Mike Ewewie comes from a family that has been involved in the shoemaking business for 25 years but on a subsistence level. Mike, himself partnered with his wife to set up a yoghurt production company in 2005 but did not take the full reins of running it until four years after.
It was in the Owner Manager Programme (OMP 29) class that Mike got the inspiration to transform the family shoe business through impact investing – a concept that is a significant part of the OMP module. It was his Eureka moment. The primary objective for setting up a business is to make a profit.
But here was a concept that tells business owners to delay their financial expectations and focus on social and environmental benefits. Mike learnt that “business should not only be about making money but creating values for all stakeholders which includes ensuring the sustainability of the environment in which we do business”.
Armed with this knowledge, Mike set out to bridge a gap. His big idea was to mass-produce school shoes for children whose parents could not afford them. With this idea, Mike would be solving multiple problems, the two core ones being: low and middle-class parents could divert their meagre funds to other pressing needs, and schools could boast of properly dressed students.
In June 2020 and amidst the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Elit Shoes commenced operations. The company’s primary target – schools had shut down. Mike’s strategic solution was to work directly with shoe vendors and leverage their already established network.
Rather than serve schools, Elit Shoes began to supply shoes directly to the middlemen. Mike also noted a skills gap stating that it was “difficult to get sufficient hands to hire”. So he created a cobbler training academy where young school leavers who are interested in gaining shoemaking skills would be trained for free. They were also guaranteed employment after the training.
With this academy, Mike aims to solve the human capital deficit in his immediate community. According to him, “We also plan to deploy well-trained staff across the country to build a network for production and distribution of shoes and related products.”
The National Bureau of Statistics, in a 2020 report about poverty and inequality, states that more than 82 million Nigerians live on $1 per day. While the government is tackling Nigeria’s poverty challenge with several policy interventions, Mike believes impact investing has the potential to move a lot of Nigerians out of poverty.
He acknowledges that impact investing may be unattractive because of its delayed gratification, but he is not discouraged. “At the moment, I do not draw a dime from Elit Shoes, I am not discouraged that I may not earn from there for a year or two but I am happy that the business can now pay the salaries of the workers and they are happy”, Mike says.
His advice for entrepreneurs?
“Impact investing is one of the ways to create a fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. Handouts cannot solve the problem of poverty in Nigeria. When people are helped to be self-sustaining, they can become huge consumers of the products of our primary businesses when they become financially capable.”