Freedom marred my ambition to become a doctor – Bunmi Lawson, Accion MD
BY FEYI BANKOLE
She’s the Managing Director/CEO of ACCION Microfinance Bank Limited, a bank that has evolved from a one-room office space to a leading microfinance firm with over 17 branches and 300 staff spread across major cities in Africa. All these actually happened in 5 years and in a society where microfinance banks hit the rock no sooner than they are established. For two years running, the bank has won the Lagos State Microfinance Bank of the Year. At the international level also, it got the Africa Bankers Award nomination for Best Microfinance Bank in Africa. Mrs.Olubunmi Lawson tells of how she’s living-up her dream of practicing medicine even in the world of finance. Enjoy!
I won’t say I made Accion what it is because no one can single-handedly achieve such. The secret has been making sure we have the best people on board, with everybody running with same vision. When you look at our board, you’ll find Citi Bank, Ecobank, International Finance Corporation-IFC, Accion Investment, and others. We just make sure we have professionals around us”, she swiftly said as I took my seat on the armchair across her table, with my eyes piercing inquisitively.
Despite the denial, a brief journey through her background reflected the possible magnitude of her efforts.
“I was lucky to have learnt work ethics from my parents, anyway”, Mrs.Olubunmi Lawson, a mother of two achieving young girls, finally admitted.
Her father was an Accountant with Shell and her mum, a nurse who trained abroad, worked with National Oil, now Conoil.
“They were both career people and they taught me there were no limitations to what one could do or become so long as one was ready to work hard. That has contributed to how I work and encourage others to also work. Also, as the first born in a family of six, I always have to show example. Dad was strict and he had several rules which we adhered to. But mum was a bit more liberal. Anyway, dad’s strictness was to make sure we succeeded”, she expounded.
Freedom mars ambition
Her father’s decisiveness surprisingly robbed-off on her choice of career. Being a science major, her ambition was to become a medical doctor and cure people of their ailments so they could afford to live better lives, but her father wanted accounting. Fate played out, and Bunmi was admitted to the University of Ife to study Zoology, with the promise that she would be transferred to the Department of Medicine the following session. Unfortunately, it was her first experience of freedom from parents, so, she over-played and didn’t do too well that session.
Accountant at last!
“My GPA ended up too poor for medicine, and I could not be transferred. I didn’t want Zoology, so, I withdrew from the University of Ife and was taken to the Ogun State Polytechnic by my father where I did finally Accounting and graduated at the Yaba College of Technology. My father was however encouraging throughout the period because he had wanted Accounting for me. Amazingly, I graduated with a first class! I’ve since then studied at the Lagos Business School, Harvard and some others. Really, I’ve come to realize that God has a way of redesigning destinies. I wanted to lay a strong foundation for my career, so, I worked with KPMG in Jos. By the time I left KPMG, I had passed my ICAN. Thereafter, I went abroad where I worked as a finance officer in a firm. When I came back, I worked in an insurance company. From that company, I went into marketing and from marking, I went into Fate Foundation where I was the Executive Director, and from Fate, ACCION came on board. I knew that to succeed, it would be advantageous to have a helicopter view of different industries and different aspects of finance. That also contributed to my success at ACCION”, she said.
Bunmi Lawson seemed satisfied with the turn of things and I wondered where that dream of curing ailments and helping people live better lives had varnished to.
“I am fulfilling that dream!”, she exclaimed happily.
“Poverty is a disease(an ailment) that only finance could cure to help people live better lives. I think God led me to this line to fulfill that original dream. Poverty is a bad disease because people lack the basic things to live a standard life when in poverty. It’s as bad as not having a house to sleep in or getting three square meals a day. Personally, I haven’t really lived in poverty at that extreme level, but I have of course faced some financial difficulties at some point in time, and I know what it means to live in lack. Unfortunately, some people are born into poverty and see no end to it because they do not have capital to take advantage of opportunities that abound. So, hardwork alone is not what takes people out of poverty- otherwise, load-carriers in the market would have been stinking rich because of their hardwork.
Medicine for poverty
“That’s why Accion exists- to provide them with loans so they can take advantage of opportunities. More importantly, we teach people to save because I truly believe that saving is what takes people out of poverty. This is because if you get a loan and repay it without having savings, you’re back to square one. But if you are saving those extra incomes and building up capital, then you’re able to do something bigger like buying a land, a car, sending your children to school, etc. That’s really what takes people out of poverty because that way, they can gradually walk their way out of poverty”, she enthused.