We spoke to Ifunanya Moneke who is currently studying for her Master’s degree in Managing Innovation and Information Technology in the UK on how she was able to save and fund her Master’s degree by using Rise. This is her story.
What was growing like?
I grew up in a typical middle-class Nigerian family. My dad worked for the government and my mom was an entrepreneur. The one thing I am so grateful for is that my parents made sure that we had everything we needed and through their sacrifices, we were mostly cushioned from the harsh economic realities of living in Nigeria. I went to a private university in the late 2000s and you can imagine how much they must have had to give up to make that happen.
How did that shape you into who you are today?
I think it taught me the importance of hard work, dedication and passion. From a very young age, I knew that if I put in the work, I would stand out and it would pay off. My dad worked 30 years for the government; he is part of the generation that believes in working with one organisation and rising through the ranks. While growing up, I saw him travel a lot within Nigeria; he would go to remote locations and come back with stories. I don’t think he cared so much about the money as he truly believed in making a difference and that passion shone through every day. I used to follow him everywhere, and one of my fondest memories was tagging along with him to his office during my summer holidays when I was in primary school. I got to watch him attend meetings and handle his work responsibilities. I would goof around with his secretary’s typewriting machine (I was hell-bent on learning how to type fast but never did, lol!) So basically, I got free lessons on corporate Nigeria very early on and he was my biggest role model. I grew up learning so much from him and I think it shaped me a great deal. He retired as a Director of a government parastatal.
My eldest sister also has a huge influence on me and watching her get a job at 16 (as a TV presenter) had such an impact on my life. Imagine being 9years old and your sister being a famous local star. It was fascinating, really, but watching her put in hard work and build a career so early on was the bigger trip. She was and still is very phenomenal. She was the presenter for a children’s show and I used to hang out with her in the studio a lot and appear on TV too. Growing up was really fun.
What private school did you go to?
I went to Lead City University.
What was it like?
2008/2009 was a different time lol. I studied Computer and Information Science. My school was very lively and bubbly but I was one of the nerdy bookworms who went to the library in between lectures (don’t laugh!). I think I have always been intense and was just focused on doing really well in school. I knew the sacrifices it took to get me there, on a government salary. I hung out with the brightest people in my class; sleepovers at each other’s houses would include solving mid-term papers and assignments. I literally only went clubbing once (with my brother). In my final year, when I finally made the grades I wanted, I decided I was going to start living a little. I attended shows and bonfire nights and other social events. Too little too late but hey, at least I tried.
After graduation, what did you do next?
Before I graduated, in my 200 level, I got an internship position of a lifetime. I got a job at a Fortune 500 company. I can never forget going to my lecturer to help me review my resume before the interview. I showed up and got hired on the spot. My goodness, was I psyched! I was given the opportunity to come back for another 3month internship position in my 300 level. They were very vocal about how exceptional I was, and how they wanted me back in the organisation (to get advocates so early was a blessing!). After graduating, I did my national youth service year there. When that ended, I interviewed for an IT Support Analyst position and I got absorbed into the company. I stayed on for 4 more years. I tell people that it literally felt like I “grew up” in the organisation and it’s kinda true.
You first started as a Support Person, what changed then?
I’ve tweeted about this recently, the fascinating story of my transition into Business Analysis and Project Management. It was the year 2009, and I was an intern at the same company I previously mentioned, British American Tobacco. I, like all of my classmates, wanted to go build a career in IT support & software development (DevOps people, don’t come for me). That was the focus, we were constantly discussing the certifications or training we needed and couldn’t see anything beyond that. But on this interesting day, I was sitting across from a senior IT manager at lunch, and he engaged me about what was next for me. Software development, IT Support, Server Administration, Networking, I told him. The next thing he said was, (and this is a direct quote) “I don’t think you should spend the rest of your life going under tables and crimping cables. Have you heard of Business Analysis and Project Management?” We had a long conversation after that and I was sold. Leading business and organisational change? Count me in! Again, this was 12 -13 years ago; it wasn’t so much of a thing. So imagine me, being an undergraduate, having a life-changing conversation and knowing exactly what I wanted to be so early on. This same manager started to mentor me after that conversation and is still my mentor many years after. I have been super lucky for the support I got to build an exciting career. I went on to be a Business Analyst, Project Manager and IT Service Delivery Manager delivering multi-million pounds IT projects, driving digital transformation and leading technical teams.
I see that you are leading a tech startup. What is the story behind that?
In 2019, I wrote an IT Certification and signed up for training with one of the training companies in Lagos. To say I did not get value for money would be an understatement. Incompetent tutors who either didn’t show up early or show up at all. After a few weeks, my classmates and I knew we were in this alone, so I ended up teaching one of the modules that I was good at and doing a better job at it than what had been taught in class. Another classmate taught another module. The training rooms turned to student-driven tutorials. We wrote the exams but vowed never to go back to that training company. Late 2019, I decided that people deserved so much better in their journey to acquire tech knowledge, so I was going to start my own company (be the change you wanted to see, right? ) And just like that, I started Techops Nigeria. Our first training cohort was less than 20 people and I was one of the facilitators. In fact, I doubled as Marketing Analyst, Head of Comms, Customer Service, you name it. I sent all the emails, took all the phone calls. I did this while still working 9-5. The early stages of building a company are always interesting indeed. The pandemic happened, and staying afloat became the priority. Difficult times but we strived. Right now, we have trained over 250 students for various certifications. We have done remarkably well and have very ambitious plans to expand and grow our portfolio, so watch this space.
At what point did you think you needed to go back to school for your master’s?
I’ve always had it as a goal. I knew that the next step of my evolution would be to acquire more education. Building a career for the past 11years has been amazing, but I needed to study for my Master’s. My Master’s degree is in Managing Innovation and Information Technology, and I feel like the programme was designed for me specifically. I remember attending my department’s Open Day and hearing my Programme Leader run through the content of my MSc and saying “Yes, this is it!”. It’s perfect for someone with my background and is looking to further develop and hone their digital and leadership skills, while also taking time to learn about emerging technologies and innovation.
So, how are you managing TechOps and university at the same time?
Interestingly, I am also working part-time, so it’s the delicate balancing act of juggling these three responsibilities. Half the time, I’m not quite sure how I pull it off. Hasn’t been the easiest but I am able to do it with the help of my amazing TechOps team who do all the heavy lifting. Leaving the country was a stress test for TechOps existence, and to test if the processes and systems we put in place worked, and thankfully, we passed. The organisation is able to run operationally on its own. It’s also very important that entrepreneurs find the right people who also buy into the vision of the organisation. We are an agile, nimble and very effective team and I am super proud of us.
What is the story behind funding your master’s programme?
So when I stopped putting off acquiring more education and decided when I was going to do it, the next piece of the puzzle was funding the dream. I’ve had a pretty good savings culture since I started working but let’s be honest, the inflation and conditions in Nigeria never really made that a walk in the park. You are there saving and then out of nowhere, Nigeria happens and you have to let go of a substantial amount to offset whatever. Anyways, for about 15 months before I moved to the UK, I was saving about 40% of my salary – without fail. I had a strict budget; every kobo was accounted for. I had a budget for food, entertainment, personal care, miscellaneous. Once I exceeded the budget for the month, that was it. I would tell myself that it was ok till the next month. It was difficult but doable.
40% of your income? What did you have to give up?
A lot, lol. For one, I couldn’t pop champagne at Sip or buy all the fancy things I desired. It doesn’t mean I did absolutely nothing, or constantly denied myself or spent zero on TGIF or didn’t go out. I just had to stick within my budget.
Of course, I was also saving in FX, but how that started is quite a dramatic story ( I think I have a lot of dramatic stories, lol) and I won’t mention names, but I opened a mutual fund account in 2019 with one of these traditional banks and was saving money with them. Returns were not bad when I started off, and I just liked the security that came with having funds locked away. But in January 2021, I remember receiving an alert for my quarterly dividend. I can’t recall the exact amount but let me say it was like getting a dividend of N5,000 for a N1 million investment. I was livid and decided that I was done and withdrew all the funds and put it into Rise. I had been following Rise on Twitter and already had my account opened in 2020. When I considered how terrible the market was, and how saving in dollars would protect my very volatile naira from further devaluation, I took the plunge. Honestly, it was one of the best investment decisions I made and I wish I had started earlier.
Do you think Rise was important to achieving your MSC journey?
100%. It was very instrumental in helping me achieve this goal. At the maturity of my investment, I held the FX (another really beautiful thing about Rise, being able to get your dollar investments back, in dollars). There would have been so much I wouldn’t have been able to afford if I had to buy FX at the black market rate as at the time I was leaving for my Master’s. The dollar investments that I had stashed away because of Rise was very very helpful and a key part of this journey. Absolutely crazy how one good decision can change a lot.
What do you intend to achieve with Rise in five years?
I am really excited to see Rise provide more investment options for people like us in the diaspora. I want to see more options so I keep investing because I already think it’s a groundbreaking, phenomenal product. So yeah, I definitely would want to have more investments in the future and retire early, maybe. Haha.
Do you have any advice for people that might be considering masters abroad?
They say the devil is in the details, so write down everything it would cost you and do your research. Don’t be swayed by what people say or tweet; do your own research, reach out to the university, find out if there are flexible payments and what type works best for your own budget. Have a clear plan mapped out. It is really tempting to just say everyone is doing it and so, you’re going as well. Yes, everyone may be doing it, but you don’t know exactly what they are going through just to do it.
Also, all the little things matter; your habits, relationship with money and savings, the investments you make right now. A car is not an investment if you plan on travelling in 6-8months. It would be a liability. Certain decisions might sound like a lot if you make them, but they are all for the best. If you do the maths and feel that you have to cut down on expenses while also avoiding certain things, then you do it.
The last thing, stop using street rates to convert things like your school fees. Use CBN rates. It makes a whole lot of difference and you will not be scaring yourself half to death, lol.
What are you investing in at the moment?
TechOps Nigeria and personal projects.
What is the most shocking thing about living in the UK at the moment?
I wouldn’t say shocking, but the thing that took the most time to get used to is driving on the “wrong side of the road”. The UK and 35% of the countries in the world drive on the left side of the road. I hear it’s something carried on from mediaeval times and it’s so you can keep your sword in your right hand while riding a horse (my left-handed self just screamed internally). When I first got here, I used to stand at the bus stop in the wrong direction, waiting for the bus, which I would watch drive past me on the other side of the road. Tragic.
I still have to remind myself to look in the opposite direction when I am crossing the road, and sometimes instinctively walk towards the driver’s seat while trying to enter the passenger seat. Lol.
Lol, interesting. Thank you so much for your time.