Irene Ndidi Ugbah is an educationist and the executive director of Crestville Academy, founder of Crestville development foundation, a public speaker, gender advocate and an author. Her personal mantra is “Success is limitless, because opportunities abound”. This mantra is the inspiration behind her books-” Limitless-Discover and Maximise Opportunities” and “Unstoppable”. She has spoken at the World Literacy Summit, held at Oxford University and the Kaleidoscope Conference at the University of Cambridge, in the UK. Irene is a recipient of the Goldman Sachs scholarship 10,000 women program and a member of British/Nigeria Educational trust. She is a wife, and mother of three children.
Irene, Pls give us your educational and family background
I graduated from Abia state university, Uturu, where I bagged a degree in geography and planning, second class upper division though I like to add a CGPA of 4.24.(laughs). I tell my children that’s if I have any regret its not making a first class as close as I came to it and almost doesn’t count. Over the years I have taken several courses in business, education, curriculum, leadership and I am currently pursuing a long distance Master’s degree.
I grew up mainly in the south western part of Nigeria, precisely Lagos and Osogbo now in Osun state. My Daddy was a civil servant so we did a bit of travelling due to him being transferred. I also had a brief stint living in my village, Agbaragwu in Isialangwa south LGA of Abia state.
I usually say your education, environment and experiences shapes who you become. My parents were what I can describe as two peas in one pod. My father made me read, helped me develop my self confidence and generally taught me critical reasoning while my mother made me and my siblings attend bible studies, home fellowship and generally drilled us in fasting,prayer and night vigils. I would say all these has shaped the woman I have become today. Not also forgetting that I lost my dad at a critical moment of my life, that further groomed my independence.
Living in different towns must have impacted you in some ways, please share?
Oh yes, for one I’m as fluent in Yoruba as I am in Igbo and this has opened doors. Also the time spent in the village was impactful as I learnt a number of skills such as extracting palm fruit, processing egusi and much more. I actually consider myself a complete Nigerian as I grew up primarily in the West, went to the East for Uni and served in the core North. The sum total of these experiences has exposed me greatly and made me more tolerant when it comes to cultures, opinions and religions.
You have a school called Crestville, what inspired you to start it and how has it been so far?
I have always been in love with imparting knowledge. From the age of 14 in my quarters I had a fellowship for younger children where I taught them Bible stories and eventually enrolled to teach in Sunday school. During my service year in Yobe state, the particular Redeemed Christian Church of God Parish I attended didn’t have children’s class so I started it for them. I am naturally inclined to education and meeting and marrying my husband further gave me more determination to start a school. He has always wanted to own school that will instil confidence in children and also bring out their talents. Its been a fulfilling journey as I see our children making impact in their various secondary schools, I am grateful.
Tell us about some of the challenges you faced in your entrepreneurial journey and how you handle them.
Hmm, I must tell you that I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur but I was never prepared for the challenges I faced on this journey.
I faced challenges such as raising capital, managing people, keeping records and much more. I am fortunate to have gotten a scholarship from Goldman Sachs bank in the US. The scholarship enabled me obtain a certificate course in entrepreneurial management at the Enterprise Development Center of Pan Atlantic university. It opened my eyes and most importantly the network I enjoy from the alumni can’t be described. Now if I have a challenge I only need to call or visit a more experienced alumni to help me sort it out.
How have you been able to juggle raising a family with all you do?
There is really no formula to these things so I have learnt to just take it one step at a time and prioritise. I am a very scheduled person, I plan weekly and break it down daily. Even when people say Irene you’re so busy, I reply that that no matter how busy I am it can never affects my family -no way! My hubby and I have our date days though not as regular as before and for my children I am hands on. So, I advise women to schedule or plan your time and cut off frivolities. Truth is I hardly watch television as I see it as 2 or 3 hours of TV time that can do something for me. Again its all depends on the person, if your job is to analyse movies or a script writer by all means TV time will be very important to such a person.
It’s clear that your husband has been supportive with setting up Crestville and in your life generally, what other support have you received from family?
Yes indeed, I keep saying that my husband is my greatest cheerleader. I have enjoyed so much support from him; financially, emotionally and even physically. My mother has been supportive as well, initially she was sceptical about me leaving my job at a young age to venture to the unknown world of entrepreneurship, but eventually when she saw I was stubborn about it she decided to support me. Her prayers have been incredible.
Two things we have that in common are a passion for goal setting and our love for writing. What inspires your passion for goals setting and what inspired you to write your stories?
In my SS3 (year 12) my social studies teacher Mrs. Nkadi came into our class for her period. She said since we were graduating from secondary school in a few months, we should write that we would graduate from the university in four years time. Most students laughed but I wrote it down and it came pass. So that kind of triggered my love for setting goals and working towards achieving them.
My interest in writing stems from the fact that I believe everyone has a story and you must give your story a voice by speaking and writing about it. That led me to write my first book which was a workbook on goals setting and tracking in 2017, last year I wrote a full book titled -” Limitless” and this year I will be turning 40 I will be releasing my 40 life lessons @40. Its titled “Unstoppable” and I started writing it seven years ago. I will share the promotional cover for the first time on this blog.
What advice do you have for other women, especially younger women?
I will draw my advice from my book ” Unstoppable” .
Firstly you must realise that God loves you unconditionally;
Has God saved you from anything in the past? I have gone through certain situations that I felt was the end but God delivered me. So I have classical cases of God’s deliverances that I use to anchor my faith for future miracles. Like the children of Israel told generations after them how God parted the red sea. I also do same, so no matter the shaking I simply bask in God’s unconditional love towards me via the things he saved me from yesterday
Secondly you must learn to be cheerful;
Cheerful girls are beautiful girls. Dear young girl don’t go about as if you have the weight of the World on your shoulders. Be cheerful, laugh out loud and generally be happy. Don’t be a ‘ bitterquine’ (bitterness + quinine).
Thirdly remember that you will always have haters;
Like we say in our Nigerian slang ” bad belle” you will always have them. Oh it took me time to understand this life lesson. There will be people who will hate you for your guts, your boldness, your audacity, for your colour, for your background or even for your existence. Don’t deprecate yourself for them to like you. Don’t join them in that mediocrity just so that you will be accepted. Girl, keep crushing your goals and heading towards the top. As you journey to success you’ll meet more deserving company.
Well said, now as a busy woman how do you rest , rejuvenate and relax?
I relax by reading not too serious things, I also go to the spa, gist and clown with my family.