Joan Agha is a management consultant who retired from Shell Petroleum and Development Company (SPDC) in 2011, and thereafter set up Joan Consulting, as high end consultancy firm. She has also been touching lives through the Joan Agha Foundation, which awards scholarships to brilliant indigent students, gives interest-free loans to women and also assists youths to secure start-up grants for small enterprises. In addition, the foundation provides enterprise management mentorship to women in business by holding an annual lecture. Recently, it held the 5th annual lecture, where notable women entrepreneurs like Dr. Chioma Ayorinde, chief executive of Swish Ideas, Bukky Asehinde, founder of Bella Africana, Wunmi Amokeode, creative director of Design For Love, and Joycee Awosika, chief executive of Oriki Group, gave series of talks on how best practices in enterprises. Agha spoke with Sunday Sun on the sideline of the event.
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Give us a snapshot of who Joan Agha is…
I’m a management consultant, and operate in that regard through Joan Consulting. I am also the founder and president of Joan Agha foundation. I’m a trained life coach and I run the Joan Agha Life Coaching Academy. I’m married and I have children and grandchildren. I retired from Shell Petroleum and Development Company in 2011.
What informed the establishment of the foundation?
I come from a very large family. We are 24 children and I’m number 14. My father had four wives and we lived a communal life. It was very interesting. We shared everything that we had. Each of us was inclined to the other woman; my inclination was towards the second wife. Some of the other within the family were inclined towards my own mother. I just love that kind of life, that kind of sharing, it was always in my dream that when I grow up I would like that kind of sharing, being there for other people.
We have been holding lectures annually. This is the fifth lecture; we came with the initiative of having this entrepreneurial lecture for women because jobs are not readily available. We came up with the initiative five years ago. The main focus is to bring women, especially the ones that are not well financially endowed, to come and listen to successful entrepreneurs. We had in the past brought the chief executive of No Left Over, who started her business with 1,000. The day she told her story, so many people had wet eyes. I read about her on the internet and invited her. A lot of us discovered that you don’t really need to have so much money to start. What you need most are passion, enthusiasm, honesty and a strong belief in yourself. These are the ingredients for success. The success of the first and second outings propelled us to forge ahead.
The theme of the event for this year was, “Empowering Women for Sustainable Growth.” The focus was on knowledge empowerment and sharing but not in terms of money. We had experienced speakers, who gave birth to ideas. You could refer to them as ideapreneurs. Ideapreneurs are people who have ideas but they are afraid to give birth. The speakers had given birth to their ideas. These spoke on how they drew up their start-up plans, the challenges they faced and how they surmounted them. They also talked about what makes them tick.
In all of this what lessons have you learnt about life?
I have learnt that in all things, we are created to help one another. It’s in the bible that the talents he gave us is not for us to keep, rather we are to share. It’s like a pipe, water runs through a pipe and it distributes, if it does not distribute it will burst. What you share can even be kind words like: ‘You look good today or you have a nice dress.’ This can be uplifting. God has been so magnanimous to me that he brought me up in that family. Then, my husband shared the same vision and passion, if not I cannot continue.
How do you fund it?
We launched the Joan Agha Foundation in 2011. Nigerians with golden hearts contribute. That is what we have been using very prudently. I don’t get salary from the foundation; every kobo we use is with the fear of God. I told my staff that if they don’t want to incur the wrath of God, they should not take money that belongs to the less privileged. That is why I have the other companies that are profit making ventures. From there I take care of myself and then plough back into the foundation. My family and my friends have been supporters of the foundation. When God gives you an assignment he gives you the enablement.
This passion to assist the less privileged, who did you get it from, your dad or mum?
Both of them. My dad was kind to a fault and my mum the same thing. When my mum died people said so many nice things about her. They said that when we send things to her she would distribute to everybody in the village, saying her children will send more to her.
Your husband has been so supportive of your NGO. How did you meet the wonderful man?
I went to the University of Benin, where I had submitted my application for admission and I saw him coming the opposite direction. When we came abreast each other, we greeted and I told him why I had come to the campus. He took me to the Admissions Office where I found out the status of my application. That was how we met. By the time I got my admission, we were already friends.
You have been married for over 25 years now, what are the secrets of this beautiful marriage and what advice do you have for singles trusting God for partners?
First and foremost, it is God who is the head of our family. Love has played a very important role as well because we do indeed love each other very well.
Also you are fashionable, what is your definition of style?
Fashion to me is about looking good and decent and being so to the glory of God.