Bunmi Williams is one of former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s daughters. She’s passionate about children as well as the environment they are raised in. This motivated her to creatively teach children about life and living from early childhood through her Ethan and Harriet Ltd, which provides education enrichment to nursery and primary schools. Lately at The Oriental Hotel, Lagos, she launched her range of educational toys and spoke with Sunday Sun after the event.
What’s your motivation for manufacturing jigsaw puzzle toys?
My aim is to create fun and educate kids creatively through Nigeria-themed puzzles. For instance and I was motivated by personal experience. Having watched my kids grow surrounded by toys with little to teach them about their heritage, I felt the need to do something about it and the idea of producing fun toys to teach Nigeria’s history to kids was born. Even our languages are at the risk of becoming extinct as we no longer speak them to our children since it’s believed to be old fashioned to speak our local dialects. In Germany, students are taught in German and in China they are taught in Mandarin. This is so important that these languages are taught globally in many countries. Learning about Nigeria shouldn’t be a choice; it should be compulsory and we want to inculcate this through fun and gamesby educating children with toys, which would teach them about African history in an engaging and appealing manner.
Does your childhood have anything to do with these creative toys?
Not really, because my inspiration are my children. I don’t want my children to grow up not knowing who they are as Nigerians and Africans and I hope a lot of parents feel this way too. If you are not talking of Nigeria, if you are not imparting the right values and virtues in them about our cultural heritage and history, then they’re lost. That’s really my inspiration. The company was actually named after my kids. I thank God for great family support, because it never ends. We are on regular 9-5 routine; once we get to the office, work starts.
When you are doing your own thing and starting something from scratch your thought is always there when you sleep, when you are awake. But you have to balance your family life and all of that. I really thank God.
When God gives you a vision, He makes provision for its actualization and you just discover everything is falling into place if you have the support of your family, your husband, your kids. I thank God for His grace and for strength. I couldn’t have done this on my own.
I don’t try to take credit for anything I’m doing or I have done. I know I’m only just starting and that this thing is bigger than me; that God is trying to do something in this nation at a time like this through what we are doing because Nigeria was great and will be great again.
Could you tell us how you actually started manufacturing toys?
Lola who I shared office space with moved back to Nigeria in 2012.
She was interested in discovering Nigeria state by state and started from the South west as she was based in Lagos. She stopped at Edo State when her job wouldn’t permit her to travel any further. Her brother was visiting Nigeria for the first time and she really wanted to share our rich cultural heritage with him but the search engine on the internet would suffice. It’s not true that Nigeria has nothing to show for its bigness, is it ?
Nobody was sharing or telling our story. People are more interested in going abroad for vacation as there are no places of interest being promoted in our country and largely across the African continent. The younger generation are growing up with little or no knowledge about our beautiful heritage and history. Nobody seems interested. Westerners have made their cultures very attractive and marketable to the rest of the world and we are all imbibing them at the expense of our own. It’s not wrong to learn and embrace new ways of doing things and values but we shouldn’t reject enviable aspects of ours.
As Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s daughter, what has life taught you?
To work hard and even pray even harder.
Were you a spoilt brat?
Far from it. My father is a disciplinarian; he didn’t spoil any of us. We just grew to appreciate him and not take things for granted. We were told to work hard.
Could you tell us more about yourself?
I was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State and I’m the founder of Ethan & Harriet, manufacturers of Lift n Learn magnetic puzzles and Family Floor Nigeria puzzles. I studied Industrial Economics at the University of Nottingham, UK and CASS Business School London, where I bagged a Master’s degree in Energy, Trade and Finance. I returned to Nigeria after my studies and worked in the oil and gas sector and investment banking.
What does style mean to you?
I don’t know. I’m a farmer’s daughter, so style for me is whatever that fits and is comfortable.
What are your favourite accessories?
My pair of blue jeans are very versatile and with it I’m good to go.
What’s your vision for Ethan & Harriet?
To become the foremost education toy designer and manufacturer in the world, re-orientating the African continent to be made up of caring citizens that are more aware of their heritage, willingly taking responsibility for and devoted to her growth. Our products nurture creativity, imagination and youthful innovation. We hope to inculcate strong ethical and cultural values in our children, building them into patriotic and passionate Nigerians with a sense of responsibility; taking ownership for and wanting to develop our country. The jigsaw puzzles are just one expression of our message. You see jigsaw puzzles; we see a transmission of knowledge from one generation to the other.