Louisa Akaiso: ‘If you want to be an epic woman, you must first become enlightened’
An accelerator coach, Dr. Louisa Akaiso is internationally known as a civility trainer and leadership expert with focus on image, international protocol and leadership presence. With a multicultural background, and of African descent, she works with leaders from all around the world, who place foremost importance on themselves and their reputation.
Akaiso holds degrees and certifications in Economics, Business and Professional Communications from the Lagos State University, Nigeria, West London College, London and University of Toronto, Canada respectively. She also has a Masters Degree in Women’s Studies from Prescott College and a Women in Leadership (for Emerging Leaders, Adult and Continuing Education & Teaching) Professional Development Certificate from Harvard University, Boston, USA,
As the founder of Women Who Win Africa, a women-focused non-profit organisation, she is advancing the role of women in the transformation and development of Africa. She also directs and manages the Civility for The Girl Child Initiative, which organises programmes to create awareness and address the challenges that are faced by the girl child in Africa. As the founder of Soyounique Initiatives, focusing on creating civility and leadership development-based programmes for women and girl, she also runs a programme for female entrepreneurs, Acceleration blueprint, which focuses on helping them birth their dream, uncover their divine purpose and passion, breakthrough, and acquire knowledge on how to live their dream.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion for empowering young African woman to aspire for leadership.
You are multifaceted and multidimensional, how are you able to define your many parts?
WELL, I am a lady who is driven by a desire to make a difference in people’s lives and see them reach their full potential; I take advantage of every opportunity to do so. In my life, I’ve learned that you can’t tackle a lot of problems until you consistently build capacity.
When it comes to reaching your full potential, you need to develop your leadership capacity, learn emotional management, image building and presence, and so many other things, which is why I try to be multidimensional. And at the heart of it all is a desire to assist individuals and organisations in reaching their greatest potential and transcending the ordinary.
What does being a civility leader and trainer entail?
A civility leader is someone who, first and foremost, embodies the virtues of respect, politeness, and courtesy and actively assists others in developing these virtues in themselves through coaching and training. It all starts with you, as a civility leader and trainer.
We have many trained civility leaders who are committed to spreading this message since it is something the world really needs right now, and I am grateful to be working on this with one of my Mentors, Dr. Clyde Rivers.
How are you empowering women and girls to drive change and develop leadership platforms using civility?
Oh, this is a question I always enjoy answering. Women and girls, you see, are the ideal vehicles for spreading the message of civility. The African Woman in particular is a natural peacemaker, caregiver, and lover. I’ve always been interested in women’s empowerment, but my desire for the African girl and woman has recently grown stronger.
An empowered African woman in economic and political leadership recognises the value of treating others with honour, courtesy, and respect in order to influence them for good. This is why I started the Women Who Win Africa organisation.
With over 15 years of practice, how has your experiences shaped you and the work you do?
It has shaped me in several ways. Fifteen years of actively undertaking this work has not been easy, but it has also been enjoyable; it has helped me appreciate the blessings I have in my husband and children more. With my frequent travel and several meetings every day, all I’ve had from them has been support, which not many women in this field have, so I don’t want to take that for granted.
In addition, I’ve realised that there is still work to be done. The harvest is plenty, but laborers are few. That is why my current focus is on training leaders who will train other leaders. I am involved throughout strategic partnerships with local and international organisations in Africa and around the world. God has recently directed my attention to the empowerment of African women. You know how you’ve been involved in so many things for so long, but suddenly, God stops you and gives you a new direction with a whole new plan; that’s where I’m at right now.
You run a women-focused organisation that advances development and transformation in Africa, how are you achieving your aim?
It’s been success after success. As I have stated, our primary goal is to train and support women to make meaningful change in Africa. So far, we have the African Ambassador to the United Nations as our matron. We conducted the LiftHerUp literacy outreach in Abuja last April, when we donated school uniforms and covered the girls’ school expenses for three terms. We are just about to confirm and inaugurate our country directors across Africa.
Impact-driven engagement is our mission. We want to raise women who make a difference in their neighbourhoods, states, and country, not just make noise on social media. We have designed a model in which you will be compelled to be a change driver in your environment once you join our academy. It’s impossible to escape this in the Women Who Win Africa system. We also offer financial incentives to women who work in several African countries.
Tell us about your other initiatives promoting civility and leadership development for women and girls?
As I previously stated, we recently completed the #LifeHerUp girl child literacy campaign in Abuja and have plans to take the programme to Cameroon and other African countries. That is our foundation level programme, because effective 21st century leadership requires education. There is International Civility For The Girl Child Day, which is observed annually October 13th. This effort is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 5. We also have the LeadHerShip Academy, a curriculum-based training and mentorship institution that offers courses for women who wish to improve their political, leadership, and business skills.
Another initiative is the Her Shoe Initiative. It is for women who have overcome adversity to rise above the poverty line. We bring them together to share their stories in order to inspire others by becoming active mentors who will teach the girls what worked for them and what didn’t, as well as how they overcame cultural hurdles and expectations to succeed. As a result, the girls learn legitimate means of livelihood at a young age.
What has kept you going? What motivates and inspires you?
God sustains me. If I did something because of my strength or ambition, it would crumble quickly. There are some ideas and inspirations that I know can only come from God. He has given us the passion, and indeed the command, to make disciples in all nations; disciples of transformation, disciples who grow to become nation-builders.
Several African women who have accomplished great things also motivate me. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Miriam Makeba, Winnie Mandela, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, and many more. I believe in the African woman and just want the honour of assisting her in finding her voice and realising her full potential.
With your goal to transform and raise African women leaders, what challenges have you been confronted with and how were you able to surmount them?
To be candid, I won’t even call them challenges; I’ve had more blessings and miracles than obstacles. Things are moving at a breakneck pace that I hope we can keep up with. We have received a great deal of support and interest from African countries.
Over 100 ladies applied to serve for free during our previous outreach. People from other African countries have actually begged me to cooperate with them. I’m sometimes terrified to open Whatsapp. So, my goal is to construct a winning team that will bring this vision to life, as well as to effectively harness the numerous opportunities that are opening up for us. My challenge is to figure out how to design an efficient framework. And thankfully, we have started work on that.
How can women better position themselves for leadership opportunities?
First, you need to have a heart to serve. Service is the bedrock upon which leadership is built. You should not seek leadership only to be dubbed a boss. You also don’t need a position to serve, so start by making an effect even if you don’t have one.
Secondly, you must build capacity. A part of WWWA’s epic values is capacity. You simply must be capable of producing excellent results for your town, state, country, or company. Allow your exceptional works to be unmistakable. Then we must demand and accept a seat at the leadership table. You’ll be on the menu if you’re not at the table.
Finally, let us be true helpmates for the males. I think that many women are still perplexed by the complexities of that responsibility. Helpmate does not imply inferiority or insignificance; rather, it implies that males on their own are incapable of providing transformational leadership. We are the salt that adds flavour to their lives. It’s not a competition, but rather collaboration, and we can persuade males that they need us at the table.
In Africa, it may take some time, but it is occurring. Rwanda is a case in point. It is the first country in the world to have a female majority in parliament, with 61.3 per cent in the Lower House and 38.5 per cent in the Upper House today.
In this political era, what role are you playing to increase and empower women?
For the time being, we are primarily concerned with advocacy and enlightenment in Nigeria and throughout Africa. We intend to launch an online campaign for the Nigerian elections soon. We are not stopping there, but are also establishing additional structures to support female political actors.
How can we get more women to become successful and rise to the top as you have done? What tips do you have for younger women?
There are numerous suggestions I could make, but let me just link them to WWWA’s epic values. If you want to be an epic woman, you must first become enlightened; ignorance is a disease that must be eradicated at all costs. Learn about what’s going on inside and outside of you; in politics, the economy, your organisation, and so on.
Secondly, you should get involved. Don’t just sit in the audience; take a seat at the leadership table. Seeking service-based leadership is admirable. Then create impact. Every day, get out of bed with the goal to make a difference in someone’s life. Finally, keep increasing capacity. Learn new skills and strive to be the best at what you do.
How are you able to combine your many portfolios as a speaker, author, trainer, life coach, and family woman and still be at your best?
As I previously stated, God has provided me with a supportive family. It hasn’t been easy. I respect my husband, because he provides me with support that I could only dream of. If I had my way, I’d probably be relaxing at home and saving myself all these headaches, but I dare not with him.
My children also provide me with a lot of strength. Fortunately for me, they’ve grown up and it’s no longer as demanding as it once was. But at the end of the day, all I want to do is go home and relax with them over a nice cuisine.