JuliEana Ali is passionate about real estate. She’s also passionate about people living in the slums especially children. In this interview she explains why and reveals how much progress she’s made generally over the years.
There are two or more remarkable things about you. You are into property development and you’re passionate about helping out-of-school children in slums. Let’s take the first. Talk about your property development business.
My property development business can be seen as a passion brewed out of my taste for quality, luxury and detailing. And my company Dazzy Beautifiers offers world-class structures and designs to satisfy and meet the needs of every client.
But this is a rare field for ladies. How did you get into it?
The love for perfection. I am very detailed. I started by doing interior designs but along the line, impossible demands of clients whose properties were either too small or built wrongly for the designs they requested increased my scope. This made me go back to London, where I did interior and architectural design. My love for perfection got me here.
How do you cope with construction workers and artisans, some of who are twice your size?
Oh well… remember how they say dynamites come in small packages. When it comes to managing my staff, everyone is addressed and treated as their job description demands. Eyes on the ball! Most of my workers do their jobs without much direct supervision.
However, some clients try to look down on me because of my gender and age but when they see what I am capable of, the story changes.
To understand you better, it may be necessary to know areas you are talented in or gifts God gave you. Could you tell us about these?
I have been known to be very persuasive or so people around me tell me, even my mum. But in all that, I think I am a bit misunderstood. I would want to be seen as one who believes that “whatever can be conceived or imagined can be achieved” and you should only think of giving up after you have done everything humanly possible (well within ethical and moral boundaries) but failed. But sometimes, it is even at that point the God-factor kicks in. That is when God intervenes. So, I am persuasive, I am tenacious. That I would say are some of my strongest God-given gifts in addition to skills I now have.
We need the right environment to develop our gifts to the max. What is your family background like? How has that helped you?
I am from Edo State. I grew up in northern Nigeria, had my early education there and traveled abroad for my higher education. I cannot say this without acknowledging the role my mother, Mrs. Florence Adeyemo, played in those days. She is an exceptional woman. My dad, Professor Anthony Ali, was a professor at University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He passed away almost two years ago. I have an elder sister, two younger sisters and two younger brothers. Family is important to me.
Could you talk about your formal education?
I had my primary and secondary education in Kano State. My first degree was in Business Communication and in South Africa. From there, I proceeded to London where I did interior and architectural design.
What was your favourite subject?
Well, my best subject was English, I guess because my English teacher was very patient and was always there to help me through.
How do you get your inspiration? Does it come to you or you go chasing it?
First, from God and then I get inspiration from books, trainings, seminars, etc; but basically my environment inspires me a lot.
What are some challenges of property development in Lagos and how do you cope with them?
Lots of challenges really; from approval stage to finishing, building materials, etc. Knowing how to deal with the challenges is very important. For example, when there is an omo onile problem, I come down to their level, listen and come to some form of agreement. Also, prices have shot up because of the current economic situation and we have to do our best not to scare away property owners. I also think government has to do a lot better in reducing bureaucracy, in giving approvals or consent and also ensuring that issues like land grabbing or harassment from these omo onile or natives are addressed.
Talking about housing issues generally, what could be done for more Nigerians to own decent homes?
Everyone deserves a decent place of abode to rest and call “home” and what I think could be done is to provide great structures that are decent and affordable for Nigerians and which will also stand the sands of time.
Low-cost housing should be available to Nigerians. I mean houses for as low as N2 million to N4 million and provision for mortgage should be available. It could even be set up as a rent-to-own scheme guaranteed by the government.
How would you describe the Lagos skyline? What could be done to make it more beautiful?
We are not there yet but with the way things are going; very soon Lagos will be a beauty to behold. When I drive through some areas, I sense that Lagos will wear a new look real soon.
This doesn’t necessarily mean new development. We just need to develop good maintenance culture and follow regulations. There has to be proper planning. Look at most cities in Europe, it’s not as if there are new buildings everywhere, in fact there are areas where you can’t just change the structural façade. They are more into preservation of these areas, which they see as part of their heritage.
To make it more beautiful, provisions should be made for adequate parking, maintenance, landscaping, lighting up the city and enforcing building approvals and regulations. For instance, Lagos is surrounded by water and you can imagine the real estate potentials but they are marred by unregulated construction around these areas, which makes a mess of the whole thing.
As a lady who chases approvals and go to property sites, how do you combine work and the home; work and leisure?
It’s not easy at all; I am on my feet all day. I always look forward to going home after the day’s job. I really don’t have a social life so Sundays are for my family.
Now, let’s talk about philanthropy. What is this passion for out- of- school children in slums?
My love for children is the drive behind it and I believe every Nigerian child should be given basic education. Education goes a long way for any child, be it formal or informal. Most children from the slums want to go to school but their parents can’t afford to send them. I have met and interacted with over 10,000 children from different slums and I have come to understand that not only do they have the strong will to be educated, they also have big dreams.
What are you doing to help them?
We always reach out to them through scholarships, paying their tuition fees and spending time with some selected children (those doing very well in school via our support) just to make sure they don’t give up. We have volunteers all over Nigeria that organise lessons to teach and educate children. We also build education centres in slums.
How do you react to the defence of some parents that their kids can’t go to school because they have to work at early age to make money for their parents?
This is one of the major setbacks we encounter. Sometimes we go as far as providing for single mothers just to allow their children go to school.
Who are your partners in this project?
We get support from companies and private individuals who will not like their names mentioned.
So, what motivated your interest in slum dwellers?
I guess it all started with the first slum I visited few years back and my observation of the way the residents lived, ate, slept and interacted generally. The children were friendly yet aggressive. On getting to talk to them and teaching them certain things, I began to understand that the will was there but their situation barred them from seeking formal education. As it was then during that first encounter, so it is now. And that is why we are doing everything we can to encourage and support them to go to school.
In which of the slums in Lagos are you active at present?
Many. Currently we are building two study centres every year in slum areas. A centre that is available to children in those areas without fees – absolutely free. At present, we are focused on a study centre in Makoko community, Lagos State.
We hear you are also writing a book to encourage parents to send their kids to school. Could you comment on that?
I’m so concerned about the situation that I am working on a multi-faceted approach. It is a small reader-friendly storybook to compare the long-term advantages of kids who go to school over their age mates who don’t. I am making it as simple as possible for parents with little education and their children to read.
You don’t think you have to translate it into local languages for wider reach?
That actually is a great question. It is however a decision or idea that we are considering and nurturing.
We hope to hear more about this slum education project…
Sure, helping children have formal education and preparing them for a better future.