Anita Kouassigan: If we help women more, they will help improve Nigeria’s situation
Anita Kouassigan holds a BSc degree in Politics from the University of Bristol, and graduated with a Post-Graduate Degree in Law and the Legal Practice Course (College of Law, London). She is a small-business entrepreneur, with her focus areas being Recruitment/Human Capital, Publishing & Media, Events and Fundraising. She’s the Founder of Minerva Recruitment and co-founded Lexan Media Services with her brother, Toke. She also sits on the board of Trustees of The Aplori Foundation (AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute). Anita recently launched a new social impact media initiative and platform: Investing In Women. After her successful London event, she was recently invited by Princess Tessy of Luxembourg to participate at a panel discussion of the first ThinkTank Event of her new charity, Professors Without Borders, at The London School of Economics (LSE). The subject matter was education, and this is another area Anita wants to advocate for in Nigeria, as having an education is another way to empower women. Anita has also consulted for The Financial Times Special Reports division to raise sponsorship for its Nigeria reports- Investing In Nigeria and Nigeria Art & Design. Anita wants to continue to be a networking bridge between Nigeria and the UK, in business, as well as in developmental matters. As she prepares to have her international launch in her home country, Nigeria, in December, she shares her dreams and aspirations of the home-coming event with GuardianWoman.
What is your new initiative, Investing In Women all about?
I created the Investing In Women brand in London eight months ago to communicate the fact that to effect positive change, we have to consider the empowerment of women. This includes providing women with greater economic opportunities so that they can help build economically secure and healthier communities. The brand was created as a collaborative measure and designed to work with, and add value to the Projects and Initiatives, and in some cases, Products of the companies and organisations dedicated to investing in women. The idea is that we will not work alone, but with partners during our Live Events; Consult on external Media Campaigns and create content (internal or external) for our clients. By providing greater visibility into the achievements of women, we hope to inspire others to join the cause. During our events, we connect men and women from different perspectives to learn and build on progress. I have always felt strongly about the many issues related to women’s empowerment and see an opportunity to amplify work being done around the world, including Nigeria. Our main strategy is the use of the most effective form of live media: Live Events. When our guests leave, we want them to remember what they saw and heard at our events.
What inspired you to start Investing In Women?
Living in London, you realise life can be challenging for the modern woman regarding career and life choices, especially if she has young children under schooling age. Questions such as, ‘Can I be a high-flyer AND fulfil my urge to raise kids?’ In Nigeria it’s easier, as you have more domestic help and family support, but abroad it can be quite tough, especially if you weigh up the economics of the matter. Rather than drop them off at day-care for 10 hours you may as well stay home with them. So I explored the empowerment initiative of Return-To-Work programmes, and learned so much about the other challenges many women face in the UK. For me personally, I realised that time had become my most valuable asset, and that although I’m fortunate enough to be well-educated and exposed, and with a great network I couldn’t necessarily have it all – not all at once. Then I checked myself and was grateful for having what I call ‘First World problems’. Meaning, I am still one of the very lucky ones. That no matter how hard it is to make them, at least I have choices. What about the women of Africa who’ve suffered oppression, lack of freedom and abuses? Those trapped in war-torn regions, lacking access to education, training, networks and jobs? Taking after both my parents, I also generally like to help people.
There are also not enough NGOs run by Africans so I wanted to get involved, alongside making a living. The western NGOs perhaps help with a handout culture, whereas I would prefer to see more entrepreneurship training being offered, skills that beneficiaries can sustain and use to gain their independence from charities. It is companies with corporate social responsibilities (CSR) that are able to forge ahead with this method of helping women in need. I am also inspired by what Melinda Gates said, that: ‘When we invest in women and girls, we are investing in the people who invest in everybody else.’ I also take this to mean that women should be seen as an ‘investment’ and we should expect good ‘returns’ from them. If we help women more, they will help improve Nigeria’s situation. Speaking of returns, a study of 91 countries by the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported that companies with 30 per cent female executives rake in as much as six percentage points more in profits. So, what’s my point? Let’s buy more shares ‘in women’! (Laughs)
Why did you decide to have your international launch in Lagos, Nigeria?
Nigeria is my country of origin, and Lagos is my hometown and the business capital of Nigeria, a global emerging market with so much potential. Unfortunately, there is still work to be done. Being a Nigerian in the Diaspora I am proud of my heritage, my family, and have strong values and high expectations for the future improvement of this blessed country. Nigerian women abroad are doing really well and more of us should bring back our talents and knowledge and make use of them at home to overcome the social challenges we face. However, sadly Nigeria loses a lot on global rankings due to less than ideal political participation by women. A recent World Economic Forum report (2017) on the gender gap showed Nigeria 122 out 144 countries surveyed, despite strong progress made in economic opportunity and participation. I believe very strongly in this country and the contributions Nigerian women can make to make it better. I want to bring our social impact brand home, not just to help foster change, but to highlight the progress women are making in this country to global audiences. Our launch event in London drew audiences from across Europe, USA, Asia and Africa to learn about philanthropic work. The focus of our Lagos event will be on the professional achievements of Nigeria’s leading women in business and Nigeria’s continuing progress in gender parity.
We are actively looking for sponsors and partners who want to support this effort. There are so many Nigerian companies adopting global CSR goals, and we believe they can lead by example and compete with global brands across business sectors. This positions them not only as progressive companies in line with global standards, but as employers of choice. One of the queries that often come up during my recruitment consultations is the question of which companies have women up top, and plenty in numbers. By ‘sponsor’ I’m speaking beyond monetary terms. Companies and organisations who will stand up with us on the night, and present the award category they are championing. They will be putting their stamp on our event and will demonstrate a commitment to investing in women. In the run up to the event itself (during press releases and media campaigns) they will be endorsing the brand. Whether they are new to this terrain and want to do more, or whether they are already well-established in this area and willing to continue, we would be honoured to work with companies that have similar aims and visions as us, with their CSR goals.
What are the Wonder Women Awards?
On March 29, 2018, The Guardian’s Conferences & Masterclasses, together with Investing In Women will be hosting an Awards Ceremony Event: 7 Wonder Women of Nigeria. A corporate event with an element of celebration to drive home the point of women’s empowerment to the business community. Both their actual empowerment – in some cases – and the potential to empower, in other cases. The purpose of the event is to recognise and celebrate seven award-winning women in Nigeria who have made significant progress in their careers and an impressive contribution to the Nigerian economy with their drive and innovation. During the event, we will be highlighting their exceptional professional achievements in key business sectors. The categories are Women in Finance, Social Impact, Technology, Law, Power & Energy, Health & Wellness and Art & Design.
First of all, there will be an online nominations process, open to all. Anyone can submit the name of a woman they believe deserves such recognition, and the reason they are selecting her (please see online link later). Self-nominations are also allowed (in the case of self-nominations, only one per person is allowed). We have also invited a panel of experts of these seven sectors in Nigeria. The panel will decide upon the final shortlist after final nominations have been submitted to our research team. Then there will be public polls, which will determine 7 winners. The winners and runners-up will be announced at event. They will be presented with awards by Sector Sponsors and/or Sector Specialists, who will also have the opportunity to make a short speech.
Why did you choose the date, March 29?
I wanted the event to fall on a Friday, because even though it is a corporate event, organised with the level and detail as a serious daytime conference hosted by leading international companies, it is also a celebratory event with an after-party and other forms of entertainment included. The event will go on until very late, and as well as networking, our guests can really enjoy themselves without worrying about an early start for work. I am expecting people will be dressed as if they are going to a very glamorous wedding – just as was the case in London! I also had to consider my own calendar around my children (it had to be held before the Christmas holidays) and work with the diary of our expert speaker, Eva Barboni, who’s flying in specially to give her address. She is very excited to be returning to Nigeria, where she has served as a campaign strategist for Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign for President in 2011. Among her other international campaign successes, in Africa, she worked on Nana Akufo-Addo’s campaign for President of Ghana in 2016. I really thank her for agreeing to work with me again. She has a balanced and realistic view about the need for both men and women to lead and drive countries.
Why did you choose to work with The Guardian?
There are three main reasons. First of all, The Guardian has a competitive advantage, being one of Nigeria’s flagship newspapers, and a most trusted and credible brand. Working with us, The Guardian is simply building on a legacy of outspoken leadership and is extending its narrative to the importance of women in the development of a society. The Guardian also has a relatively new business unit, Guardian Conferences & Masterclasses, which works on a series of live events together with other departments of the newspaper who already enjoy strong, long-standing relationships with corporate, governmental and non-governmental institutions, other organisations and individuals. Next, the fact that The Guardian is the first national newspaper to introduce a standalone woman’s title – Guardian Woman, which runs in the Saturday edition of the newspaper – speaks volumes. Last of all, becoming increasingly a brand with an international outlook in terms of the clients it works with, we believe the newspaper can serve as a strong media platform to encourage greater interest and investment in Nigeria.
How are you pulling this event together?
I am making more use of social media for influence, and to define the brand with motivational words and messages, as well as having an effective and influential media partner in The Guardian. For this event, I am also partnering with Impeccable Collaboration, a global management consulting firm affiliated with The University of Chicago, which is famous for the highest number of Nobel Prize Economic Laureates. I hired the firm to help me research the content I am driving (especially matters of economics) to ensure we capture the international perspective and because they work on both local and international collaborations – which is what I am aiming for. The use of cutting edge, high-end technology is also essential during our events, so I have engaged a party planner that’s experienced in high impact event production and who will help manage the flow of the event with my direction. Every Investing In Women event must be of the same recognisable standard, in terms of the way we do things, no matter where in the world we host an event. If we decide to offer licensor agreements, we will also ensure that these standards are met.
Have you received help or support?
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those that gave me some of their time when I was trying to pull off my first Charity Fundraiser in London. Those who attended and made donations to charity, and especially my friend Lucia Troksiarova who gave me a business card that ultimately led me to Princess Tessy. I also got support via positive responses to my social network posts (Facebook in particular). Then there were two hands-on mother friends of mine who were inspired about how I juggled this Pro Bono project with motherhood. Trying to raise sponsorship and sell tickets to a charity launch event was very tough. I was told it was ‘Impossible!’ and asked ‘What in the world have you taken on?’ But I had no choice but to work alone during the first two months, as I couldn’t hire anyone. It was a gruelling journey, however, I sharpened my skills, learnt a lot and simply approached my work as an entrepreneur starting up would. Now I have a blueprint, a real foundation and the content I created to continue. Aside from seeking sponsorship, there was also the publishing and media side of things, content creation as mentioned, as well as event planning.
So it was not sustainable because as they say: If you want to walk fast, walk alone, but if you want to walk far, walk together!’ So I finally asked some volunteers for help. Both my sisters offered me leads (Ose, being a recruitment specialist introduced me to people interested in hiring more women as part of the drive towards more diversity and inclusion, and Uvie, during her maternity leave tapped into a network she engages with who are interested in investing in Nigeria). Then there’s the two charities who agreed to align with my very new brand and taught me a lot about women’s issues. I also have to thank Piper Heidsieck who came in with a very last minute surprise donation of Champagne, Tony Pidgley (CBE), the Berkeley Group Chairman who endorsed our event with a testimonial (as shown), our raffle and auction prize donors, and a few other generous donors who bought tables. I am also grateful to two celebrity DJs, DJ Cuppy (also a young philanthropist), who really got the party started with her dancers, and actor Tony Okungbowa who flew in specially from Los Angeles.
Have you kept in touch with Princess Tessy of Luxembourg?
Of course! Always, I hope, and I will always support her work. I accepted her offer to work again together by speaking at her LSE event just last week. My first big break (in a story it would be ‘the inciting incident’ ) was when she agreed to be a speaker and a member of my Charity Ball Committee, after our five-minute meeting. Princess Tessy admitted that she had already read my pitch, could identify with the brand name, immediately understood what I was trying to do. I had mentioned that this project felt like work experience for me (to help me get back into the game) after a long maternity break, and she recognised that I was tying together my education, acquired skills and passions (Law, Politics, Media & Publishing, Networking and Human Capital). It is a very interesting story about how I was first able to finally meet her, and I thought maybe it was just a stroke of luck, or a reward from God for my tireless efforts. I will be forever grateful that she believed in me. Just the other day, I noticed that she used the photo of her speaking at the London event in front of the backdrop of the Investing In Women logo. This photo speaks volumes to me, makes me so proud, and has encouraged me to bring the brand home. The brand defines her, and she defines the brand. She’s an example of someone investing in women.
What are ultimate aims of the event?
We intend to connect, inspire, and amplify progress. We also want to empower industry leaders and participants with a sense of pride and inspiration to help provide further opportunities for the financial inclusion of women. During the course of creating this second event, as well as during the event itself, I will be re-establishing past business relationships and creating new partnerships. I will also be using my media & PR skills and networks to showcase successes made by those companies and organisations working towards bettering the economic development of Nigeria, and who advocate empowering her women. I believe such achievements should be communicated effectively, as they are tied to Nigeria’s future development and recognition as a progressive nation. We want Nigerians to take women’s empowerment seriously as a patriotic duty that will help our country to compete with peer emerging economies. We’re making it our business to inspire people to invest in women more. What does it mean, to invest in women? To contribute to, to encourage, and to enable. A financial investment can be the most impactful, but one could also add value to the lives of women by investing one’s time, sharing knowledge and tips. The Investing In Women brand defines Princess Tessy of Luxembourg, abroad. We also want the brand to define socially responsible companies, organisations and individuals back at home.
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