‘If people are inspired, they will make better choices in life’
She created and hosts Impact Africa, a radio program that inspires listeners to participate actively in African development through entrepreneurship and job creation particularly for Africa’s growing youth population. She also invests considerable time and energy into creating a better world for children from low-income families through the education, healthcare and social welfare initiatives of United for Kids Foundation, an organization she co-founded in 2002 and which she continues to serve as its Executive Director/Coordinating Trustee (pro-bono).
Prior to embracing her calling to be an inspirational speaker and teacher, Tope was an accountant. She is a U.S. Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a Nigerian Chartered Accountant (1999 ICAN prize-winner).
In addition to working on Secretary Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign as an organiser in Michigan, Tope had the honour of giving the field pitch at Mrs. Clinton’s final presidential campaign rally in Grand Rapids Michigan on November 7, 2016. She was also the keynote speaker at the prestigious Grand Rapids City High- School 2017 graduation ceremony on June 6, 2017.
Tope is bringing her inspirational work to Nigeria today at the She-EO motivational talk for women in Lagos. She sheds some light on today’s event that will take place at the ClearEssence Spa with GuardianWoman.
What’s the meaning of She-EO? What does the acronym stand for? How did it all started?
She-EO means “She Executive Officer.” It is my way of telling women that we are the CEOs of our own lives. The idea of She-EO came to me when I was attending the Women Transforming Leadership Program at the University of Oxford in 2014. I was internalising the leadership concepts we had been learning and placing them side by side with my life’s experiences up to that point, and the light bulbs were just going off. I wrote down my thoughts and came up with the name of the idea all within an hour. But I didn’t execute until 2017 because I was scared I would fail.
Tell us about today ‘s event. Who should attend? Who’re your target-audience? What do they stand to gain from attending today’s event?
The audience is what I think makes me happiest about this particular edition because they are as diverse as you can imagine – ethnicity, faith and career choices and levels. She-EO is for every woman who works. A couple of organizations like First Bank, Diamond Bank, Accenture, Deloitte and WFM 91.7 are sending delegates to the event so their women can learn as a team and come back to inspire others.
Kindly mention some of the hot-seat guests.
Bashirat Odunewu, the only female Group Executive in First Bank will be there, Toun Okewale Sonaiya, the CEO/Co-Founder of Nigeria’s first radio station for women, Sasha P, Nigeria’s first female rapper, Dr. Ukwuori-Gisela-Kalu, a clinical psychologist will be there to speak about the hot but often ignored topic of mental well being, and Ayisha Osori who ran for one of Abuja’s two National Assembly seats will also be there. It is going to be a very inspiring day for sure.
You are a chartered accountant, why and how did you transit from being an accountant to becoming an inspirational speaker?
I chose Accounting because I was good at it, but speaking chose me because of my life’s experiences. I also realised that money problems aren’t really that, they are just manifestations of lack of inspiration to make better choices and sacrifices. So if people are inspired, they will make better choices in their financial lives as well.
You’ve been living in the US for quite some time now, would you say the Nigerian woman is having the same issues to contend with as her American counterpart? What’s the difference in their social status?
The Nigerian woman carries a heavier cultural baggage no doubt, but honestly women face difficult issues everywhere. Imagine we are still fighting for equal pay for equal work in the U.S.? Look at all the sexual assault stories and scandals that have been unfolding in Hollywood and beyond. When we were out in Michigan campaigning for Hillary, there were a lot of men who told me they couldn’t vote for her because she is a woman.
How would you describe your experience working with Mrs Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign?
It was amazing! I truly enjoyed it and learnt a lot. I met a lot of amazing people and got fantastic ideas about what works and obviously what doesn’t work. It also allowed me to see some other sides of the U.S. that didn’t make me too pleased. The highlight for me was when I got to speak on the same stage as Hillary a day before the election. I felt like I was representing so many people up there, so many Nigerian-Americans and of course women.
Would you say that a woman stands the chance of becoming US president, going by Clinton’s loss and now that it is being rumoured that Oprah Winfrey wants to contest in the next election?
I honesty cant think of any woman who stands a chance right now. I hope Oprah doesn’t run. I volunteered for Barrack Obama’s campaign the second time he contested and I remember the venom some people felt against him simply because of the colour of his skin. When I combine those memories with what I heard many Americans say about Hillary Clinton, a white woman, I honestly think if she tries to contest, the backlash from racists will be very brutal.
How about back home? Does a woman stand the chance in present day Nigeria?
While I want to see Nigerian women run for office in 2019, I don’t think Nigeria is close to having a female president, and that’s a shame because gender shouldn’t be a barrier. But this is Nigeria where you can hire a mechanic to repair your business equipment and he can decide not to discuss the problem with you even though you are the one paying him. His reason? You can’t understand the problem with your own business equipment, the one you researched and bought because he thinks you are some “kept” woman who is just doing the business to eliminate boredom. I mean its ridiculous, but it’s a true story.
Tell us a bit about family life. Did your upbringing influence what you’re doing right now?
My original family is a small and tight one. My dad who is now late was the biggest hustler I knew – he did everything, politics, engineering, farming, community service, everything. He taught us a lot. My mom is actually the reason I am finally doing She-EO, its her experiences that formed the themes I have chosen for the events – money, investments, love and relationships, careers and community service. Her struggles and triumphs in these areas keep She-EO real for me. I have an older and very protective sister, and four younger siblings. I am married to a very quiet, reserved and extremely supportive man, Niyi.
Everything about you shows that you’re living your faith. In what way has your religious background influenced your lifestyle and philosophy of life?
I see faith as a candle-light, it is supposed to provide light in darkness, but it can do a lot more good or harm, it all depends on how you handle it. If you put it in a beautiful vase or shade, it adds to the beauty of the entire room, but it can also cause a major fire if handled carelessly. So I am protective of how I carry my faith and what it does in every room I enter. It mustn’t burn or harm people. The work I do with She-EO, my books and even United for Kids Foundation are all influenced by my faith. I feel that it is my duty to light up hearts with it.
How can Nigerian women help in growing the economy?
By doing something, anything, as long as it is aligned with what God sent you here to do. I don’t believe God sent any woman or man to the world to be a seat-filler, so we must find our own unique purpose, and serve the people we were created to serve. When everyone does their bit, the economy will grow. We all don’t have to start big businesses or even work outside our homes, we just have to do what we were sent to Nigeria to do, and if that is sweeping the streets, just go ahead and do it without shame or fear.
What should guests expect at today’s event?
They can expect to be inspired; they should come ready to learn and to grow by climbing on the backs of others. The reason why She-EO is so early in the year is because I want women to make this our best year yet. If just one woman leaves She-EO committed to rise higher each time she falls in 2018, then I have done my job.
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