I share my successes, failures, challenges with my family— Adaeze Ozongwu, National President, Nigerian Association of Women Entrepreneurs

womenAdaeze Ukamaka Ozongwu, a graduate of Medical Rehabilitation from the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, is the National President of Nigerian Association of the Women Entrepreneurs (NAWE). In this interview by TAYO GESINDE, she speaks on the role her association is playing to empower women and what budding entrepreneurs need to note when starting a business.

Background information

I am an alumnus of the University of Ife, (now OAU) where I studied Medical Rehabilitation and ITC-ILO Training Centre, Turin, Italy, where I studied Gender, Work and Employment. I have more than 25 years work experience in gender and related issues. I have worked and am still working with women through faith-based organisations, business membership organisations, advocacy groups, women cooperative groups, women agripreneurs and so on. I am at home with the practice of inclusive governance and under my watch, the Nigerian Association of Women Entrepreneurs (NAWE) has witnessed greater vibrancy, more cohesion and cooperation.

 

What NAWE is all about

The Nigerian Association of Women Entrepreneurs (NAWE) was established in 1993 and is registered with a Board of Trustees. NAWE exists to ensure empowerment of women for  a peaceful and greater Nigeria. To actualise this mission, NAWE deploys skills development training, capacity building, policy reforms initiatives, advocacy and use of information technology solutions to expose women to bigger market opportunities and improve their businesses. NAWE has tangible presence in the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria sixty per cent of NAWE membership is rural and semi urban. The association is open to all Nigerian women who have an existing entrepreneural activity or wish to start one.

The journey so far

It has been a learning process for me and the entire membership of NAWE. We have stayed together and worked together as a group not as individuals. Our volunteerism and hand-holding have been our strength. We have been ensuring that women acquire basic Information Technology, financial literacy skills, best business practices and more from the informal to the formal sector and we have been contributing to the national GDP.

A strong woman entrepreneur contributes to job creation, stronger families, education of the girl-child and ability to lend a voice to governance for a greater Nigeria. To do all this, we continue to equip ourselves with the relevant skills and knowledge to effectively actualise and sustain these goals. The leadership team in NAWE serves the members on all fronts. NAWE ensures that the knowledge bank of these women in the service delivery lane is adequately funded; our high points include provision of vital information in the local languages, train the trainer workshops, collaboration with other advocacy, international/local trade missions fair and expo participation and so on.

 

On women empowerment

Negotiating access to funds is one of the key areas NAWE has made impactful incursions. We realised that inadequate capacity on the part of the women affect their chances at accessing credit from formal financial institutions. To address all these, we partnered with institutions to build capacity of women on book keeping, embracing formal banking and all it takes to be financially literate.

Loans or credit are not always the best for start-ups. The need to start small, dream big and move step by step is our advice to our budding entrepreneurs. Mentoring/hand-holding between those in SME and MSME has helped bridge this gap and expose our women to the expertise of others who have made it.

Also, advocacy in collaboration with other NGOs has helped birth the National Collateral registry which is friendlier to women than the status quo hitherto. NAWE has raised its own funds to help its members who would never qualify for the upscale process demanded by financial institutions. The NAWE Angel Intervention Fund (NADIF) Affords members access to credit, collateral-free, and at zero interest. NADIF is generated, owned and disbursed by NAWE members.  Our goal is for it to be adequately capitalized to become a microfinance bank.

 

What government can do to ensure women entrepreneurs have access   to loans

In addition to what government is already doing through its various interventions, there should be inclusion of end users when these policies or interventions are being crafted. Also associations which have proven credibility should be brought in to be part of the delivery of these interventions.  Banks and financial institutions should design loan products that women in the MSME sector can access. At the moment, the preconditions for most interventions in place are above the reach of the rural poor.

 

Combining home front with career

I will attribute to the grace of God, strict time management, strong family support structure. I share my successes, failures and challenges with the family. My family members are my greatest fans. They are also my advisers and wade in whenever they think I could do with their support. I am lucky and do not take this privilege for granted.

 

Advice for women hoping to start a business

Go with your passion. Do not copy anybody. Be original and ensure it is what you have passion for. Start small, dream big, be very strict with your book keeping and finances. Entrepreneurship is the fashion now. Go for it.

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