Last Friday, June 25, 2010, I sat in on a Mentor’s Breakfast hosted by Wimbiz. The informal gathering held at Robert’s Cafe, a charming little bistro in Victoria Island- Lagos, was organized to give the women who had agreed to serve as Mentors in Wimbiz’s Mentoring Program, the opportunity to learn more about what their new roles would entail. A fascinating mix of female entrepreneurs were in attendance: Tara Durotoye (CEO, House of Tara-Nigeria’s top, domestically owned cosmetic company), Dupe Ajayi (CEO, Oleander Hospitality and Catering-an enterprise employing hundreds of men and women in and around Lagos) and Audrey Ezeigbo (Executive Director, Falcon Petroleum-one of Nigeria’s leading private and wholly indigenous downstream oil & gas companies), to name a few.
This was an impressive group of women. Women who have forged their own path to success, overcoming sexual discrimination in addition to all of the “normal” obstacles to doing business in Nigeria (inadequate infrastructure, corruption, excessive government red-tape, etc). Women who have made a name for themselves in highly competitive sectors and those who have played a vital role in expanding formally undeveloped industries. It was incredible to hear their experiences with the Mentoring Program.
Most women at the breakfast were new to the program, but a few were among the batch of 19 Mentors who participated in the first, hugely successful round that took place this spring. While listening to former Mentors, like Tara Durotoye, discuss the pleasure they took in sharing their invaluable business skills with other women, something occurred to me. The notion of collaboration and the vital role it plays in fostering economic empowerment in the underdeveloped world, was smartly at the conceptual basis of this and many other Wimbiz’s initiatives, yet it was a concept that I’ve rarely heard mentioned in development discourse.
The brilliance of this program, and any other based upon the concept of peer learning, is the ability to harness the distinct know-how and sheer gumption that it takes to turn a mere idea into a thriving reality, and share it with as many willing recipients as possible. The reality is, even in developed countries, a mere fraction of business ventures reach the level of success achieved by the business women noted above (in both relative and absolute terms). To not investigate how these women were able to succeed, despite all the odds, and spread that knowledge as far and wide as possible, would be an unforgivable offense.
In the harsh business environment that is Lagos State, and Nigeria as a whole, strong social networks are vital. Anyone who has “made it” here will tell you how instrumental a strong support group was to his or her success. But the key here is that those connections remain relevant even after one has “made it.” By counseling the next generation of business women, Wimbiz Mentors spreading the impact of their success, enabling their professional achievements to inspire the next generation, and uplift their communities at large.
I’m in the process of developing a series of short video documentaries on how the woman of Wimbiz have managed to beat the odds, with a particular emphasis on the importance of informal social networks and professional collaboration. I look forward to sharing more about this and other projects as they develop.
A la prochaine!
Posted By Abisola Adekoya
Posted Jun 28th, 2010