My Life In Tech is putting human faces to some of the innovative startups, investments, and policy formations driving the technology sector across Africa.
I discovered Shecluded while I was doing some research for TechCabal’s IWD special edition newsletter. I wanted to feature newer faces and voices. I was looking for African women who were quietly working behind the scenes and building great products for their communities.
Shecluded stood out to me because of their mission statement: To be widely recognized as the leading credit company for women in Africa. I found their mission to be equal parts bold and relevant. Bold because the journey to becoming a widely recognised fintech company – founded by a woman – is not an easy feat. Relevant because there’s an obvious gender disparity that impedes African women’s ability to sign up for necessary financial products and solutions.
Shecluded was founded by Ifeoma Uddoh. She’s also the company’s CEO and leads a small team of engineers, developers, and creative thinkers. Ifeoma, like many women leaders in Nigeria, leads from the frontlines both at work and at home. She’s a mother of three who, on occasion, has to hole herself up in her bedroom so she can get a moment or two of silence.
My initial conversation with Ifeoma was supposed to happen over Google Meet. But Ifeoma insisted that we met in person.
“My friends say I need to socialize more and meet new people. So, no virtual meetings. Please meet me at the office.”
During our conversation, I’m pleasantly surprised by Ifeoma’s sunny personality and transparency. The stereotypical female CEO is a tight-lipped, unsmiling woman who is hell-bent on proving to the world that she is just as capable and competent as her male peers. But Ifeoma is far from unsmiling and uptight – she has an open smile and infectious laugh.
She fondly refers to herself as a “village girl” who became an accidental tech founder. She has no qualms about making fun of herself or seeking counsel outside of her social network.
Digging Deep with Ifeoma Uddoh
One of the first questions I ask Ifeoma after we exchange pleasantries is, “what makes you feel powerful?”
Ifeoma: Being able to effect change in people’s lives makes me feel powerful. And when I say change, I mean lasting change.
And creating lasting change is an important goal because it’s not enough to throw a handful of money at women entrepreneurs and founders. In addition to providing women with capital, prospective investors and VCs must be willing to also provide peer-to-peer mentorship opportunities and access to inclusive business networks and communities.
During the peak of the COVID pandemic, Shecluded received loan applications from women who wanted to purchase laptops and smart devices to register for online classes and courses. In 2020, the company was able to give out over 1,000 laptop loans; but this year, they plan to put 1 million laptops into the hands of more women.
Part of what has contributed to Shecluded’s success and growth is Ifeoma’s ability to communicate the company to its internal and external stakeholders and supporters.
From her experience in the industry, she knows how much harder women have to work to prove themselves in boardrooms and meetings. Intrigued by her salient point, I had to ask, “What three qualities does anyone need to become an effective communicator?”
Ifeoma: First of all, effective communicators need to be knowledgeable about whatever topic or subject matter they are presenting to their audience. Then, they must understand their audience and relay their message in a way they can understand. And finally, effective communicators must possess great oratory and writing skills. If you cannot speak or write well, you’re going to face difficulties connecting with your audience.
Life at the home front
Ifeoma, like many CEOs in Nigeria and around the world, juggles her work and home life.
So far, she’s managed not to drop any balls but her packed schedule leaves little room for much-needed idyllic vacation days on a remote island somewhere in Mexico or Asia. She’s a working mother to three girls and is heavily involved in their daily routines. When she mentioned that her daughters are under the age of 10, I had to ask, “how do you unwind after a long day at work?”
Ifeoma: Unwind? (she laughs here) I have three kids – I don’t know how to unwind. Some nights when I get home, I lock myself in my room, lay down and do nothing for as long as I can get away with it. My daughters are 6, 4, and 2 respectively; as you can imagine, I can’t get away with a lot when I’m in their line of vision. When my friends, who don’t have children, gist me about their vacation trips – I admire how energetic they are. The perfect vacation, for me, is laying down alone, in a quiet room, with zero responsibilities.
From the little she reveals, it’s clear that Ifeoma runs her days like a well-oiled machine; but she’s still human enough to recognize when she needs to kick off her heels and take a long-ish break.
Ifeoma: I don’t really have a proper sleep schedule. Right around midnight, I meditate before I fall asleep. I’m awake around 5-ish am – mainly to help the nanny with getting my girls ready for school. An hour later, I crawl back into bed and try not to pick up my phone. I don’t fall asleep – I stay up to think about and plan my day. Around mid-morning, I check up on my team and review my work calendar. I don’t know how I run my day without coffee, but after having a not-so-great experience with coffee during my Masters’ program, I swore off the bitter beverage.
Shecluded’s wind of change
Shecluded’s mission is to create and serve financial services to women in a way that encourages them to participate in our current economic climate; in a way that they understand and want to be served.
Ifeoma: The current traditional banking system was formed in an era where women were not clear and active participants in the creation of rigid financial policies. It’s a tough truth that can no longer be ignored; no matter how hard we try. Shecluded wants to change the way financial services are presented to women.
According to Ifeoma, Shecluded is designed for women who aspire to become active players in their financial journeys. The company has different products for different women in varying phases of their personal and business lives. If traditional banks are reluctant to play their part in closing the financial gender gap; companies like Shecluded are eager to step in to do the heavy lifting.
Big goals, BIGGER DREAMS
Ifeoma: “I want to spend my life funding women”
For Ifeoma, success looks like writing 10 checks in the amount of ₦100,000 ($262) and putting them in businesses run and founded by women.
In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 37% of women have a bank account – a shockingly low figure that should force traditional banks to build innovative financial solutions for women. Without access to bank accounts, African women are limited to how far they can go in their communities.
Ifeoma’s goals are big enough to keep her going, even on the toughest days.
Ifeoma: “When I’m having a low day, I picture our mission in my mind’s eye and remind myself why we are doing what we do. When you’re having a bad day, focus on the big picture.”
Shecluded is part of a small list of companies, founded in Africa, invested in funding and empowering women. Now more than ever, African women, especially those who are marginalized and living under the poverty line, need financial institutions and Fintech companies to design solutions and services that will lift them out of poverty and provide them with opportunities to create their own version of wealth.