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Writing the Case: Traditional Entrepreneurship in Nigeria

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Henrietta OnwuegbuzieThis post is based on an interview with Henrietta Onwuegbuzie, a faculty member at Lagos Business School in Nigeria as part of GBSN's Case Method Month.

Lagos Business School faculty member Henrietta Onwuegbuzie won the first prize in the Emerald/Association of African Business Schools’ 2012 case competition. The winning case was titled, "Nike Davies-Okundaye: Building a Family Social Enterprise”. The case highlights features of indigenous entrepreneurship in a traditional African setting and show cases the merits of traditional training methods.

It is an intriguing case of a social enterprise, inspired by the difficult experiences of an entrepreneur, who grew up in dire poverty. The difficult circumstances in which she found herself, led her to establish an enterprise based on her inherited skills in arts and crafts. The venture not only ensured her livelihood, but also provided a means for her to lift others out of poverty. The case captures the life of Nikes Davies-Okundaye, who was strongly committed to helping the poor. Her painful experiences while growing up gave her a sense of solidarity with those in need. She summarises her personal philosophy as follows:

"You don’t need to have a lot before you can help others. With the little you have, you can always do something to help.... I suffered a lot while growing up and I don’t want to see other people suffer”. (case excerpt).

The case narrates how Okundaye, overcame many odds to find success in both her business and social mission. It shows how one can take traditional skills and build not only a thriving business, but also an invaluable community asset and provides a unique model of a hybrid family business and social enterprise. Onwuegbuzie points out that in today’s increasingly capitalist society, this case reminds us that businesses can do good and still do well financially.

The case provides clear learning objectives for educators to use in the classroom. It highlights features of indigenous entrepreneurship, providing insights regarding how traditional societies transmit entrepreneurial skills, how difficult experiences can motivate the creation of a social enterprise, and an understanding of the organizational challenges of a family social enterprise in terms of leadership, succession and governance.

Onwuegbuzie’s case demonstrates how using local cases to teach business and social enterprise can be as, or more, effective for students in developing countries. By profiling a local business, Onwuegbuzie is able to inspire and engage her students on a familiar and personal level, while introducing important lessons in family business succession and social enterprise.

In selecting a case to feature, Onwuegbuzie focused on two main objectives: The need to be engaging and to have clear learning objectives. It is important to her to use a good number of local cases in her classroom teaching in addition to more globally available ones. When writing this case, Onwuegbuzie commented, "It was like going back to my roots. City life in Nigeria is so westernised and different from Okundaye’s story.

One of her biggest challenges was to keep it "Nigerian.” She noted that, It is important for the case to have a Nigerian feel. The students identify more easily with the case and the learning happens more effectively,” said Onwuegbuzie. "The first time I taught this case, I got a standing ovation from the Executive MBA students.” For those who would be using it outside of Nigeria she includes information on Nigerian culture.

Onwuegbuzie turned a moving story into an effective learning tool by exploring how Okundaye was able to create free workshop training sessions to educate people while still making a profit for her business through her art gallery. Onwuegbuzie thus demonstrated an indigenous business model of an enterprise that achieved business objectives of profitability and sustainability, while maintaining a social mission.

In 1983, Okundaye opened up the Nike Center for Art and Culture in an effort to train aspiring artists. The first workshop took 20 Nigerian women off the street and provided them with free food and shelter, in addition to free training. Okundaye initially focused only on indigent women. According to her;

"I want women to be aware that being poor is not the end of the world and that they can make it in life with or without a man. I suffered abuses because I was poor and I don’t want anyone else to go through that type of suffering.... When you’re poor, you’re vulnerable. You’re like a lion without teeth.”

Over time, her workshops and art attracted men and women from higher income groups to her business on a local and international stage. To date, over 3,000 people have trained in her workshops. Further, Okundaye has been invited to give paid sessions African art in various countries in Europe, as well as Canada and the United States.

In the case, Onwuegbuzie cites Okundaye’s daughter, who explains how her mother kept the enterprise going:

"Her source of income comes from the sale of her own art works. Whatever my Mum makes from her work she divides into three; to provide for her family, to fund her artworks and to maintain the galleries and workshops.”

Onwuegbuzie also points out in the case that another means through which Okundaye generated funds for the business was "silent auctions”. By selling her works at auctions to the highest bidder, Okundaye was able to generate funds to establish more workshops to accommodate more students. Now that she is getting on in age, challenges arising with regard to succession planning and maintaining the social mission of the business need to be resolved.

Professor Onwuegbuzie's award-winning case will be published soon by Emerald Publishing


Contributors to this article include Allyson Freedman, Page Schindler Buchanan and Henrietta Onwuegbuzie.

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