By Christine Onwuachumba
Maureen Omeibe is the coordinator of the Lagos State chapter of the African Women Leadership Organisation (AWLO).
She also runs a research-based organisation, Network and Public Policy, which focuses on how government policies can alleviate negative issues affecting women.
She spoke to Daily Sun recently about their activities.
The Nigerian economy is tough and a lot of small businesses, especially for women, are suffering. What should be done to salvage the situation?
They should understand that it is not time to close shop or go back to their bedrooms; instead, they should know that it is time to explore alternative means of driving the business.
That was the reason we had to put up this training now. It is to make women know that, as things are getting tougher, there are diverse means through which they can grow their business.
It is pertinent that every business owner must learn how to reduce cost. One way to do this is to reduce the cost of your outreach. Digital skill does this for you, and you are also able to reach a massive market. The truth is that challenges in business are usually the best times for innovation.
Does this fall into some of your objectives in the AWLO?
Ours is to initiate programmes that can help women in anything that they are doing and excel in their endeavour.
We initiated this training because we felt that, since technological advancement has changed a whole lot of things in terms of business development and brand building, there is need for every woman to key into it, learn from it and adapt it to their businesses. You can see the way people just sit in their virtual offices and do business, connect to the world through a simple tap on a digital button. Today’s world is just amazing.
The world has become so small through information technology and we cannot afford to be left behind. We also need to acknowledge dynamism.
Are Nigerian women keying into this?
Yes, women are keying into it. They are really moving with the changing times. Women are very enterprising individuals in their businesses and careers.
As a matter of fact, women tend to key in more when it comes to digital skills, which they need more and they are aware of the immense benefits. They cannot do without these skills now.
Is this a national project or is it just for Lagos State?
It is only for Lagos because it is being organised by the Lagos chapter of AWLO. We might extend it to other regions later. Right now, we have about three batches of training sessions in Lagos. This is the first one.
One of the achievements of the organisation is that we have chapters in four African countries, South Africa, Ghana, Namibia and we are about to launch the Kenyan chapter. Secondly, our flagship project, One Mother, One Child, has gone beyond Nigeria.
In the United States, we have about six children of African descent who are being trained through this project. After our conferences, we make sure that at least 30 per cent of the outcome on communiqué is executed.
Apart from the six children in America, how many others has your organisation helped?
In Nigeria, we have a huge number of children that the organisation has helped. We have 152 children currently in Akwa Ibom State. In Abuja, we have over 200 children. We also have a preparatory centre, where we keep children from the internally displaced people’s centres for ready reintegration to normal school.
In that centre, it is almost like a school with library facilities. That is where they converge to get ready to go to school. We have some children who have got admission into secondary schools as well as those who are going to the university from there. We bring them to the centre, assess what their challenges are and proffer solutions on how to move them forward.
What are the criteria for becoming a member of AWLO?
First of all, you must be a leader. You must be in a position of decision-making .
We like to have people who have vision and possess qualities that will influence people’s lives positively. We appreciate women in decision-making capacity in whatever profession or business such that they are role models in their own right.
Our programme is open to all women but you must be a leader to be a member.
What do you mean when you say you want women who are leaders?
Being a leader is not only about authority, power or position, it is your ability to embrace responsibility. We say that you must be a leader because, when you come in, you are supposed to bring something to the table. You should be able to bring out the leadership potential in the next woman. As a matter of fact, every woman is a leader.
What are the problems you have had while piloting the organisation?
We have been working with African women and the commonest problem we have seen is complete lack of psychological development.
We find out that a lot of women easily accept that they cannot go beyond a certain level in life. This is a psychological problem and I would not entirely blame our women. That is the mindset that was instituted in our cultural lives as a people, especially in Africa. You grow up to see certain patterns and you have natural limitations as a girl. Whatever you see around you tells you that you don’t have to be too ambitious. You don’t have to go farther than this.
It is enough for you to go to school, come back and get married and have children. Nobody tells you about advancing towards higher goals in life as a woman. So, I would say we must come out and fight to break the glass ceiling. This way, we would do better. We are the only one who can really stand up against all those limitations, deal with them in such a way that there will no longer be a barrier.
What you are passionate about?
I like educating people. Wherever I find myself, I try to pass the information I have to the next person. I am most desirous of positive change and I like to drive that through all my projects.
What are the qualities a good leader should possess?
You must be able to communicate on what you want. You must also develop your ability to communicate on your needs to bring people close to you and that, naturally, has to do with your actions. That means that you have to lead by example. What they see you talking about all the time or when they come to you for counselling matter a lot and go a long way in influencing people. When they come to you with problems, your responses and reactions are all in the package of who you truly are.
How equipped you are about information bordering on women across the world should also be on your priority list as one who genuinely desires to carry people along.
And how well do you understand the core challenges of women, not just in Nigeria but across the globe.
For me, all these and more will make your leadership role less challenging. Leadership is not about bossing people around. It is about accepting responsibilities and living up to your billing while executing your own role.