On December 9, 2016, Cellulant’s Nigeria team participated in the Annual Voice of Women hosted by WFM91.7. The event was chaired by Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, and attended by the Wife of Nigeria’s President Mrs Aisha Buhari.
Cellulant Nigeria’s CEO and Group Co-founder, Mr. Bolaji Akinboro was among the esteemed guest speakers- awarded alongside Cellulant as Best Family-Focused Organisation.
Below is the speech delivered to the attendants of VOW 2016 in Lagos Nigeria.
I stand here todexitting protocol. I want to thank the organizers for the opportunity to speak at this conference. The theme for my speech is a simple one:
Women can and are making a difference in Nigeria and we should give them a chance and an opportunity to Succeed.
The context for my paper is built on our experience as a technology company. We are a financial technology company and we use this technology in 2 sectors in Nigeria:
- Agriculture; where we provide the Federal Government with the technology that is used to get subsidies across to Nigerian farmers so that they can get access to high quality seeds and fertilizer;
- Retail and Consumer payments ; where we enable the wide public to make all sorts of payments digitally.
Beyond these two sectors, our technology supports IDPs in Borno state and pregnant women in Zamfara / Jigawa state.
In accepting the invitation to speak today, I kept in mind the caliber of speakers and guests in attendance. I could present a paper on all the great attributes of technology and how it empowers women, but that is theory. I am interested in practical ways we can all participate in women empowerment, and being the agents of change in assuring their success.
We made a choice a long time as a company to create an environment where women can grow and thrive no matter what it takes; that’s why we have so many women with us.Our company is 65% women; so in a sense we have a very good idea of what it takes for women to succeed in a technology workplace. Often times we find that the women even do better than the men.
It is therefore on this foundation that I address my request to my colleagues and esteemed guests.
First; I make this request on behalf of our young women in campuses. I want to ask Mrs Alakija to be more visibly involved in our campuses. Today, our young women are sorely starved for inspiration. We need to encourage women to be actively pursuing academic interests in the STEM programs: Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This will give them a competitive advantage, and when it is all said and done, we will see them performing better than men, as they have shown to have the mental acuity and desire to be engaged in these sectors. Women in these areas face a lot of challenges and our observation and experience is that when we don’t have very visible role model for young girls, they give up very early . Mrs. Alakija, you are our voice to the young women in schools and those that are about to start their careers. We need to bring down the barriers, such as society attitude towards women eduction, and be intentional in championing women to succeed.
I will give you a quick example of how our social attitudes are detrimental to progressing women empowerment. I will read an excerpt from an email I received in October 2016 from one of our consultants:-
If you want this business to survive, you will need to remove women from decision making positions and staff the place with men you can pay well and drive to the edge of their wits.
- No matrimonial leave.
- No menstrual (PMS) issues.
- No backbiting and infighting for attention.
- No favoritism.
- Common sense prevails almost always.
- No using child care as excuse to be away from work.
I responded thus: –
Very funny. The women are the ones bringing the money we use to pay the men.
These patricidal days are over
What is making this fellow angry ? it’s those women on those charts we placed at the end of back of the hall which we are also projecting on the screen that is making him angry. From our experience ; this is the kind of mentality that dominates our society. To change this we need the strong women like yourselves who have succeeded in sectors like oil and gas- to speak out and foster change of attitude towards women- which essentially begins with empowering young girls to pursue dreams that might seemingly, as society might dictate, be out of their reach.
Second; I came here to ask Mrs Sola David- Borha to be more visible as a voice to women in business and also to ask the MD of Bank of Industry to join her in this effort. Women are slightly more than half of the population of our country. It is safe to say that one of the reasons why we are facing economic and social challenges today is that a good chunk of our population-women- are excluded from economic activities and are treated like second class citizens. The Americans under the leadership of Dwight Eisenhower in the 50’s understood that America cannot be great if its women are excluded from intense participation in business and the workplace at all levels. For us in Nigeria; we are at a similar crossroad, we have women participation but it is not where it should be. Women who have succeeded and the men who have a role to play in helping women succeed have to speak loud and firm – we must give our women the space, support and freedom to grow to their fullest potential. The idea that a “woman can only go so far” is not going to help us grow to our fullest potential as a country.
Third; I came here today to ask Ms Akindele to be more visible in the fight against the objectification of women and the skewered incentives in the creative arts industry. When you look at the structure of incentives, it promotes the idea that women are sexual objects. When are we going to see a prize of $100,000 for the best female mathematician student in nigeria ; why must we always see $300,000 prizes for big brother Africa whose highlight daily is the “shower hour”. Its time to see a new set of incentives. It is up to us as corporations to intentionally seek out opportunities that empower women, and build talent.
Finally ; I came here to ask Madame First Lady to be a voice to the women in Agriculture. They need to be seen and heard. Since 2012, when we started working for the Federal Government for the e-Wallet system; we noticed a problem. We registered 15million farmers; but the number of women was just 2.5million. The question is where are the women?
Madame First Lady; People are always criticizing so its good to say things that people do not know; You will help us thank your husband; when he came into office; he looked at the work that was going on ; he made recommendations based on his own personal observations as a farmer and when those observations were attended to ; he extended our contract. This usually does not happen in Nigeria, that a new admiration that was in opposition will continue with the programs they inherited. His decision has now created an opportunity for you Madam First Lady to be the voice of the millions of women who’s husbands have not permitted to come out and be registered. We suspect that there are close to 7-10million of such women.; Madame First Lady these are women who need to be financially included. Their empowerment is to the benefit of their families, their societies and in the long run- our country.
I will close by now showing you the young women of Cellulant; the amazons who have helped us to build a business across Africa; As a man who considers himself so blessed to be surrounded by so many beautiful women; I thank God.
Cellulant Staff at VOW 2016