Chinny Okoye is the Founder of The Women International (TWI), a Self Improvement and Personal Development platform for women dedicated to helping women from all walks of life build a better future for themselves, their families, and their businesses by creating events geared towards realising their full potential. Okoye is highly experienced in non-profit management and research focused on women affairs, policies and social development. She has worked in Nigeria and in the US including the Centre for Women in Politics and Public Policy, Boston Mass, The Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights in Boston and The Health Care Federation Of Nigeria (HFN). She is also the CEO of TWI management agency, a sister company to The Women International, to help female-owned companies grow and manage their social media communities. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about the birth of The Circle, feminism in Nigeria and the secret to building a successful brand.
What informed your decision to create The Circle?
The Circle came about after organically realizing that there is a great need for women in Nigeria to have a platform where they could open up and share about their personal experience professionally but most importantly, personally. The Circle started off promoting the need for women to love themselves no matter the situation. The interaction during the circle inspires the women to live a life full of purpose that is balanced, peaceful, happy, and fulfilled. We have chapters in Lagos, Enugu and London and we intend to have circle chapters in more cities around Nigeria and globally.
What is TWI all about and how is it making a difference in women’s lives?
The Women International (TWI) is a female focused initiative that was established in November 2015. TWI is a self improvement and personal development platform designed to support, encourage, empower, and educate women from all walks of life as we work together to create a better future for ourselves, our families and our businesses in order to live a purpose driven life that is balanced and meaningful. We provide an online and offline environment for women to receive support and information, experience sisterhood, and achieve success through events, education, and networking. We ensure that the total wellbeing of women in Africa (physical, emotional, spiritual, financial and mental) are balanced, so that they can live a life that is fulfilled, meaningful and impactful for themselves and their communities. We also provide information, strategies, and scales, which will enable women attain their personal goals, inspire them to live extraordinary purpose driven lives filled with self love and empower them to reach their ultimate destiny.
What is The Circle Forum about and why should people attend this forum?
The Circle forum promotes the need for women to be change-makers, creators and leaders in their communities. The idea behind the forum is to highlight the many issues Nigerian women face in the 21st century by identifying the problems, sharing ideas and creating solutions that will lead to change. All women interested in the development and improvement of the Nigeria woman should be at this forum. It’s not just a forum to come and sit down and listen to people talk, it will be engaging and solutions and actions will be made. Let’s talk about the next steps, the way forward for women in Nigeria. What are the real issues you face as a Nigerian woman today? What policies would you like to see changed or implemented? What would you like your government to do for you to improve your life? What ideas do you have to ensure that women move forward? Words must be turned into actions. Women need to take action; these matters must be taken into our own hands. Women need to stop sitting by the sidelines waiting for some magic to happen to bring about change. We need to quit the conversation that “women do not need to be empowered” or “nothing can change for women.” We need to fight for our rights, fight for what we believe in, fight to ensure that we are receiving the benefits that we are entitled to as women and as citizens of Nigeria. Let your voices be heard. Come and join us in this change/action movement. It starts with you.
How does The Circle stand out from several other events catering to women?
One of the key markers that separates The Circle from other women development events is the real life, honest experiences each of our speakers bring. Our speakers share their personal experience and provide other women, who are in the same position, sustainable solutions to these issues. This openness transcends to our attendants as well and this is one thing that keeps our members coming back. Women need a safe place to open up, bare it all and speak about their various life experiences both personally and professionally. Nigerian women especially, need this more than ever as we are constantly judged and criticised by the things that we do and the decisions we make because we are “women.” We desperately need someone to talk to but the fear of it coming out in the open and being judged by whatever it is makes women keep things bottled up which is never really a good idea and could be fatal in some cases. At the circle we try to ensure that everyone is comfortable enough to share and open up about the issues they face as women on a daily basis and this openness helps other women realise that they are not alone in their struggles and they can overcome. The Circle is a healing process. In the Circle we are all equal. There is no one in front of you and there’s nobody behind you. No one is above you; no one is below you. The Circle is Sacred because it is designed to create unity. All circles created by TWI have always and will always be real, open, and judgment free.
Feminism is slowly gaining ground in Nigeria. Do you identify yourself as one? If yes, why and if no, why also?
Do I identify with the word Feminism? Yes. Do I identify myself as one? No. The word feminism has been used and overused with several views on what feminism is and who a feminist is. This has now caused a negative connotation to something that was meant to be positive, a way to give women an identity so to speak. Contrary to popular belief, feminists are not angry women who hate men, or at least that is not my definition. It’s good to see that feminism is gaining ground in Nigeria because it means that we are evolving. I think the most important thing is that we look at feminism from a positive standpoint. It isn’t about making women stronger because women are already strong. It is about changing the way the world perceives that strength.
How do you intend to help more women and girls navigate the several challenges they face in our present patriarchal society?
By changing the narrative, the general perception of what a woman should do and should be. Thankfully we have several empowerment platforms promoting the need for women and girls to be more and do more because they can and because it is their God-given right to be the best they can be in every aspect of their life, to thrive, and to be who they want to be. We will continue to do our best to ensure that women and girls thrive through various projects geared towards empowering women and girls.
How have you managed to remain consistent and built a successful brand?
By never giving up. I have had so many ideas in the past, businesswise, and for one reason or the other was never able to continue. If something went wrong, I’d get scared and give up. One thing I said to myself when I started TWI was that I would never give up; of course being passionate about TWI has been a plus. I’ve had several setbacks, and several challenges but I’ve kept to the promise I made to myself. TWI has been able to grow organically, I didn’t force anything. Everything that has happened and everything we do have come naturally and I thank God everyday for that. I believe in being consistent no matter what. It’s amazing how much you can do and achieve when you keep going never looking back, never giving up.
As a woman on top, how do you create a comfortable work-life balance?
It’s a bit difficult, especially when we have events to plan. We have the Circle both in Enugu, and Lagos here in Nigeria and it can be tough when we have to organize these events back to back. We do not compromise on the quality of the events we organise, it takes a whole lot of work, determination, perseverance and sleepless nights. I somehow manage to keep myself sane to avoid feeling too stressed out.
Having lived both in the USA and Nigeria, how would you say Nigerian women are faring in the global scheme of things?
Nigerian women keep surprising me everyday. I am truly inspired by a lot of women in Nigeria. So many of us are doing amazing things. We have leaders, we have change makers, visionaries, innovators, creators and many others. The possibilities here in Nigeria are countless and Nigerian women are taking full advantage of those possibilities and doing it on their own. All we need now is the full support from the government to make things easier and more effective for us.
How has your experience in nonprofit management, policies and social development helped you in tackling challenges?
My experience in working for various organizations has certainly helped with the challenges we face on a day-to-day basis. I have a good idea of what to do and how to handle situations/challenges when they do come up. I learn from my mistakes and try as much as possible to put what I have learnt into good use. Everything is a learning process.
Who and what motivates you in this journey?
Our members, who continuously give us positive feedback, cheering us on to continue inspiring women. Our volunteers who are just amazing. Our team members who keep giving their time and expertise to ensuring that TWI is a success. My parents who have been nothing short of supportive from the inception of TWI. To all the amazing and honest women I’ve met over the years that have supported me in so many ways. My fiancé who has been one of my greatest supporter and hype man, continuously cheering me on and to every other person who has encouraged me to keep going. To God Almighty who all the glory belongs to because this idea would never have existed without him. It’s been a rollercoaster but an amazing one. I am doing what I love and I can’t wait to see where this journey will lead.
What would you tell women looking up to you?
Never give up. When the challenges come, face it head on and keep going. Consistency is key. Everyday is an opportunity to start all over. Stop comparing yourself to others and just enjoy the process. Love yourself no matter the situation you find yourself in. Be the change you want. Speak out and fight for what you believe in. Your destiny is in your own hands and you have the power to be and do whatever you set your mind on.
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