Tell us a little about yourself. What were your growing up years like?
So I am the founder of Edward consulting. I’m also a co-founder of Kinnect. Regarding my growing up days, I was the last child of four. Both my parents were in academia. My dad and mum met at the University of Ife, now renamed Olabisi Onabanjo University. My mum studied pharmacy while my dad studied medicine and they both went on to do their PhD at Manchester University. They later came back to Ife to teach medicine and pharmacy before we moved to Lagos because my dad was made the medical director of Pfizer in Nigeria.
So, I was actually born in Ile-Ife. I’m an Ife baby. I grew up in a family that loved education and amongst people that were very excellent. They were always like, what’s worth doing is worth doing well. They were very passionate. They were always publishing, writing, doing research and different presentations. And you know, there wasn’t any expectation for us to go into sciences but thankfully my oldest brother is a doctor, so he would have fulfilled their secret desire, I hope. And then being the last born, I didn’t feel pressure at all. And I think that something that was very formative of who I am today was losing my dad. I lost my dad when I was 6 years old. He was assassinated on Christmas day in Ikeja, around Oba Akran. And it’s one of those things which though it happened 28 years ago in 1995, still doesn’t seem real. So as a single mum, my mum raised me and my 3 siblings all by herself and she really did an amazing job. Honestly, one thing that I have learned from her is that there’s absolutely nothing that one cannot achieve. Suddenly having to raise 4 kids ages 6 to 16 and still being able to climb up the career ladder like she has successfully done just proves that. She became the first female Dean of pharmacy in Nigeria. That was at Olabisi Onabanjo University where she later also became a Deputy Vice Chancellor. She is a recipient of a national honour being made a Member of the Order of the Federal Republic. She accomplished all this while single handedly raising 4 children. And so when you’ve seen that kind of strength, commitment to excellence in her career and how she still manages to be a loving and supportive mum, it does something to you. She went all out to make sure we never felt the void of not having our dad around or fear that because of his absence, we would not get the best. When it came to me going to university, she made up her mind that I would go abroad. There wasn’t much discussion over it so I just took it that she was going to figure it out. So you know, when you’ve been raised with that kind of attitude and mentality, it motivates you to be excellent and to do your best wherever you find yourself. So it’s either you show up or you don’t show up. But if you’re there, you have to give it a hundred percent. So yes, that was my childhood.
First of all, sorry to hear that about your dad. But kudos to your mum who has been a strong woman and a great woman too. So, to our next question. What is it that makes Bimpe Femi-Oyewo tick?
It’s a hard question but I’ll try. So, I think I am motivated by impact. With almost everything that I get involved in or I do, there has to be impact. I have to feel like I am leaving a place better than I met it, that I’m part of a solution and that I’m leading and living my life from a place of empathy. I read somewhere that when you’ve experienced trauma at a really young age, it teaches you empathy like no other. You’re able to empathize with others and put yourself in their position. So, just being compassionate and being impact-driven is important to me. And I’m also very passionate. Sometimes I feel like I can stretch myself a little thin but I’m learning. I’m learning to sometimes say no and sometimes say maybe, not now. But I’m very passionate. It’s hard for me to get involved in something that I’m not passionate about. I have to be very invested because I realize that things will sometimes get hard. Things are going to happen. Challenges are going to come and when they occur, it’s the passion that will keep driving me. Believing that you’re doing this for a larger cause, right? That’s the sort of thing that gets me up in the morning and gets me excited.
Awesome. That’s how you know someone that is into development. The word impact is always on their lips. What does an educational and international development professional do? Tell us some of Edward Consulting’s achievements in this area.
Okay. So I’ll kind of separate them because I feel like they’re a bit separate. Prior to starting Edward Consulting, I was just Bimpe, the international development person. That was my only focus. That was all I did with my nonprofit with UNDP and several initiatives that I was opportuned to work on and contribute to. So I would say that’s a bit separate to being an international educational consultant, which is what happened after I created Edward Consulting. I would say that for me, Edward Consulting came from a drive to help African students to become their best self and take advantage of opportunities out there. I was privileged to study in the US and
I was fortunate to study both my degrees on different scholarships. This made me realise that there are many opportunities out there for Africans, but that people just didn’t know how to access those opportunities. I wanted to be a bridge because I recognized that going to certain schools and being in certain environments opens up your mind, it develops creativity, it also allows you to build your network. And I had come to the understanding that your network can be everything because you don’t know who you’re going to get connected to and you don’t know who you’re going to meet who can open so many doors. And so I wanted to start something that would actually focus on helping African students from Nigeria, from Ghana and from any other African country get into top schools with scholarships, and do well, and get into environments that are enabling. Because sometimes, some of the schools and environments are not the most enabling for black or African people or people of colour. So making sure that the environment was supportive so that they didn’t just go to the school, but there was something they could do afterwards was very important. And so I started Edward Consulting kind of, well, accidentally. I knew I had a wealth of knowledge when it came to scholarships and I thought I would do it on the side and do international development full time. So I moved back to Nigeria and an opportunity came for me to participate in an educational fair. I went. I hurriedly created a website and logo and made a pull-up banner as I just didn’t believe in doing things half-half. So when I got the invitation three days before the event, I was like, oh my gosh, if I’m going to go, then I have to look presentable to compete with all these companies that have been doing it for decades. I did everything that I could do just to have business cards but actually thinking that nothing would come of it. This was on January 31st, 2019. Quite unexpectedly, an opportunity came up to do a sort of elevator pitch at the fair so I spoke and thought that was it. Only to return to the booth and meet a long line. I couldn’t believe it. An event that was supposed to end at 2pm, people were still talking to me till 4pm. As I was walking to my car, people were still talking to me and asking when they could come to my office. Again, I was like, oh, my gosh! I hadn’t even thought that far. So I would tell them to meet me in a nearby Café. So that’s how I came to realize that there was a much larger gap and there was a need. I decided to focus on addressing this need as I had a good understanding of the process, having been an international student myself who first moved to the US for studies at just 16 and then went on to earn multiple degrees in the US.
I had experience in navigating that space. I knew what the schools wanted and I was able to prevent my fellow Africans from experiencing the unpleasant things as well as preparing them and setting realistic expectations. So Edward consulting was born and at the time I just thought, let me continue and see what happens. Working from my room, COVID happened so there was no point in opening an office. People will be like, I want to come and see your office but of course, I could only work virtually as there was no office anyway. So I just continued to do the work, put my head down and got on with it. And in like four years plus, we’ve secured $12.9 million in scholarships for our clients. That’s about N9.9 billion. We have helped clients get into good schools and Ivy Leagues like the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia Business School. For the University of Pennsylvania, there was a UNESCO scholarship that they only gave to 2 people and our client was one of them. We’ve had people get scholarships like the World Bank/Japan scholarship. We’ve had people get scholarships to Germany. In fact the first ever German school we applied to, our client got the German government DAAD scholarship to it. And so things just picked up before I knew it. It’s actually quite wild to say we’re at $12.9m because we started this year at just over $8m but by July, we were at $12.9m. And we have a bunch of offers that are going to come in November through December. So we’re not going to end the year at $12.9m. It’s just really good to be able to speak to people and for them to say things like, meeting you was when it changed for me. It’s really amazing as well to have clients who go on to get really good jobs, very high paying jobs – and they call me first and say, after my parents, I had to call you because you were there through the journey. It’s lovely to build a family where we actually really care about these people and their wellbeing and we stay connected.
That’s awesome. I mean, coming from the perspective of helping and supporting African students, I think that is very laudable. Sorry I missed a part. You mentioned something about $8m plus. Then you mentioned $12m.
Yes, so I’m saying that this year we started at $8m plus. This time last year, I think we were just at $5m. You know when you see numbers and it’s just blowing your mind. It doesn’t seem to make sense. But to be honest, the effort, the quality of work, the time and commitment is definitely matching it. Two clients got $500,000 worth of scholarships each. You don’t get that kind of return on investment…Lol. Where can you put your money and get that sort of return in 6 months to a year? Because with many of these clients, we work with them for about 6 months to a year. So it’s just gratifying to know that you’re part of someone’s journey and you’re helping them to become their best self.
And these scholarships, do they come as full ride scholarships?
It varies but on average, most of our scholarships are from 65%, 70% to 100%. And then there are some that even come with stipends added to it. So for example, with the DAAD German scholarship, they paid for plane tickets and even gave a stipend to cover living expenses in addition to the 100% scholarship. It’s almost like they paid the person to go to school. We have another client who got the World Bank/Japan scholarship and that too came with free plane tickets on top of the full ride. They paid for everything. The Rotary Scholarship was the same and that was for a client who got into Duke University, an Ivy League. So everyone’s profile is different and what everyone calls access is different but what we want to make sure is that no matter what your profile is, like your grades, work experience, GRE, GMAT, we just want to make sure that it is affordable and accessible and despite what your profile is, there is a route for you.
Out of the multitude of people who you have helped to obtain scholarships, is there one particular case that sticks out in your mind, one that gave you that sense of fulfillment perhaps more than others?
Yes, yes there is. So one of the things that I wanted to do when I started Edward Consulting was to also have support for people that might not be able to afford this process, can’t pay the application fees, can’t pay for their SATs, can’t pay for their GREs, and support them through Edward Consulting. So very quickly, Edward is actually my dad’s first name. He’s Edward Adefemi so I named it after him and in his honour I have a scholarship that I give to someone that is very deserving, who does the work, who will show up and is from a low income community or family. For that client, we pay for the application fees, we pay for SAT, we pay for tutoring, we walk them through the whole process and do absolutely everything for them. The Visa fee is on us. The plane ticket is on us. And so there is a young boy, very eager, who was just 15 when I first met him. You know how it is when you’re just starting a business but you’re not sure anybody’s even noticing it but you’re doing good work. You’re putting up stuff but no one is really liking it, no one’s really engaging with your posts. You’re like, am I getting any traction? You know you have those days, you have those times, and this boy will like every post and comment. To the point where every time I hire someone they’ll be convinced that he works with us before I tell them that I have never met him…Lol.
So eventually in SS2, he informed me that he wants to go to school overseas. I told him to book a consultation with us. So he booked a consultation and I explained the whole process. Meanwhile, I already knew that he had lost his dad, which I related to. He was being raised by a single mum. I knew he was very hardworking because he used to send us his transcripts. It was almost like we were his aunties as he would send us his grades for each semester. He had good grades and his energy was really great. So we had the consultation and I told him that we were going to cover everything. He was shocked. We worked on 7 or 8 applications and in the end we secured over $1.3 million for him as scholarship offers from different universities! Only him. That’s the most money we’ve gotten for one person and now he’s going to be the first person in his family to go overseas. He has his visa interview in Abuja in the first week of November. And we’re hoping everything goes well. He got like a full tuition scholarship, you know, and it’s only one that they give to like 25 people and he got it. All the incoming class, everybody applies for this and he was the one that got it. So I think someone like that, that I know would never have had that access without us, someone that is so hardworking, is so deserving and who always showed up is my standout client. We wrote over 75 essays, no exaggeration. Yes, we applied for every scholarship and you know how it is when you take on a responsibility and half way, you’re like, ha, who sent me? The work, the time, the commitment…I got quite overwhelmed. And that’s minus the things I was paying for in dollars. I was like, Lord God…Lol. But it’s definitely the most rewarding thing. And I think it took a village because there were months when we were paying for things and we were not even making money. You know how you have your down season and you’re not even making profit. My accountant will look at me like, so you’re really going to give money? It got to the point where it really did take a village as I got my friends invested in his story. I would send them his essays and some of them would ask me to use their cards to pay for different things, his SATs etc. It helps when you’re showing people results, when people are seeing the effort and when people trust you, you know, when your word has value. I give credit to a lot of my friends who really showed up for me. I certainly underestimated some of the additional costs that came simply because he just wasn’t in a place or from a family that had any resources to contribute. The whole responsibility was on me to the point that they would joke that he’s Bimpe’s baby. After getting his admission I told him that he needed a job but at 15 nobody could employ him. So while waiting to go for his visa, he has been an intern at Edward Consulting and he’s making money. He’s able to save some of that money and he even sends me some of his salary for me to keep for him just so he doesn’t spend it.
That was an awesome story. I’m still in disbelief. We’ll have to do a story on that boy.
It’s so funny because I felt like I had a child but I wasn’t even prepared for the responsibility.
Our team, every Monday we do highs and lows so that we use it to connect as a team and talk about what happened that was a low and what happened that was a high. It just allows you to feel more together. For our annual retreat as an organization we would usually go somewhere and each time this boy would tell the world that it was on Edward Consulting’s annual retreat that he entered a boat for the first time or it was then that he first ate pizza and so on…Lol.
So now that he wants to get his visa, the major concern I have about him is that he stammers and I feel that his stammering may not have been this bad if he had the appropriate support. So I went as far as connecting him with a speech therapist to just kind of work him through how he would answer questions calmly. I know that at the US embassy they can be very impatient so when you’re already moving a bit slower than they would like they start getting a bit impatient. So I think that’s my only concern. Apart from that, he’s such a smart boy and very hardworking. So yes, he’s my intern. He says he’s my executive assistant but I don’t know about that. I saw his email the other day where he wrote Bright, Executive Assistant…Lol. It’s good though. It’s so encouraging when you have such a motivated fellow around you and I’ll be honest with you, the work that he did, even my best graduate students haven’t done that kind of work. I don’t think I had the discipline and the determination that he has at his age. And I think it was a drive from a place of wanting better for yourself because he’s also had family members who just didn’t care. You know how when someone says you can’t, it gives you that drive. And I recognize that, coming from someone also raised by a single mom. I saw how hard my mum worked for us so nothing was ever taken for granted. I understand the value of hard work. Yes, I have been fortunate to have a good life but it was on the back of my mum. So I get it. With him, I was able to identify with that. And so even on the days that I was too tired to help him with anything, I would get a call from him, saying aunty, what about the essay? Oh my gosh! But because of his own energy and his determination I would have no choice. No exaggeration, we wrote more than 75 essays. So, I think his case has been the most rewarding and definitely the most time consuming and financially demanding too. But I’m glad that I stuck with it even on the days that it was like, who sent me? I just had no idea that the work was going to be that much.
When he comes to Abuja for his visa appointment, his airport ride to the embassy and back to the airport, we would take care of that.
Oh, thank you so much. That would be so amazing.
So now talking about your career. You have had a successful career in the US and in Fiji. What made you decide to return to Nigeria at a time when a significant number of Nigerians are so desperate to leave? In many cases, to anywhere but Nigeria.
There are some days when I’m like, why are you here? I think everyone feels that way sometimes, especially when you enter your car, face traffic, the car is not starting, the generator is not starting, the rain starts to fall, it’s flooded. You know we all have those days. But first of all, Nigeria is home. While I have lived in four continents, I feel like the most at home here in Nigeria. That’s why despite the fact that there are issues, I just feel free. No one is going to stop me because I’m black. Well, I might not be totally free as I might face other kinds of oppression but still, Nigeria is home. I saw that we were behind and that there were a lot of things needed to be done to get Nigerians ahead. I felt that I wanted to be at the forefront to do that and to ensure that Nigerians can aspire for more, be more and access more. So though I may shuttle, most of the time I’m here and this is my base. I was in the UK for a lot of the earlier part of this year and though it was exciting, there’s just no place like home. If this country worked, I don’t see why anybody would want to go anywhere. Even when people travel they would still want to come back home. Also, in a developing country, there are just so many opportunities because there are still so many things that have not been developed or done yet. And I know that it can be difficult doing business in Nigeria. Oh my gosh, it’s like an extreme sport! But I feel this is where I’m able to have the most impact and I want to impact my people. And I feel that being on the ground is essential to that. Not necessarily all the time, but most of the time.
Whether it’s in your career or in your initiatives to give back to society, your primary focus appears to be on education. Keeping in mind what many of our youths have been saying for some time now that education is a scam, how important will you say education is for a society’s socioeconomic development?
Oh, extremely important. When we’re talking about development, education is there, health is there and health and education are interconnected. Because for you to have good healthcare, those people have to be educated to have the understanding. So it still ties back to education. Education being a scam, I mean, I think that we’re definitely in a society where you don’t have to get an education. For you to do well now, there are a lot of jobs where you pick up your camera and you can be successful, right? But I think that Nelson Mandela said it best. Education is the most powerful tool you can use to change the world. And I saw that firsthand. When my dad passed away, if my mum wasn’t educated, I don’t know where we would be right now. Imagine if she had just been sitting on the sidelines and didn’t have an education, saying at least she’s married and he’s wealthy. Truth is, life happens, things happen. But she was his peer, so she was ready to pick up where he left off and maybe even do better than he could have done for us if they were together.
She did excellently, so I saw firsthand how education saved my family. She has that PhD and no one can take it away from her. No one. It’s hers and it’s hers to build on and build whatever she needs to build on it for her livelihood, for her family and for the environment and community. So I think that education is definitely not a scam. I’ve never related to it. I think though it’s true that you don’t have to have an education to be successful, having an education builds some kind of discipline and perseverance because when you’re in class, when you’re studying, there are going to be some challenges. You’re going to face some demanding courses. I was never the best at maths but in the US you are required to take English, maths, two sciences and three social sciences. This actually helps you because using myself as an example, I went to university in the US at the age of 16 which is very young and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. So what this does is to expose you to possibilities. You get to dabble. You get someone coming in thinking that he wants to be an architect and then he takes an economics class and loves it. And the best thing about America is that you can have a double major. So you can do both. Or you can minor in one. Or guess what? If you plan yourself properly, you can actually do three, which is amazing. And so the challenge that you get from education, the challenge that you get to sometimes take a class that’s taxing develops you. I took statistics and I thought I was going to fail. I was so worried because it was a full credit. I feared that it would pull down my GPA. But I made up my mind that I was not going to fail the class. It was me and this class. Luckily one of my best friends tutored me and I got an A. And that challenge, that ability to overcome, you are developing at a young age. And it gives you that confidence in yourself. So when you have a good education, you are more confident because you’re more informed. You’ve probably gone through ups and downs. And you’ve had challenging situations that you overcame. And you realize that it’s not the end of the world. As long as there’s life, there’s hope. So you’re able to take things on. And the fact that you have also been in a social setting would have helped your communication and team building skills. A lot of these things, you can probably also learn outside of formal education, but I find that it’s probably one of the best places to learn them. And that’s in addition to a degree that can open doors for you, and networks. So definitely, education is not a scam. It develops so many skills – communication, presentation, team building and resilience. When you have that class you are struggling with, that you are so sure you’re going to fail and somehow, you push yourself and just get a C, you are so proud of your C. It’s like an A plus to you because you know the effort you put in to get it. That kind of thing, I feel you’re not going to get anywhere else.
You can read the concluding part of Bimpe Femi-Oyewo’s exclusive interview in our November issue.
Adebimpe Femi-Oyewo is an Educational and International Development professional and a Social Entrepreneur who has worked on a global scale in Nigeria, the United States, and Fiji. She is the Founder and CEO of Edward Consulting, an educational consulting firm with a mission to improve society through education. They accomplish this by providing access to quality higher education in overseas countries and ensuring that it is affordable for people from African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, and many others. In the 4 years, they’ve been in operation, they have secured admission and over $12.9 million/N9.9 billion for both graduate and undergraduate studies at top universities like MIT, Oxford, Columbia, McGill, INSEAD, UPenn, Cambridge, IESE, and many others in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and many others. Through Edward Consulting, Bimpe also supports grassroots education projects in partnership with The Dolly Children Foundation by providing quality education to out-of-school children in Ogun State through funds' donations, payment of teachers' salaries, and awareness. Bimpe is also the Co-Founder of the NGO, Kinnect which fosters volunteerism by collaborating with local nonprofits to solve social challenges in Nigeria. Kinnect has provided more than 9000 people in impoverished communities like Makoko, Ajegunle, and an Internally Displaced Camp in Madigur, Borono state with access to basic necessities like food, clothing, healthcare, and education. Kinnect has been featured on the Huffington Post and is also a recipient of the Pollination Project grant. She holds a Master’s degree in International Development Policy from Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Sociology from the University of Maryland Baltimore (UMBC). She is an Ashoka ChangemakerXchange Fellow and a P.E.O. International Peace Fellow. email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org LinkedIn: Bimpe Femi-Oyewo Twitter:@BimpeFemiOyewo Instagram:@bimpizzle Facebook: Bimpe Femi-Oyewo LinkedIn: Edward Consulting Twitter: @edwardconsultin Instagram: edward_consulting Facebook: Edward_Consulting Website: https://edwardconsulting.org/