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Hajia Oj Awa-Ibraheem is a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist. She holds a degree in Political Science from then Ondo State University, now Adekunle Ajasin University. She is also the Chief Executive Officer of Glamour Lounge Saloon and Spa, and founder of Perfect Scents Designer Perfumes. In this interview, she spoke about her passion for philanthropy, which led to her medical outreach in Dopemu community in Lagos and how women can juggle careers with family life, among other things.

You are passionate about philanthropy and health interventions. What informed these outreaches?
Well, this was something I have always had at the back of my mind, including a housing project for those in need of temporary shelter due to unforeseen circumstances. Since the housing project will take a while to be realised, I had to embark on this drive so that I can impact my community. So, health and accommodation are two important projects for me.
What experiences informed these choices for you?

My parents were very healthy and they died relatively old. I would have wanted them to be older. Health is one thing that we have always been particular about growing up and in these times we are, where money is scarce, people tend to push health to the back of their minds, in place of eating and shelter. I believe putting together an initiative like this will help people to bridge that gap in the meantime while they stabilize themselves.

What informed the choice of Dopemu community?
I grew up around here, so I felt this should be my first point of call. I am not running a non-governmental organization; it is an initiative for now, in line with expectations of me as a mother, wife and a human being. Also, this is one of the things expected of me as a Muslim; to reach out to the less privileged in whatever way that we have been blessed, and give back.

What Muslim teaching emphasises this?
Actually, every part of Islam is about peace, love, care, reaching out, bridging the gap, and filling the vacuum for the less privileged, especially in our country, Nigeria where healthcare is not a very solid sector. Even if it is just for a day – just like today, someone’s life can be saved and that is more than enough for me.

How many people are you reaching out to?
For this initiative, we targeted 500 people, including doctors, pharmacists and nurses who are committed to the cause. Also, about 20 patients who need a referral to any General Hospital will be catered for. For now, I don’t have any affiliation with private hospitals.


You also turned a year older. What has life taught you?
A lot. I am fortunate to grow up with amazing parents. My father was fantastic. He was my first mentor, and a very knowledgeable man. He shaped my life. I think that’s also where all the passion for philanthropy came from. He believed that being attached to material things is worthless and that doing things that are more substantial like helping people was more profitable.

My father wasn’t too rich, but he trained a lot of people outside of his eight children. We were all trained up to university level. He was always like that; even reaching out to widows. I know that a lot of people would say that I have taken after my father. I lived a relatively sheltered life. All I knew were things that I had seen my parents do. I got married and I was lucky to get married to my husband who I call my second mentor. He also shaped me, especially in the area of business, and how I go about things.


For me, life is about simplicity and balance. You have to know when to step down and when to step up, when to enjoy and when to pull back. Priorities are also important.

I have also discovered that delayed gratification is good. Knowing when to pull back and do what you think is the right thing to be done at a particular time is also important. Those are the lessons that life has taught me. No matter how much you please people, you can never please everyone. Do what God has asked you to do, and learn to overlook the excesses of people. Just do your thing and keep moving.


What inspires you?
It is God. It may sound like a cliché, but truly He is.

Even in your business?
Yes. Those who know me will also tell you, that there are three things I hate – lies, dishonesty and deceit. I also hate people pleasing.

As an entrepreneur, how do you cope with challenges, especially in the nation’s tough economy?
For me, you just move with time and try as much as possible to prioritise. There is no point in trying to buy a car that your business cannot support. I am fortunate in the sense that I have a supportive husband, so I am able to do some things. But like I said, you try to move with the times. There are the highs and the lows. Now that we are experiencing the lows, you try to adjust. Try to prioritise the important things and then let go of what is not.

What advice do you have for young women who look up to you? What would you tell them?
I don’t want to say stay true to yourself, because sometimes yourself can deceive you. I would say stay true to what is the truth. We all know what is good and what is bad. We know what we should do and what we shouldn’t. There’s no point trying to beat about the bush. Try as much as possible to weigh the odds, if they are not in your favour, then you just need to move away from that and then try something that you have no cause to regret; something that will also prevent you from hurting a fellow human being as much as possible.


For women who are struggling to balance family life and having a career path, what would you tell them?
That’s a tough one. Personally, if it is business, then you should have it at the back of your mind that it is going to be a struggle. I am lucky now because my children are all in the university. I have the freedom now, and good enough, a partner who is encouraging. So, I am able to express myself. I don’t have to worry about school runs. It’s not easy, it is a lot to cope with and where your income is also expected to help in the family, it is even more difficult. So, just lessen your expectation. Otherwise, if you have too much expectation, you will be setting yourself up for a lot disappointment.

But if you try to lower the expectation, taking it as a learning period – you win some, you lose some. By the time your children are at the age where you are able to go all out, then it becomes easier to be able to do what you want to do. Then, you will have all those years of experience of having made all the mistakes then. You now have an easier time doing some things. It is not easy, having gone through it too. Despite having a successful partner, it is still not easy, especially for the kind of person who is ambitious, because sometimes, you have to choose.


What’s your beauty secret?
I don’t want to say the clichés, but for me, beauty is internal. You cannot be bad and expect to look beautiful. You may look beautiful on the outside, but there will be something about that beauty that will not sit well.

Interestingly, I go more natural than with a lot of makeup. I would rather have a fresh face, have a lot of sleep and try not to think too much. Clean up properly as much as you can, which should be a daily routine, and try to make yourself happy.

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What is your philosophy of life?
Do unto others like you want them to do unto you. As much as possible too, do what you know will leave you with no regrets; things that you will look back on in old age with lots of pride.

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