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“I refused to give up even though others tell me to quit” – Josephine Atanga, CEO at JEHOM Driving School

As a foreigner, Josephine Atanga met problems that many other foreigners in Finland faced: lack of network, language barrier, limited source to finance her business. In the darkest times, she refused to give up and believed in her hardship as an opportunity to strengthen her personality and be unique. We believe her strong positive mindset is what makes Josephine stand out and achieve successes outside the norms.

Arcada needs me and I also need Arcada

I move to Finland about 5 years ago and got the opportunity to study nursing at Arcada University of Applied Sciences. Back in the US, l always had a burning desire to finish my degree in nursing. If there were 1000 people and only one person had to be selected into the nursing program that person had to be me. I was so determined and positive to get into the international nursing program at Arcada University of Applied Sciences. I remembered being asked by one teacher during the entrance exam interview – “What’s your plan if you don’t get in?”. My answer was simple. I am an asset to Arcada UAS and not a liability. Arcada needs me and i also need Arcada.

When I met the student union, there was no Africans sitting at the board of the student union. I decided to apply to the student union board of Arcada UAS “ASK” (Arcada studerandekår) and was taken to represent the International students director of the board. A couple of things I learned from the Finnish education is self-study and work ethics: punctuality, a lot of research work , teamwork and a spirit of excellence. Being punctual is one way to show respect. Also, I feel like anything is possible in Finland. You can be whoever and do whatever you want to. Finland gives you that opportunity to thrive.

 Always believe in your ability to make a difference

Three months into my graduation while writing my thesis my husband passed away. We were running the driving school called JEHOM together. With so much going on in the study, dealing with such tragic situation all I could do was rely on my faith and good friends. I almost gave up on my educational career and the driving school. But with that inner strength in me, I refused to quit despite many negative energies around me and the tragedy.

If it was that easy you will not be unique and special

I have been the CEO of the driving school since 2014. It’s the first driving school run by an immigrant black woman in Finland. JEHOM was founded with a vision to cater for the needs of migrants especially those who had difficulty speaking the Finnish language.

Our students are taught in English and French languages. Running a driving school as an immigrant has many challenges, including loneliness, financial challenges, searching for English and French speaking teachers as they are not easy to find, language barrier, difficulty working with students from different cultures. Most of our students are adults and have family obligations in Finland and in their country of origin. They usually have to work all the time, so it takes more time than normal to complete their driving courses.

As a foreigner, I wear their shoes and understand their difficulty. I have to find the best way to help them achieve their goal to get a driver’s licence. The aim is not just to see them pass the driving test but making sure they are safe drivers on the road. JEHOM means “Jehovah Omnipotence, Omnipresence and Omniscience”. These are the words that keep me going and the school running against all the odds. My faith in God is very strong and has kept me going. I do believe that through hard work, integrity and a spirit of excellence, I can face all difficulties that come my way.

We have seen many students achieving their driver’s license. And just the joy and happiness I see in their faces when receiving the permit gives me a sense of fulfilment. As a Finnish Entrepreneur, I will like to encourage migrants to step out of the box. Doing business in Finland is challenging like in any other country but if you follow the road map laid down for business and in that field of your business you can easily navigate the business challenges. Never be intimidated by challenges. Instead, use challenges as a means to push yourself forward and soar like an eagle. If it was that easy, you will not be unique and special.

When people are appreciated, they turn to do well and better

The association – Women Designed for Success (WODESS) – that is a brand vision I found when I just arrived to Finland. It was originally just a Facebook page and and was registered into a non-profit association out of a need when I realized many were inspired through the motivational write-ups that I did on the page. At that point, it was decided that we take it a step further. Through WODESS, we have carried out projects like “Golden Women Awards” to carry out our vision of empowering and inspiring women. We motivate migrant women through appreciation. When people are appreciated, they turn to do well and better.

Women Designed For Success have embarked on a magazine called WODESS Magazine. With this, we bring to light what migrant women are doing in Finland and how they are positively impacting the society. We let them tell their stories, challenges, successes as entrepreneurs , students, leaders, educators, models, designers, etc. We have created this platform for them to show the world who they are and what is inside of them. These are all ordinary women who have become extraordinary by doing extraordinary deeds.

As a foreigner, if you do exactly the same thing with the natives, nobody recognizes you

In my opinion, as a foreigner in any country, for you to be recognized, you need to do more, try harder, make bigger impacts. If you do exactly the same with the natives, nobody recognizes you. But if you go a bit further, do a bit beyond the norms, people begin to recognize your efforts and also offer you more support. That’s why my team and I, we are always pushing forward. At the beginning of November, we have just organized successfully the Global Business Forum International – Finland for the first time in Arcada. The theme of the conference was about workforce, leadership, and business. During the event, we hosted several workshops and our globalized magazine was also released. Global Business Forum international will become a yearly event. This is how our team “does a bit beyond”.

Surround yourself with the right people who could take you to another level

I used to be very shy. I turned down on opportunities because I thought I was not good enough – that self-limiting belief. My wake-up call came from a good friend of mine who said to me, “If God has decided that you are the head, why would you want to be the leg?” That when I got out and live a purpose-driven life. Surrounding yourself with people who could build you, not break you. I know I have been with the right people when they can see the hidden potential in me.

After changing my mindset, I had enough courage to do something I’ve never done before – hosting political debates for the local election and interviewing the candidates running for the European Parliament. I was shaking when researching about the candidates, they are important people with a high profile. Although I had an interviewing experience from working in TV production in the USA, I was still nervous.

But when you take time to plan and do your work and research well you build that confidence that nothing can intimidate you. One of my greatest slogan is “Failure to plan is planning to fail”. That is the golden rule of success. I have tried and live it. It does work, like magic!

One motivation for me to get involved in the Finnish political system is to encourage immigrants to vote for the election. It’s easy to understand that when an immigrant speaks to other immigrants, they are more likely to listen. I think because we share the same backgrounds, so we have a better understanding and empathy towards each other.

Every language is difficult, not just the Finnish language

I have never allowed the Finnish language to be a barrier to prevent me from doing what I can do. Learning a new language has more pros than cons. So don’t say that you never learn a language you never speak it. Don’t limit yourself. Learning language is a process, focus on the small progress everyday will make the whole thing more enjoyable. Every language is difficult, not just Finnish. The key is not talent or memory or special skill set but consistency. It also depends on your attitude. What is your attitude towards that language? If you have the right attitude, you will conquer it.

You influence the environment, not the other way around

The biggest lesson I’ve learned after living in three continents (Africa, North America, and Europe) is that you are supposed to influence the environment. Don’t let the environment make impacts on you. To do so, you have to know who you are. This is so much important. Before gaining any external knowledge and wisdom, spend time to answer the foremost question – “Who are you?”. If you don’t know who you are, the winds come and blow you away. If you don’t know who you are, you don’t know where you want to go and what you want to do. The next important question to think about is – “What is your life purpose?”. And I know this is not easy to answer. A lot of us struggling to find out the purpose of life. But it’s worth the effort. Once you know, you would stop wandering around, all your decisions are much easier to make.

If money is my number one driving force, I will miss many good things in life

Everything I do, I start with a passion. The money will come when it’s time. I don’t say monetary rewards are bad. It just depends on what are your priorities in life. But for me, If I let money to be the number one driving force, I will miss many good things in life. I am blessed when I can bless others. The more I bless others, the more good things will come back to me. That’s my philosophy in life.

Same thing with another project of mine – The WHIMO Project (Holistic health for migrant women) – which was supported by Moniheli Ry (Network of multicultural associations in Finland). It’s all started with a passion I have for exercising. I keep a habit of waking up early in the morning, running, doing one-minute talk and share it on Social Media to inspire others to stay healthy physically and mentally. Through this project we promote healthy lifestyle through exercise and nutritional classes. WHIMO also helps to promote integration through friendship.

I also do self-reflection right after the morning run. I sat down in nature and reflect on what has happened. I have so many new ideas going on in my brain. I think everyone does. What we need is time to structure the idea and then write it down. After every reflection session, I come back to the office and write down my thoughts. One more important thing is that we need to take action. The ideas themselves do not have so much value. One of the outcomes from my reflection is the project called Global Health Festival which is now an on-going project in Nigeria. It has been a success with the involvement of the government encouraging people to live healthier.

People thought that I was stealing their glory and taking fame from others

There were many challenges I’ve faced as an entrepreneur in Finland. First of all, the difficulty came from my own surroundings. I also did not have a network. Nobody knew me or knew me enough to understand me as a person. At first, some people thought that I was stealing their glory and taking the fame from others. They refused what I did and tried to pull me down. Secondly, diversity sometimes was a problem since it’s not always easy to work with immigrants from different backgrounds. It requires tolerance, sensitivity, and acceptance that things can get tough sometimes. Thirdly, finance – this seems to be one of the most common obstacles to entrepreneurs. But money should never be a barrier that stops you from your passion. If you believe the product and service you are offering is valuable for others, the money will come, don’t give up!

The last person I would mess around with is my bookkeeper.

My first and foremost advice for novice entrepreneurs is to take care of your accounting. If you are an amateur in this field, you had better let an expert handle it for you, and you focus on the core activities of your business. Without a bookkeeper, you are dead in Finland as an entrepreneur. Because then, how can you deal with the taxes? If the Finnish economy and society are like a house, then the tax system here works as the foundation. So it’s very important not only as an enterprise but also as an individual you to pay tax correctly. So keep this in mind, your accountant is your best friend. The last person I would mess around with is my bookkeeper.

The best way to fight stress is to exercise

Next advice, do a lot of physical training. If you have a body, you should move it. Our body is meant to be physically active, not sitting down all the time in front of the computer. It is good not only for your body but also for your mind. Let’s say one of the best ways to fight stress is to exercise. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins that make you happy. Statistics have shown that people who exercise, their concentration is very high. It gives them the energy to focus, to think and to fight diseases.

My mother gave me the strength to move on

My mom has always been my source of strength. She believes in the power of holistic health. She has always encouraged us to copy her example to live a healthy lifestyle. I would like to give a big shout out to her and the positive impact she has had over my life. I have seen her up to date waking up at 5 AM to go exercising, making healthy choices with her food and even the way she interacts positively with the community. Thank you mom for all that I am today is because of your influence.

When you get in for the wrong reasons you will get wrong results

My motto in a romantic relationship is that, when you love, love from the overflow. Never love because of a need. It must be about what you can give in that relationship and not what you want to get out. Fill your life with love and let it overflow so much that you have extra to share with someone. Never get into a relationship for the wrong reason. When you get in for the wrong reasons you will get wrong results. Love conquers all. Let love be your golden rule for relationship.

Once you conquer your own mind, you can conquer the world

For me, when you refuse to surrender to hardship, it’s a success. If there is no internal help, no matter how much external support you have, it wouldn’t work, you will just waste your time suffering. Once you conquer your own mind, you can conquer the world. If you can fight that battlefield of your negative thoughts, you generate positive energy to lift yourself up. Never give up until you make it and don’t be afraid to ask for help, to build a network, to collaborate. Together we are stronger. Like an African proverb – “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” But remember to get a bookkeeper. I mentioned about it earlier but it’s worth mentioning again. Your bookkeeper is like the oxygen of your business! It is your heart beat. If you can do it yourself – Great! If not, employ one.

Life is never a straight line. You will for sure go through tragedy and hardship. At one point I thought of shutting down the business. I was going through a lot of stress and hardship. When there was nobody besides to cheer me up, I knew I had to take charge of encouraging myself. I was consciously doing positive self-talk. I asked myself what I could do now to get rid of this unpleasant situation. I told myself “You are a woman designed for success, you can’t let these problems stop you. Keep going, there must be a solution.” The truth is, we can only call a person successful if he or she has managed to get out of hardship.

Josephine Atanga is the CEO of JEHOM – an international driving school offering customized driving lessons for foreigners in different languages, and the founder of WODESS (Women Designed For Success) – an organization empowering women to connect to something greater than themselves. She also actively organizes different projects and events for the community such as WHIMO (holistic health for migrant women) and Global Business Forum international (an annual conference that brings entrepreneurs, leaders, professionals from around the world to network in Finland).

Edited by

Ha Nguyen

Ha Nguyen

Co-founder & Head of Operations at Entrepreneurs of Finland - Ha is a social entrepreneur & writer who cares about children, education, fairness, the environment, and sustainability. For more info, kindly check http://bit.ly/Connect_With_Ha
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