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The journey of leadership began from an era when women were either absent or invisible in leadership positions to this time where a change in the demographic, following various calls for gender diversity, is sweeping through governments and conglomerates across the globe. However, women still face the biggest barrier of getting into higher echelons of private and public sectors. In the same vein, those women who strive to get to that upper chamber of leadership are most times whisked out before the expiration of their tenure.

In an exclusive interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, Olutoyin Oyelade, Founding Partner/CEO of InVcap, an African-focused private equity firm in Nigeria and Canada, highlighted and disccussed 5 practicable ways women can break through diverse barriers to get into upper echelons of leadership. Excerpt:

Please tell us about yourself- vis-à-vis your cultural, social and educational background.

My name is Olutoyin Oyelade. I am a Nigerian-Canadian with a birthday of 15th of January. I am the 2nd of five children, married to Olusola Oyelade, and we are blessed with three young Entrepreneurs. I have garnered 25 years cognate experience from vertical industry sectors including banking and finance, real estate management, private equity, and non-profit management.

I obtained my first Bachelors degree at the age of 19 in Philosophy from Ondo State University, Ado Ekiti, Nigeria. In 1999, I received an MBA from Nigeria’s University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). This academic background, in addition to the various management trainings I had received in my career journey marked my career path, facilitated my career progression, and led to the development of a team of dynamic managers that worked with me. These professionals were trained to serve clients, redesign processes, policies, and practices across the various industry sectors where I had gained some experience. As my team grew, it became imperative to retrain and get more skills in my industry.

I embarked on a self-development program, which culminated in a series of training, from 2005 – 2008.  Of particular note was my enrolment for executive education programs based on the support of my former employers Intercontinental Bank. In 2005, I completed a Senior Management program at Lagos Business School; in 2006 I completed my Business marketing program at IMD, Lausanne, in Geneva; and in 2008 I graduated from Wharton School’s (USA) advanced management program. These executive studies launched the start of new ideas in my career path. Following a successful career in Banking in 2010, I followed my dream to research into female advancement issues. To this end, I enrolled for a Doctoral degree in Management (with focus on Leadership) in 2012. By 2016, I had graduated as a Doctor of Management (D.MGT) from the University of Maryland, University College, Maryland, USA.

You have a track record in Africa’s Investment sector which spans over 25 years’ experience. Kindly tell us about your career journey and some of your accomplishments and successes.

I started a career in Banking in 1992 with the Nigerian Intercontinental Merchant Bank (NIMBL) – Nigeria. At various times I worked in client services, treasury operations, finance and administration, and investment management services. The Bank later became Intercontinental Bank Group (IBG, now merged with Access Bank). I was trained under the guidance of some of the most qualified and skilled professionals in the industry and as you can imagine, I learnt a great deal, and soon progressed to become the Head of Treasury in 2002. I am really thankful to God for the experience and opportunity.

By 2005, I became the Group Treasurer for the Group. As Group Treasurer, I had responsibility for Funds, Treasury, and Marketing for the Group covering the bank’s 12 Regional Treasury subsidiaries in Nigeria, London, and Ghana. As Group Treasurer at IBG I was part of the team that successfully raised $1.3bn in debts and equity from the global markets to prepare for IBG’s local and international expansion back then. I later became Group Head of Investment Banking with responsibility for treasury and investment management portfolio of $8bn. Shortly after this, the Bank was appointed as one of the indigenous Banks to manage Nigeria’s foreign reserves. On account of this, I was seconded to train with BNP Paribas, Paris and London. As a management intern with BNP Paribas, I gained more understanding of investment management and asset trading and got an opportunity to interact with the global financial markets, the players and their sectors. (These opportunities prepared me to start the Friends of Africa, Summit in 2011 and InVcap, the Investment firm in 2013). Between 2005 and 2009, I was a member of the National Executive Committee of the Money Market Association, an organization responsible for supervision, certification, and regulation of Treasury dealers in the Nigerian markets. Although, I actively operate in the international Markets as a member of Emerging Markets Investors Association (EMIA), I monitor developments in the local markets and remain a senior member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Nigeria.

Some of my Key accomplishments incudes: InVcap Managers launched in 2013; In 2016 InVcap recorded its first major investment deal, SplashWorldpark.com Waterparks, Ikogosi, Nigeria—reputed to be the first full Waterparks in the West African Region. The first Phase of the project has been completed and opened in 2016; In 2017, InVcap recorded its 2nd Investment deal, EntrepreneursPoint.com, the Newest Co-working and executive business offices. Entrepreneurs Point offers private offices, virtual services, Business Membership, Training and Events to local and international clients. The centre is located in Toronto, Canada; In 2017, I released the Book- Advancing Beyond the Ceiling following my doctoral research into women’s advancement journey and based on my career experiences in the corporate sector. The Book is available on Olutoyinoyelade.com

In the non-profit sector, you serve with the African Expert Network, and charity boards, such as Culbeat Foundation, Friends of Africa, and Casa Foundation, which are all efforts towards fostering economic growth and sustainability in Nigeria, and Africa at large. Please share with us some of the success story in this regard.

I founded Casa Foundation in 2011 as a social impact organisation to meet the needs of youths, women and Children in underserved communities and in line with our commitment to support the basic tenets of the UN sponsored sustainable development goals (SDGs) contribute. We focus on providing support in the area of healthcare, immigrant training, and education to women, emerging leaders, and Youths.

Our Partners at InVcap have continued to support our non-profit initiatives as it closely aligns with our Impact investment objectives. We serve with the African Expert Network because of its focus to provide expertise, advisory, and services that could facilitate the required deal flow for Africa to thrive.

Some of the Key accomplishments are as follows:

  • Casa Foundation sponsors Casa Scholarship for International students in Canada. Our group of Entrepreneur mentors have actively taught Entrepreneurship to 7 Cohorts over the last 2 years through the Entrepreneur EXChange program.
  • Our Friends of Africa platform (an economic development summit) has hosted senior public and private sector officials to actively engage with stakeholders in the economy including CEOs, Ministers, Governors, and Parliamentarians from West Africa and Canada in the last 7 years. The Summit has produced several business and economic initiatives, including new businesses Launched and Project executed in Africa. FOA continues to issue recommendations to participating governments on additional resources and initiatives on their developmental agenda to impact prosperity of African Nations.
  • The annual Friends of Africa Summit has received a letter of Commendation from the Premier and Government of Ontario, Canada as an initiative of great Impact for Africa’s Development.

The World Bank forecasts that economic growth in Nigeria would edge up to at least 2.5 per cent in 2018, from the estimated 0.8% growth recorded in 2017. What is your take on this?

The World Bank projection is a welcome development particularly to buoy investors’ confidence following the news of a recession. Recall that some investors were alarmed by the sudden declaration of a recession after two decades of economic stability and major investments from the private and Investment sector in Nigeria. As you can imagine, the slowdown ground most meaningful investments activities to a halt and the moderate economic recovery expected in 2017 did very little to boost investment confidence as new investors cautiously explored the Nigerian opportunity.

This is particularly so because the fragile economic recovery was predicated on rising commodity prices, boost in oil production and oil policy reforms. However, the policy reforms scarcely addressed the perennial cases of shortages in fuel, power, and energy. Moreover, the FOREX challenge remains—its availability, stability, and flow. For World Bank’s projection of 2.5% growth to become real in Nigeria, I would expect the Experts in charge of the Treasury to effectively implement, monitor, and manage, policy reforms, and introduce measures to buoy confidence in Naira by increase FOREX availability, stability, and consistency of supply etc.

These managers will do well to mitigate potential risks to structural reforms, stability of FOREX rates, while creating additional functional and reliable agencies to monitor, address, and limit other possible downside risks to the economy.

Despite the entry of women into leadership across all climes, women still face the challenge of getting into higher echelons of leadership in private and public sectors; while those women who have risen to that level of leadership are most times whisked out before the expiration of their tenure. Please share with us, some of your experiences in breaking through these diverse barriers.

I follow many principles and have some values and virtues. I will share a few…

Get over-Qualified: First, women need to get a good set of Qualifications. The simple truth is that, If you are going to get noticed you need to do a lot more than the dominant players. If out of a 100%, we hold a measly 4.2% CEO positions, then how can we stand out from the crowd? I found that a small percentage of women might not require too many qualifications to become rich, or get to certain C- suite levels or other positions in life by virtue of birth, heritage, marriage, location, or affiliations etc. Despite these privileged few, the number of top Women bosses remains 4.2% in F500s, and perhaps less than 35% of women lead on Boards, non-profits, and in Governments. It therefore becomes imperative that women gain all the possible advantages that qualifications, skills, competencies, kindness, professionalism, and mental capacity can offer to reach their careers goals.

In my career, I was only required to hold a Bachelors degree; I went ahead to get an MBA. I later attended the best 3 Business Schools in the 3 continents where I worked– Lagos Business School, IMD Lausanne- Geneva and Wharton, USA. Again, don’t get me wrong. Women don’t need to go overboard with paper certificates or the best schools, but they may get as many as possible, if the opportunity exists, to break free from the crowds. I tell ladies everywhere I go—whatever it takes stand out, dare to be different, get the best credentials. Its hard work but it might help in the journey of life.

Be Diligent and Skilled: I was never a 9-5pm person. You would certainly find me at work 2-3 hours after others had left—and I was really working (even as a mid-level officer). It never mattered that a boss was there or not- I just had to be there to finish up the day’s work and get ready for the next day.

It was my training (I earned some names including Thatcher). I learnt as much as possible on the job and this helped me to be more effective. I did not know that my bosses noticed this until I got transferred to lead different units. I must have led a dozen different units and this helped me to hone my skills in different departments from Operation, to Treasury, Administration, to Marketing, Investments, Branch management, Events Planning etc. I led these teams and was either head of one committee or the other planning events for large groups of clients. In one of the organizations, we had almost a million clients and almost 20k workforce). It was a great number to learn life lessons and management from.

Moreover, diligence is the hallmark of successful leaders and when combined with the right skills, it becomes a virtue that could prepare one to shoulder greater responsibilities that could never be imagined in the future.

Diligence can also be very rewarding. For instance, I do remember that my previous organization trained her staff abroad based on performance. I was privileged to get a lot of training opportunities because of this policy. Resilience: Women need to be resilient and never give up on their God given dreams–no matter the challenges, adversity, reproach, relegating strategies, burdens, and innuendoes they face at work.

Purpose and Passion: Women must first find their Purpose, and then pursue it with passion. It is difficult to find fulfilment at what you are not passionate about. Your purpose will ignite your passion and attract resources (partners, mentors, sponsors) to you— your resources will attract brutal Adversities to you, but you will Keep Winning If you Faint not in adversity.

Values and Principles: These might vary but must be well aligned. As discerning leader I try to define and keep refining these principles. I try to maintain the values I uphold and tick off the list from time to time to self-check…Women leaders need to constantly ask some burning questions.

  • Methods: What are my methods? What am I known for? What would I never do? What Style, standards, and principles do I maintain?
  • Mentorship: Who DO I really lead? Who Leads ME? Who checks me?
  • Management: What is my Style? How do I manage people? By standards, by processes, by favouritism, by loyalty? Or by emotions?
  • Accountability: Who Am I Accountable to? 1 person, 2 or a group?
  • Actions: What do I say/ do when certain people are there or not there?
  • Friends: Which type of people do I attract? A+, B+, C+, D+? A combination or one category?  What benefits do they bring?
  • Impact: How do I harness the gifts within the groups above to help?
  • Growth: How can I learn, unlearn, and relearn from more successful and knowledgeable people? How do l earn their respect?
  • Adversity: How do I maintain my composure outside my comfort zone?
  • Mentorship: True values of great leaders emerge from constantly self-checking, questioning actions, emotions, and decisions. I learnt to answer these set of questions as I was raised. My mother was a great influence on me and imbued in us great principles of life. My siblings are very supportive and I learn a lot from my mentors and leaders that I have studied and benefited from over the years. I believe that these support eco systems are a great way to grow, learn life lessons and make significant progress in the rough journey that life could sometimes bring.

Be Thankful: I am very thankful to God for His many graces. I have had to deal with serious issues, situations, and people but God, my Father, has always sent help to me somehow, somewhere, and He continues to help people like us- who had no hope. I finally earned and graduated from a Doctorate degree within 3 years (between 2012-2016) by following some of these principles. I have become an Investor and a serial Entrepreneur in the last few years of starting an Investment firm with my Partners in a new Country.

You wrote a book, which was published last year, titled: Advancing Beyond the Ceiling: The Gender Barrier Effect on Women’s Advancement in Fortune 500 (F500) Firms, what motivated you?

In my career trajectory, I had learnt some great lessons. I was opportune to start early, from a marketing IT person, to a level one supervisor, and rose to become the Group Treasurer of a 20k-man (approx.) organization in Africa with 365 local Branches, 12 Subsidiaries, and Country Offices in the UK and Ghana. Through my career journey, I observed that organizations were only as great as their leaders. An organization’s values are largely a reflection of its leadership and what Leaders promote would most likely get done. It wasn’t until I left to start InVcap, that I became interested in the statistics on women advancement. As I completed the Company registration, all letters to me would most times be addressed to a Mr…. I corrected my agents several times. Most email introductions to industry peers would come back as “Good to meet you Mr…” – perhaps my new peers probably assumed only Men would dabble into the Private Equity sector?

I pondered on the issue for a bit, particularly when it became difficult to raise funding for projects… until we found some investors. By the time I started my doctoral research …it was only logical to research into the issues that had left women out of the top roles. I would soon find that my advancement to the Top10 team in other organizations was a result of sheer Providence and a deliberate and intentional act of sincere leadership. In the US, it was not the norm as the statistics indicated and more worrying is the fact that the indicators remain significantly unchanged at 4.2% in the last 5 years, with men consistently dominating the Corner offices in F500s.

Upon starting my doctoral research it was only logical that I focused on these Gender barrier issues, and I published some of the findings in my book and have been speaking at various fora since then—from TED “What’s wrong with Women”, to TV, Radio and Magazine Interviews, and She leads Africa, etc.

Executive Summary:

Advancing Beyond the Ceiling -For too long the subject of a glass ceiling on women’s careers has dominated corporate sector debates and engaged practitioners’. Issues of invisible barriers and hurdles continued to plague the career trajectory of women in senior and middle management…. senior leadership failed to acknowledge these issues, despite the fact that corporations have been known to fail or suffer dire financial consequences for shutting women out of the corner office.

Moreover, Interactions with supervisors and junior officers indicate that the challenges they face in the course of duty negate the core ethics and ingredients necessary to promote the general wellbeing of the firm. While stakeholders in the public and private sectors continue to propose solutions and advocate for palliative and remedial steps to address the visible and invisible ceilings on female career progress, the number of female CEOs remain significantly unchanged between 2013 and 2016 and slightly deteriorated in 2017.

The question is why only a few corporations are pushing an agenda that seems to be the panacea to firm performance and sustainability? And why have the early warning signals of gender inequality remained in corporate corridors— 40 years after Bryant identified the glass ceiling challenge?

My research findings in Advancing Beyond the Ceiling deviates from the traditional approach of limiting the gender barrier dilemma to societal, natural, and organizational practices. The book researches into other imposed limitations, including issues of self-esteem, character traits, and male dominance that could stall women’s advancement.

I proposed reasons for females to spearhead their advancement through scholarship, partnership, mentorship, and sponsorship, first to gain the required confidence and esteem, that some women still lack – despite their position and qualifications, then for women to become better trained in the art of leadership management (not just in theory, but by actions). Leading women could check:

  • How effective would I be, if I led in new sectors, led new people?
  • How could women lead people that are better qualified than them without becoming threatened to the point of seeking to eliminate perceived competitors no matter the advantages they offer?
  • What leadership behaviours characterized mentors and leaders?
  • What practices should top women promote in their quest to crack the glass ceiling?
  • How can our readers access this book?

My Book- Advancing beyond the Ceiling – is available Online on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Author House, and www.olutoyinoyelade.com

How do you balance your family and business life, which is some of the battles women still face?

For me, keeping a work–life balance means gaining the support of my spouse, and raising Children, that are well grounded in the Christian Faith, so that life’s decisions can be taken faster without compromises; these are my critical success factors and they are a most rewarding blessing from God. To maintain a balance in my home, I keep a schedule of the important dates from the beginning of the year and try to meet these appointments. The family also bonds as I offer support to kids in school and in their other endeavours and goals.

I found that getting busier meant that pressure increased and we had to give up on the time that we spend together. So we had to introduce more fun times to look forward to: movie nights, quiz shows (to test the brain and word knowledge), make a pitch night, etc. If you are raising Entrepreneurs, they better understand Gods word and business principles early enough.

Ensuring that one’s spouse is involved in the various business concerns is also helpful. Not only do you get professional advice for free, issues are resolved faster. For our work abroad, we take turns to attend business meetings so that both parties are not away from home. However, we find time to get away from these routines with the kids from time to time. Couples must learn to create some history that will become memories for the future. I find that by sharing my goals and vision with a reliable partner, the challenges of life are half solved and other issues can be pursued more strategically.

What is the best way for readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you?

I am available on Social Media:
Facebook: @OlutoyinOyelade
Instagram: @OlutoyinOyelade
Twitter: @Olutoyin Oyelade
LinkedIn: @OlutoyinOyelade

Felicia Twumasi, CEO, Homefoods Limited, a leading Ghanaian entrepreneur, shares with Amazons Watch Magazine, in an exclusive interview, her inspiring entrepreneurship journey- from a big dream at a table top in a kitchen in 1995, to a high-scale ethnic food processing and packaging company, with a distribution network across The United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, North America and West Africa, and export sales increasing into multi-million dollars per annum. However, it is interesting to note that this successful businesswoman faced quite a number of challenges along this journey, other than racial and gender discrimination. Excerpt:

Please tell us about your experience growing up as a girl in Ghana.

Growing up in a convent in Elmina, a small town in the Central Region of Ghana I witnessed nightmare moments of gloom where many of my friends had to close the chapter of schooling just because they lost their fathers; family breadwinners. This ignited the fire of enterprise in me, forming the foundation upon which todays superstructures stand. This same flame has stayed alive not only to keep family and I financially independent through education, but also to empower fellow women to do same, in order to minimise if not avoid entirely a replay of my childhood experience.

I was privileged to be close to my grandma when growing up, thus picking up her dexterity in cooking and now, as it were, my love for cooking. Skills she picked up from exposure to other parts of Ghana and abroad combined with recipes from her travels with her parents; today I share with the world and in itself, keeps my flame burning.

It is quite intriguing that you conceived the idea of Homefoods in 1995 at your kitchen table. Kindly share with us your entrepreneurship journey.

Having this childhood experience imprinted in my memory when I was growing up and seeing women on trucks with their agro- produce coming to the main markets, ignited that urge to start this journey. I knew immediately that I had to do something for these women.

There I planned the vision and mission toward these women to process the perishable agro-produce into products. With the vision and mission set, the journey started.

My vision has been to create, build and establish a quality food chain industry by fusing flavours and spices from around the world, to meet my consumer needs while my mission is to focus attention and creativity on basic food ingredients and services to all and sundry, homes, catering, hotels and fast food industries, food products they absolutely need and want, thus making every meal an experience. This I sought to obtain through adaptive production, inventory management and product design while creating value and wealth for our nation through agriculture in order to maintain a sustainable legacy for posterity.

Homefoods is a 100% Ghanaian owned company within the FMCG marketing industry which is dominated by multinationals. It was thus birthed some 22 years ago from a dream I envisioned and, indeed, what a big dream that was from a table top in my kitchen way back then, that dream was to grow an Agro-based business to engage in the processing and packaging of various ethnic foods, specifically for the export market. From the top of that Kitchen table, I started bottling edible Palm Oil for export to the United Kingdom with just two workers; one staff and my daughter and 5 women suppliers. Why Palm oil? It took one inspiring idea of exporting a product that was non-perishable but essential to cooking. Palm oil fit the bill, with its rich red oil processed from fruits of the palm.

Now, we are a high-scale ethnic food processing and packaging company in Ghana with a current distribution network including; The United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, North America, The Gambia and Equatorial Guinea and our own sub-region, West Africa.

Homefoods has been able to keep up its business-level strategy through sustainable competitive advantage in discrete yet identifiable markets of export for all these years. We have Kept 70% market share in the Red Oil business for 14 years and counting on our customised brands such as BLUE BAY, TROPIGOLD, AFRICA’S FINEST, GHANA BEST, YADCO, BIG MAMA, HOMEFOODS AND HOMESENSE.

We are however, now looking into West, East and Southern African markets. Our exports have grown exponentially from 100 boxes per order in 1995 to a full container per month to forty FCL per year and still growing, with our export sales increasing into multi-million dollars per annum.

In 2009, we embarked on a new business model by adding value to the palm oil and vegetable oil thus expanding to other food product lines such as Vegetable Oil, Various seasoning, Ready to Eat Meals and Soup of West African Taste made for the world and soon, snacks and Laundry, Carbolic and Liquide Soaps made from Palm Oil derivatives. They have been made to suite both international and local consumer demands; all packaged under international standards in attractive stand-up pouches in addition to our Pioneer products being Palm oil and Grains. This growth has been as a result of extensive research and multimarket activities based on our agro-business and thus resulting in our expansion into four factories since outgrown our Head Quarters in Accra:

  • Palm Oil and Vegetable Oil Packaging Factory– Odorkor, Accra.
  • Ready-To-Eat Factory– Rented space at Food Research Institute, Accra.
  • Grains and Legume Snacks & Seasoning Packaging Factory– Agility Industrial Park, Kpone, Tema.
  • Derivatives of Palm-Soap Factory (Liquid, Laundry and Detergent Soaps)- Oleo Chemical Plant, Boadi, Kumasi.

Our future plans comprise relocating into our modern facility so as to incorporate all these sites. My dream of building an Agro-Food Processing Empire, we have termed “THE HOMEFOODS CORRIDOR FOOD VILLAGE” a 15-year intellectual odyssey by me. A diversified business entity which will enable all initiatives to converge, eliminating all divergences therefore backed by resources and professionals who will formulate and implement activities and businesses that lie within the corporate hierarchy. This will thus expatiate the role each expert is to play to enable us all, from the farmer to the good infrastructure to the logistic companies to the security institutions etc. to mention a few, to all come and converge on this corridor thereby enhancing food security and the health of the nation, ensuring to leave a sustainable legacy to posterity.

I believe our Agro business is sustainable based on reliable and transparent value chain, fair prices and our concern for environmental, social and cultural values which causes us to be linked to improving Nutrition, Health, Agriculture and productivity. This dream could not have reached its full potential without its committed and loyal team which have been cultured by allowing them to be creative and innovative while combining intellect and idiosyncrasies to face challenges in their various role while working independently yet dependently linked on each other. Homefoods thus believes and thrives on relationship building, quality, innovation, our human capital and most importantly, our Corporate Social Responsibility.

The challenges entrepreneurs face in Africa are often more visible for women. For instance, the challenges entrepreneurs in Africa face when accessing finance are more visible in women-led businesses. Studies reveal that female entrepreneurs that sought funding from venture capitalists only received 25%, on average, of the amount they asked for; while men received, on average, over 50% of the amount they asked for. In the same vein, studies showed that 53% of women had applications for finance denied, compared to just 38% of men. What are some of the gender-based challenges you have faced in your business life and how did you sidestep them?

There have actually been quite a number of challenges along this journey, other than the racial and gender discriminant examples I now laugh over back in Harvard.

Our financial institutions generally do not have confidence in women, I came to find out, and this is more prominent in this part of the world. This in itself gave me a struggle moving from SME status to the corporate level. Banks did not believe that I could survive because no man was backing my quest or my business was not registered by a man. I remember so clearly how I got my first seed money. After all the turn downs from banks, I sold my mom’s trinket- a true sign of support for me, as she gave it to me, Bless her. I got back 500 pounds back then and that was what I used to ship my first consignment. Perseverance.

Even within my Homefoods working environment, I have faced “the man-ego”. Male staff not being open to suggestions; I believe out of intimidation to successful women. The common mind-set of “the place of the woman being the kitchen” and if even we do make it to the corporate world, our level being still a role of servitude. Unfortunately, however, I wasn’t brought up with that defeatist attitude so it only pushes me to work harder.

What are some of your efforts in mentoring and making inroads for women in your industry?

In this light, our business model since inception has been to incorporate and train local women farmers as trade partners of Homefoods; especially, those who have their own farms. My passion has been to engage and train women out-growers and to empower them to capably give better care to their families. This has helped provide value to women efforts, contributing befitting rewards and consequently the financial resources crucial for the enhancement and the quality of life for them and their families. We have achieved this through;

  • Business Schools for younger people; MBA students.
  • Setting up the co-operative system for women farmers which have quadrupled to about 5000 women suppliers for Palm and vegetable oil and 500 for Gari.
  • Using government institution, Ministry of Agriculture, to increase their yields through education and practical demonstrations.
  • In accordance with our ‘Giving Back Policy”, educating the children of some of these women farmers who are mainly single mothers.
  • By ensuring that all purchases of our company’s agro products for export are from these women co-operative associations.

Undeniably, our Brand has benefitted vastly from loyalty that’s has birthed from this mutual trust.

  1. How do you balance your family and business life?

As an international business woman and mother of 3, fortunately my older daughter is a grown woman and thus the focus is more on my boys. She however pops in by the house every so often. I take the time to fine tune their minds to the nature of my business ethics and as such they understand when I have to be away.

However, I make sure I share quality time with them by taking a month away, yearly to go on holiday with no air of business. In addition to this, I make sure I check homework every evening without fail to see their progress which impresses me all the time. Fortunately, through their school portal, I have access to their profiles to keep up to date with how well they are faring and discuss any issues there maybe with their teachers.

On the whole, technology bridges the gap of distance and helps balance my business and family life.

  1. What’s the best way for the readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you (You can include links to your social networks and websites) Optional.

As a businesswoman and always on the move, email is my best means of communication which is my work mail ftwumasi@homefoodsghana.com, our LinkedIn page also and more insight can be found through https://www.myjoyonline.com/business/2016/July-20th/joy-business-van-felicia-twumasi-steers-one-of-africas-leading-food-brands.php

Available statistics on Nigeria’s housing shortage is worrisome.  With a population of about 180 million, an annual population growth rate of 2.8 per cent and an annual urban population growth rate of 4.7 per cent, influential data estimate the country’s housing deficit at over 17million.

UN findings reveal that about 1.6 billion people live in substandard housing and over 100 million are homeless, world over. More worrisome is the fact that over 100 million Nigerians are considered to live in substandard housing, across the nation.

In this exclusive interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, Ibieno Ogolo, Chief Responsibility Officer for the EKO Development Company, that is involved in the development of high-end residential properties, such as the Eko Atlantic City, highlighted some of the challenges in Nigeria’s real estate industry, and some of the ways the deficit in the country can be addressed. Ogolo also discussed the impact of her prime real estate projects in Africa. Excerpt:

Please tell us about your background.

I’m currently the Chief Responsibility Officer for the EKO Development Company. The Company started operations in 2013.

My overall career however spans over 18years starting with my degree in Computer Science and Mathematics from the University of Port-Harcourt. Upon graduation I held roles in financial services (Retail, Wealth Management and Investment Banking).

In 2008, I made the move to the Public sector as Investment Promotions manager for the Greater Port-Harcourt Development Authority and rose through the ranks to Head of Public Affairs.

I also have advanced degrees in Business Administration with core in Finance from the University of Liverpool and an MSc in Investment Promotions and Economic Development from the University of Edinburgh.

You have a track record, with leadership experience in Nigeria’s real estate sector. Please tell us about your career journey, vis-à-vis your successes and accomplishments.

My career journey spans over eighteen years. It commenced in the Nigerian financial sector with a bank called City Express Bank Ltd now United Bank For Africa. Within the commercial banking industry, she held several leadership roles across operational, marketing and credit administration functions leading teams to deliver key initiatives. It is worthy of note that my Managing Director was a woman.

In 2003 she moved unto BGL Plc where she grew to become Head of Private Wealth until her departure. Leveraging on her investment strategy and financial experience, Ibiene became the Head of Public affairs for Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority encapsulating media, investment promotions and community relations for one of the major real estate development projects in Rivers State. The agency of government was again headed by another strong female.

Since joining Eko Development Company Ltd in 2013, Ibiene has successfully raised funds internationally and locally and is responsible for the development of one of the new prestigious landmark aptly called “Azuri Peninsula” on the Marina District of the Eko Atlantic City; which will upon completion transform the entire skyline of Lagos.

Growing up amongst 5 siblings team work and the ability to be a team player was naturally honed, being the first daughter of the family, the responsibility that comes with it as many of us can relate birthed her leadership skills and pursuit to achieve and surpass set goals. At a young age the realisation that she is a yardstick to which her siblings achievements were and would be measured, became the driving force to her determined focus to always keep the bar up. This attitude to always excel in life has shaped her to be the woman she is today. The daughter of a former Naval Officer and lover of nature, Ibiene grew up around boats and credits the times sailing in teams with her Dad and later solo as an integral place where she further developed critical skills of team work, personal resilience, attention to detail and excellence that has largely contributed to her professional success.

While seemingly a very busy, workaholic, Ibiene recognises the importance of knowledge transfer, finds time within her busy schedule to mentor and coach up and coming high potential talent to successfully navigate Nigeria’s corporate maze.  She also is very interested in development of the female child and women at large.

She finds time to kick back and relax, she spends her vacations travelling the world and her love for adventure and travel are showcased in her travel and living blog “Ibiene.com”, which also happens to capture and hint her love for photography and the good things of life.

What are some of your experiences, working as a woman leader in the male-dominated real estate sector?

It is very difficult to shake the feeling of always being under a microscope, and often times having to prove the competence that is inherently earned by male colleagues from just turning up to work.

However my approach is to go into work with the attitude of always perform at my best. At the end of the day it’s execution that counts, and you get respect from the quality and timeliness of your output. I mentor a couple of upcoming female talent and I’m pleased that they are starting from a higher level of acceptability than where we were when I started out.

I’m glad that we now have a growing example of trail blazing females within the sector. I additionally mentor a couple of upcoming female talent and I’m pleased that although we still have some hurdles to jump, they often times are not confronted with some of the issues that were common place when I started out.

Diversity of perspective, approach and experiences is the hallmark of the most successful organisations, my prayer is that this will be reflected and carried on within the Nigerian real estate sector.

Nigeria’s housing deficit is estimated at 17 Million, which places the country among the league of countries with huge housing shortage, in spite of the various policies and strategies adopted by the government to address this worrisome trend. What is your take on this trend in Nigeria’s real estate sector?

It’s extremely disheartening that we have allowed things to get to this level. The reality is that not enough housing units have been built through the years, and even if we now commence building a million housing units per annum it would take us another17 years to close this deficit; and remember we still have a population growth rate of about 3% per annum. So if we take that into account the numbers are still growing.

Government policies as related to housing weren’t consistent or effectively executed in the past. The good news though is that the government has realised that it cannot do it alone, and the space is now opening up for professional developers who can build in the sort of volumes required to halt the widening gap.

I’m extremely glad that Eko Atlantic is also a major agent in closing the housing gap. Upon completion of EKO Atlantic, it is expected that over 200,000 units would have been added to the housing stock. It is my hope that the template of EKO Atlantic would be replicated across the country to ensure we have planned cities and housing that works.

In your opinion, how can the country effectively tackle its housing challenges?

As I mentioned in response to your earlier question, we do have a gargantuan task ahead of us to tackle the horrible housing deficit we have allowed to take root.

To tackle some of the challenges I think we would need to apply a myriad of measures including reforms of the Land Use Act, Building regulation standards – development and enforcement, Housing development financing and mortgages, Adoption of new age materials/ technologies for construction.

Regarding Land use act reforms, it is still tough in areas of acquiring land, title deeds, and getting permits for construction. The bureaucracy is still overwhelming, and cases of multiple allocation of the same land still persist. Reducing the number of hoops that developers have to scale through would go a long way in attracting serious investors and developers into the market.

Issues of financing also is tied to Land use act, it is difficult to even begin to speak of mortgages and other types of housing finances if there is no proper legal document (i.e. Title deeds) confirming land ownership. In other climes, property serves as legitimate collateral to obtain funding that amongst others can be used for part or full funding of developments.

Going further on financing, there is also a need for government through the central bank to set-up a construction fund that developers can access at more favourable interest rates. The pension funds can also be opened up to further invest in real estate and the housing stock.

A key area that can also go a long way in reducing the housing stock relates to the way we currently build in Nigeria. Today we use way too much concrete, Iron rods and pillars; which make our buildings too expensive to construct. In most of the west you have a hard outer shell, and the interior is from cement or wood particle-board. Focusing on the material and components used for construction will greatly reduce the cost of building and by default deliver the much touted about ‘affordable housing’.

Your company has been involved in the development of high-end residential properties, such as Azuri Peninsula, and the Eko Atlantic City, which is expected to create a new economic capital for Africa. Please tell us about your projects and their long term impact in the country.

This is a great question, the Azuri Peninsula and Eko Atlantic city are examples of how cities and projects should be planned and delivered. The City is designed to be a world-class development that will include an Industrial Hub, World-class medical centres that would deliver the best of health care and halt Nigerian medical tourism, Universities and other centres of research, learning and development. It also includes plans for a technology hub.  A couple of Nigerian premier Banks and finance institutions are already committed to having their headquarters at Eko Atlantic City. The design brings to bear the relationship between works and live by this we have a City that encourages a work life balance by taking conscious steps to ensure the environment encourages walking, greens and the love for nature.

Eko Atlantic City is expected to be home and place of employment to half a million people. I think the array of activities and companies that would inhabit the city already gives a flavour of the type of impact we would deliver long term.

As mentioned before, I already see Eko Atlantic as the place that would be the best standard that others within and outside Nigeria would come to learn from and emulate.

My project the Azuri Peninsula takes construction a step further in that we ensured that our designs are adopted to suit the location and life style of Nigerians, Africans with a feel of the west. The quality of build is like no other with its environs.

Though women, world over, have remain vastly underrepresented at every level in key sectors of the economy, facing diverse challenges working in male-dominated industries, this significant gender divide have however not stopped Mrs. Happy Dzitse, Managing Director, McOttley Capital Limited in her determination to succeed in the fast-paced and dynamic male-dominated financial services sector.

Mrs. Dzitse who continues to enjoy a rewarding career in the financial sector, and contribute to the economic development of Africa, in an interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, says confidence and passion have been key to her success in Ghana’s financial services sector. She also discussed financial inclusion for women.  Excerpt:

Thank you for this opportunity to interact with you. How would you describe yourself?

Thank you too for this opportunity. Whenever I am asked this question, my answer is always straightforward. I am a change agent and a game changer. I keep this in mind in all that I do and that is how I always want to be identified. As legendary Michael Jackson’s hit song “Man in the mirror” says, if you want to make the world a better place, then take a look at yourself and make the change. My desire is never to stick to the status quo but bring positive change wherever I find myself. I try to go beyond the borders of race, religion and even gender and change the way things are done when I see the opportunity to make them better. So yes, I do describe myself as a game changer.

You began your journey as a sales representative at Advance West Coast Marketing, but you have over the years risen to corporate leadership. Please tell us about your career journey.

I grew up at a time where the opportunities available to women weren’t as many as they are today. A woman had to work twice as hard as a man did to rise to the top. But my belief and conviction was in taking a day at a time and making the most out of each day. I did indeed begin as a sales representative at Advance West Coast Marketing but I had my eyes at the top. I believed I also had my quota to contribute to the world and if I find myself in the corporate world, then I needed to leave an indelible mark in the corporate world specifically in the world of finance.

From Advance West Coast Marketing, I trained as a professional teacher and taught for some years before joining the Standard Chartered Bank as a Direct Sales Representative. My pursuit to become an investment banker took me to Gold Coast Fund Management Limited, as a Sales Executive and Relationship Management Officer in 2006. I became an Authorized Dealing Officer on the Ghana Stock Exchange having acquired the required license to do so. I rose through the ranks at Gold Coast Fund Management Limited to become the Head of National Customer Service Centre responsible for strategic planning and implementation of customer service policies. I set up customer service procedures, and ensured compliance across all branches and regional offices of the company. I held this position until 2014 when I moved to McOttley Capital as the Chief Operating Officer then eventually became the Managing Director of the company in 2015.

Kindly share with us some of your experiences within male-dominated corporate boardrooms and industries.

The finance industry is indeed dominated by men and sometimes a woman needs to work harder to prove herself as capable. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, in the financial sector in Ghana, women make up less than 20% of corporate boards. This means that, for every 10 member board, less than 2 of them are women. I remember vividly after my appointment as the MD and needed to present my first budget to the board for approval. I knew I had to be smarter, think like the men, and process all the ideas as the men in order to sweep them off their feet. In fact, one had to be extremely cautious, confident and indeed straight to the point. This demanded a lot of hard work to get things done. As you engage with them over the years, your experience and expertise is brought to bear.

What has worked for me in this male-dominated corporate industry is confidence and being passionate about what I think is right. One has to be straight and strict to get the job done, delegate duties but monitor and receive feedback. But I also do all these with humility, open-mind and the fear of God.

Creating a bank account in a formal financial institution is the first and most important step towards achieving financial inclusion. Findings by the World Bank reveal that only 34% of adults in Sub-Saharan Africa hold bank accounts in a formal financial institution, and only 30% of those formal accounts are held by women compared to 39% held by men. Women in developing nations have long been excluded from formal financial processes and have had to turn to the informal sector (savings schemes and cash transfers) to support unmet financial needs. What is your take on gender disparity in terms of financial inclusion?

These statistics by the World Bank for Sub-Saharan Africa are not encouraging and need to be improved. Africa has been the world’s second fastest growing region after Asia, with annual GDP growth rates in excess of 5% over the last decade. Now, despite this growth, good economic growth in the continent has not translated into shared prosperity and better livelihoods for the majority. Growth has to be inclusive to be socially and politically sustainable.

One key component of inclusive development is financial inclusion-an area in which Africa has been lagging behind other continents. Making formal financial services Available, Accessible and Affordable to all segments of the population including women is critical.

According to data from the World Bank, in 2010 a relatively large segment of the Ghanaian population (44.0%) was excluded from the financial services sector altogether. During this period, access to formal banking services hovered around 34.0%, with banks creating innovative channels to penetrate the market further. By 2015 however, the segment of the population excluded from the financial services system had dropped to 25.0%, according to the same report by the World Bank. In all this women are the most affected.

However, recently, the trend is gradually changing with some drastic improvement in women having access to financial services across Africa. The introduction of mobile money platform has created an enabling environment where the rural poor particularly women are having access to basic financial services. In Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Ghana the gender disparity in financial services and inequality has improved tremendously, but more needs to be done.

As an investment banker, how do you think Africa can scale up access to affordable finance for female budding entrepreneurs in Ghana?

First of all women entrepreneurs need to be given the required skills, knowledge and training in their respective fields of endeavour. I also think that a lot more women need to be empowered and motivated to be entrepreneurial and to take up the challenge of creating wealth for themselves.

The cost of borrowing across many African countries is very high, with average lending rates in Ghana hovering about 25% to 35% per annum, making it very challenging to have access to affordable financing. This phenomenon has crippled many SME’s in Africa. The solution lies in building resilient economies where credit is made available to the private sector for growth. There has to be a conscious effort by Government in making available credit and affordable funds to potential women entrepreneurs who have set up SMEs and employing the graduate youth. Government must make it a priority to nurture, develop and fund women with the potential to grow their businesses and contribute significantly to economic growth in Africa. 

What are some of your efforts in making inroads for women in Ghana?

Influence usually begins within your own space. As an MD, I have a strict policy against denying women the opportunity to hold certain positions just because they are women. McOttley Capital gives equal opportunities to both women and men. When a woman is qualified to hold a position, there is no way she will be overlooked just because of her gender or because it is a man’s world. Also, my belief is that, women in Ghana and even the world at large cannot penetrate the corporate world or even the entire job market without the requisite education. You cannot get to the top just because you are a woman and the world is advocating for women at the top. You will struggle there if you do not have the skills and knowledge to make a difference. For this reason, through our foundation, McOttley Empowerment Foundation we offer scholarships to many women to pursue higher education. I have a thing against money being a stumbling block to pursuing your dreams so in whatever way I can I help as an individual or my company can, we do so.

How do you balance your career and family obligations?

I won’t deny that combining being a corporate woman and family woman hasn’t been easy. Many at times I have noticed that women in such situations end up giving up one for the other but I believe that with proper planning and strict adherence to the plans, any corporate woman can have the best of both worlds. You do not have to give up one to have the other. My personal secret is not to waste any time, not even a single second. It’s amazing what you can achieve as a corporate and family woman when you make good use of the 24 hours God has given you. I try and do all that I have to do within a stipulated time so that it doesn’t have to eat into my family time. On the rare occasion that it does, I still make proper use of technology to be a part of the lives of my husband and children. I must also state that my husband has been very supportive in my corporate life, he is my super hero when it comes to my corporate journey in my view. I believe Women have great potentials to do a lot but with a good partner by their side, they can do more.

What is the best way for readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you (Optional)?

Readers of Amazons Watch Magazine can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram.

Africa’s population was put at 1.2 billion people in 2016, placing the continent of 54 nations as the second most populous in the world. Over the last one year, the continent’s population recorded an increase of 30 million. By the year 2050, annual increases is projected to be more that 42 million people per year, with a total doubled population of 2.4 billion, according to the UN.

In an exclusive interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, Dr Leticia Appiah, a Physician, Senior Public Health Specialist, and Executive Director of Ghana’s National Population Council, said Africa’s greatest problem is the high population growth rate and population momentum, which fuels corruption and frustrates capital deepening. She also opined and discussed a model Ghana and the continent, at large, can adopt to stabilize its growth for accelerated economic development. Excerpt:

Thank you for this opportunity to interact with you. Please tell us about yourself and some of your experiences, growing up as a girl.

I grew up in a polygamous family and as my father had other children, my mum who was a high school teacher, was the sole carer of my two sisters and I.  My mum was my main support and role model and her intervention when I was in primary school prevented a crisis that would have had an adverse impact on my education, probably making me a school drop-out. The challenge I had as a child was that I was born left-handed; a condition that was frowned upon in the early 70s, leading to children such as myself being forced to write with the right hand in order to conform. I found it very hard to write with my right hand and I began to play truant in order to avoid the challenge. I played truant until my teacher met my mum at a meeting and asked about the reason for my long absence from school. My mum asked me what the problem was and I told her about my predicament. The following day, she took me to school and asked my teacher to allow me write with my left hand. At times, I wonder if my teacher would have noticed my absence if it were today considering the huge class sizes today in public schools in Ghana and wonder how many such children are loitering around unnoticed. I credit God and my mum for my success today.

You have had experiences working in various public health institutions, as a physician and public health specialist. Please tell us about your career journey in the medical profession.

I completed medical training in June, 1993 from Donetsk Medical School in Ukraine and came home immediately fired up to make my contributions to the development of my nation, Ghana. During my training in Donetsk, the maternity ward was the happiest of all wards because; there was joy, flowers and smiles when babies were born. This led to my decision to specialise as an obstetrician gynaecologist because; I wanted to be there to always welcome new precious citizens into our world.  However, when I started practising medicine in Ghana, I realised to my dismay and sadness that not all babies in Ghana are received in the world with joy, laughter and smiles. Some parents are ill-prepared to receive them whiles some are just not wanted and end up abandoned, malnourished or simply maltreated. Therefore, I decided to pursue a Master’s in Public Health to enable me get closer to the community since health or diseases are manufactured in homes which are the best places for health interventions for maximum effect.  In 2003 I completed my Master’s in Public Health and will be completing my PhD in public health this year.

You were the Director of Health Services for Ledzokuku-Krowor Municipality (LEKMA) of the Ghana Health Services. During this phase of your life, what were some the health challenges in the district you made remarkable efforts to address? 

I was appointed as the Director of Health Services in 2008 when the Municipality was established. There were many health challenges but key among them were: low TB case detection despite documented high incidence and prevalence rates. I realised that majority of the over 350,000 inhabitants had as their first point of call the numerous chemical shops and few pharmacy shops (seventy-five such shops). I therefore, decided to train all shop attendants in TB case detection using a simple screening tool. This subsequently, increased TB case detection in the municipality and a success story for other districts to emulate; other challenges identified were low immunizations coverages for children under one year and low family planning uptake in the municipality. This was because; public health services were mainly delivered only in public health facilities despite, the fact that private health facilities outnumber public ones. There were three (3) public health facilities and more than 10 private health facilities. I teamed up with the private health providers and extended immunization and family planning services to all our clients accessing services from private facilities by assigning staff to the various facilities. LEKMA became the centre of excellence for private-public partnership in the health care system in Ghana.

One of your campaigns in recent times has been towards reducing the annual growth rate in Ghana, proposing a government policy to limit the number of children of a couple. However, some experts have opined that an increase in education will play a more important role in population control than enforced rules or even contraception. What is your take on this?

I believe that every pregnancy should be wanted and every child cherished and nurtured to be a productive and proud citizen. That is the only way any nation can develop since, the quality of the human resource is key for manufacturing durable assets. Adequate Investment in children from infancy through adolescence till they become productive is expensive and time- consuming. Ghana’s National Population Policy 1994 has a Total Fertility Rate target of 3 by 2020 which I think should inform all population related policies. Contrary to this, deliveries are free irrespective of the number, we therefore have many uneducated women and or those with basic education and no employment having more children than their finances can adequately cater for thereby, driving these children into misery with negative outcomes through no fault of theirs. Apart from that, the higher the birth order the riskier the pregnancy, the higher the maternal mortality, the more children become orphans, less women get into productive employment, the worse-off families, communities and nations become. Investment in contraceptives and acceptance of small family size is a necessary ecological counterbalance in the advances in medicine and hygiene leading to reduced mortality.

Yes, education plays a role in population management and subsequently economic development but the link is very weak and there is little empirical evidence to support the case. For education to have a significant impact on population growth, girls should stay in school up to secondary+ level which in Ghana, takes 12 years. However, it takes only 9 months to conceive and deliver a term baby which makes it extremely difficult to manage population growth through education only. An aggressive family planning program as was implemented in Matlab Bangladesh, Iran, Tunisia, South Korea, Malaysia and recently, in Rwanda and Senegal leads faster to both demographic and economic dividends than investments in education without family planning. For most countries, these dividends start accruing when total fertility rate is between 3 and 2.1. Therefore, delayed fertility decline in any country is delayed economic development. In my opinion, Africa’s greatest problem is high growth rate and population momentum which also fuels corruption and frustrates capital deepening. Africa needs to stabilize its growth for accelerated economic development. After all, even in nature, mango trees and other fruit bearing trees bear fruits only when growth is stabilized.

What are some of your efforts aimed at inspiring, developing and empowering people, which has been your philosophy?

As humans we all depend on each other for support. As John Donne said, “no man is an island”. Human beings do not thrive when isolated from others. Our health professionals take care of our health needs, our seamstresses make our clothes, and engineers manufacture cars, phones, electricity among others for our consumption. To that end, inspiring and encouraging people to excel in their professions invariably improves the quality of life of all including mine.  I also have a duty to those who depend on me as a professional, a mentor, mother, sister, friend and wife to offer my best and with passion. I think the best way to inspire others is through your work; only then will your words mean much to them. The leadership that inspires best is one that is based on example.  

How do you balance your career and family obligation?

Much as I love my job, family is where you retire to at the end of the day and also seek solace when things go bad or finally retire to at retirement age so it is important that the balance is maintained. Daily exercise and spending time with my husband and my daughters are my favourite pastimes. I have three daughters; two are graduates and the youngest one is in her second year in university.

What is the best way for readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you?

Dr Appiah: Lappiah@npc.gov.gh. Or nanaakua0609@yahoo.com

 

The livelihood of women in every society is highly important given the sensitivity of women-related issues. Developing nations of the world, have deemed if fit not only to take these issues seriously but also to scale up the chances of gender equality which has become pivotal in the advocacy for developmental sustainability of world economies.

In this interview, Ethiopia’s Minister of Women & Children Affairs H.E. Demitu Hambissa, speaks on the activities of the ministry and the approaches put in place towards creating an enabling environment for women. Excerpt:

You have dedicated your life to public service, making your country a better place for everyone. Kindly tell us about your career journey and some of your successes and accomplishments.

I have been contributing to the public services of Ethiopia since 1982. I have served from district to the federal level in different positions. Just to mention some, I have served as a teacher at the district level and the head of education office and women and children’s affairs office until 2004. My career journey took me to the regional level in 2005 and I served at the Oromia Region Women and Children’s Affairs Bureau as an expert on women’s economic empowerment, at the Office of the President of the Oromia Regional State as an executive advisor for social and women affairs, and as House Speaker of the Oromia Regional State Council until 2013. In November 2013, I transferred to the federal level and have served as a Minister at the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Public Enterprises, and the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

In these capacities, I have accomplished a lot in improving the social, economic and political life of women and girls and in empowering and protecting women, girls and vulnerable children in Ethiopia. I have been successful in mobilizing the community to be part of the issues and to invest its indigenous knowledge and resources for the solution.  Just to share with you the two recent activities, I was successful in mobilizing the women development groups (WDG), the local women’s structures to save more than 3.4 million USD in one year, and in encourage the group that saved more to be awarded on the International Women’s Day from the hands of His Excellency the Prime Minister. This mobilization was aimed to upgrade the saving culture of women. Currently, we are working on organizing with these women development groups to organize themselves through cooperatives to facilitate their financial access and, in turn, to achieve their economic empowerment.  The other accomplishment was mobilizing the community and its resources to integrate children living and working on streets with their families using the regional structure of the ministry. Through this mobilization, in 2009 Ethiopian calendar, between July 2016 and June 2017 alone, 10,161 children have been reintegrated with their families and 11,856,708.70 USD has also been collected from the community to support the reintegration program. The establishment of district women councils and inter-district council forums for women and the development of district-net information system is among my other accomplishments.

Your ministry partners with the office of the first lady in areas of health and women empowerment. Please tell us about your country’s fight against cancer and your ministry’s role in creating awareness on cancer preventions and screening.

 

In the areas of fighting against cancer as a partner to Her Excellency the First Lady’s Office of Ethiopia, my ministry has contributed in the mobilization and awareness creation activities within the community through Women Development Groups, Health Extension Workers, and Agriculture Extension workers. In collaboration with Her Excellency the First Lady’s Office, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs has also organized training and awareness creation programs for religious leaders, community based associations, women’s associations, women development groups and sector bureau heads and staff. This training and awareness creation effort has raised the awareness of the community on cancer and the advantage of pre-screening to fight against cancer.

 

In addition to that, the ministry uses television, radio and print materials to reach the community to create awareness on cancer and pre-screening services. We also effectively utilize our national and international events to reach the community in general and the women, in particular, to discuss the issue of cancer and on the advantage of pre-screening services. For instance, as a result of these massive mobilization and awareness creation activities which lasted from June 2016 to May 2017, we reached 10,869,763 women and 1,270,493 women attended a pre-screening service in different health centers.

 

Findings reveal that 80 percent of the Ethiopian people reside in rural areas and women provide the majority of the agriculture labor in these communities. However, women have limited access to resources and their agricultural contributions often go largely unrecognized. What are some of your efforts to address this trend to support women in agriculture?

Ethiopian women constitute 49.8% of the population and contribute their share to over 65% in agricultural production, storage, and processing. Acknowledging the contribution of women in agriculture the government of Ethiopia has given due emphasis for assuring their access to resources and has developed the 1997 Federal Rural Land Administration Law which provides equal rights for women to land. The country’s five years Growth and Transformation Plan (2016-2020) has also considered agriculture as the main driver of the rapid and inclusive economic growth and development as well as the main source of growth for the modern productive sectors. Using these existing legal and policy frameworks as an entry point, my ministry has been working to empower rural women to have access to agricultural and financial resources and since 2010, over 11 million women have received their rural land ownership certificate, 2 million of whom are women household heads. Between July 2016 and June 2017, 878,268 rural women had access to women and environment friendly technologies to save their time and minimise their physical labour.

In addition, the ministry has implemented a joint program of rural women economic empowerment with UNWOMEN to facilitate access to financial and environmentally friendly technologies for women living in the rural areas.

 

There are lower economic opportunities for women in Ethiopia, such as limited access to credit and a lower demand for their products due to marketing inexperience. Kindly tell us your ministry’s efforts in expanding economic opportunities for women in your country.

To expand economic opportunities for women and to ensure their economic empowerment, my ministry is working on enabling women to get life skill and technical training which will equip them to participate in different income generating activities. In addition, providing market places and facilitating market linkages are the activities we are engaged in to expand women’s economic opportunities. As a country, there is a strategy for a micro and small enterprise which gives priority in providing access to financial resources for women through saving and credit schemes. In this regard, my ministry is working on mobilizing women to raise their awareness on the importance of saving and credit opportunities for women economic empowerment. As a result, between July 2016 and June 2017, the women development groups have saved around 2 Million USD and 1,459,799 women had access to credit were able to expand their economic activities in micro and small-scale business and in urban agriculture. As a result of these awareness creation activities, Ethiopian women’s access to job, credit, life skill and technical training and market linkage opportunities has improved significantly.

 

At the national level, all sectors are mandated to mainstream women’s issue in their plans and programs to contribute their share to the empowerment of women in the economic, social and political sphere. As a mandated ministry, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs works closely with all the sectors to ensure the mainstreaming of the issues of women in all the sectors as well as to ensure the overall empowerment of women, including their economic opportunities. In addition, the ministry has implemented joint programs with partners to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment in Ethiopia. These joint programs have created economic opportunities for women through technical training, materials, and financial resource provision to engage in different income generating activities. These joint programs are implemented with UNFPA, UNICEF, UNWOMEN, UNDP, and ILO.

 

Some influential reports indicate that primary school enrollment rate of girls in Ethiopia has increased in recent years. But a majority of the girls are unable to transition to secondary and tertiary schools due to distance, personal security, and economic challenges. How are you reacting to this?

Girls’ primary school enrollment in Ethiopia has reached 96.2%. Their enrollment in secondary and tertiary education has reached 23.7% and 34.14%, respectively. As these data indicate, there is still a gap in the secondary and tertiary level enrollment. Distance, socio-cultural barriers for girl’s education like labor and time intensive domestic chores, harmful traditional practices, and trafficking of girls are the major challenges contributing to the low enrollment rate.

 

To address these challenges, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, the Ministry of Education and their regional respective bureaus, and higher educational institutions jointly developed regulation and training modules focusing on anti-sexual harassment in schools and also skill training for girls. Similarly, gender sensitive pedagogy is implemented in teachers training institutions across the country. For distance related challenges, we have developed guidelines on the provision of hostel service for female students. There are also guidelines developed on the provision of tutorial and academic support programs targeted to reduce dropout rates.

 

In addition, through a UN joint flagship program, the ministry is providing financial assistance to girls from economically challenged families to attend their schools.

 

To increase female’s enrollment in tertiary level education and to develop their leadership role, the Government of Ethiopia has developed a scholarship scheme for female public servants to pursue their master’s degree at the Ethiopian Civil Service University, a University established to build the capacity of public servants. In addition, currently, we are working jointly with UNFPA and Ethiopian Civil Service University to facilitate a scholarship for female leaders to enable them perusing their master’s education side by side with their family and leadership responsibility in week end basis.

 

Massive awareness creation activities for changing the attitude of the community towards girls’ education, and developing different affirmative action initiatives are also some of the measures taken to solve the problem in girls’ enrolment rate at all levels of education.

 

Early marriage, female genital mutilation, and gender-based violence are still prevalent in Ethiopia, as with other developing nations, with adverse effects on young women and girls. What are some of your ministries efforts in recent times to enhance the fight against some of these harmful traditional practices?

 

To enhance the fight against harmful traditional practices (HTPs) the Government of Ethiopia has given due emphasis and developed a National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children. This strategy institutionalizes national, regional and grass roots mechanisms with the objectives of preventing HTPs, protecting women and children, and providing services to victims of HTPs.

 

The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs also leads a national HTPs platform which is composed of various sector ministries, national women, and community associations, and religious organizations to oversee the implementation of this national strategy and action plan. As an approach to implement the strategy, the ministry utilizes advocacy and monitoring work through grassroots organizations namely: women development groups and HTPs committee. We have also engaged religious leaders to teach about the harmful effects of HTPs thorough acknowledgement and blessing of the teaching of other health workers and the police on the issue related to HTPs.

 

To combat child marriage (CM) and female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C), the Government of Ethiopia entered a commitment to end the practice by 2025 at the London Girl’s Summit in 2015. To implement the activities to materialize the commitment, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs has established a National Alliance to End Child Marriage and FGM/C consisting of all concerned stakeholders from government, UN, and other non-government organizations.

 

As a prevention mechanism, the ministry implements different awareness raising activities to disseminate messages regarding HTPs and their adverse consequences through regular programs using electronic and print media, national and international events, and community gatherings. To protect the victims of HTPs, we have established one-stop centers to provide a comprehensive legal, medical, psychological and economic support for survivors of HTPs to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into their community. In this regard, different UN agencies have a joint program with my ministry to work on combating HTPs. Specifically, in the one-stop rehabilitation centers establishment and strengthening the program, UNFPA Ethiopian country office work closely with us. I want to use this opportunity to acknowledge the country offices of UNFPA, UNICEF, UNWOMEN, UNDP, ILO, UNAIDS and other UN agencies and our development partners for their contribution in this and other activities of the ministry.

 

You were recently nominated by your country’s First Lady Her Excellency, Madam Roman Tesfaye, for CELD’s Enablers of Vision Awards, which will be conferred on you during the International Conference on Gender & Sustainability in New York, in recognition of your support in the fight against cancer in Ethiopia. How do you feel about this?

I am happy to receive this nomination from Her Excellency First Lady Mrs. Roman Tesfye. I feel that my contributions to better the life of Ethiopian Women and Children including their health has brought change. The ministry has put its fingerprints on the achievements made by the First Lady in fighting against cancer. I would like to use this opportunity to thank Her Excellency First Lady’s Office for the nomination and recognition, the CELD for the invitation to attend the conference and all the stakeholders, particularly the Ethiopian Women and their development groups, for contributing to our efforts to improve the life of women and children in general and our fight against cancer in particular.

 

The Republic of Panama has been all too fortunate to have a uniquely built knack for humanitarian serve. Though with a journalistic background, she has found the perfect mid-point to marry the tenets of her profession with her duties as the first lady of the Republic of Panama by employing unique principles.

 

In an exclusive interview with the Amazons Watch Magazine’s editorial team, H.E. Lorena Castillo De Varela, the First Lady of the Republic of Panama shares some of the principles she has used in achieving outstanding success in most of her projects. Excerpt:

 

 

Before your emergence as First Lady of the Republic of Panama in 2014, it is fascinating that you invariably demonstrated a strong commitment on matters of humanitarian and social support, in the exercise of your profession as a journalist. Kindly tell us about yourself and what awakened your interest in humanitarianism.

 

Panama has experienced great development and economic growth, but this has not always been so. The country has actually reached the neediest. As a journalist I had a lot of access and contact with people throughout the country, having the opportunity to learn about the problems and needs of the population. This captivated me with my roots and the people and I thought of why in the capital there were services and infrastructures, which were not available in the interior of the country.

Being a journalist and news anchor gave me some extra strength through the fourth power – journalism. Being able to transform lives and use the fourth power in favour of the people. Far beyond the personal ego and fame. It was not about me, but that they were putting me in that place – as I still am today – to serve other people, to serve as a conduit to solve the problems and needs that the population had and that many times the governments did not know about.
That’s what also captivates me as the first lady because I was not interested in politics, but the possibility to transform lives, to help so many people and to be that voice of those who are not heard, is what makes us put life, heart, and soul every day to what we do.

 

 

In 2002, you won the National Journalism Award given by the Forum of Journalists, with the report of Disabled Children in Cuba. In 2007. You were the presenter of “Roofs of Hope”, a television program through which decent homes were built for Panamanians without homes. A lot of our readers, particularly women in this line of the profession across developing nations, will be interested in knowing how you were able to help families and changed their quality of life, using the media as a tool. Your Excellency, please tell us how you were able to achieve this feat.

 

Never in my dreams did I think I was going to win the National Journalism Prize, much less from the National Forum of Journalism. Through that report, I wanted to convey the essence of Cuba. I walked the streets of Cuba, I met spectacular people, who despite their difficulties were so grateful, so happy and good. They welcomed us with great affection and always received us with a big smile. They were always cheerful and I said that I had to transmit that to Panama. I met the school solidarity with Panama and I see how they treat and educate children with disabilities and I made several journalistic deliveries where it reflected the tenacity, happiness, and desire to live from these kids.

On the basis that journalism is the fourth power, you have to know how to use it for the good of humanity. I have always focused my work on presenting the truth, the reality of the facts, without any manipulation whatsoever. It is always important to present the truth of what is happening, its reality, and its history.
The importance of the media and journalists is to present the truth with love, and show that we are beings- multipliers of love.

 

 

Over the last 3 years serving as the First Lady of Panama, you have become known, the world over, for your humanitarian efforts and support for projects aimed at alleviating the myriads of challenges in your country and region. In 2015, in recognition of your commitment to reducing the HIV epidemic in the country and in the region, you were named Special Ambassador for UNAIDS to combat AIDS in Latin America. You also received the title of Honorary President of the Panamanian Red Cross and presides the National Council for Comprehensive Care for Early Childhood and the National Commission for the Prevention and Control of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (CONAVIH). Please tell us the scope of your involvement in these humanitarian causes as well as other programmes you have initiated and support to benefit the most vulnerable sectors of the population.

 

As UNAIDS Special Ambassador for Latin America, I have led globally the zero-discrimination movement that aims to create a climate of respect, solidarity, and inclusiveness, so that all people can live without fear of being attacked, criminalized or stigmatized. I have encouraged individuals, communities and local, national and regional leaders to defend and support zero discrimination throughout Latin America and have also advocated in different high-level spaces for more funding from the HIV response.

 

I have also advocated that the barriers that prevent people affected by HIV/AIDS from accessing quality health services are eliminated because they are advancing on gender equality and women’s empowerment to reduce the new cases of AIDS.

 

In addition, from my office, at a national level in Panama, we promote workshops for the prevention of bullying in schools. These workshops foster students, teachers, and parents the importance of encouraging environments of healthy and peaceful school coexistence that contribute to preventing situations of bullying in schools. These workshops are preventive because the purpose is to encourage the establishment of an environment where the family, the pupil and the teachers are involved so that they can act in situations of conflict that are presented in classrooms.

 

In my role as Honorary President of the Red Cross, I have urged all organized groups and communities to work together to minimize vulnerability in our communities and to promote the creation of the Joint Task Force, which is composed of diverse entities with the purpose of ensuring the safety of people and provide prompt and timely humanitarian assistance when required.

While as President of the National Council for Comprehensive Early Childhood Care (CONAIPI) in conjunction with institutions and civil society organizations, we support and boost the implementation of the public policy of comprehensive attention to the first Childhood whose goal is for all children under the age of five to have access to early stimulation, education, comprehensive health and nutrition. This initiative reaffirms the commitment of the Government of Panama to prioritize comprehensive care for early childhood as a State policy.

 

As president of the National Commission for the Prevention and Control of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (CONAVIH), we are promoting the gratuitousness of the HIV rapid test. Panama is a pioneer in establishing the free diagnosis of HIV, syphilis and its treatment with the highest risk of HIV infection and adolescents in all state health facilities. This was established in Executive Decree no. 214 of May 17, 2016. It is also indispensable that all public and private sector health personnel are called for to promote the test for the early diagnosis of HIV and syphilis in order to achieve a decrease in the number of people with diagnosed infection and the transmission mother to child. This is added to the establishment since 2015 of the free HIV test for pregnant women. A coverage of 90% was achieved, lowering the prevalence of the mother-to-child transmission of HIV to 3.7%.

 

In June 2016, representatives of 45 institutions signed the “Act of commitment of the governmental institutions in the prevention of HIV and Zero discrimination”, through which the Regents of the entities undertake to develop activities related to the promotion of STI/HIV and Zero Discrimination, in addition, to actively participate in programs, projects, and actions that develop as an inter-agency network.

The CONAVIH is an instance composed by entities, private companies, and civil society organizations, promoting actions to prevent the advancement of the disease, including purchasing processes that guarantee the supply of medicines to treat people with HIV.

 

The fight against HIV/AIDS is one area of your passion; In Panama, 14, 568 cases were reported in 2015, of which 9, 611 have died and 13, 847 people are living with this disease. What are some of your efforts and successes as well as that of your country in reversing this worrisome trend?

 

As part of efforts to eliminate the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Government of the Republic of Panama led by my husband, President Juan Carlos Varela, has launched a number of initiatives to ensure attention and zero discrimination towards People living with HIV and the population in general.
In this sense, more than $38 million has been invested in care, monitoring and treatment programs targeted at people living with HIV. Through the single-price system, the country has 95% guaranteed the supply of antiretroviral drugs for people with HIV.

 

In addition, 16 antiretroviral clinics have been installed nationwide for free care of people living with HIV. In these clinics the patients are evaluated free of charge by an interdisciplinary team composed of nurses, laboratory, psychologists, social workers and specialist, who are in charge of making the prognostic tests every 3 or 4 months, to detect the amount of viruses that travel through the bloodstream and how the immune system assimilates treatment. Antiretroviral treatment is delivered completely free of charge.

 

Also, 6 friendly clinics have been installed aimed at providing counselling and prevention to at-risk groups. Part of the orientation is carried out the free tests of HIV/AIDS and if a new patient is detected, it is referred to an antiretroviral clinic where the treatment will be provided.

 

To strengthen the attention and empathy to the people who attend these facilities, the human resource of medical centres are trained on how to approach and provide attention according to the specific needs of these groups. We work in evening hours outside the traditional hours of care to facilitate access to users who on daily basis, would not access these centres for fear of discrimination and services are provided free of charge.

 

Panama launched for the third consecutive year, the nationwide “Life-Saving TEST” campaign, which seeks to improve HIV testing coverage and take steps to achieve the first 90 of accelerated action.

 

 

Stigma, discrimination, and violence are barriers to the fight against HIV/AIDs. In Panama, findings reveal that 9% of people living with HIV have been denied health services because of their HIV status, and 27% of people living with HIV did not receive counselling when they were tested for HIV. Recently, on the occasion of the 40th UNAIDS Programme Coordination Board,  you delivered a passionate speech saying it is the right of everybody to have access to essential health and education services without fear of being harassed, mistreated or rejected; as without an end to discrimination, there would be no end to the AIDS epidemic. Kindly tell us about your commitment and the success rate of your zero discrimination agenda in Panama.

 

Discrimination is a reality and it is shameful that in 2017 when we have all the tools to end the AIDS epidemic, we still have to fight against prejudice, exclusion and criminalization, not only in households but in the streets, hospitals, police stations and courts. For this reason, from different forums at the level of Panama and internationally I have insisted that discrimination is a serious violation of human rights, is illegal, immoral, offensive and inhumane and that it is the responsibility of all to respect, defend and promote the fundamental rights for achieving sustainable development.

 

Work tirelessly, with the mission of breaking the silence, to reach every corner of Panama, Latin America, and the world, with a message of inclusion, solidarity, peace, and respect, through the movement Zero Discrimination.
Always insist that nobody is better than anyone, we all have the same rights. I do not have to like you, you do not have to be my friend, you do not have to agree with what I think or how I choose to live my life, but you have to respect me.

In the case of Panama, through CONAVIH we have been able to give voice to key groups and as I mentioned earlier, friendly clinics and antiretroviral clinics have been established to provide the population affected by HIV/AIDS and groups at risk attention and guidance they require. In addition, a training process was established for physicians and technical personnel to strengthen care for people living with HIV at the first level of health care.

 

Love on Wheels is also one of your complementary initiatives in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Can you tell us about this initiative, what inspired it and what are some of the successes that have been recorded so far?

 

This is an initiative that has been implemented since the year 2006. Through the mobile “Love on Wheels” clinic, various medical services are offered such as mammography tests, electrocardiograms, general medicine. Knowing the needs of the population living in areas of difficult access and in the indigenous regions, a few months since my arrival at the office of the First Lady of Panama we set ourselves as a goal to extend the coverage and medical services offered to the population. This led us to coordinate with the Ministry of Health the free application of rapid HIV/AIDS testing.

 

This initiative has allowed us to extend this service, to orient the general population on this disease, to capture and to offer to the affected timely and quality attention.

from October 2014 to 18 August 2017, 7000 rapid HIV testing has been done.

 

You are the Honorary President of the Panamanian Red Cross. And In 2016, you expressed an interest in establishing a Red Cross Humanitarian logistics hub in Panama to boost the support that the Red Cross provides at an international scale. What is the status of this initiative?

 

The Regional Logistics Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (CLRAH) known as the humanitarian Hub and in its second phase of construction will put the logistics platform of Panama at the service of the region for timely delivery of aid in the event of natural disasters and Disasters.

 

This second phase comprises the civil works of buildings that will house three important humanitarian assistance actors: the United Nations humanitarian Response Deposit (UNHRD), operated by the World Food Programme (WFP); the Federation International Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC); And the Panama National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC); In addition to the buildings of the administrative offices.

 

It is the first of its kind in the Latin American and Caribbean region, and its launch responds to global efforts to improve the response in emergency operations and humanitarian assistance.

 

What’s the best way for the readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you?

 

In the electronic Portal:  www.despachoprimeradama.gob.payou can find press releases, videos, photos of my activities and those of my team. In addition, on social networks: Twitter: @PrimeraDamaPma, on Facebook: DespachoPrimeraDama, Instagram: @PrimeraDamaPma can access information about my management as First Lady, UNAIDS Special Ambassador for Latin America and Global spokesperson for the Zero discrimination movement and of activities that we carry out.