Kofoworola Toriola: On Wearing Many Hats
Interviewed by Ifeoluwa A.
These days, it is not unusual to find women doing multiple things at the same time. In this interview, Ife gets up and close with someone who wears many hats. Kofo is a lawyer, business owner, podcaster, and writer whose book was published recently.
Ife: Thank you for making time in your busy schedule to chat with me. You do a lot of things, tell me about them?
Kofo: First of all, I am a tech lawyer. I work with FinTech start-ups on product advisory, investments and general legal compliance. I am passionate about a number of things, and I express that in different ways. For one, I like talking, hence the podcast I co-host with a friend. I also run a fragrance business where we sell perfume oils, diffusers, etc. I am an author, and I run a not-for-profit organization (366 Living) to connect people with financial aid for medical bills.
I: Wearing many hats, I see. Did your childhood contribute to any of these many things?
K: I’ll start with the NGO. Some years ago, my brother had to have brain surgery because he had a tumor. It was going to cost about 5 million Naira, and we had a limited time to curtail the risk of him going blind. My family did not have the money so we took to social media and were able to raise the money in a few days. That inspired me a lot. Seeing how willing people were to help others in genuine need motivated me to find people who needed help with their medical bills (especially people without access to social media) and help them out using funds donated by kind individuals. Last year, we raised well over a million Naira and were able to help about 40 people. We work closely with social services and sometimes, partner with government hospitals to drive that. We also donate to general causes from time to time.
When I was about 5 or 6, I went out with my dad once, and we were stopped at a police checkpoint. He had some bundles of money with him and quickly passed the bag to me. I hid it under my dress and sat as still as I could while they harassed him. I felt so helpless, and that is one place I never like to be, even as an adult now. I hate being in a position of helplessness so much. I decided that day that I would become a lawyer so I could put bad people away. Other than that, I do not think anything in my childhood contributed to my wanting to become a lawyer. Except for the occasional “you talk too much, you should become a lawyer” comments, that is. I do not do anything related to criminal law though.
Running a perfume business is largely a result of influence from my dad. He used to be so big on perfumes. He could enter a place, and you’d know it was him without seeing him or hearing his voice, or leave a place and you’d just know he had just left. He used to line us up on Sundays before we left for the church for a “dose” of perfumes. I found perfume oils by chance one time when I was looking for perfumes and could not afford the nice ones I liked. Someone introduced me to them when I recognized a scent she had on, and I asked her, knowing it was very expensive. I started the business during NYSC to make extra money, but I did not think I would continue the business to date. Beyond perfumes, I love it when places smell nice, and that’s how I started making diffusers.
With the podcast, it’s my love for talking and gisting. I used to think I was too serious and did not even think I could be funny or hold people’s attention until we started the podcast. It’s called FlowWithK&B, and we talk about the life issues that millennials and Gen Zs can relate to in a light-hearted manner.
I: This is a lot. Well done. Let’s talk about support.
K: My family members are my biggest supporters and my loudest cheerleaders, even though they won’t admit it to me, all in the name of tough love. For instance, we have not released a podcast episode in a while now, and my mum keeps asking when we would. My sister is a pillar of the perfume business together. She handles social media and customer relations, and I honestly don’t know what I would have done without her. I don’t think there is any time I have said that I wanted to do something that I did not have their full support for. They always follow up, encourage me and give me the extra push from time to time.
My friends are also supportive and helpful in their ways. It has not always been rosy, though. I had to first do the hard work of convincing them and proving the value of what I was offering to them, especially with my business.
I: What keeps you going, like your sources of inspiration?
K: Since people like to say they don’t do things for me the money, I think the fear of being broke (AKA sapa) can be a major source of inspiration if you harness it properly. I don’t ever want to be broke. That said, one of the things that make me happy is adding value — to people, places, organizations, anywhere. I always ask myself what value I am adding anywhere I find myself, or anything I do. I want people to always be able to see what I am adding to them. My mantra in life is service to God and humanity.
Another thing that comes to mind now is something my dad used to say a lot; he’d tell us that some people are living while others are just merely existing, and I used to think about it a lot. I want to truly live and contribute, not just making up a number.
I: Let’s talk about your book.
K: The title is Love Notes: Blueprints for Wholesomeness. It’s a collection of my reflections on life and how certain experiences have shaped me. In the book, I share my experiences with the hope that they will serve as a guide to others. I talk about my journey in the most vulnerable manner while and give some insight into some of my deepest conversations with God. It was launched in July.
I: Great. What other things do you like to do?
K: I enjoy reading African literature because they are largely relatable. I have not been able to read much though, because I have been juggling many things. I like travelling too, just that my bank account does not quite agree at the moment. I like learning about other people and their cultures. I also consider myself a storyteller. I like to sleep a lot too. I don’t particularly like cooking, but I like seeing food — the colours, presentation, everything. I like trying them too.
In addition to leading an NGO that is focused on health care, educating people is another thing I am passionate about. I volunteered at a few secondary schools during NYSC, and I am now a member of two NGOs that focus on education, where I help out as much as I can. I enjoy writing a lot too.
I: How did you come up with the name for your NGO, 366 Living?
K: It did not quite start as an NGO. It was a closed accountability group of about 20 people for personal development. My book is inspired by the monthly newsletters I sent to the members of the group. The name was based on the concept of living a wholesome life — a total package. Looking at it from the NGO angle, health is wealth. When you give people access to good health care, you give them a chance to live a good life.
I: What are your plans for the future?
K: For the NGO, it is to partner with more hospitals (also outside Lagos) because we only partner with LUTH at the moment. The major constraint has been funding, so we are planning to explore grants. We are also planning medical outreaches and opening tabs at some hospitals. With other parts, I do not like to think too far into the future.
I: Does anything worry you about the future?
K: No, I am not worried because it’s in God’s hands. I am sometimes concerned that some of my plans may not happen when I want them to, but I know my future is bright.
Ifeoluwa is a four-eyed retired accountant who is now interested in other books. She is a witty and eccentric writer, who spends her spare time eating, sleeping, watching series on Netflix and avoiding Nigeria. Connect with Ifeoluwa on Twitter.
Edited by Adetutu A
Adetutu A is a creative writer. She also likes art in its every form. She likes to read for leisure and binge-watch comedy series. Of recent, she’s taken a recent liking to K-drama (and hopes to write reviews sometimes). Now, she’s thriving through impostor syndrome as a content/copywriter. You can connect with her on Medium.
Published by Yetunde Onafuye
Yetunde is a storyteller, podcaster, and a graduate student with interest in the social and political history of post-independence Africa. She’s also the co-lead editor at Sisterly HQ. In her free time, she reads and reviews books, engages in social volunteering, and watches tons of dramas and TV shows. Connect with Yetunde on LinkedIn and Instagram.