Tolulope Aina talks about her remarkable journey of transforming agriculture and the way people look at nutrition through Tolulope Foods and Agro Learn.
I grew up in the city of Lagos in Nigeria and I was an only child before my younger brother came along. That experience reflected in my personality and made me an introvert with a penchant for responsibility.
When I was in high school I got the opportunity to lead a social event called Young Farmer’s club. It was a competition and as a young child, trying to find a way of expression, it was a space where I learned a lot. I was focused on how my club was celebrated. There was a lot of research and it had a significant impact on how I perceived things later in life.
In this part of the world, a young, brilliant child is expected to pursue a particular type of career and studies, like medical, pharmacy, science, etc. I was a science student too and was fortunate to graduate as one of the best students, especially, best graduating student in Biology.
Everyone expected me to do great because I scored excellent grades in my school. There were many expectations and I applied to study medicine initially but it did not work out. I did a foundation program in Biochemistry, in between, at a State University (the agricultural campus) and it was very unique for me and I really enjoyed it. The faculty for Agriculture was amazing and I decided I wanted to do something related to agriculture and not core sciences any longer. Subsequently, I attended the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, which is one of the best in the country where I obtained a degree in Agricultural Economics.
It was initially not accepted by my parent (especially my dad) because agriculture is not really celebrated here. But I am glad I stood by my decision. Today, I am someone people can look up to and it gives me happiness to see young people wanting to pursue a career in this field.
I started out my venture when I witnessed a child with a bright future ahead of him die due to malnutrition. People thought it was due to supernatural causes but that was not it. I realized how difficult it is in this part of the world to fulfill the nutritional needs of children and this motivated me to start my own business. Through that child, Tolulope Foods began.
I decided to give the operations access to women for my business. We are huge on capacity and revenue. Women can provide nutrition to their families but also beyond and provide education. We are passionate individuals with shared values. We believe in having a system where people can develop themselves, innovate and be a better version of themselves.
I have been fortunate enough to be a part of various organizations and sponsored by DSM which is really big on providing nutrition. Our organization has been to many conventions and has presented its idea all over the globe. It gives me happiness to witness the success of this business and many other initiatives I have championed over the years and also the people associated with it.
A lot of people are confused about the notion of feminism and you cannot rule out how men still dominate the world. Women need one another to survive. I believe in one economy and equal participation. Give women opportunities not because they are women but give them access because they can do it. I am not saying this being sentimental but because I believe that women have the same capacities and deserve the seat at the same table where men sit.
It often takes women 10 times more effort to receive the same recognition men do. There is no need to get discouraged by that, if you have the capacity and a space to express that, focus on that. They will give you opportunities when they realize you are deserving of them.
There will always be challenges. A lot of problems but I believe all problems are solvable. I had my fair share of challenges, from logistics to the lack of resources, but we were always able to find a solution. Providing solutions is also something I am very passionate about.
I work a lot but I also ensure that I am paying attention to myself and my family, that is what keeps me sane. I prioritize my family when spending time with them and do the same with work.
I celebrate little wins, everyone should. Every success is meaningful. Be positive in your approach, even in the darkest times. Positive declarations are a great way of maintaining positivity and getting yourself out of dark times.
To young leaders of today, sometimes you may not know what to do with your life and that is okay. Be inquisitive, this has also personally helped me figure things out. Have a yearning to learn and experience new things. That will help you figure out your passions. Do what makes you happy and follow your passions. There is no greater success than being your most authentic self.