‘Tis almost the season for love, or as some would describe it, “love reloaded”. While some people look forward to Valentine’s Day, others cringe from it. One young woman decided to leave her well-paid banking job in the U.S., return home to Ghana, and dedicate her life’s work to it. Love, that is. In the first Circumspecte “Visionaire” interview for 2011, Adisa Tinorgah of Odo Asem discusses her thoughts on the all important four-letter word, what’s hot for Val’s Day this year, and what she thinks about romance in Ghana. Thinking about returning to Mother Africa to settle and wondering what to expect? Adisa shares her experience and tips for potential returnees.
Circumspecte: Tell us about yourself. Who is Adisa Tinorgah?
Adisa Tinorgah (A.T.): I am number two out of three children and was raised in Liverpool, Tamale and Accra. I studied International business at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where I graduated with highest honors and was named the best overall student in my major. I did my internship at Wall Street investment bank Credit Suisse in New York and returned to work full time in their retail and consumer products group for three years. In July 2009, I moved back to Ghana to start my own business and in September 2009 Odo Asem was born.
A Ghanaian with a Global Perspective
Circumspecte: Tell us a bit about your experience studying, living and working abroad. What were the key opportunities and challenges? How did they shape you as an individual?
A.T.: Studying and living in America for seven years was an amazing experience that has contributed much to the person I am today. My Wall Street training especially will always make me stand a head above the crowd. Diligence, critical thinking and attention to detail I believe are now etched into my DNA.
“The standards I set for myself are so high that they’re often deemed unrealistic, but that keeps me on my toes.”
Being in that environment made me understand that when systems are properly put in place things work much more efficiently. In Ghana we tend to have a more laid back informal approach to things. The one thing I never did learn to embrace was the cold. There are also hurdles you face as a foreigner in another man’s land. Like Dorothy from the wizard of Oz said…”there’s no place like home”.
Circumspecte: We hear that you’re somewhat of a “Love Guru” amongst family and friends. What do you consider to be true or unconditional love? Does it really exist or is it something straight out of a (romance) novel?
A.T.: I definitely believe that true unconditional love does exist. It’s not the butterflies you feel during the early stages of a relationship. It’s not all the frills, and thrills (though those are all exciting). It’s the conscious decision to stand by a person through thick and thin. It’s enjoying together when things are good, but hanging tough and sticking it out together when things are tough. I think more than being a feeling true love is a decision and a commitment.
Adisa with her loving family
Odo Asem and Valentine’s Day
Circumspecte: Some people regard Valentine’s Day and similar events as overrated and purely for commercial reasons. What’s your opinion on Val’s Day and particularly what do you consider to be the essence of such ‘annual reminders’?
A.T.: I can see why people may see Valentine’s Day as a commercial gimmick by retailers to make some extra money during the year, but I personally think that Valentine’s Day is so much more than gift giving.
“Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to go the extra mile to express your love for the people nearest and dearest to you.”
It’s a day couples can look forward to every year as a time when quality time together is the number one priority. It’s fun to anticipate what your partner has in store for you and to cook up treats of your own. For me the best Valentine gifts aren’t the most expensive (although expensive gifts are nice), but the most thoughtful. We have Mothers day, Fathers day, Independence day, May day, even Farmers day… taking a day out to focus on and celebrate love can’t be so wrong.
Odo Asem = Love Stuff
Circumspecte: You’re the founder and owner of “Odo Asem”. Can you tell us a bit about this initiative? How did it get started and what were some of the challenges you encountered in setting up shop?
A.T.: Odo Asem (translation: “love stuff”) is all about LOVE. Love here might be confused with the love between couples but it’s a broader love. It’s about love between people, human beings, and how we as a business can help people to express that love. On the one hand, we provide a very wide range of carefully selected gifts for all occasions. In addition to stocking gift items, we also custom order gifts, arrange cake and flower orders, deliver packages…pretty much anything needed to accommodate our client’s gift giving needs. The other dimension of Odo Asem is our romance business which offers several products and ideas for enhancing the intimate and fun side of a relationship.
As far back as I can remember, I have always been the go-to person for all my family and friends whenever the need for a gift or romantic scenario arose. I am always being complimented for giving the best gifts. It dawned on me one day that I could probably translate that skill and passion into a viable business. After that seed was planted it become an obsession. I worked tirelessly on the business plan and acquisition of my first batch of stock for seven months before I left my former job on Wall Street and moved back to Ghana.
“I started small out of my house to keep my overhead costs low and run it out of there for a year. By the grace of our Lord Almighty, It grew nicely and in October last year I was able to open up my current location at Abelempke.”
Some challenges I was told I would face included 1) The Ghanaian people are too conservative for the romance aspect of the business – the naughty knick knacks always garner the most excitement. 2) It’s almost impossible to find good staff in Ghana – I’ve worked with three people so far and they have all been impressive. 3) The copycat mentality of some Ghanaian people – because this is my passion, the essence of what makes Odo Asem unique is me. Although they may imitate our concept, they can never duplicate it.
A sample Odo Asem gift currently in stock for Val’s Day
Circumspecte: Tell us about Odo Asem’s product range and services. What’s particularly “hot” this Valentine’s Season – for couples, singles, friends, colleagues, pets, kids? Any tips on creating that special atmosphere and feel despite the global economic crisis?
A.T.: Our product range is broad and dynamic. Broad in the sense that I don’t just mass order things from wholesalers, but rather, I carefully go digging and searching through a wide range of stores and locations to put together a collection that would suit several different preferences. Majority of my merchandise comes from the US, but I also have products from Burkina Faso, Tanzania and the UK.
Dynamic in the sense that we don’t have a fixed line of products. Many of our items are one time deals, and once sold are never to be seen again. So our range of products is ever changing. We do have some popular fixed categories that we always try to keep well stocked. Cards of course, perfume, lingerie, jewellery, naughty knick-knacks, bath & body products, watches, underwear, candles and electronics to name a few.
This year we brought in a whole new line of lingerie that has been extremely popular so far. The naughty knick-knacks have also been quite popular. Looks like couples are turning up the heat this Valentine’s!
“An observation I have made about Valentine’s day in Ghana is that it is very couple oriented. Both last year and this year so far, I have had very few clients looking for gifts or cards for their parents, siblings, friends, colleagues etc.”
Like I metioned before, it’s not how much you spend, but rather the thought behind the gesture that counts the most. Simple cheap example for a guy: pick up a hundred red rose petals and ten tealight candles at the shop (total cost GHS 12.00). Get home before your significant other on Valentine’s day and cook her dinner (keep it simple if your cooking skills are limited). Ship the kids off to a relative, lay the table, have her favorite love song playing when she walk through the door and surprise her with a simple romantic dinner for two.
Adding a personal touch in satisfying her clients.
Circumspecte: There are numerous gift shops and outlets in Ghana. What makes Odo Asem’s products and services unique? In other words, why Odo Asem?
A.T.: Odo Asem is not just a gift shop, it’s a full service gift and romance business. When you walk into our shop, either I or my very capable assistant Miriam will be there to assist you and walk you through the entire gift selection process. Additionally, we capitalize on the internet to bring our products and services to the fingertips of our more busy and non-local clients. We work with clients to custom create packages or events and we custom order items for them as well and even offer extended hours to accommodate our clients’ schedules. We go the extra mile to keep our client base happy.
The romance aspect also provides a fun twist that the other gift shops do not have. In addition to the items we stock we also help clients come up with and execute fun, exciting and romantic ideas. Scene creation for wedding nights, romantic dinner for two set ups, bachelor party and hen night goodies etc.
Circumspecte: The French, Italian, and Spanish cultures are said to have romance embedded in their genetic makeups. Odo Asem has been in existence for almost a year and a half now. What can you tell us about the perception on “romance” in Ghana? Do you consider Ghanaians and Ghanaian cultures to be romantically inclined? Why or why not?
A.T.: Hmmmm, that’s a bit of a tough one, because who gets to define romance? The typical western view of romance is quite different from the traditional Ghanaian view. I believe what we currently have in Ghana is a blend of the two. Public displays of affection, hand holding, regular orders of flowers, intricate “on bended knee” marriage proposals etc are not practices that are very common in our society. However, due to the infiltration of western culture we do find some Ghanaians who invest time and effort into injecting that extra spark into their relationships. This is practiced more behind closed doors though.
Written on my business card is “Quality Gifts . Romance Needs”. Nine out of ten times, when I hand it to someone and they read it, they say “hmmm, tell me more about the romance needs”. That part usually garners the most excitement.
“Today’s Ghanaian is definitely interested in romance and I have proof in the patronizing patterns of my clients.”
Adisa’s Returnee Experience
Circumspecte: Recent reports indicate that more young African professionals are returning to their home countries to set up base. What do you think is spurring this phenomenon and how do you think this could influence the development prospects for a country like Ghana?
A.T.: The recent global economic crisis is definitely a big contributor to this phenomenon. Many jobs were lost, less opportunities available, and the prospects of living abroad became less attractive to some.
“Additionally though, people are recognizing that there is so much opportunity for success right here at home. Our developing economies have so many niches that need to be filled.”
I believe that diversity is always a good thing. Having different training and different backgrounds, the returning young professionals will be able to bring fresh ideas, perspectives and methods to the table. Some, like myself, are returning with experience working with global power houses that have withstood the test of time. Good corporate culture was observed and learned. Critical thinking skills were developed. These are all positives that should go a long way in improving the way things are done here.
Circumspecte: Let’s talk more about your return back home. After living, studying and working in the US for a good number of years, what were your expectations in coming back home? Did you have any pleasant or nasty surprises? What do you miss about life back there (abroad)?
A.T.: I’ve spent majority of my life in Ghana, and visited often while I was away, so culture shock for me was not too drastic. The petty things that bugged me a lot when I moved back were the dust, potholes and public transport drivers. I’m getting used to those now. You should see me holding my own in traffic these days! Another thing that bugs me that I am still not used to is people’s total disregard for time commitments. I break my back to make appointments on time only to find that everything is running late. Customer service in this country has a lot of room for improvement.Quite often, people who are supposed to be providing customer service act like you’re causing them a great inconvenience and they are doing you a favour by doing their own job!
Unfortunately, these are all part of Ghana and our culture and the best thing to do is adapt and keep going. I miss unlimited free minutes on my cellphone, my very nice paycheck and end of year bonus, the convenience of calling any customer service line (well almost any) and being assured of a satisfactory solution to my issue and public transport (I’m not a big fan of driving), to name a few. Most of all I miss my family (both my siblings still live in the States) and my friends. All in all I’m extremely happy with my decision to move back. Although I took a huge pay cut to do so, my quality of life received an even bigger promotion.
Adisa with fellow returnee & friend Knaf Couture’s Kayda Frimpong
Circumspecte: As a young Ghanaian woman who’s moved home to set up a business what advice do you have for other African youth considering the move back home? Can you give us three top things to consider before the move?
A.T: Have a Plan. It really helps to know what you’re working towards in your move. Start job hunting early. Work on your business plan and initial set up if you’re an entrepreneur. Whatever it is you choose to do, have a solid well thought out plan.
Be Bold. Once you have a solid plan in place, be bold and take the leap. It’s so easy to get yourself on that perpetually rolling “X” year plan to move back. There are a few people who year after year say they are moving back in “X” years. “X” years from now the answer will still be in “X” years unless you take the leap.
Work Hard and Be Diligent. You need to maintain the high standard of work ethics practiced abroad when you move back home. Don’t let yourself fall into the “things are more relaxed so I don’t have to work as hard” trap.” Work harder than you did out there because you will stand out more here. You will excel and go far in whatever it is you choose to do.
Circumspecte: Here’s another chance to play “Love Doctor” – any last words on love?
A.T.: Come to Odo Asem and find out for yourself what all the hype is about!
So there you have it! Love makes the world go round, and with Odo Asem at your service this Valentine’s Day will be a memorable one. Think you’ve got all the info on Odo Asem on lockdown? Visit Odo Asem’s website and Instagram for all your naughty and nice.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.