Zainab Haruna is a strategy consultant, project manager and youth development advocate with seven years of experience. An alumnus of the London School of Economics, her research interests are channeled towards issues of African political economy, the informal economy, youth empowerment and the politics of youth engagement, gender in development and ICT for development.
In 2012, she founded Decipher Solutions, a youth-led social enterprise in her home country, Nigeria which designs interventions focused on building entrepreneurs, sustainable enterprises and improving the quality of education. She speaks with Akin Oyedokun in this interview.
Current role: Founder, Decipher Solutions
Location: Abuja, Nigeria
Current computer: HP Pavilion
Current mobile device: Infinix
What you want to be remembered for: I want to be remembered as one who solved problems.
Tell us how you started out and how you got to where you are today?
I suppose I have always been independent-minded from a very young age. I founded Decipher Solutions (www.deciphersolutions.org) during my youth corps service year in Abuja. I identified that many young people struggled because of gaps – knowledge gaps, resource gaps, funding gaps – and I wanted to create a company that could help to bridge those gaps. I started early with no real idea of how to run an organization and so it has been a lot of trial and error. Almost like raising a child, you learn as you go. Thankfully, I have a wonderful team and I get a lot of support from friends and family.
What time do wake up, and what time do you like to be at your desk?
Well, I wake up by 5 am and I am usually at my desk by 7.45 am on weekdays
A brief rundown of your daily routine?
While I manage Decipher Solutions with my team, I also have other things that I do. Currently, I am the Programme Director for Step Up Nigeria, I am also a co-founder of Ideacon (www.ideaconafrica.org) as well as a manage a widow empowerment initiative through my grocery store, Soup N Stew.
My day can usually get very crazy. During the week, I am always at my desk, managing staff in 2 states and overseeing our current project being deployed in 3 states. On weekends, I am either busy working on Decipher Solutions’ projects or Ideacon events or planning a grocery drive for widows. I have gotten very good at multi-tasking as you can imagine.
How do you keep track of what you have to do, on a daily?
Lists are my superpower. Lists and scheduling. I schedule everything in my calendar even the most mundane tasks so that I can get timely reminders.
Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in business?
Conducting business in Nigeria is hard generally. I think every day is tough.
What is the best business or career advice you’ve ever received?
Teachability – I read about being teachable in a John Maxwell book once and it has been very helpful for me. I approach every new situation, new assignment, new acquaintance, looking to learn something new and I usually do.
What conventional life or business advice do you disagree with?
Generally, if someone is going to give me advice about my life or my business then they must be experts on both. I always believe that content is good but context is better.
If you had to start all over again, what would you do differently?
Speak to more experts and do more research so I wouldn’t have to learn so much on the go.
Tell us about your current role and key traits required to succeed in this role.
I do a lot of things currently. A LOT. If anyone else wants to be involved in as many things as I do, then time management is a skill they absolutely must-have.
Tell us about a task do you dislike but still do and a problem you’re still trying to solve?
I don’t like working with budgets or finance, but I do that because every project manager must have a healthy understanding of all aspects of their project especially resources.
There are many problems surrounding young people’s welfare and access to opportunities that I am still trying to resolve. So many from youth unemployment to inclusion to quality education….
Who has had the greatest impact on your career, and why?
I would say my father did because he allowed me to dream as big as I wanted. I say this because your foundational years will, to a large extent determine your path in life and my father gave me the best. Even though we did not have much, he tried to give us as much as he could, including my love for books which has evolved today to make me a champion for literacy.
What business achievement are you most proud of?
There are so many of them. In 2018 I organized a conference in Abuja with no upfront payment (delays in the procurement process) and I was able to get all the vendors to agree to work with me even without any advance payment. In 2019, I was able to get an investor who was willing to invest $10,000 in my startup. Last year as well, our Solutions Spelling Bee (www.solutionsbee.org) went round the country reaching students from 16 states and truly becoming a national competition. Yayest.
Tell us about your greatest weakness as an individual.
I get bored easily so I try to stay in environments that challenge and stimulate me.
Name two untapped lucrative business opportunities in the world, right now.
There is a lot of opportunity for travel within the African continent as well as regional trading. Africa does not do enough business with Africa. If we can crack that, we are on our way to establishing our place in the global power system.
Aside from God, what do you consider your greatest success secret?
What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to?
I watch a lot of TED talks. And I get newsletters from Quartz and Stears
What tools, gadgets, or apps can’t you do without?
What’s your favorite social media platform, handle, and why?
Facebook. Feels like family there.
How do you unwind?
Movies, music and social media
Who would you love to have answer these questions?