This feature story was written by Ude, Ugo Anna – Creative Director of Book O’Clock & Team Lead of The Book Drive Bayelsa. She is also one of the Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awardees in the Impact Maker Category.
I would write that rarely would one find sisterhood forged as finely and as quickly as that formed between the Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awardees. But then, I would risk oversimplifying hundreds of years of women uplifting one another and trudging hand-in-hand through the difficult realities of their time.
Yet, if anyone keenly observed the Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awardees floating into the Shell Hall, MUSON Centre in our dazzling dresses, complimenting and cheering one another as we all walked to the Awards Gala stage to receive our awards, they would affirm a number of things. Some of these would include the fact that there was a uniqueness, a cheerful mood, and without a doubt, a divine orchestration to our being celebrated together. They would perhaps also see in their mind’s eye the formidable change our sisterhood, leadership, and transformative projects would bring to Africa’s most needy sectors for centuries to come.
There was something very distinct about the evening of the Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awards Gala. Beyond the elegant dresses and numerous smiles, it was clear that there was something significant about a gathering of leaders both young and old who at their core believed in transforming Africa for good.
Going back to the very first moment
It is August 22nd, 2023. I’m heading to a café somewhere in the heart of Yenagoa when a new reminder on my phone makes me scroll through my notifications bar. I almost squealed in the tricycle when I read the email notification which said, “Ude, Congratulations! You Made It!”
I opened the email and I couldn’t believe the words I was seeing. “Congratulations! We are thrilled to inform you that you have emerged as one of the winners of the highly esteemed Future-Forward Female 25 under 25 Awards.” My heart is beating fast at this point, but I kept on reading. “This momentous achievement is a testament to your exceptional talent, unwavering leadership, and undeniable influence as a voice in our generation.” The words wash over me and pull tears to my eyes. Could this really be happening?
From that moment until I finally find a place to sit in the café, my mind is racing with so many thoughts. I couldn’t help but remember the urgency that accompanied my starting a Book Drive Campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide books to the children in my neighbourhood who needed textbooks to study at home. I mull over the trajectory of my education advocacy journey and my early resolve to remain in service of God, people, and my community. There are no words to capture how much my dreams of building libraries all over Nigeria are affirmed by those words I had just read in that email. At that very moment, I was in awe, maybe a little overwhelmed. But I honestly had no words. Thankfully, I would find the words later. I’ll hear them from Rhoda Aguonigho and she will help me articulate the words I need to express.
Rhoda Aguonigho is a fashion consultant and a fellow Future-Forward Female™ Awardee in the Culture Ambassador Category. Here’s how she described the impact of Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awards. She said, “It felt like the icing beautifying a cake. It is definitely a much-needed validation that our service and purpose is deserving of recognition and a reward.”
Considering that out of the 500+ nominees and over 2000 nominations seen by the FFF Jury, 25 of us were selected reinforces how meaningful and special a recognition of this nature means to each of us. All 25 finalists modelled the strongest values of the Future-Forward Female™ Movement which are personal transformation, visionary leadership, ethical excellence, and outstanding impact. I’m sure you can now understand why Rhoda’s feelings resonated so strongly with all the awardees.
Yet, it is not so much the recognition as it is the responsibility that comes with being spotlighted as a Future-Forward Female™. The award, I sense, is accompanied by a duty and a responsibility. A responsibility that includes but is not limited to:
(1) Remaining on the path purpose (2) Being courageous and radical in the face of Africa’s biggest challenges, and (3) Recognising that our visions will fuel many other young women with the audacity to take their dreams head-on.
Similoluwa Sowunmi puts it perfectly when she describes 25 of us as having been “…Enlisted into an army of women that God is spotlighting in this decade.” The weight of our leadership mandate is clearly indisputable.
A night we won’t forget
The day finally came. This was the evening all 25 ladies had been waiting for – The Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awards Gala. A night to celebrate our outstanding impact. But at the Awards Gala, we are all scribes.
Amidst the alluring purple and gold decor, the clinking of spoons on plates, the mumbled compliments, and the tap-tap sounds of the shoes of some women catwalking to their seats, all of us (the 25 Awardees) scribble in our journals or type in our digital notepads the words of enthronement and affirmation spoken over us by the women of then and now (as I call them.) The Visionary Debola-Deji Kurunmi, Founder of the Future-Forward Female™ Movement; Mrs. Adenike Ogunlesi, Nigeria’s foremost fashion entrepreneur with over 35 years in the Fashion and Retail Business and Matriarch of the Evening and Keynote Speaker at the Awards; and Her Majesty, HRH Olori Atuwase III, Queen Consort of the Warri Kingdom and Distinguished speaker at the Awards Gala send us forth into the next decade and century with charge and encouragement to remain phenomenal.
Mrs Adenike Ogunlesi’s words will certainly ring in our consciousness. “You must first be a leader of yourself to lead others. Lead yourself well,” she said.
Now, We Begin a Journey
This is where we go from here.
We have chosen to be student-teachers who learn and lead. We know that the spotlight on us as leaders is a clear invitation to keep learning. We anticipate keenly the mentorship and internships that come with being a part of this phenomenal community. We are also bracing up for the personal transformation required for this new journey. As we fully recognize the weight of the expectations that come with being spotlighted as young African women leading a decade of change. We are already forming strong bonds of sisterhood, friendships and partnerships.
So where do we go from here? This next chapter beckons us (the Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awardees) to keep pressing forward. There is no relenting now because we will continue to break barriers, lead boldly, create change, redefine narratives and transform society for good.
We choose to lead ourselves through discipline, self-care, and forgiveness. We commit to constantly showing up for and investing in our dreams, and we refuse to cower in the face of self-doubt or the fear of our inadequacies.
We commit to leaving our minds open for possibilities. We will reimagine the Africa and Nigeria of our dreams for as long as it takes for it to materialise. We will uplift the young female leaders coming behind by amplifying their service.
There are only open doors from here, and we are thankful.
The smiles on our faces at the Future-Forward Female™ Awards Gala will not only remain in our pictures and highlight reels. They are reenacted on the days when we read the Future-Forward Female™ Folio or happen to glance at the gorgeous plaques handed to us at the Gala. And so, for granting us this honour and being the catalysts of an upward drive for our leadership journeys, we are thankful to the Visionary and Founder of the Future-Forward Female™ Movement, Debola Deji-Kurunmi and the entire Future-Forward Female™ Movement team.
Here’s an ocean’s worth of gratitude.
For more information on the Future-Forward Female™ Movement, visit our website – https://www.futureforwardfemale.com/
Kindly follow the Future-Forward Female™ Movement on social media here – @futureforwardfemale_ for more updates.