An Advocate and Champion for Other Women – Ndidi Nwuneli – Nigeria
I was born and raised in Enugu to the family of Professor Paul and Professor Rina Okonkwo. My parents, who are professors and worked at the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus were extremely devoted to raising children who were hard working, disciplined and ethical. My parents and my two older sisters were my earliest role models and continue to inspire and challenge me today! My parents exposed my siblings and I to the concepts of patriotism and service from very young ages. Despite their Ivy League education, they both chose to devote their lives to teaching in the Nigerian higher educational system, fighting against all odds to ensure some level of excellence in their respective departments.
Beyond the extremely supportive family and community in which I was raised, a defining moment for me as a child were my early encounter with Christ. I was invited to church by amazing university students who would visit the staff quarters periodically to invite children to Sunday school. Through their life’s example and wonderful encouragement, I was drawn to the church and gave my life to Christ when I was thirteen years old.
I do not think that I have had any experience that I will characterize as the worst moment. However, some of my earliest memories of Childrens’ Day celebrations were speeches which informed us that we are leaders of tomorrow. However, I quickly realized the older many of these individuals who told us that we were leaders of tomorrow had no plans of stepping aside for others to lead. I also recognized that some of the individuals who have shaped our world started leading in their youth. This is primarily because it is when you are young that you have the most energy, time, creativity, and are willing to take risks. You see possibilities and not hindered by years of experience that often limits vision, and compels people to see obstacles instead of possibilities. In addition, with the average life expectancy of a Nigerian at 57 years, what does tomorrow hold for a young person who may not be live to see that future? This realization led me to establish LEAP to inspire, empower and equip young people to lead today and tomorrow!
The A-HA moment actually occurred during a trip to Venezuela with my husband’s Harvard MBA class. During a bus trip to a rural community I was struck by the good roads, electricity, absence of police check-points and lamented about the disparity between Africa and many other world regions. The words Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability and Professionalism, immediately sprung in my mind. I believed that if we could infuse these four traits into the lives of our people, especially our youth and entrepeneurs, we could transform our communities and countries in Africa.
Our Mission is to be recognized as the premier resource centre for developing dynamic, innovative and principled leaders, who will drive Africa’s realization of its full potential. Our Vision is to inspire, empower and equip a new cadre of African leaders by providing the skills and tools for personal, organizational and community transformation.
Our Values Commitment, Communication, Excellence, Integrity, Respect, Result-Oriented
• Youth LEAP – equipping and inspiring young people to be value creators and change agents
• Biz LEAP – supporting entrepreneurs with access to knowledge required to build sustainable businesses
• eLEAP – delivering skills, knowledge and inspiration to our audience of youth, entrepreneurs and professions through innovative tools
The passion and sense of urgency behind the creation of this organization was motivated by three facts. Firstly, according to the 2013 Demographic and Health Survey, 37% of Nigerian children under the age of five are classified as stunted and 18% are considered wasted. This contributes to Nigeria’s high infant mortality or maternal mortality rates in our country.
Secondly, researchers at the University of Agriculture Abeokuta estimate that 40-60% of the fruits and vegetables grown and harvested by small holder farmers across the county are wasted annually.
Thirdly, 90% of the processed food consumed in Nigeria is imported.
AACE Foods aims to directly address the high levels of malnutrition in Nigeria and capitalize on the dearth of locally manufactured food products by processing and packaging nutritious food sourced from smallholder farmers within Nigeria, in partnership with community groups and non-profit associations. The company provides support to the farmers, empowering them with training and access to microfinance and storage technology.
The company offers spices, spreads, sauces and complementary food for commercial and institutional buyers, including food processors, caterers, restaurants, hotels, wholesalers and retailers. Our products are sold in Shoprite, GAME, Park & Shop, Ebeano, and some of Nigeria’s leading FMGCs utilize our bulk products for producing spices for instant noodles and other foods.
Women still face immense struggles in their efforts to achieve their highest potential in many sectors in Nigeria. However, there has been tremendous progress in the past decade. Today, there are three female chairs of top banks in the country. In addition, women are playing leading roles in growth sectors across the country.
I would like to encourage young women to recognize three things:
First to be recognized as an equal in the work place, and to receive your fair share of the income and profits that you generate, manage your time and resources effectively. You must put in your best and ensure that your voice is heard, loud and clear. You must never use your role as a wife, mother, sister, or daughter, as an excuse for underperformance. Invest in life-long learning, always upgrading your skills and surrounding yourself with at least three critical people – a mentor, a champion and a critic. A champion serves as your biggest cheerleader, encouraging you to dream big and achieve results. A critic tells you the truth about your short-comings and provides constructive feedback. A mentor shows you what is possible through their life example.
Second, women are natural givers. Giving opens your heart to the needs of the world and also takes your eyes off your own lack. However, you also have to be prepared to ask for help when you need it, especially as you embark on the journey of marriage and motherhood. Your vulnerability makes you human and does not detract in any way from your self-worth.
Third, as you rise in your profession or industry, leave the door open for other women to enter. Be the first woman president, CEO, leader of an organization, but never the last one. Ensure that you are mentoring and grooming other women to take over from you. Fight against the stereotype that women do not support other women. Instead be recognized as an individual who supports others. Madeline Albright has a quote which I love – “There is a special place in hell for women do not support other women!” I know you want to go to heaven…so start today to serve as an advocate and champion for other women.
About the Author
Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli is a social entrepreneur with about two decades xperience in International Development and Business Management working with multinational firms, the public sector, and international organizations.
Ndidi founded LEAP Africa, a nonprofit organization that focuses on encouraging leadership and development initiatives for youth and business owners in Nigeria.
Ndidi is also a co-founder of AACE Food Processing & Distribution Ltd. (AACE Foods)an indigenous agro-processing company in Lagos, Nigeria and one of the directors of Sahel Capital & Advisory Partners, an advisory and private equity firm in Nigeria, which focuses on the agribusiness and manufacturing sectors.
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