PrincessS Modupe Ozolua is an American-Nigerian philanthropist and entrepreneur. She is the Chief Executive Officer of Body Enhancement Limited, which pioneered cosmetic surgery in Nigeria in 2001 and aesthetic lasers in 2007. In 2003, she founded the non-profit organisation, Empower 54, which offers humanitarian programmes to underprivileged women and refugees. Princess Ozolua is active in rehabilitating women and children survivors of Boko Haram insurgency in North Eastern Nigeria, through self-employment and education for the children at the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps.In recognition of her philanthropy, Princess Modupe Ozolua has received many international awards and recognitions, including an award from the internationally-acclaimed magazine, Elle. Elle Magazine, South Africa, has also featured her twice for her entrepreneurial achievement as a leading “African Female Boss” and also as one of the “50 Women Changing Africa”. She shares her story with Esther Ijewere
My natural inclination towards business originated from my late mother, who was an entrepreneur to the core and owned many successful businesses during her lifetime. As a philanthropist, I come from a famous family known to be very generous to those in need. That’s how we all are. So, my passion for helping the underprivileged is no surprise to my family and friends.
Pioneering Cosmetic Surgery in Nigeria
When I started Body Enhancement in 2001, the reception was absolutely wonderful because everyone, both men and women, were thrilled to know they could improve areas of their bodies they felt uncomfortable with. Of course, some people misunderstood what cosmetic surgery was and felt it was a conflict with our valuable African culture and religious beliefs. They didn’t understand.
I did not preach against our culture or religion. Neither did my business. I am from a very traditional and religious family. My parents hailed from two Edo royal families. How could I ever encourage anyone to turn against what makes us a people? My parents and family members would have lynched me! Despite the few misconceptions some people had, the overall response was wonderful and till date, people contact my office for services. I closed Body Enhancement Limited in 2014 to focus more on my philanthropy through Empower 54.
Inspiration behind your initiative, Empower 54
When I created Body Enhancement Limited in 2001, it opened my doors to people that needed both cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries. It also made me globally known as the contact point in Nigeria for plastic surgery. In 2003, a couple came to my office seeking reconstructive surgery for the wife who had severe burns and lacerations from a fire accident. Unfortunately, they couldn’t afford to pay for it and narrated how they had made numerous appeals to wealthy individuals for financial assistance but to no avail.I found it very disturbing that no one agreed to help the woman. Then, the husband suddenly, said: “Madam, why don’t you help people like us? When you speak, people will listen.”It’s My Destiny To Help The Vulnerable And Underprivileged
Immediately they left my office, I called the Head, Plastic Surgeon in Beverly Hills and told him I was starting a non-profit project to help underprivileged people and I wanted him to put together a team of surgeons to come and help people for free in Nigeria.
Rehabilitating women and children survivors of the terrorist group, Boko Haram
In 2014, a friend from Adamawa State pleaded with me to look into the IDP crisis in the state. We went to visit North East states to see first-hand what was going on. To get a proper brief on what was going on, we didn’t only visit the IDP camps, we also took the risk of going into rural communities that were destroyed by Boko Haram. Back then, only some villagers and military personnel visited those areas. Humanitarian organisations were too scared to go there because those areas were still under the attack of Boko Haram insurgents.
Our tours enabled us to truly understand the extent of damage done by Boko Haram, and we then decided to focus on two things: Getting the children engaged through education, both in the camps and rebuilding some schools destroyed in rural communities as there were still children living in those places; and empowering the women to start small-scale businesses because we saw many young women, some 30-year-olds, with 12 children!
Majority of IDP camps have schools established for the children. Testimonies? There are too many but I always fondly remember a little girl, who was born with a cleft palate and was one of our beneficiaries during our first humanitarian programme in 2003.Prior to her coming to us, her palate had been operated on twice by other doctors, but it always relapsed. After we performed her corrective surgery free. It did not relapse and she began speech therapy.
Years later, her parents surprised me by bringing her to my office to say, hello! She had grown and looked so beautiful in her native attire. When she saw me, she ran and hugged me. I was shocked! I asked her if she remembered me, and she said: “Yes, I remember you! It was you that saved my life!” I immediately started crying, held her close and I thanked God for using me as an instrument to help that young lady lead a normal life like everyone else.
The narrative of the helpless people at the IDP camp
When people hear the acronym IDP, they assume they are all illiterates and poor people that lived in rural villages. Unfortunately, that’s not so! Some of these IDPs are doctors, teachers among others They were successful businessmen and women that owned large farms, houses and companies. Some of those children are extremely intelligent and had excellent grades in school before they were all displaced by Boko Haram.
If Boko Haram attacks Abuja today and we all flee to Lagos or neighboring states, leaving our homes, cars, clothes, businesses, among others, what does that make us? It also makes us IDPs because we would be internally- displaced. If we flee to Cameroun or Chad, we automatically become refugees.
Governments doing their best
Having to tackle insurgency and manage IDP camps is not something the Federal Republic of Nigeria ever thought it would experience. It’s not easy for any country to maintain IDP or refugee camps because of the many challenges involved, especially financial implications. Considering this is the first time we are facing such a huge security and socio-economic disaster, we are learning as we go. I think the Federal Government, NGOs and state governments are doing the best they can.
Our biggest challenge is finance. Empower 54 isn’t a personal foundation such as the Bill Gates and others that are largely funded by the billionaire founders. Even the Bill Gates Foundation receives millions of dollars in donation! So, people should please be more compassionate and respectful because it could be any of us in those camps.
Your other projects?
We have some wonderful ongoing projects that we haven’t gone public with. So, I cannot share them with you just yet. However, since I personally led the joint evacuation of the malnourished children from Bama to Maiduguri for treatment, the Federal Government has declared malnutrition a national epidemic with one in every three children suffering from malnutrition. We had to tackle the issue of malnutrition beyond risking our lives to evacuate children from high-risk zones for treatment.Although very expensive, Ready-To-Use-Therapeutic-Foods (RUTF) has been medically proven to save lives of malnourished children and with extremely limited funds, we came up with a solution.This prompted the creation of an Empower 54 campaign to eradicate malnutrition in Africa with our goodwill ambassador being His Imperial Majesty, Oonirisa Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II, the Ooni of Ife.
We have now successfully established a small-scale RUTF production facility in Nigeria to produce free RUTF for malnourished children. It is sponsored by the Australian government and International Monetary Fund (IMF). With donations received, we will produce and distribute to malnourished children all over the country for free. That is why we need donations. How can we save lives without money to execute these projects? Please, donate to Empower 54. We are doing great projects with every penny we receive and we can do so much more with your support.
The greatest rewards I have received for being a philanthropist are: “God bless you. Thank you!” When people tell me they had no hope before I came to help them, that God sent me to restore their faith in humanity and they voluntarily pray for me and say “thank you”. What greater reward do I want? I’m sorry, but I don’t know any greater reward than that.
Never giving up
No and yes. No, in the sense that being a philanthropist is my calling. It’s my destiny to dedicate my life to helping the vulnerable and underprivileged. So, I can’t run away from that. Yes, in the sense that there was a project that verbal attacks we received made me to almost shut down all our humanitarian activities in Nigeria. But when I looked at the pictures of the beneficiaries, I knew I couldn’t do that because our obligation was to help them, not the people trying to create negative distractions.
Those who inspire me to be better
My family is my greatest inspiration, especially my late father and my son. I was a daddy’s girl. My father’s approval and love meant the world to me, and till date. Wanting his approval still puts me in check. When I think of what my 22-year-old son would say about anything I do, I quickly check myself, because I want him to be proud of me always.
The fact is everything I do affects a lot of people. I might not have really realised that when I was much younger, but I sure do know that now. I am a very family dedicated person and very close to many members of my extremely extended family.
Being a Woman of Rubies
Hmmmmmmmmm….Why don’t you tell me? (laughs). But what I do know is what makes me a woman that has gone through various stages of life and is getting better by the day. I was married at 21. I was a dutiful wife, pregnant with my son, running a home, taking care of a husband and running my first business in America. I had my son at 22, divorced at 23 and I have raised my son singlehandedly since. At 27, I returned home to Nigeria and pioneered cosmetic surgery, which put Nigeria on the global map as a destination for plastic surgery in Africa. At 30, I started an NGO, which was the first to provide free reconstructive surgeries for the underprivileged in Nigeria. Between then and now, I brought the first aesthetic laser machine to Nigeria among other things. I have been appreciated in my birth country, Nigeria, and many other countries in the world, both for my private business and philanthropy.Through it all, I have watched myself evolve over the years into a woman I’m proud of and I know I am getting better daily with the right people guiding and advising me.
Hold your head up! There is nothing wrong with working hard for success, but never be desperate for fame. Fame comes with a price and most times, you end up paying with your peace, happiness and pains, when you are slandered and painted as who and what you are not. Today, you are famous and you are celebrated by all, tomorrow, it’s going to be someone else. Don’t allow your self- worth to be based on others’ perception of who you are. Identify those that genuinely love and care about you, hold them close because as you get older, you will discover such good people are rare to find. Know you, be you and do you. Remember that, and you will be okay!