Funmi Akinsanya-Alake is 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. Having experienced a period of adversity herself following redundancy from a lucrative role as a Financial Accountant in the UK, Funmi who bagged her first degree in Chemistry at the Lagos State University, Nigeria, then went on to study for a second degree in Learning Disability Nursing. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE, she speaks on what women can do to reduce the odds of career setbacks.
It is not easy to suddenly find oneself 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 will 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 reduce the odds of career setbacks in 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 idea 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. I was having this conversation with my 15-year-old daughter recently, looking at the things she enjoys doing and she’s skilled at, that could ultimately create a source of income. We need to continue to have these conversations with our daughters. 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 area 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 organisation 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 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 specialisation, I wanted to study, I did a bit of research and I was quickly attracted to learning disability. I love the holistic approach to providing care, which meant that we not only treat the physical, but also support the mental, emotional, psychological, educational, spiritual, and social needs of people with 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 careers/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?
Oh well, can I be bias and say firstly that I am a woman, so my allegiance is to champion 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 (not just formal), she in turns educate 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.
So far, have you been making significant impact 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 dinner, and other events across the UK.
As an entrepreneur, how did you get to choose the event niche where your company currently operate?
I have always loved to plan and manage events because I love when things are well organised. I started to help organise 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 event, 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 considerable measure of success in the past and are now going through a period of adversity, to pick up themselves and start again. I have walked in that path, started all over again and now better for it. I see myself as a bridge who helps connect people who are at crossroads reach their destination.
What are the big lessons you learnt in your early days?
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 realised 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 labour.
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 realise 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 at 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. You are only more than a conqueror when you uphold a winning attitude. It is your attitude rather than your aptitude that will determine your altitude – Zig Ziglar
A period of adversity is not the time to withdraw and keep to yourself. Get yourself busy. Learn new skills, volunteer in organisations 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 learnt from that experience.