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Women of Rubies

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Sarah Kuponiyi is a passionate youth leader whose work cuts across gender equality and sexual reproductive health. She is also a 2019 nominee for 120 under 40 New Generation of Family Planning Leaders, recipient of Sustainable Solutions Africa 30 under 30 2019 and Cohort 15 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) emerging Leaders Program West Africa.

The founder of  A Well-Informed Adolescent  (AWA) Initiative, an organisation where she leads the team in creating and managing Safe Spaces that ensure young people can achieve their potential by enabling them access to essential services. She recently launched Alora Reusable Pads, a social enterprise to address period poverty by creating eco-friendly menstrual hygiene products freely distributed to in school and vulnerable girls and sold at affordable prices to the public. As a Beijing +25 Eagle (women advocate) for UN Women Nigeria, she uses her skills to advocate for upholding of human rights for sexual and reproductive health as the key to ensuring that women and girls can be equal and free to make decisions in all spheres of their lives, without discrimination, violence, or coercion, and with the assurance of their dignity upheld.

She shares her inspiring journey, her passion for development work, and  endorsement of different Government parastatals  in this interview with Esther Ijewere.

Childhood Influence

No, I don’t think my childhood prepared me in any way for what I do now but I can say it’s part of what inspired me or should I say it is one of my why(s) in doing what I do now.  Growing up, it was awesome experience, had a lovely family, hardworking and sacrificial parents. Life itself was not so smooth not so rough; it was a beautiful as well as hard a journey.  Becoming an adolescent I realized I was a lone ranger hardly had friends, there were issues around self-identification and family challenges I had no one to share with, my parents were not available for those kind of talks and I always bottled them in. I was at the receiving end of my parent’s emotional breakdown when they separated and there were days I felt like running away, if there were safe spaces then that I could trust and go to it would have been helpful but I sucked it all in same with my siblings but in all right now I look back at my teenage self and I can say I am proud of that girl, the woman I have become is proud of the young teenage girl I was, she survived the lassitude of life, rode the rough waves graciously and got ashore unscathed, like not all adolescents could have been strong enough to to pull through without losing hope or sight of the goal.

So what I do now is to provide safe space services I couldn’t get at my time for adolescents and young people alike so as to enable them share their challenges, give a listening ears to them, let them know being stuck in the dark is not forever for those going through challenges and provide them tools and resources they need to make informed choices about their life, health, career etc so that they can transit to healthy adults without letting the light of their mind go dim even as the voyage on life’s journey.

Inspiration behind  “A.W.A” 

So what I went through growing up like I explained earlier inspired me to start A Well-Informed Adolescent (AWA) Initiative, which started as a community based project in 2018 to provide adolescents in rural communities an inspiration to live beyond their present definition, to aim high and think big and not let their background define them. Like the name of the organization, I am eager to have adolescents, who are well-Informed about the stage of life they are in, help them answer all the burning existential questions they have about their life, their overall health, their career, provide them guidance and tools they need to make informed choices by themselves. We achieved this through use of Multisectoral programs that link health to education, recreational activities, skills acquisition, youth club activities, school-based campaign, safe space services, advocacy and peer health education. Over the years the organization has grown to be more encompassing we also work to reduce gender based violence by educating women and young people about harmful gender norms and practices that contribute to Gender Based Violence in our society. We address issues around sexual violence; educate women and young people about their sexual reproductive health and rights. We provide parenting support programs, school-based dating violence prevention programs, & community based interventions to build equitable gender norms & attitudes in boys & girls. We provide sustainable livelihood programs for young women and girls through economic skill training and acquisition program. Nonetheless our primary core focus still remain investing appropriately in the health and development of young people and we continued to strive towards improving the health and development of this unique population sub-group

Inspiration behind Alora reusable pad

As a younger girl who stayed with her father, I could not afford to buy sanitary pads for myself due to how pads were unaffordable for someone like me, neither was I able to ask him for such due to culture of shyness and silence. Likewise, working on school health outreaches made me realized this situation has not change and the Story is what cut across all region of the country; Nigeria is one of the countries that place a heavy tax on menstrual products. Without access to proper menstrual products, many girls miss classes and older women are unable to attend work A pack of sanitary pads cost an average of $1.30, even as an estimated 44% of Nigeria’s population (87 Million people) lives in extreme poverty earning less than $1.90 per day, women and girls may delay urination and defecation but it is not possible to stop menstrual flow. The lack of affordable sanitary products also exacerbates anxiety and stress during menstruation and increases their vulnerability to gender based violence and sexually transmitted infections. Alora Reusable Pads was created to solve Period Poverty by producing and selling eco-friendly reusable menstrual hygiene products from specialized fabrics that are comfortable to the skin, hygienic, and affordable. Alora Reusable Pads are made for every woman and girl. It is affordable, easy to use, comfortable and available in three sizes with varying thickness to fit every woman at all times. It is made of several layers of absorbent fabrics including cotton and water proof fabrics and it has numerous benefits such as  saves you money, very economical, environmentally friendly, safer for the body, fashionably feminine and very affordable.

The reception since we launched

Wow, the reception has been awesome. We have received considerable acceptance in the development space and government parastatas because it is a sustainable way of solving period poverty but for individuals we realized there is need to do more awareness creation on reusable pads in Nigeria, it is still a new niche and awareness about this would help influence mind shift and behavioral change which help increase acceptance. Notably to note is our Alora Pads has been purchased by the following;

  • Cross River State Ministry of Women Affairs purchased Alora Pads for its UNFPA funded dignity packs distribution project in Cross River State.
  • Ekiti State Governor’s wife Her Excellency Erelu Bisi Fayemi purchased Alora Pads for her Keep Girls in School Project for world menstrual hygiene day 2021
  • NGO in Adamawa KPANG SURRI Foundation purchased Alora pads to commemorate World Menstrual Hygiene Day
  • NGOs in Calabar Gender and Development Actions (GADA) and A Well Informed Adolescent (AWA) Initiative Purchased Alora Pads to commemorate World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021
  • Alora Reusable Pads was invited by Federal Ministry of Women Affairs Abuja, Dame Pauline Tallen in commemorating World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021 at the Ministry Complex in Abuja.
  • Official presentation of Alora Reusable pads to United Nation Population Funds (UNFPA) Calabar Sub office
  • Discussion on period poverty on HitfmCalabar with Abenmire Ade where we shared sustainable solutions to addressing this menace; one of which is Alora Reusable Pad
  • We are so excited as our founder and team lead got profiled by US Mission to African Union on the celebration of International women’s day 2021.
  • Gate Way Excel Collage Otupka Benue State purchase alora pads for their gate way pad up project
  • Alora reusable pads was endorsed by the UN Women Nigeria.

Being a certified adolescent sexual health professional, running my organisation, volunteering for several international organisations, and managing it all

(Smile) well, let me honest not easy, reward of hard work is more work but because all I do is what I am passionate I enjoy it and I give it my best, I prioritize my schedules and deliverables, I have calendars and to do list, I set reminders, I delegate where necessary and most importantly I work with awesome amiable teams both at AWA Initiative and with Alora Pads.  Our board of trustees, staff, volunteers and supporters are all amazing.

Challenges of my work

Time consuming, Mentally stressing -My life is all about work with little or no time for other things of life but lately I am making conscious effort to live a balance life.

Challenges involves in handling   Gender based violence prevention at the grassroot or community is having to contend with community gate keepers and community strong holds (laugh) let me not go there while for young people it just a matter of them trusting you enough and the work becomes easier.

Other Projects and activities

We have done various projects and here are some of them

  • A Well-Informed Adolescent Campaign 2018
  • A Well-Informed Adolescent Campaign 2019
  • A Well-Informed Adolescent Campaign 2020
  • A Well-Informed Adolescent Campaign 2021
  • Women Voice Leadership Project in partnership with Child Care and Adult Protection (CCAPI) and Action Aid Nigeria funded by Global Affairs Canada
  • UNESCO/Society for Family Health Spotlight Initiative potlight Initiative Project Activity 4.2.4 which is aimed at ”Strengthening the capacity of youth network (Civil Society Organisation) to carry our peer education and support young people to access Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and SRHR services” in Cross River State

Here are the Programs we run at A Well-Informed Adolescent  (AWA)  Initiative

  • Tackling Gender Based Violence; A weekly program that offers crucial approach to poverty reduction, economic development and a key to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • Friday Talk Date: In this event we provide adequate age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education to adolescents at the youth resource center
  • Safe Space Activities: We provide youth friendly services that cater for the overall development of young people
  • Health Programs
  • Livelihood Programs

 3 women who inspire me to be better and why

I have plenty women ooo but since you asked for 3 here are they

  • Dr. Yolanda N George-David also known as auntlanda, I met her while I was still in secondary school through a radio program tag “Sharing Life Issues” wow she inspires me to do better because despite her own life issues that she could use as a legit excuse to just remain in her corner yet she leaves everything to give her all to total strangers, mehn its wow. And she first exemplified this bible verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” to me mehn Mama has plenty PhDs in Neurology, Obstetrics and gynecology, psychologist etc an OAP, a wife, mother, farmer, business mogul, caterers etc she literally made me believe I could be anything I set my mind on and work towards.
  • Mrs Emilia Eyo-Effa, I met her while working at my first NGO work ever she was the Gender Specialist, currently now works with USAID, seeing her transition from jobs to jobs gives me hope that I can achieve my career dreams in the development sector, all I need to do is work hard and be consistent. She also an amiable supporter of our organization, she is one of our astute board of trustees who always open her arms and doors for me, to advises me using her wealth of professional experience I am so glad to be in her circle and to have as a board of trustee for AWA Initiative.
  • Michelle Obama, reading her book titled “Becoming” gave me a glimpse to her life, her roots, how she came of age, her family, her life as the first lady. Reading about her triumph and disappointment made me realized I am a work in progress I have not arrived or gotten to my final destination and that in every of my life phase I keep working, keep learning, keep living and keep becoming the better version of myself always.

To young women

Self Identifcation, Self-worth, Self-value. I would tell them to work on themselves first, evolve or commence their journey of becoming before getting entangled,  and I would tell them to be strong and not lose sight of their goals not be distracted by society but rather press on and be the best version of themselves that they could be.

Future of Alora Reusable Pad

At Alora Reusable Pads our vision is A World without Period Poverty, were every woman and girl can have their period with dignity. Our Mission: To be a leading producer of affordable, eco-friendly, comfortable reusable pads in West Africa and to address period poverty through distribution of reusable pads and provision of menstrual health and hygiene management programs. We hope to reduce poor menstrual hygiene by 30% in Nigeria (and Africa) by 2025.

Being a Woman of Rubies

I am a Woman of Rubies because contribute to developing my communities; I empower women and girls to become change agents.

Awards and Recognition

National Gender Youth Activist for United Nations Women HQ, Beijing eagle (Women advocate) for United Nations Women Nigeria. A 2019 nominee for 120 under 40 New Generation of Family Planning Leaders, recipient of Sustainable Solutions Africa 30 under 30 2019 and Cohort 15 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) RLC emerging Leaders Program West Africa. Immediate past Deputy Coordinator YALI Network Cross River State, She is part of the Cross River CSO Gender Responsive Budgeting Monitoring Group, Cross River State CSOs Network, and Cross River State GBV/SRHR Network respectively among others.

 

For the African continent to experience lasting positive socio-economic change, two things need to happen:

First, it the gender gap between male and female leaders must be closed.
Next, women leaders in various sectors in Africa need to work on promoting their visibility.

Everyone has a role to play in order to make this happen and this is why Naike Moshi, Tanzanian founder of Women in Management is playing her part in promoting women visibility through her work in business management and human resources.

Naike Moshi is the founder of Women in Management Africa, an initiative that closes the gender gap that promotes visibility for Women Leaders by honouring and recognizing them for their achievements.
Naike is a strategic, innovative leader with a proven track record of building and creating successful business products and services and with a strong academic background, creative problem-solving skills, and an innovative mind. She has more than 10 years’ experience in the area of business management and human resources. Her expertise includes building businesses from the ground up, women and youths’ empowerment, coming up with innovative ideas, executive search and employer branding.

Don’t be scared to start, Nothing will ever happen until you start and put action on your dreams. Even if you fail, know that at least you dared greatly and take lessons from it. Be patient, persevere….

Her initiative, Women in Management is one that closes the gender gap by honouring and recognizing women leaders for their career achievements. They also provide mentorship, encouragement and develop emerging talented female professionals to be inspired in their careers and to be role models to them. They empower women by organizing education and training workshops that are designed by women for women and to help them address gender disparity issues in their work environments.

Naike Moshi

Naike was inspired to launch the Women in Management initiative when she found out through research that in order to apply for a job women feel they need to meet 100% of the criteria while men usually apply after meeting about 60%. She saw a huge gap in senior level women applying for senior level roles and even low placement rates for Senior Women. And to combat this disparity, she founded the initiative known as Women in Management to promote and increase visibility for Senior-Level Women in Management.

Naike Moshi describes her initiative as successful and in her own words, “The impact of this initiative has been tremendous. Most women leaders in the corporate spaces have been forgotten and are never recognized for their career achievements. I have seen many young female leaders being inspired to follow certain careers and they have found quality role models to look at. We are touching lives.”

Naike Moshi is proud of how far her initiative has come. Women in Management initiative is one of the SDGs that captures gender equality. It’s a universal problem that affects many nations and with their expertise in Talent Management/Acquisition, they were able to tap into their network and acquire very strong female leaders. The service and this initiative are very scalable and they have great plans to go to other African countries.

You never can tell how far your passion for a thing can take you until you immerse yourself in it and allow yourself to be consumed by that passion. Lesego and Dinah gave themselves away to their passion for landscaping and now, it has led them to founding and building a thriving landscaping business in South Africa.

Ronewa Creations Ltd co-founded by both entrepreneurs is a family business between a niece and her aunt, respectively.

Lesego has a background in Botany, having completed her studies in Biochemistry and Botany at the University of Johannesburg. While Dinah has a background in the corporate world, working in the IT field using her Diploma in IT. She worked for various companies before resigning from her corporate career to fully pursue landscaping as her passion.

The passion they have for plants comes from Lesego’ s gran, Dinah’s Mother, who has an eclectic small garden in Soweto. They have seen her tend her garden and as such, sparked up an interest in landscaping in them.

Their company is a landscaping business specialized in horticulture and botany. They also offer garden maintenance solutions for all our clients and are a strong advocate for the environment with the tag “Love your Surroundings.”


Dinah and Lesego had the urge to start the business after learning so much about the biodiversity of their country, South Africa. They realised that most people don’t know how to tend their gardens and make them functional.

They also discovered people needed to learn how to preserve ecosystems by not taking down trees. These relatives turned business partners wanted to ensure that people can enjoy the outdoors, and in turn they felt this will strongly lead them towards the direction of a developed country.

Their business has received several awards and recognitions including Forbes Africa Women Magazine Feature, Sowetan Article, and Best Green Female entrepreneur (Lesego Seloane).

Lesego and Dinah are a firm believer that women have so much to give to this world, and they desire to see more representatives of women in the world of business.

Their advice to women who want to launch any business is simple, “With a determined spirit you can tackle any type of business!”

It is interesting how you can build a business out of the most basic things you do in your personal life. For Kátia, her idea to earn a living by making edible bouquets came when she first made one to encourage her eldest daughter to eat more fruits. And just like most of us, Kátia decided to take a photo of of it before her daughter started eating and shared with her friend who posted the picture on Facebook. People became interested in it and asked who made it and that very day, Kátia got her very first order and customer for her edible bouquets. And like they say, the rest is history.

Kátia Agy, known as a singer and TV presenter, and now, the founder of Food Lounge Mz. Her business is focused on making edible bouquets using fresh fruits and chocolates. For the past 7 years, this business has been the main source of income for Kátia, and now also her three employees.

What inspired Kátia to begin this business was the desire to become independent, and to be able to work from home to be close to her daughters. She was also inspired by the love she has for making, creating and decorating food, especially for being able to transform a plate of fruit or a simple chocolate into something interesting that grabs the attention of those who are going to eat it.

Kátia simple turned her passion into business.

She gets maximum pleasure with each bouquet creation. Indeed, The Food Lounge Mz has found a way to make people eat fruits and chocolates and get maximum pleasure and happiness from doing it. Making a bouquet to be devoured by someone is a huge responsibility and the amazement and satisfaction on the face of the recipients are constant sources of celebration. They simply sell happiness through their explosion and mixture of flavors!

For Kátia, her satisfaction as an entrepreneur comes from having more control of her time, freedom to imagine and create a concept. Also, being able to help her clients get the best gift for their loved ones and lastly, seeing her clients recommend her to other people.

For women who wish to, or are already starting a business, her advice is: Do not stop! Do what you have to do, trembling, afraid, but don’t give up. Cultivate your dreams with the same claw that is characteristic of women in all other aspects of life! Do not listen to those who consider your business without wings to fly, because even the eagle had several falls before it managed to fly high. Remember to pray, believe, work with discipline, stay focused and make it happen. It is in your hands.

STEM has a capacity to make huge impacts in the lives of young people, particularly women and girls, on the African continent cannot be underestimated.

STEMi Makers Africa, founded by Amanda Obidike, addresses the existing unemployment gap, the underrepresentation of young women and girls in STEM and the fragmented education system by training teachers and students in STEM Education.

Amanda Obidike is a multi-award winning social innovator, technologist and scientist. She is the Founding Curator of the WEF Global Shapers, Ozubulu Hub and Executive Director of STEMi Makers Africa. Her role in this position is to provide leadership, strategy management and oversee the design and implementation of sustainable Community projects and STEM Education across 19 Sub-Saharan countries by preparing the next generation of Africans with STEM lucrative skills for Africa’s workforce.
In addition to STEM, she addresses thematic topics on Social Innovation, Data Science, Youth Development, Entrepreneurship and socio-economic policies. In 2020, Amanda received several awards including the Global Award for Achievement by TechWomen 100 and 30 Under 30 Inspiring Leaders of Africa.

The lucrative jobs of the future required technical competence and 21st century skills that she didn’t have. Nigeria began to transfer major Resources and job opportunities to skilled professionals and expatriates due to a lack of competent and domestic STEM workforce. Seeing this economic disparity, she began to research on new labour market skills that youths like her can successfully thrive in. She got an opportunity to be trained by IBM in Business Intelligence/Analytics after 8 months. Upon completion, she took the initiative to serve as a knowledge panel in preparing Africans with 21st-century skills and future-focused options for an emerging workforce.
This was her inspiration, her driving force to starting STEMi Makers Africa.

Her advice to women is for them to be open to learning from women’s stories. Shared experiences from women who have existing businesses and start-ups can pave a lasting way for women who are about to launch their businesses in learning business ethics and challenges encountered.

Amanda urges women to not focus only on hearing the success sides or accomplishments of others  but strive to know the challenges, setbacks and hurdles they encountered. As this can help them overcome futuristic and business tendencies to failure.

She encourages women to feel free to network, attend business seminars (virtually or in-person), and most importantly, get a business mentor who is accessible. Someone they can always feel free to ask questions or give them that business support or counsel they may need.

Amanda Obidike serves as a Mentor in the New York Academy of Science, Cherie Blair Foundation, the 1 million Women in Tech, Global thinkers for Women where she lends her voice, knowledge, and serve as a role model to girls in Africa.

She currently serves on the Leadership Team of the 500 Women Scientists, USA and Trustee Board of the MAI Foundation.

Nicole Magerman founded Girl Spectrum, her non-profit organization at the age of 25. She started running it as a labour of love and devotion for gender equality. Girl Spectrum was founded in 2021 and has a global vision of creating awareness around not only women empowerment but also building confidence in our women of today.

Self-Care is Health Care.

Girl Spectrum is a women empowerment, mental health and self-care forum founded as a movement that embraces and celebrates the feminine essence. The objective of the initiative is to promote and sustain gender equality, confidence building and eliminate limitations set for women based on their gender. Through this project, it is expected that women from different socio-economic backgrounds come together to support and empower each other personally and professionally.

They offer programs like Love School (Relationship Forum), Girl Boss (Entrepreneurial Forum), “All About I” (Confidence Building Program), as well as the Steal the Show Program (Artistic Forum).

Nicole was inspired to start the Girl Spectrum organization because of the everyday battle in a “Man´s World”.
gender equality and gender awareness are very important factors that drive her to keep fighting for woman rights. After all, woman rights are human rights. Early marriage, gender-based violence, inequality in the workplace and pre-defined gender roles all created a drive for change and a new era definition. Girl Spectrum has programs that build the female leaders of tomorrow and restructures the female leaders of today.

Nicole is currently pursuing a career in banking and finance.

Nicole Magerman believes hesitation is a dream killer. She says don´t wait on money or making time to kick start your journey.

Start now and fuel your goals on the way!

All work and no play has never benefitted anyone. Everybody loves to unwind and take some time off work and life and just enjoy some peace and calm. But the expenses required to take that needed rest is overwhelming so people choose to keep working and hoping for that day when they can afford that vacation.

This is the reality of a lot of people around the world and this prompted South African entrepreneur, Millicent Motsoeri, co-founder of Heita Ngamla Holidays, to establish a vehicle for customers to pre-pay for their vacations over time, thus, making them more accessible to everyone.

Heita Ngamla Holidays is a vehicle for members to pre-pay for their vacations.
This works by allowing members accumulate funds via debit order then book a holiday package of their choosing at the time convenient to them.

At the point when the member wishes to travel, there is a top-up option when the funds are insufficient. Heita Ngamla Holidays members are guaranteed a hassle free, easily adaptable booking system, with customized packages just the way each client wants.

Heita Ngamla Holidays was created for working class people to ensure their participation in quality vacations. They started the travel club in 2008 when they discovered that people love to travel, however they were often faced with financial difficulties when the time came for them to take a leave from work and go on that dream holiday.

Millicent was introduced into entrepreneurship as a university student. She worked part-time promoting Fast Moving Consumer Goods in supermarkets. She also did a stint at Dial-A-Student passing out flyers at busy traffic intersections.

Her 9-5 life began with employment as a business administrator which was really fulfilling for what she studied to do, but that was short lived because she had discovered that she is people-centered and love working with people.
This self-discovery led her to network marketing. The networking thrill soon became a passion to create innovative solutions for solving everyday problems. Thus, she co-founded Dial-A-Helper in which they trained carefully screened domestic helpers who were subsequently placed and managed for their clients.

The entrepreneurial journey is a different one for each person and for Millicent, her greatest satisfaction comes from being able to write her own cheque while doing what she enjoys doing.

Millicent admits that in life and in the entrepreneurial world, at times things will seem and feel as if the more you move 100 steps forward, time and pressure take you a thousand steps back, because in your eyes your peers are progressing to greater heights and you are not.

She says when these moments come, remember your dream is big and it won’t take a day to build, hence you must persevere and be patient because you are a winner!

 

Mary Izobo is the founder of The Amazon Leadership Initiative (TheALI), which aims to empower women and girls, provide support networks, mentorship, career guidance, education and capacity development to alleviate gender inequality.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA Hons) in French Language from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria; a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland; a Barrister at Law (BL) from the Nigerian Law School, Nigeria; a Master of Laws (LLM) in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa from the University of Pretoria, South Africa; and a Master of Laws (LLM) in Rule of Law for Development from Loyola University Chicago, USA.

She is currently studying for a Doctor of Laws (LLD) with a focus on International Governance at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. She has worked for the United Nations (UN) the African Union Commission (AUC), the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), the Institute for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).

She talks about her journey in an interview with Women of Rubies.

Inspiration Behind The Amazon Leadership Initiative (TheALI)

I was inspired to start TheALI because of my passion and concern (love) for human rights particularly women and girls’ rights.

Impact on society, andTestimonials since inception.
The Amazon Leadership initiative (TheALI), is a not-for-profit organization. It was established to empower women and girls, provide support networks, mentorship, career guidance, education and capacity development to alleviate gender inequality in line with aspiration 6 of the AU Agenda 2063 and goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030. TheALI envisions a world where everyone has equal rights and opportunities – inter-generational equity.

The impact of TheALI on women and girls includes the advancement and empowerment of women and girls for the fulfilment of their rights, development and wellbeing. We do this through mentorship, career guidance, education and capacity development. We provide education for young women and girls including career guidance in their chosen career fields. We also currently mentor several girls and young women across continents as mentorship is at the heart of TheALI. We have also been able to educate and provide capacity development for young women and girls through webinars, training and informal meetings. Topics of the webinars and training TheALI have covered, include five of the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: Women and girls’ education, the girl child, women in governance, gender and generation equality, and gender-based violence. All of these webinars, training and informal meetings were well attended by individuals who are set to change the world around them. You can find the links to these webinars and advocacy work here.

We have also been able to carry out advocacy programmes for the promotion and protection of the rights and welfare of the girl child using the bottom to top approach to place a girl child at the centre of Africa’s development agenda. In 2020, TheALI collaborated with the Graça Machel Trust (GMT) in commemorating the International Day of the Girl Child through an intergenerational dialogue on the theme ‘She is Equal.’ We brought together girls’ representatives from the five regions in Africa (Central, East, North, West, and Southern Africa) to afford them the opportunity to share their concerns and challenges primarily to inform and influence the advocacy agenda for girls within the African continent. With this intergenerational dialogue, we were able to create an interactive platform for these young girls who presented the barriers that prevent them from enjoying and fulfilling their rights as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child as we proposed solutions to these barriers.

You have hosted and organized several empowerment programs and conferences how do you manage it all and what drives you?

On how I manage it all, I am constantly motivated by my passion for human rights, gender equality and equity, the importance of learning, sharing and imparting knowledge, partnerships, and collaborations. What drives me is hard work, commitment, consistency, dedication, passion, and above all networking because as they say your network is your net worth.

What are the important aspects you’ve noticed about Africa as someone who has worked with the African Union? What are the things you wish were done differently when it comes to the female gender?

There are so many important aspects to Africa that I have noticed guided by the values and ideals of the African Union. To begin with, I would highlight African Unity. The African Union is the Pan-Africanist continental organization that we have in terms of bringing African people together and formulating the standards for promoting democracy, human rights and pioneering peer-review between and amongst States in Africa.

Another aspect is the role of the youth in nation-building in Africa – Youths are the cornerstone and bedrock of any society, and their role cannot be underestimated or overemphasized. As fuel is the driving force of any vehicle, so is the youth of any nation. Africa has the youngest population in the world where 60% of its population is under 25 years. This means that the average percentage of the youth in any African country is approximately 30 to 50 per cent. Africa must utilise its youths in the development of its future vision and direction, by engaging them in the decision making processes. It is critical that youths play a crucial role in building social cohesion, economic prosperity, and political stability in any nation. This must be done through inclusivity and democratization. In 2018, Ms Aya Chebbi was appointed by the African Union as the first African Union Youth Envoy. This is a step in the right direction for the African Union as there is the need to do more by including the youth in leadership positions.

 

What I wished was done differently when it comes to the female gender is what I constantly advocate for – gender equality and equity – Give women more representation. In the past few years, the representation of women at the top leadership position in Africa and also at the African Union Commission has improved and increased but we need more women at the top leadership levels. In the history of the African Union, we have had only one female chairperson, Mrs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and for the first time ever, we have our first female Deputy Chairperson of the Commission, Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa. The AU needs to continue to advocate for the inclusion of women in leadership positions.

What are some of the challenges of your work?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major restraint on everyone. The work that we do at TheALI involves a lot of outreach, advocacy and travelling. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our capacity, outreach and advocacy programmes. Thus, to manage the present realities given the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to use Zoom and other online platforms as a working method.

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have carried out a lot of advocacy programmes virtually by bringing together notable male and female leaders to continue to discuss issues around the achievement of gender equality and equity. We have also carried out work particularly in relation to women and girls in the context of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the rights of women and girls.

However, because these events are virtual, the actual impact on the ground is not one that we would expect without COVID-19. As a result, TheALI is strategizing and revisiting the work done virtually to assess or measure the impact done on the ground where it matters and concerns all beneficiaries. In addition, at TheALI, we continue to make financial adjustments as adequate funding has not been forthcoming and consequently, the capacity of TheALI has suffered from resource constraints.

Other projects and activities?

We are currently working on two major projects slated for the second half of the year 2021 focusing on empowering women and young girls.

3 women who inspire you and why

Mrs. MOE Agbebaku-Izobo (my mum) is my greatest inspiration. She supports and guides me to become the best I can be. She is a pillar, a backbone and a constant reminder that my dreams are valid. Besides my mum, three other women who inspire me in no particular order are: Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization; Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of United Nations Women (UN Women) and Mrs Michelle Obama, the former first lady of the United States of America. These women inspire me because they have broken down barriers and shattered glass ceilings in achieving their dreams, pioneering their fields and taking up spaces in male-dominated spheres. These women are strong and phenomenal and bring a realization that your dreams are valid only if you dare to dream. They are the epitome of Black girl magic.

Could you share some brilliant insights from your life experience?

Some of the brilliant insights from my life experience include studying for my law degree, qualifying for the Nigerian Bar, practicing as a Human Rights Lawyer and receiving recognition through numerous awards for my educational and professional experience.

What makes you a Woman of Rubies?

I believe I am a Woman of Rubies because I greatly care for others, value humanity as well as human rights and most importantly, I am a staunch advocate for gender equality and inter-generational equity.

You can follow Ms. Mary Izobo on any of her social media handles below

Email: info.theali.org@gmail.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/izobomary/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/IzoboMary

Facebook: https://facebook.com/IMaryIzobo

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maryizobo/

 

 

Leave a mark about the work you are doing. It does not matter if you are walking the journey alone, keep moving, walk your truth, not everyone will believe you, just move, the right people will eventually find you.

If there’s one thing that serves the multiple functions of engaging, informing, educating and transforming lives, it is stories.
Noreen Asenkenye, the founder of Tell a Story Foundation understands the transforming power of story telling. That is why she is engaging it to make a positive social impact in the lives of vulnerable people in Uganda.

Noreen has an intense passion for the vulnerable and a way she makes their life easy and free from distress is story telling.

She is an enthusiastic fundraiser, and through Tell a Story Foundation, she has successfully ran fundraising campaigns for children with autism, two young girls raised by single mothers, and the current Together for Good campaign, a Covid-19 relief fundraiser benefiting vulnerable families with income relief.

Do not wait to have enough to chase your dreams. Only start and once you do make noise about your business.

Tell a Story Foundation Uganda is a non-profit organization using stories and acts of charity to influence change within individuals, the community and the world at large.
They carry out bonfire nights to relive telling stories around the fire places just as the ancient grandparents did. They also profile and share inspirational success stories of young men and women impacting lives. Because they believe that stories are a solution, the foundation also run fundraisers for the less privileged in their communities to better their lives.

As the founder of a non-profit organisation, Noreen explains how intrinsic the reward she gets from running an organisation that inspires people.
She explains what keeps her committed hand true to her mission. In her own words, “the joy in sharing a story and knowing that someone has seen a piece of themselves in it and are inspired to be and do better. The smiles on every person we support through a fundraiser keeps me more committed.”

Noreen implores women and everyone who is stuck on what to do and how to get started with these words:

“Do what you can from wherever you are and with what you have. Tell a Story Foundation started with zero Ugandan shillings, my idea was my capital and the only available resource I had.”

“Do not wait to have enough to chase your dreams. Only start and once you do make noise about your business. People should remember you for what you do.

“Use whatever available opportunity whether it is a physical meeting or online chat to throw your face at people. Leave a mark about the work you are doing. It does not matter if you are walking the journey alone, keep moving, walk your truth, not everyone will believe you, just move, the right people will eventually find you.”

Noreen is a cohort 35 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Fellow, Cohort 18 Reignite Africa Young Leaders Fellow, and a recent graduate of the 2020 Zimba Women Business Program.

Undeniably, living with disability can be challenging and comes with its own difficulty.

It is even worse when the disability comes as a result of an amputation, thus taking away ones independence and making them co-dependent on other people for even the most basic needs.

Sibongile Mongadi is that light at the end of the tunnel for amputees. She is bringing a beacon of hope by producing prosthetics for these amputees, to give them a better life and restore their independence and dignity.

She got into the prosthetics production sphere when she had a close interaction with an amputee in Johannesburg. That singular encounter instilled in her, that drive to make a positive impact and improve the quality of life for amputees by giving them back their independence and individuality.

It was easy for Sibongile to launch as there’s an available market for her prosthetics. The existing demand exceeds the supply a great deal and there’s also the cost factor that makes it too expensive for the less privileged.

She discovered 3D printing technology can be used to meet the needs of amputees, in a cost-effective manner while also using affordable environmentally friendly material. And the result is, aesthetically appealing, affordable, water resistant Prosthetics.

Raised by uneducated parents in a family of 8, siblings, Sibongile is a firm believer and preacher that your background should not determine your future. You should not live in the past, and in every challenge you are faced with, you should be enabled.

Sibongile is the founder of Uku’hamba (Pty) Ltd, the company responsible for the production of these lightweight prosthetics. She has won several awards and received recognitions for her work. Some of the awards include The Africa Female Innovator of the Year Finalist 2019.