Interview by Visual Collaborative
October 2019 8 min read
Photo courtesy B Bayramova
Billura Bayramova a Azerbaijan national has been living in Lagos, Nigeria since 2013 as an expatriate. An active entrepreneur with a background in finance, her contributions to charity organizations in the region is evident. As a feature in our “Supernova” interview series, Billura talks to us about her experiences in the bustling city, gives a perspective on collaborations, talks about her company Friends of Azerbaijan among others and her optimism towards the creative sector.
(VC) You have lived and spent most of your life in Azerbaijan before a move to Lagos in 2013, was this a natural progression as your career evolved or part of a larger life plan?
(Billura) I was born in the north of Azerbaijan and had spent most of my early life there before moving out to Sweden in 2008 (for the purpose of pursuing higher education in Economics). I came back to Azerbaijan a year later but subsequently moved back to Europe in 2012 after having married a French person. We both relocated to Lagos in 2013 as part of his professional move.
(VC) A perfect world does not exist, but if one does what core values would Billura make a staple in the community?
(Billura) It is a very interesting question, for which no one will ever have the same answer [Billura smiles] The word “perfect” is subjective. For some people a perfect world, would mean absence of crime, poverty and abundance of clean and a green environment. For some others, having all of that would still not make it a perfect world. I am a very positive person and I believe a perfect world exists. A perfect world for me is when humans respect each other and when arts & cultures all blends smoothly into with each other.
(VC) Whats your relationship with the arts through Friends of Azerbaijan and the activities at the MUSON Centre?
(Billura) Friends of Azerbaijan Organization aim is to promote social and cultural exchange between non-Azerbaijanis and Azerbaijanis and to create a platform for the advancement of culture. A prime lever of this is to magnify cooperation with national and international cultural centres to enable exhibitions of young talents and people of Art. When I arrived to Nigeria, the Muson center was the only center I came across to enjoy culture, quality music and arts. I was impressed by their works. We have to remember that Muson Center is also a not for profit organization, running on a tight budget but still featuring world-class events. Nowadays, Lagos scene is literally gushing with new comers and new venues, enriching our traditional scene. Among these, fine arts are now finding an awesome home in the French Alliance (Alliance Française), MA Centre in Ikoyi. The team there is doing a fantastic job at bringing together people and artists, proposing a value program. The more these places will develop, the faster our society will improve.
(VC) As someone with a financial background, what are your thoughts on foreign aid to African countries? Some economists may criticize this because of the long-term implications of borrowing and national debt.
(Billura) As you know in recent years, several developed countries clubs granted a number of African countries (including Nigeria) massive debt relief. Debt relief has to be accompanied by a sustainable campaign to fundamentally reform the world order to make it more equitable. Debt relief does offer some prospects for the Africa`s development. We know that few selected African countries have been benefiting from it and the others left under their debt burdens. They need to promote a sustainable debt management strategy to take full advantage of the opportunities of the debt relief.
I do believe in Power. Power created our world and it is this same Power that lives inside each of us. A power of hard work and routine which comes before inspiration
(VC) Lagos Nigeria is not known as a quiet place but flourishes with a decent expatriate community. In your quiet or noisy moments how do you get inspired. What makes you be of service and work the way you do. Do you seek religion or spirituality for balance?
(Billura) Lagos certainly is not a quiet place. So many events happening in our City of Excellence. You would not believe I do not have a quiet moment here. Busy with all the events, organizations, family, friends. As you know I was a member of the Executive Committee of the International Women’s Organization for 5 years, President of Lagos Accueil French Society and also board member at the French School. I also have to follow Friends of Azerbaijan and Cuisine Chez Billura activities. I am quietly involved in the social and cultural life of this city. My family, classic music, culture and my friends are all source of inspiration. I do believe in Power. Power created our world and it is this same Power that lives inside each of us. A power of hard work and routine which comes before inspiration. Hard work and Routine are very important in the success of our life. Be as collaborative as possible.
I fought for my freedom, I fought for my dreams. I went against society, traditions. I stopped paying attention to what people think about me and I only look forward. I always love challenges, changes, to do the thing different from others and to bring new ideas, concepts in my work. I love what I do
(VC) What can you candidly tell young aspiring female entrepreneur about success and risk in business working between two countries?
(Billura) I do not come from a rich family. My dad was a teacher at school and my mum a housewife. We are six kids in the family, and all of us we went through higher education. Only I live out of my country. I fought for my freedom, I fought for my dreams. I went against society, traditions. I stopped paying attention to what people think about me and I only look forward. I always love challenges, changes, to do the thing different from others and to bring new ideas, concepts in my work. I love what I do. I had dreams – to have my education abroad, to create my own business, to travel around the world. Most of the times we think we need money, fund to realize our dreams. Women strive for their dreams only after they have satisfied the needs of the family and kids. They also underestimate their abilities. All our life is full of risk, all businesses owners deal with risk. A small amount of risk will make a major impact in your competitive position. No one else will give us the job we want. We have to stop seeing ambition and risk as an enemy of life balance. We will be ready to think big when we will achieve our ambitions and risk. My advice to other women who are willing to start their own business: Just do it, go for it. Love it, be patient, surround yourself with inspired, creative people and most important put starting date in your calendar. To accept the failure, to accept being copied. Once you accept all you will succeed and you do not have anything to lose.
Photo courtesy B Bayramova
(VC) Some mention the 60’s or 70s or even the 80s as a period they admire for economic affluence. If you can time-warp to any era, what time would it be and why?
(Billura) I was born in 80s, and it was the USSR period for us. I do not remember too much from 80s and we got our independence in 90s. But I still remember I had already plans for the future when I was 5. My ideal person was Margaret Thatcher, ex-Prime minister of UK. I was always looking to the future and today with any hesitation I say I am still looking forward to the future,. I trust the relationship between technology and humanity can complement each other.
(VC) At this stage of your career considering your commitments, If you could partner with a specific enterprise or individual. Who would it be and why?
(Billura) As a young entrepreneur I am open to any partnership related to culture, art, social works and education. I would like to partner with the M.A centre / l`Alliance Francaise, ArtX Lagos and Design Week Lagos. Im very familiar to the activities featured by those organizations. They really do a fantastic job. I also know some individual artists both in Nigeria and in Azerbaijan whom I would like to collaborate with. We could organize exhibition in my country or in Nigeria. I love the works of Ade Adekola, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Ade Olufeko.
(VC) In addition to your expanding business Cuisine Chez Billura, what can the region expect from Billura within the next 36 months?
(Billura) Over its three years of existence, Cusine Chez Billura have collaborated with several organizations, organizing cooking classes and providing catering service. Our cooking classes had been featured in a number of TV shows including a Nigerian documentary titled “The Life of Expatriates in Lagos” and a cooking program, “Foodies and Spice”. I see the future of the organization very bright and spilling over into other countries. The aim of this organization is not only cooking but also sharing cultures and working on projects to create a platform between international chefs.