. I believe this emanates from the usual approach of motherhood duties at home. I may not be able to do a long comparison because they are two different worlds. However, the likes of German chancellor, Angela Merkel who some people have said is using ‘breast milk’ to lead not just Germany but the whole E.U. which has earned her the nick name “MUTTI (mom). This, I believe is due to her calm but stern motherly approach to tough issues. She is like a mother to many presidents. British Prime Minister, Theresa May is another example of strength in womanhood especially at these times of lack of sleep (possibly) due to the Brexit crises which I contributed to anyway, when I had an invitation from the UK Independence Party to speak prior to the British referendum. Don’t ask me why?hahhaha
Absolutely, because I simply can not, could not and will not make a move without the blessing of God.
Well, as young people in business, we have more time to get better and gain more experience.Young, successful entrepreneurs have an unending willingness to do, be and learn more. This willingness can translate to a major competitive advantage if harnessed and nurtured.
So young is better. It means good health, enthusiasm, contemporariness, energy and being full of life. This is why employers also believe in young graduates. So indeed, being young has a good effect on business since fresh ideas are good for business prospects.
What has been your biggest success, and how are you trying to improve that?
➢ I believe my biggest success is being alive and healthy today. All we have now is life. Not sure about tomorrow because it is not promised. But if it ever comes and I am alive, it will be another celebration of success, praises to God and a continuation of the hustle.
I will make a positive impact on myself and my surroundings and hopefully the world. Not only by making money but also fortifying simple social connections with family, friends, acquaintances etc
Now, biggest misstep so far, and how you learnt from it?
➢ I call them challenges- a part of life that makes us pause to learn from the best. I can’t imagine life without challenges…absolutely boring and not worth living. Challenges revoke the attitude of contentment and ignite our quest to thrive. By that, we keep growing and making society a better place.
How did I-ZAR GROUP achieve its growth?
➢ Izar has not achieved growth. It is achieving growth. If you look at the Maslow’s theory, you will notice that the bottom of the pyramid has basic needs while the lonely tip represents self-actualization. It’s safe to say we are in the middle though I have a few reservations on the hierarchy of needs. So we are still applying strategic and meaningful ideas to stay in business as opposed to an achieved self-actualization. That will be a feeling of fulfillment. May I humbly say we are not there yet. We are a team of young entrepreneurs who are still growing the brand Izar.
You now travel to events to speak about entrepreneurship. How has the experience been for you?
➢ A good boost for business. I love to network! I also like joint ventures. I have tried a few in China, Nigeria, the U.K. and America. Not fully materialized but could be a good turning point for business if well managed.
Do you have a role model?
➢ Yes. Many role models, some dead, others alive. But I drop a few along the way and look up to new ones. My role models now are different from those I had a few years ago.
Overseeing a company involves a variety of skills and expertise that I likely haven’t grasped totally yet. So I don’t make challenging decisions on my own. Having a role model is one of the most important things a young entrepreneur can do because Mentors have taken this path before and bring knowledge and experience to help you move forward and make smarter business decisions.
What would you say to young entrepreneurs looking to start a business? How will you encourage them to greatness? What advice would you give someone who is reading this right now?
➢ Starting minor is often far less risky and a more certain path to success than waiting for a sponsor or funds from the government of the day.
There may never be an opportune time than when you get to define the word ‘entrepreneurship’. The world is moving at a fast pace, move along or be walked over!
It is imperative to motivate yourself with what you can control. If you don’t have money to launch, get a network of friends and family as first customers.
You own your skill set, which is free whether it includes dressmaking, hairdressing or carpentry.
Networks are assets, be nice and true to that friend who understands the game and processes. They can help you think through your idea.
What is the biggest challenge for women in business today?
They say female entrepreneurs are the next wave of business success. I would rather discuss measures to implore in ensuring we minimize challenges.
We cannot halt our progress based on challenges now. Challenges could be enormous in the world of all startups, whether male or female – owned and driven.
Devising best strategies to navigate through and minimize challenges is therefore the ultimate route.
“Knowing that things could be worse should not stop us from trying to make them better.”
Embrace the challenge and seek support from family and friends. This may be achieved by walking in purpose. By that, opportunity I believe will pursue us and not the other way round.
➢ Potential young entrepreneurs must remember that failure is an element of success. If it doesn’t work the first time, try again!
How may you be contacted?
➢ Look us out on: izargroup.com, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
call us on +233 302 225236