By Josyfn Uba
Funmi Akinsanya-Alake´s preoccupation with helping women who suffered setbacks in their journey of life to get back on track qualifies her professionally as a Transition and Accountability Coach.
After experiencing the vicissitudes of life—losing her job in the UK as a Financial Accountant and engineering a career comeback as a learning disability nurse—she found a new passion in advocacy for the rights and well-being of people with learning disabilities.
She went on to found a thriving business, Shabach Events, and Coaching, that saw her become a compere of social and corporate events. It is out of her experience that she came up with the therapeutic mantra “Don’t stay bitter, get better”.
In this interview, the UK resident explains her passion to help as many women as possible to regain their lives and help them live a life of impact after a setback. She also discusses her new book, Adversity to Adventure: How to Connect the Dots When the Unexpected Happens.
It is not easy to suddenly find yourself in the precarious situation of losing a source of livelihood. You have been there. What is the experience like and how dangerous could it be for a woman?
Losing a job is one of life’s major stresses and the impact it can have on anyone can be devastating in many ways. In my case, I didn’t begin to feel the effect until I applied for hundreds of roles, and still, after a year, nothing was forthcoming.
I obviously could not afford to meet my regular needs nor pay my bills and found myself having to consolidate my debts. At a point, I began to lose my confidence and self-esteem and most times would withdraw into myself. I was fortunate that as a Christian, I held on to the promises in the word of God and leveraged on the relationship with other believers around me.
Having no income for a woman can leave you feeling vulnerable. If you are married, the prayer is that you have a supportive husband to, at least, help ease some of the burden. For a single woman, there is a tendency to want to do anything, at any cost, to make ends meet.
Setbacks are facts of life. What can a young woman do to at least, reduce the odds of career setbacks in the future?
We are in an era where there is so much awareness about having multiple streams of income. And I am glad to see that a lot of women are embracing this ideal and becoming serial entrepreneurs.
There are no guarantees in life and setbacks are inevitable, so the more multifaceted one is, the easier it will be to overcome any adversity. Young women need to begin to harness the gifts in them early so as to have something to fall back on when their corporate careers fail them, should they choose to go that route. Even as a career woman, always ensure to update your skills regularly.
Advocacy for people with learning disabilities is one of your areas of interest and engagement. What significant event got you interested in it and what has sustained your passion thus far?
Interestingly I did not set out to be a learning disability nurse. I ventured into the health care sector when I wasn’t successful in getting back into employment after being made redundant from my previous role as a financial accountant in an organization where I had worked for a little over 10 years. Desperate to earn a living, I settled for a much lower-paid role as a health care assistant on a zero-hour contract, which meant you work when there’s availability. For me then, I was intentional that the only way has got to be to get back up. So, working as an HCA for about three years, I decided to go back to college to study Nursing, since I have found myself in the healthcare sector, I might as well make the best of the experience, and look for the opportunities within it. When I was choosing the area of specialization, I did a bit of research and I was quickly attracted to learning disability. I love the holistic approach to providing care, which means that we not only treat the physical, but also support the mental, emotional, psychological, educational, spiritual, and social needs of people with a learning disability.
For me, being able to empower and enable someone with a learning disability to live an inclusive and independent life within their community, and also involving their carers/family in the process gives me a sense of fulfillment.
You also devote your time, resources, and energy to championing the cause of women. Why is this important to you?
I am a woman, so my allegiance is to championing the cause of women. An African proverb says, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation”. Truly so, a woman Is a multiplier by nature. When a woman is educated, she educates her family, who then educates the nation. And you know that when a nation is educated, the economy is built. As strong as women are, there are still a lot of areas where we are relegated to second-class status, violated, and discriminated against. This ought not to be so. There must be equal participation of both men and women in areas that matter and the voices of women should count more.
What significant impact have you made to justify your commitment to the advocacy?
Yes. In the UK, I am actively involved in my community as part of the planning committee for the women empowerment events especially as part of the yearly International Women’s Day. I also help to facilitate, anchor and speak at various women’s awards ceremonies, fundraising dinners, and other events across the UK.
As an entrepreneur, how did you get to choose the event niche where your company currently operates?
I have always loved to plan and manage events because I love when things are well organized. I started to help organize events at my local church and was then invited to anchor a former pastor’s 50th birthday celebrations several years back. I then began to anchor other social events, community events, concerts, and host exhibitions and conferences.
As a certified coaching practitioner, I carved a niche as a Transition & Accountability Coach, helping women who have had setbacks in their journey of life, go through the process of moving on from being stuck to getting back on track. It can be particularly difficult for women, especially those who have had a measure of success in the past and are now going through a period of adversity, to pick up and start again. I have walked in that path, started all over again, and now better for it. I see myself as a bridge to help connect people that are at crossroads to reach their destination.
What are the big lessons you learned in your early days of entrepreneurship?
Not charging for my services early enough. When I started doing events, I was volunteering and therefore not getting paid—and there is nothing wrong with that for starters. But I soon realized that to build a sustainable business, you have to go from free to fee. You have to make your stand known especially to those who have been used to getting free services from you. Even if you were going to provide your service at a discount, they must reward you for your labor.
One other thing I didn’t learn early was to expand my horizon. For the event business, we sometimes rely on people we know for businesses or referrals. It is important to seek other ways of getting clients, and form collaborations where possible with others in a similar type of business.
You have written a book about overcoming adversity. Briefly, what are your practical steps for someone who found herself in such difficult circumstances?
In the first chapter of my book, I started with the fact that we need to realize that change is a given but the way we react to change is an option we have to take. It is therefore important that we do not be in denial when adversity happens, but we must seek to understand and accept the reality of the time, and then go on to make that adversity work for us. I am a firm believer in the fact that all things work together for our greater good.
Your mental well-being should be taken care of in times of adversity. Please do not keep silent, ask for help, and don’t go through the journey alone. It is easy to slip into depression and I have seen this happen to many people. Hold on to your faith and find like-minded people or those who are strong in faith to join theirs with yours.
Maintain a positive attitude. Don’t give in to failure so easily because what has happened to you does not define you. As Zig Ziglar said, ¨It is your attitude rather than your aptitude that will determine your altitude.”
A period of adversity is not the time to withdraw and keep to yourself. Get yourself busy. Learn new skills, volunteer in organizations or in your community, have somebody you are accountable to, but more importantly, seek new adventures within the adversity. Whatever the case may be, don’t lose the lessons you have learned from that experience.
You have lived in Nigeria and the UK. What are the big differences in how both societies aid or impede the success of their women?
I must say there is a disparity between living life as a woman in the UK and living life as a woman in Nigeria. I must also say that I left Nigeria at the age of 25 and I was not in a paid employment as at the time I left, other than my youth service experience. Yes, there are opportunities available in the UK but even at that, not every woman avails themselves of those opportunities. I went back to college at the age of 45 and as a mature student. In the UK, there are education loans available. You can also access free training and courses here if you so desire. I am aware that those opportunities are not available in Nigeria, but I have seen, and know many women who live in Nigeria and have made the best use of what is available. It all boils down to an insatiable desire and a dogged determination not to give up. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way.
To a young girl aspiring to greatness, how would you counsel her on how to choose the right path?
My first counsel will be, start right. Identify what you are passionate about and begin to develop the skills you need to be the best in those things. Then focus. Too many distractions around and things that do not add value shouldn’t interest you. Don’t lose sight of where you are going. There is a time for everything, and this is the time to build a solid foundation. Then cultivate habits that will help you succeed. Read, Read, Read. Readers are leaders