In the spate of three years, the AfriWomen Entrepreneurship Initiative has carved a distinct identity for itself in the figure of lives it has touched and transformation it has brought to some hitherto hopeless souls. The heart of this body is a UK returnee legal practitioner, Mrs Olubukola Oso. In this chat with Tunde Busari, she speaks about the present and her dream for the Non-governmental Organisation. Excerpts
Why did you chose humanitarian service at your retirement?
It is not a retirement project. It has always been my lifestyle. My parents are humanitarians and philanthropists. My father (of blessed memory) lived for the people, without sounding immodest. Our house was always full of people coming for one favour or the other. Most times, my family house looked like we were either having a party, community meeting or court session for arbitration and mediation. My mother also has a philosophy that if you have four things and you use only two, give the remaining two to others who need them. Also, I can’t visit a person without bringing a useful item, not necessarily expensive but the gesture. My mother passed down this philosophy to me. I have, in turn, passed these ideas and more down to my children. For instance, I say to my children and many other children that I have included in my motherhood community that you should always give without remembering but also always receive without forgetting. Now, these words are deep for only the very wise.
Can you trace history of your NGO activities?
I have been doing NGO activities from a very youthful age. It keeps me real and happy, and I found a lot of true friendships with beneficiaries, people who champion the courses of others too. My children have regularly entered into competitions to raise money for NGOs in the U.K. and they have their chosen courses. My son supports mental health courses and the girls support education, youths empowerment. From washing cars for money, to abstaining from using their phones to raise funds, to collecting and packing used items for war orphans and refugees they have done quite a lot. Also, I would argue that starting an NGO is natural for people like me because I describe people like me as the “palm people”. Wherever there is distress and we can, we would unfold our palms to take from it to support courses that alleviate the life and the environment we live in. Retiring and relocating to Nigeria, for example, is an eye opener to the extent of how people are vulnerable, insecure and poverty of the mind and the pocket is rife- for me the state of things in our country is poignant. The absence of a welfare system as a safety net also has become the catalyst for me to want to contribute to the efforts of our government in supporting the vulnerable. The government is trying but the extent of their efforts and the level/quantity of resources that they put into supporting the vulnerable is inadequate when compared to the support needed and required to empower and develop human capacities, especially of the youths and women, enterprises and education. These groups of people and areas are the pillars for bringing better life and days into our country. I could also say that perhaps starting my NGO is a retirement project for me. If I love impacting people’s lives, and doing what I do comes naturally to me, then it makes sense to even do it till the very end when God enables me to continue. Furthermore, and for a more practical reason, philanthropy and humanitarian activities keep me mentally and physically active. I am always positively busy. Secondly, I learn, unlearn and relearn a lot from diverse people, for instance, my understanding of Yoruba is richer and I love speaking Yoruba like grassroot women when I am with them. It is a sense of belonging that instantly and genuinely bonds you together. No airs, no faking, I speak the lingo and proudly I am at home with grassroot women in their communities. I have also noticed that as many people get older, and retire from work and business, the children have flown the nest (and you know many children now live abroad) they become idle and lonely. I don’t like idleness and loneliness. In my opinion, both are a recipe for depression and if care is not taken, it potentially can be a sentence to an early grave. I love life and want to live long in good health and enjoy the beautiful things that I love doing. As the founder of the AfriWomen, for sure, I am going to be positively engaged in life and be surrounded by people who truly care about me.
What does AfriWomen stand for and when did it take off?
The AfriWomen are guided and grounded in the values of respect, humility, integrity, diversity, stewardship and transformation. We are all women who want and will respect the feelings, wishes and rights of others. We are women who passionately want to serve through our defined courses. We believe in transparency and consistency. Also, we recognise why we are all different and we make efforts to appreciate and see the differences in us as strengths rather than weaknesses. From the AfriWomen in the office to those in the community, we strive for accountability and innovation, after all, the work is dynamic. Overall, we don’t want to just see the transformation in others but also in us. Two days ago on May 17, 2023, we had our business summit. The feedbacks are awesome. Some women attended from Lagos. We all, including the guest speakers and corporate bodies, learn, unlearn and relearn many things about finance, management and our mental health as women. By the way, some champion men were there too. It is these values that support the AfriWomen to drive our aim for the economic and social development of women. We are on a life-changing mission and achieving our missions through the following six pillars.
1. Increasing access to finance for women- we need to move the business of more women to a commercial level.
2. More enrollment and retention of girls in school- according to UNICEF and Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics of the 10 children out of school, six are girls.
3. Campaign, advocacy and sensitisation of the community to our causes and topical issues for better individuals, families and communities.
4. Skills acquisition training for girls and young women.
5. Adult literacy- more women and teenage parents deserve a second chance if poverty and motherhood have deprived them of the chance at education in the first place.
6. Networking community for women and girls to have a safe place to connect, share and learn to improve their lives.
AfriWomen for Entrepreneurship Initiative, as we are known officially, is a young NGO just under three years old.
How fulfilled are you, in terms of participation and results?
I am extremely happy about what we have been able to achieve in the very short lifetime. We have run two years of basic and post-basic literacy for women and teenage girls from 10 centres across Ibadan and in seven local government areas. We have graduated over 300 women and we are all set to graduate more in November this year. Recently, I was nominated for the Oyo State NOGLASS. I am yet to accept because I am yet to meet the Abuja delegates.
Between 2020 and 2021, through the Central Bank of Nigeria, I was able to facilitate for our women over N11,000,000 low-interest loans to restart their enterprises. They are all doing fine. Our in-house cooperative too has been disbursing small individual loans since 2022. They are also involved in marketing schemes. We have provided summer holiday skills training for about 400 girls and women at the centres. We have achieved over 38 mega road sensitisation and awareness campaigns. We also achieve more than this figure because I have honoured invitations as guest speaker on radio stations. You know that some of these stations reach millions of people. Collaborations and partnerships of value are also what we have achieved over the years, I think about 43 of them. For instance, our programme two days ago involved several speakers whom I invited on board for their knowledge and experience value. However, it is pertinent to also point out that these people didn’t sponsor us. Fulfilled? As the founder of the AfriWomen, I am grateful for the opportunity that God gave me to touch lives. I am happy and humbled that when I call women and girls, corporate sectors respond because they know that we are always adding value for free. I always forget that all that we do at the AfriWomen is free and sponsored by my “kekere” self Adebukola Oso. Where there is a will, there is always a way. If you look hard, work hard and smart, God Almighty will show up for you and bless you with the requisite resources and resourceful abilities. Room to do more? Absolutely yes. Working at the grassroot level opens your eyes to the reality of living, and that there are still many good people with naturally given talents. Who just need people like you and me to help them find their strengths towards maximising their potential as individuals. However, the opportunities to find and support such people are limited or stifled by unscrupulous and destiny killers. Sad, isn’t it?
Is the Oyo State Government, for instance, cooperative or indifferent to it?
Who is Oyo State Government? The people working for the government and the head of the government. The workers and elected into post people are more often than not competing with the outsiders like myself. They often see you as a potential threat. Like your work will undermine theirs. They come with an attitude like without us you can’t see the head. Funny, they like you to write them proposals and account to them yearly or whenever for your NGOs activities. I use to think that it was all for good works like accountability. It is a bug fallacy and scam! If you do so, it is at your peril. What happens is that they paradise your ideas for their own and caucus benefits. Destiny stealers and hijackers! It is surprising that when I meet them at events (I am careful not to invite them to mine) they know our NGO and the free efforts that we give, yet we have never been invited to government functions it recognised. So, the AfriWomen keeps to her lane. Some community leaders even use our women and Tee shirts for government events. For example, the governor visiting their community without asking me or at worse telling me. God must surely have many moments that he laughs for instance, when he sees conniving people stealing other people’s work thinking that no one will see them, then God will make your people see them and expose them. People forget that God is omnipotent and omniscient. About the head of government, they can’t meet all the demands of their mandate. But I believe that any head who knows and sees that a programme or a person complements his or her role for free surely will do the needful. After all, it makes sense that the outcome of both parties’ agendas will be more robust and enriched. One day, the dots of everyone’s work will connect. I believe that’s something from Steve Job’s of Apple. The AfriWomen’s slogan is AfriWomen! Be Bold!! Be More!!!My dear women and girls, in life you must be bold in whatever you do. Boldness to excel in everything that you do. Be it in education, business, profession, making your home as a mother or wife or as a member of your community. Boldness in these sectors of life enables you to say ‘no’ and mean it, to properly self-care. If you don’t self-care you will become incapable of functioning well to then maximise your potential and then make a better or best mother or wife, for example. Being bold also encourages you to seek to be more in life. The phrase “Be More” is a very subservient word. When women want to be more it is an issue for most people, including significant women in their lives. Some women still tell their girls who have visible means of livelihood and are doing well not to buy a car, for example, because no man will marry her! Why?! What the heck is going on here in 2023? If a woman aspires to be a governor, they start to worry about what they will call her husband. First husband. If we can be First Lady, our men too can be First Gentleman. Yet, these same destiny killers, including our men and children, all want trophy wives and mothers. Please mummy and wifey can only be this person if you allow her to be more in education, career, and other ambition. May be, I want to be a governor. And why not? I am from the pacesetter state. We are first in everything. Please, to those women and girls who want to be this and more, the AfriWomen is rooting for you and cheering you on. Women and girls, let me tell you, do not let our religious and cultural beliefs of being a submissive wife or daughter kill your dreams to be more. I am sure that our religious books, now I am extracting from the Bible that our husbands should love us like Christ loved the church. Please, look at all the sacrifices that Christ made for us. To any man who can do that for a woman, please, submit. It is so simple because at all times that man is solidly behind you.
Your final word?
No final word yet. But I will rather repeat my slogan. AfriWomen! Be Bold!! Be More!!!