Adaobi Alex-Oni is the CEO of The Pancake Hub. An honorary ambassador and recipient of the Nelson Mandela Leadership Award by the African Youth Parliament, she is also a broadcaster and writer. Alex-Oni, who is the convener of the ROWEAD conference, is social and women’s rights activist and was a member of the Imo State Government Transition Technical Committee from March 2019 to May 2019. Besides, she was the project manager, Empower Women Project, an initiative of the Centre for International private Enterprise (CIPE), Washington DC, in collaboration with Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Mines, Industry and Agriculture women business group. In this interview with Oyinlola Sale, Alex-Oni, a promoter of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, explains how she changed the game in the food industry
The Food Industry has gone beyond the basics, it’s now all about innovation, so tell us the inspiration behind creating the Pancake Hub?
The Pancake Hub for us was a child of necessity. It came at the time when it seemed life was a different kind of tough. My husband had just left his paid employment, our kids were growing up so fast, there seemed to be a mountain of responsibilities to climb. Well, being a certified wealth manager, I believe he was more in control of where next he was going than dealing with a wife, who was more anxious about what tomorrow will bring. Anyway here we are today. With me as the chef and husband as business development manager, The Pancake Hub came to be and we never looked back. Today we are duly registered and have people working happily at the Hub.
Starting up a business comes with different challenges, how did you manage to persuade the typical African man to eat pancakes for breakfast and were you ever afraid about going outside of the norm?
The typical African man likes to explore with food because it creates some kind of pleasure for him. Well, for us, it was not a problem because being in Lagos came with its huge advantage. Lagos being a cosmopolitan city has residents, who are widely traveled and enlightened, so the question should be, how did The Pancake Hub meet the expectations of the insatiable appetite of the enlightened Lagosians?
One thing that grew the hub was the use of social media. My husband had a mastery of the social media so he used it to promote the business.
As a social and women’s rights activist, how have you managed to change the narrative of the stereotypes attached to women shattering the glass ceiling in their various fields?
Women have shattered the class ceiling so many times over so much so that they are no longer part of the agenda, but they have become the agenda. Look around you, women are everywhere possible from the bottom to the top. I believe that most stereotypes exist because the world think so, but it is often a rude sweet shock when women are seen in high places.
For me, the crusade should be for women to take along younger ones on their way to the top so that, that spot is not left vacant when they leave.
In my humble and little way, through my initiative, women have been given the space to grow and expand in areas of empowerment through workshops and collaboration in businesses, especially in agribusiness.
We have an established platform where young vibrant women entrepreneurs network with each other and get involved in building capacity for inclusion and sustainable development.
You were also the project manager of Empower Women Project, tell us about the project and what impact you made.
Being in the chambers of commerce movement at the time. I came to learn firsthand how industrious a lot of women were. Women, who were not afraid to take on the big projects. These women owned factories and were powering all through the West African sub-region and beyond.
The Empower Women Project was a collaborative effort between the Centre for International Private Enterprise Washington DC and The Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture Business Women Group. The sole aim was to carry out a survey on the challenges faced by women-owned businesses and how to help them grow.
This project involved meeting with stakeholders in the financial sector as well as the federal government to ensure the right policy that would enable the ease of doing business and visibility for these women-owned businesses was taken care of.
The summary of this is to ensure that at the end of the day women can attain financial independence through access to financial instruments made available by the government or the organised private sector. It was really an interesting project as more women enlightened and empowered.
It gave me an opportunity to understand growing the economy from bottom to top through the effort of women so long as the enabling environment is made available by all concerned.
As a promoter of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, how do you motivate individuals to know their SDGs?
Fantastic and hopeful as the SDG Goals are, the work is enormous. ROWEAD is one of the platforms through which we create awareness. Up till now most of our conference themes are woven around the SDG Goals, thereby creating awareness and urging our participants to own it and propagate it as far as they go. In recognition of our efforts, we have partnership with the UNIC Lagos.
As the convener of ROWEAD Conference, what should we be expecting from you in the next 5 years?
Before 2020, I would jump at this question, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, I say one day at a time. Having said that, this year will be eight years we have consistently hosted the ROWEAD conference. As always, a free to attend event.
This year just like every other before this, we choose themes that speak to the moment.
This year, we shall be addressing the effect of COVID-19 pandemic on women-owned businesses and how best to help them remain afloat. In the future, I pray God will sustain us to keep giving back to humanity in our own little way.
Food business is highly competitive, so what makes The Pancake Hub to stand out in the midst of the crowd?
Other restaurants, I’m sure, make pancakes, but once you ask Google, where to eat breakfast, it quickly tells you The Pancake Hub. In all humility, I think we have left a sweet yummy taste in the mouths of many that regardless they keep coming back. For me where people see competition, I see only a huge market that needs to be captured. The space is big enough for everyone.
Looking at the economy in Nigeria, presently, what can be done to sustain food security in the country?
Curb insecurity and everything is uhuru. This has greatly affected the transportation of food from one region to the other.
Now, was there ever a time you felt discouraged in this path you have chosen and how did you overcome it?
I barely pay attention to my lows. Every chapter of my life always leaves me pleasantly breathless that I can’t wait to go on to the next. Who knew 15 years after, I would be back in front of the camera again, back on television saying, I am ADAOBI? Like here, I have come full circle careerwise. Make no mistake, I have fought my battles, I have had my fair share of lows, but I count my gain, not my loss.
The Pancake Hub has brought a different flavour into the food industry, especially in Lagos, do you have any plans to expand your business beyond what it is now and what should we expect?
Most certainly, there is room for expansion and franchising. As for expectations, know that we always got our customers when it comes to breakfast. God willing, we will keep on empowering more people through our business as workers and as young entrepreneurs, who want to start up their own mini pancake hub.