Ariana Oluwule set up Freetown based Narnia Daycare in June 2013. Narnia is daycare plus. It combines daycare with an early learning centre for babies and toddlers from three months to three years.
The concept was born out of Ariana’s natural affinity with children, her longing to spend more time with her baby son and an inability to f ind childcare for him that she really wanted while she pursued a corporate career.
“The nature of my job meant I was spending less and less time with my baby and apart from my mother who was retired, I could not find childcare that corresponded with my ideals. I wanted a space that was lively, homely, safe and clean, where my baby would be be looked after in a happy, learning environment.”
Realising that her experiences were mirrored by other parents, she took a leap of faith, quit her job and started Narnia. “My mama is an educator with over 30 years of national and international experience and of course, I had my first client - my son who had just turned one. In effect I had all that I needed.”
Ariana’s savings with some financial support from her husband, provided the initial capital. In common with most SMEs, nance has remained a challenge. A Brookings Institute report on the subject noted that more than 25 percent of firms in Africa rate the availability and cost of finance as their most important operating obstacle, almost twice as many as outside Africa.
“Our operating expenses are high - cleaning supplies, healthy meals, ensuring toys and learning materials are always available,” Ariana explains.
There was also significant capital expenditure on constructing their own premises, because a suitable alternative wasn’t available. This was financed through private loans. “The bank rates are unimaginable,” she says.
Trained and reliable staff has been an additional challenge which most Sierra Leonean business owners will be familiar with. Narnia’s staff now take distance learning courses with the US based Care Courses School.
Continuous professional development is also a priority of Ariana’s. Her background is in Biological Sciences. Post graduate administrative skills and management experience help her run the business effectively. To these she has added a number of long-distance caregiving courses and is aiming for Certification in Child Care Development and an equivalent in Education.