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30 success stories of real women, real lives and real growth

By Omolola Itayemi
13 April 2022   |   4:11 am
The list is quite a bit but by April 28, 2022, they will become household names. They are the likes of Alice Ogbonna, Blessing Idowu Fanu, Olaitan Okubena, Elizabeth Ezuma, Augustina Njoku, Chinelo John, Ifeoma Nweje, Scholastica Ugwuanyi...

The list is quite a bit but by April 28, 2022, they will become household names. They are the likes of Alice Ogbonna, Blessing Idowu Fanu, Olaitan Okubena, Elizabeth Ezuma, Augustina Njoku, Chinelo John, Ifeoma Nweje, Scholastica Ugwuanyi, Joy Chukwudi, Maria Ojor, Chinasa Okwudifele, Adetola Ariyo, Teni Abdullahi, Blessing Akinwale, Folashade Adekunle, Vivian Akponna, Victoria Sule, Felicia Kenbi, Rebecca Afolabi, Joy Onyekaba, Patricia Macaulay, Esther Okoh, Adrat Oluwa, Ibrahim Bola, Awawu Ishola, Elizabeth Nwaeke, Bukky Moshood, Aishat Ojebisi, Moyinoluwa Marcus, and Tina Uju. They are real women who have lived real lives and whose lives are experiencing real growth. They have grown from poverty to sustainable living. And they are my heroes.

Their lives have been documented in a 132-page photo book in hardback titled, Stories of Impact: Real Women, Real Lives, Real Growth. The photobook is the handiwork of Grooming People for Better Livelihood Centre (Grooming Centre), a microfinance institution (MFI) that has been in operation since 2006. Since then, they have intervened positively in the lives of over 700,000 women who have accessed microfinance from the Grooming Centre. Because it would be difficult to document all the 700,000, the MFI chose to capture the stories of these 30 as a glimpse into the lives of the many, who have had life-changing experiences because of these soft loans.

In the book, Grooming Centre explains: “We currently have over 700,000 members, and we believe that each one of them deserves to be celebrated. While it would be impossible to tell all their stories, we chose to start by telling the stories of 30 women who, in their everyday way, are visionaries chasing dreams, building businesses, and changing lives – their own lives and those of others. They have different backgrounds and varying levels of formal education, but they are all business-savvy and hard-working. As you read their stories, you will find that they have overcome diverse challenges—business-related or personal crises—in the course of building and sustaining their businesses. Their success despite that is worth celebrating, and providing them with resources to overcome challenges is the reason Grooming Centre was conceived in the first place.”

Grooming Centre attempts to deal with the issue of economic growth and poverty reduction through financial inclusion and access to credit. Most of the Nigerian population, especially women, are not accessing loans. The statistics are disturbing. Citing a UN report, the Centre says, “In Nigeria, where ease of doing business is ranked low but improving, documentation, collateral requirements and other impediments stand in the way of inclusion and access for many people, especially women, 73 per cent of whom have never accessed loans.”

Though the book is Grooming Centre’s poster tool, the heroes are indeed the 30 women who have through determination and enterprise transformed from despair to hope – success stories that would be told for a long time.

There is the story of Augustina Njoku, a caterer and decorator, who plies her trade in Nkpor, Anambra State. She has been in business for over 10 years. In 2014, she accessed a Grooming Centre loan. The loan helped her to grow her business, which now means she has to travel around to places like Asaba and Owerri to do work because of her increasingly good reputation.

In her words: “When I go to a wedding and I see all the decorations I did or I see a bride that I dressed, I’m filled with so much pride and joy because this is my handiwork, and it is original. I don’t copy from anywhere else. I love it when people start asking, “Who did this?” and I tell them “It’s me”. And then I get more phone numbers and potential clients. I also love it when my clients give me good feedback; it makes me so happy.”

Another story is that of Chinasa Mary Okwudifele. She is a drinks wholesaler based in Ikpoba, Benin. Chinasa started the business when she retired from the then Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). But the business struggled. She could not fund the business with her pension, which she described as ‘peanuts’. Then, came Grooming Centre. According to her:

“With Grooming, I was able to make a comeback. I had access to loans and that really boosted the business. I have been with Grooming for two years and I’m a leader now. I believe that with the help of Grooming, I will eventually get my own vehicle to supply my drinks and become a distributor.”

Felicia Kenbi, a businesswoman, lives in Alakuko, Ogun State. She runs a motorcycle taxi (okada) hire purchase business, supplies charcoal and sells foodstuff. She has been a trader for over 40 years. Ten years ago, she accessed a loan from Grooming Centre of N20,000. Then, she organised other women to join her, and they formed a small group.

Kenbi’s business has grown. She says, “I started buying motorcycles and tricycles and giving them out. I experienced progress and I have not experienced any setbacks since I became a Grooming member. I currently have five motorcycles out on hire purchase. Usually, I buy one, find someone who is interested in riding it, and they pay me weekly from their profits. I like it when they pay the day before our meetings so that I can use it for my loan repayment. Once they finish paying, the motorcycle is theirs.”

Remarkably, she thrives as she helps others in their business.

“Whenever someone comes to me that they have challenges or they need a job, I rent a new shop, buy goods, and tell them to trade there. They sell and they give me a portion of the profits weekly. They have their gain and I have mine. About four of the people I have done this for, have grown to open their own shops. They can now stand on their own.”
Felicia Kenbi has her sights on the future: “My vision is that I will continue to have multiple businesses that I can leave to others, my children and other people. My life has changed positively. I boast about what Grooming has done for me. I have taken these loans and succeeded, and even my children are members of Grooming—they bought lands and built houses and they are living in peace. I say it anywhere that Grooming is the best. They have never put me in debt and it has never been hard for me to repay. My life is good and my family is too.”

•Omolola Itayemi is a journalist. She lives in Lagos