Chief (Mrs) Anita Nana Okuribido is the National Coordinator, Association of Nigeria Women Business Network (ANWBN). In this interview by TAYO GESINDE, she speaks about the forthcoming Nigerian Women Business Summit and what the participants should expect at the meeting, among other issues. Excerpts:
The first Nigerian Women Business Summit (NWBS) being organised by your association is around the corner, what should Nigerians, especially, women, expect?
The theme of the summit is: “From Fear to Hope; Scaling Women’s Business in the Decade of Action.” We would be launching many initiatives. First and foremost, is the Women’s National Business Agenda that is being reviewed to go with the trending new normal since our businesses got hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a rude shock to women in particular. Like I’ve always said, this coronavirus pandemic has the face of a woman. First, it’s the wife that is facing the brunt of the pandemic, either with the husband or children who had to stay at home 24/7 and she had to take care of them. It was something she probably had not experienced all through her marriage because many mothers go back to work at the expiration of their three months maternity leave. They drop their children off at crèche or school. But for the first time, they found themselves being at home 24/7 for about three to five months, continuously. So it might not have been easy because you had to rediscover your husband and your children. After that they had to attend to their businesses or they had to stay at home to do the business that they normally go out to do, network and all that. Having to do this, particularly for women, who were not digitally skilled, was a big challenge. So, the expectations for women in this summit, is for them to learn so much from all the wonderful speakers that we are bringing from government, private sector, global institutions and organisations, academic and security institutions. And the fact that we are now working with the five pillars, the priority issues of the Women’s National Business Agenda (WNBA).
What are the priorities, bearing it in mind that people now want to regain the money they’ve lost to the pandemic?
Each of the priority, starting from insecurity and insurgency which COVID-19 has now taken a big chunk of, need to be discussed in details. The second one is the infrastructure and road network, lack of electricity is the third priority issue and the fourth one is the inclusion of women in governance. The fifth is lack of finance. So, the expectations are so high because we have speakers from all the sectors to handle each of the pillars. So, they would air their views and if possible, network with us to how we can actually achieve this. For finance, ANWBN is already planning to have a Women’s Empowerment Fund. So, I am sure that the speakers we would have from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), commercial banks and other financial institutions, would show us the road map of how we can have our own ANWBN empowerment fund. The same with governance, women inclusion and a lot of policy framework would need to be reviewed and by the time we get talking, the expectation would be so high that ANWBN would be promised the 35 per cent affirmative action for women at all levels of governance. We would definitely make sure that we tie the loose ends during this summit. For the priority issue on electricity, we are hoping to have the Minister of Power or his representative to come and talk to us about the challenges, the bottlenecks and how we can move forward to have the supply of electricity that would be seamless.
As an expert in green economy, what role are you playing and plans put in place to achieve this during the summit?
As a consultant and a specialist in the green economy itself, I will definitely lend my own voice to my beliefs and give the road map that I think women should take and be energy independent, energy sufficient and energy efficient. Coming back to the road network and transportation, we have all seen the decadence in this type of infrastructure. Most women for their road safety would have preferred to have more of their produce being transported by the railway, sea and so on. So, you just get to the port or railway with all your well -packaged produce, with your waybill and send your produce to another station within the country or even outside the country. When we have such infrastructure, then we would have seamless operations and have the ease of doing business seamlessly. What we have now because of low infrastructure is a situation where you want to follow your goods to be sure that your goods get to the next station. We don’t need all that, you can spend your time doing some other things, giving your other services. You can see that the productivity we have now, with the lack of infrastructure, is very low. During the summit, we would be able to open up and strategize on how we can fill that gap of decadence in the infrastructure, so that our women can now have a seamless road transportation, sea, air, and other forms of transportation that we need to apply to get our goods from one place to the other.
What other projects have you carried out under ANWBN which have been of great benefits for women?
I’m very enthused to state that ANWBN happens to be the very first organisation to stage and organise a webinar in Nigeria, Africa, or probably all over the world during the announcement of COVID-19 lockdown. We were not deterred at all. Normally, before COVID-19 set in, the national executives, zonal and state executives met physically periodically to move the organisation forward. But with COVID-19, we were very proactive putting on our thinking cap quickly and with the help of our researcher for the Women National Business Agenda (WNBA), Mrs Bimbo Osuchukwu, we had the first webinar and it was well attended. There we discussed the validation of WNBA and it was the right time for us to discuss COVID-19, to look ahead and suggest ways to mitigate the threats when the new normal comes in and how we would be able to tackle it. And the communique which now happens to be the first project for ANWBN in the new normal is the digital skill acquisition for women. We discovered that, that is the way forward for the new normal post COVID-19 and we have been able to follow this thereafter. We have had series of webinars thereafter. We were also able to have a lot of conferences, workshops on innovation having world renowned innovation guru, Morris Langdon, from the United States and business consultant, Angela Faloye, also from the United States. We then had a huge conference with the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), our international partner, the international director, Barbara Langley, attended. From the government, we had the representative of the Senior Special Adviser on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), Princess Adejoke Orelope Adefulire. We have had a series with the people attending conferences. We have also had collaborations with banks, this include Union bank, Alpher, the gender desk. Here we have been able to have some projects coming up for our women Agropreneurs. We are discussing how to have a pilot in Ogun State, where we would have incubators for our women in agriculture starting from cultivation to harvesting to packaging, branding certification and for them to be export ready. It’s a project that we are working on right now. We also have had a programme with WEMA Bank’swomen’s desk and we had a webinar on how to manage funds for our women, we are still on it. We had another webinar with UPS and International SheTrades for women exporters and other series of webinars that were not directly organised but because of the spread of our women in the 774 local government areas, a lot of organisations have partnered and collaborated with us.
Your organisation under the coalition, started with 18 now you are 50, how were you able to achieve this feat?
It was due to proper planning. We discovered that many women business and professional organisationS are springing up in Nigeria and it is good to harmonise these organisations. So, it is the purpose of harmonisation and for us to be able to articulate them very well so that we can now have a common voice when we are doing our advocacy and policy briefs that actually informed the increase. We then planned and had a membership sensitisation forum in July 2019, which was very successful. We wanted only about 60 participants but the hall was full and we were about a hundred. We discovered that women organisations were yearning to belong to an umbrella organisation that would make them have a common voice, to achieve a lot of their visions and missions and that has been really successful. ANWBN had 18 primary organisations which we now call the pioneer organisations and we are happy that we have grown to 58 really but we have 50 financially active ones and I am sure that by the time we finish our AGM, we would have more financial members because of so many value addition that we are going to propose to them. It has been really rewarding, I would say this is one of my foremost achievements as the national coordinator. I never dreamt that we would move from 18 to 58 interested members and so on.
I think what made it to be sustainable at that magic figure was when we had the initiative to go to Addis Ababa to attend the International SheTradesConvention.
That really got the women together and when we got to Addis Ababa, CIPE our institutional partners were so magnanimous to come all the way from Washington DC, they had a wonderful meeting with us and it gave us a sense of belonging. They now took ownership of ANWBN and about 12 organisations out of about 50 that came for the membership sensitisation were in Addis Ababa. That was very impressive. From there a lot of things started happening particularly at Addis Ababa. We had the communique and the march on order to commence the first women’s International Resource and industrial Park for women which CIPE through the spokesperson, Barbara Langtey, gave their nod to. We didn’t just rest with letting the communique sit in Addis Ababa, as soon as we got to Nigeria, we commenced work on it and by the special grace of God, we now have a parcel of land in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, courtesy of the wife of the Deputy Governor and of course, she has the support of the first Lady of Oyo State. It’s actually because of the increase that propelled the Oyo State government to really want to be part of this project.
ANWBN has the numerical strength, how has this helped the coalition?
I don’t want to be too optimistic about this in the sense that, in the next few months, I would be stepping down as the National Coordinator and I want the new set of executives, when they come in to work hard on that spread because ANWBN has only about four member organisations that are in the 774 local governments and I am very proud to mention COWAN being headed by Princess Ogunleye. When we say we have a spread, it is COWAN. But I would love to see all the 50 or more organisations spanning up to about four million women entrepreneurs and professionals to take ownership of all the local governments in Nigeria. How can we do this? It is by establishing Community Based organisations in all the local governments, and when we establish that, we would now be able to have access to the organisations that are on ground as ANWBN in those areas. If we don’t do that it may not be feasible. I want to be truthful about this, only about four organisations have the spread, hey are COWAN, Professional Working Women, AWEP and BPW. So, I am going to urge the new executives to please, look into the spread by establishing Community Based organisations. That would make it easier for them, they may start with the six geopolitical zones, which have been established and we have good structures through the zonal coordinators. We now infiltrate into the state and from the state to the local government, that gives us a solid structure.
What about the directory for women entrepreneurs that you are currently working on?
The vision for the directory is to have a database of all women entrepreneurs and professionals that offer products and services in Nigeria, wherever you may be in Nigeria. So that when any organisation, any global institution comes into Nigeria, they can reach the women. The directory would be talking about their products and services with the telephone numbers, email addresses and their physical operating addresses. Then, we now put them under clusters. We have fashion, garment and textiles, so when you are looking for women who operate under that cluster, just go to the database in the directory. Also, ANWBN is going to have an app for the directory and once you go to that app and click the icons of what you want, everything would just come out. You will have all the women in Nigeria under ANWBN working under the clusters. We also have women agropreneurs and it is the same thing, under women agropreneurs with different produce that we have in agriculture from maize, millet, sorghum, cashew, sesame seed, spices, yam, tomatoes, whatever it is that they deal with, it is the same thing that you would find on the app. You would also find those who are processing after harvesting, you would see if they are processing into starch, garri, and for the Harry, those who have value addition, for instance, garri with coconut. So, all those things would come up and you would know who you are dealing with. You will have their data and then those who are now ready for export, branded, certified with NAFDAC, SON, you will have all that information. Now, some of us are working on onions, we are working on onions because we attended an ACFCTA programme, where they told us that Gambia is importing onions from outside Africa and to mitigate that, why should we leave Africa to go to international market and be importing onions when we have onions in Nigeria and some other African countries? In that meeting, the ACFCTA protocol meeting, some of us through a communique decided that we don’t want to stop Gambia from importing it now, let us go back to our various countries and start onions plantations. So, when we now have these in about a year or two, then we can now call on the president of Gambia and tell him where to get it.
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