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How acquiring digital skills can help Nigerian youths -Tale Alimi, CEO Rouzo, online cooperative fintech firm

Tale Alimi is an amazon. With a first degree in Accountancy, Masters in Business Administration and multiple certificates in Information Technology and Marketing, she has worked variously as a business strategist, business coach and consultant in the last decade and has garnered a reputation as a technology entrepreneur to the bargain. Recently, she co-founded Rouzo, an online cooperative scheme that helps fund small businesses. In this interview with The Nigerian Xpress, she spoke about the dynamics of her new business creation and other important developments including the growing importance of acquiring digital skills in today’s world and how students can gain a head start in the employment market even before completing their tertiary education.



What inspires the founding of Rouzo?

Rouzo was created because we noticed that in developing economies, wealth creation is fueled by productivity. The small business segment of the economy contributes significantly to this growth. However, they are usually underfunded. At the same time, working-class members of the society are always looking for alternative ways to grow their income and build wealth and this is not attainable through traditional financial institutions.

As a financial technology company, we initially created a credit-scoring algorithm to help financial institutions credit score small businesses so they could get access to credit from them. We can leverage our algorithm on Rouzo to support small businesses.

Where did the idea come from?

In the last decade, I have worked with micro and small businesses as a business coach and consultant. Because of my background in technology, I had leveraged technology to provide business support for these businesses. When I began to notice that a lot of these businesses were finding it challenging to get access to financing, I started looking for a way to use technology to bring access to finance closer to these businesses, which is what led to setting up a fintech company in the first place.

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However with changes in the economy, we began to also notice that traditional financial institutions were also not able to meet their financial needs adequately and at the same time, people within our community were looking for alternative means of investing, so we decided to create a cooperative platform and bring the two parties together.

After the MMM experience, most Nigerians are scared of investing in online schemes. How is Rouzo different?

Rouzo is a peer-to-peer platform powered by Owoafara Fintech Services Limited. Peer to peer is an alternative way of investing or getting access to finance that allows individual to pool their funds together for a common cause on a technology platform.

We created Rouzo as a form of online cooperative to help everyday people looking for alternative forms of an investment pool their funds together to support micro and small business. This way, they can make an impact on the economy and get healthy financial returns as they build wealth.

Rouzo is a for-profit, for impact platform that has a sustainable business model because we are creating value and not collecting monies and operating a pyramid scheme. So far, membership has been driven by word of mouth as it is very trust-driven and we take care of our member’s funds with integrity and transparency.

What role do you play in Rouzo? What experience are you bringing into this new initiative?

I am co-founder and CEO. I bring over 15 years of corporate experience working in Management consulting, financial services and technology companies building products for SMEs. I have also previously founded two startups one of which was acquired in the eCommerce space.

Having been involved in two startups, what are the big lessons you have learned about establishing a business and nurturing it to full bloom in Nigeria?

I have learned that you have to have a balance of the right idea, right execution, right funding and God’s favour to get it off the ground. You also need a lot of resilience and patience to nurture it. I say this because there is a lot of pressure on people to live a certain lifestyle when they are starting and growing their businesses. If you succumb to such pressures, you can jeopardize the potential of the company.

When you decide to embark on a new venture, it will take a lot of personal sacrifice from you. You have to be intentional about how you use your time, what you allow influence you and you have to ensure you are not distracted by success or failure. I have learned that remaining focused on the vision and mission is exceptionally important.

Looking back from your present position, what are some of the challenges that could have stopped you from coming this far and how did you surmount them?

I have indeed surmounted a lot of obstacles and it has been by the grace of God. Ten years ago, I became a single parent unexpectedly. The emotional and financial challenges almost took a toll on me especially combining that with starting and running businesses.

My family, close circle of friends and my team supported me through various challenges and I have had to overcome. It has taken a lot of prayers, continuous learning and focus to come this far.

What motivated you to become a Full Stack developer?

I had a background in technology as a Database Administrator early in my career, so I have always been familiar with technology applications. However, when we wanted to build our first platform at Owoafara, I tried to get a technical co-founder who would build it, but I got disappointed by two people. This was the motivation I needed to take on the challenge to learn how to build it myself. It was quite an interesting challenge learning new programming languages, but I was able to do it in four months and we have come very far since then.

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To the teeming youth grappling with unemployment, how do you think they can best find their feet given the adverse situation of the economy at the moment?

I think acquiring digital skills is the way to go. With the internet and technology, you can work anywhere in the world right now from the comfort of your home. Covid-19 has also further accelerated remote work, so employment should not be restricted to a certain country. Once you have skills that are relevant in multiple countries, you can apply for a remote job and even work as a self-employed freelancer.

What are the necessary preparations that Nigerian students need before their graduation to, one, make their quest for a job fruitful, and two, easily transform them into entrepreneurs?

You need to have a skill that is valuable and applicable in the real world. A member of my current technology team is a university student and because of his programming skills, he is earning twice as much as some university graduates that don’t have real-world skills.

With the benefit of your experience, how does being a woman place anyone at a disadvantage in the workplace or otherwise?

There are a few biases especially in technology where many of the startups are founded by men, so there is some sort of “boys club”.

However, I don’t let those things place a limit on me because I believe it is hard to stop a woman who knows where she is going. And I have also gotten quite a lot of support from men in technology, so I don’t see myself as disadvantaged in any way. My experience has matured me and made me solid.

What extra effort does being a woman demands of you at your place of work or home or in balancing both?

I like a book by Simon Sinek, Start with the Why. The first thing any human being has to determine is why they are doing what they are doing. When you are clear about your why, you can build your life around this.

You can allocate your time appropriately to what matters to you. My family is important to me and my work is important to me because I believe it is a vehicle to fulfil my purpose on this earth. So, I have found a way to integrate all the aspects of my life that matter to me.

Give us an anecdote of the most memorable moment in your working life

A recent experience was the launch of Rouzo at the height of Covid-19. At that time, my co-founder and I were participating in an accelerator programme. We were told it would be difficult to pull it off because of the virus. I was almost depressed at the circumstances, but it took a lot of courage, spiritual and mental strength to do it and it has been a progressive journey so far.