Home is A Place of Familiarity and Wherever I’m with My Family — Bola Sokunbi
NAME Bola Sokunbi
ROLE Founder of Clever Girl Finance
BIRTH CITY Vienna
CITIES LIVED IN Lagos, Vienna, London, New York
Why did you move to New York?
I moved to New York after graduation as I was offered a job here, and I have lived here ever since. My parents are originally from Nigeria, but I was born in Austria as my dad worked there as a diplomat for the Nigerian government for a few years. When I turned about five, we moved back to Nigeria. I lived there until high school and then went back to Austria to attend college. At the time, Nigeria was going through a lot of economic instability, so colleges were constantly on strike. Due to this instability, students were taking longer than expected to graduate, and my parents wanted me to have stability. My mom sacrificed a lot to provide me with a good education at the expense of her own retirement. I ended up coming to the United States for my final year-and-a-half of college, and I stayed here after my graduation.
Right now, I work for myself: I am the founder and CEO of Clever Girl Finance. I started out working in technology with a computer science major and a business major. Three years ago, I felt a calling to begin my own startup and help other women navigating challenging financial circumstances. Given what I experienced as a woman of color and a child of immigrants to the United States, this was a situation I could relate to personally.
How did you come up with the idea for Clever Girl Finance?
I didn’t always know I was going to start Clever Girl Finance. It took me about two years to figure out what I wanted to do. I was at a point in my life where I liked my job, but I wanted to do something that meant more to me—something that was personal. I had a notebook where I would brainstorm all kinds of different business ideas, and somehow they would always lead back to personal finance. This may be because I’ve always been interested in finance and been good at managing my own personal finances. After graduation,I was able to save over $100,000 in just three-and-a-half years. I was good at saving money during all my important life transitions, like getting married, having kids, and buying my first home, while I saw my friends struggle with the same things. This inspired me to start a business through which I could share my knowledge and experience of saving, investing, and managing personal finance with others; this business became Clever Girl Finance.
At my core, my passion for finance comes from watching my mother, who came from a traditional marriage and struggled as an immigrant with tough financial situations. She experienced her friends losing their spouses or getting divorced and going through really bad situations. My mother didn’t want to go through the same struggles and took it upon herself to figure out how she could avoid them. She was very young when she got married, and she didn’t have a college degree. So, after she had me, she joined college and started working in banking. She hustled in many ways to save money so that she would never find herself in a space where she felt financially incapable. She was my motivation to save money outside of college and the reason I was drawn toward finance to begin with.
Now that I have my own children, one of the ways I try to inspire them is by setting examples for doing things the right way. It’s the small things, like staying organized and being kind to others. My children are very young right now, but they have their own challenges. I always remind them of the importance of practice and try to teach them that they can achieve anything if they put their minds to it.
What does home mean to you?
Home for me is wherever my family is. I’ve moved a lot throughout my life for different reasons. There was a time for seven years when I was in a different place every year. Then I started working in consulting, and I was traveling a lot again. I traveled to seventeen cities in three months.
So, being close to the people I love and the things that comfort me are important to me. And then, home is also a place of familiarity, and that would be Lagos. Lagos was filled with nature, and a lot of my earliest memories as a child are from there. As a young person growing up, Lagos represented home to me. But, if I am not there, then home to me is wherever I’m with my family.
What do you do when you’re homesick?
When I feel really down, I usually call the people who make me feel at home—my mom, husband, and kids. Especially during the winter, it can be very difficult if you’re away from home. So I just try to keep my mind off it.
I try to find people who are going through similar experiences, like immigrant friends or people who are away from their homes, and hang out with them. As you all are going through the same experience, you can have a sense of home together.
As an immigrant, you need to find your tribe of people who live here and who can help you navigate around and stay informed. It is important to assimilate into the new society that you’re a part of so that you can be a good support system to each other and your children.
Do you have memories of your first childhood home?
My first childhood home was in Vienna, Austria. I remember it was an apartment my parents lived in. It was a simple apartment, and we had to take elevators several floors down to get to the playground. My mother had a lot of shelves I would hide things behind. That’s the earliest memory I have of my childhood home. I try to visit my family and friends at least once a year, going back and forth between here and Nigeria now that I live here.