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‘The passion to make a difference in my community is my motivation’

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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 business by creating events geared towards realising their full potential both personally and professionally in order to live a purpose driven life. 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 her desire to continuously improve the lives of Nigerian women, her upcoming event, and her move back to Nigeria amongst other issues.

As the founder of TWI, what does your work entail and how is it making a difference in the lives of Nigerian women?
My work entails everything that has to do with the nuts and bolts of running a social enterprise. I pretty much oversee all the affairs of TWI with a team of five amazing women who bring their expertise to the table as well. I would say that my main role is to continuously come up with fresh and new ideas for the organization to ensure that our objectives and goals are actualised. I believe that a lot of women in Nigeria and outside Nigeria have been positively affected by TWI both offline and online through our monthly Circles.

You have an event coming up soon, tell us what to expect and how are women going to benefit from it?
The ​ ​Circle​ ​(special​ ​edition)​ ​is​ ​slated​ ​to​ ​hold​ ​on​ ​​Saturday,​ September​ 16, ​2017​​ ​in​ ​Lagos.​ ​There​ ​will​ ​be​ ​four​ ​workshops​ ​that​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​the​ ​​Physical,​ ​Emotional,​ ​Financial ​and Mental​ ​wellbeing​ ​of​ ​women​​ ​which​ ​will​ ​take​ ​place​ ​in​ ​the​ ​morning​ ​and​ ​thereafter​ ​we​ ​will commence​ ​with​ ​​The​ ​Circle​ ​forum​​ ​which​ ​will​ ​take​ ​place​ ​later​ ​that​ ​afternoon.​ ​We​ ​will​ ​then​ ​have a​ ​​mixer/networking​ ​to round off.​ ​​ ​The​ ​​ ​​Circle​ ​​​Marketplace​​ ​will​ ​be​ ​​ ​ongoing​ ​throughout​ ​the​ ​day, ​giving​ ​female​-​owned businesses​ ​a​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​showcase​ ​their​ ​products​ ​and/or​ ​services. Our ​ ​theme​ ​for​ ​the​ ​upcoming event ​is​ ​​“The​ ​21st​ ​century​ ​“Self​ ​Love ​Woman”​ ​​as​ ​we​ ​believe​ ​that​ ​a​ ​lack​ ​of self​ ​love​ ​affects​ ​every​ ​aspect​ ​of​ ​a​ ​woman’s​ ​life.​ ​Whatever​ ​the​ ​catalyst, ​relationship,​ ​career, health,​ ​money,​ ​a​ ​weak​ ​self​-​love​ ​is​ ​at​ ​the​ ​root. We have an amazing line up of speakers and activities, refreshments, music, giveaways and gifts. Keturah King would host the event and speakers include Peace Hyde, Adesuwa Onyenokwe, Ndidi Nwuneli, Colette Otutesho, Latasha Ngwube amongst others.

What made you decide to start TWI?
My passion to make a difference in my community, however small, prompted my starting TWI. Of course I realised very fast that it was my calling as well. Moving back to Nigeria after university, I knew I wanted to work with women related organizations and then eventually start something in that area as well. I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to do. My course in women studies back in university also prompted my need to work with women. I really believe that we women carry a lot on our shoulders and are stronger than we think. Starting TWI was a way to encourage, inspire and motivate myself and other women to be the best they can be in every aspect of their lives.

Some critics might maintain that there are already too many organisations, activities and events catering to women, what is your take on this?
(Laughing) Let me put it this way. There is McDonalds, there is KFC, there is Popeyes, Burger King, Chick-fil-a, Taco Bell, Subway, Arbys and so on. There is also Mac, Sleek, Maybelline, L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, House of Tara, Zaron, Taos, Elsas, Bare Minerals, Anastasibeverlyhills and so on. There is space for all of us in whatever industry to thrive. The question you have to ask yourself whenever you want to start something is, “What is my unique selling point? What void am I filling?” Honestly, for every single idea, there are other ideas similar to it. There is no crime in having a lot of the same thing. If it works, why not? I believe there can never be too many organizations out there trying to impact the lives of women, we need more, women need the empowerment.

You’ve had several years of experience in management and research focused on women affairs. Would you say this has prepared you adequately to take on the challenge of trying to solve the issues of the Nigerian woman?
Definitely. I most likely wouldn’t have been as passionate or driven if it weren’t for the fact that I took courses on women studies and worked in several organizations pertaining to women. I have experience in research focused on women affairs, policies and social development from working with various women focused organizations, so I would definitely say that I was equipped and prepared to start TWI. I have also learnt a lot from working on my own, as it is never the same working for yourself and for someone else.

You moved back from the USA to Nigeria. How has the transition been for you so far?
The transition has been tough and amazing at the same time. Lots of lessons learnt, lots and lots of setbacks, lots of accomplishments as well. I’ve made some really amazing friends and met some really amazing people along the way. Nigeria surprises me everyday; I have mixed emotions as regards to this country. I am very hopeful that things will begin to improve and change for the better. I am very inspired by what a lot of young women and men are doing here considering the difficulties and challenges we face, especially entrepreneurs. It is not easy but with hard work and perseverance it will be worth it. However, I think it is time that we young ones have some seats on the high table. We are the new generation and it is paramount that we are given the opportunity to take Nigeria to greater heights. Nigeria needs to move, we can’t be seen lagging behind and I strongly believe that the younger ones need to be involved (and not in a small scale) in government and politics in Nigeria.

Tell us more about the thesis “Violence against women in Nigeria” which you wrote. What led you to writing it and have there been any changes since you wrote it?
Writing the thesis I felt a strong need to contribute to a world in which women have the rights, capacity and opportunity to experience safety from violence and to enjoy their full and equal human rights. I did a lot of research on violence against women in Nigeria and was able to come up with policies to end existing patterns of violence that disrupt women’s lives – in the family, outside the home and in crisis – by ensuring that rights-based laws and policies guarantee an environment safe from violence. In addition I was able to research and come up with a broad range of comprehensive services that empower women to recover from the trauma of violence and to rebuild their lives. I believe that there have been some changes. Now more so than ever, thanks to social media, there are a lot of organizations, initiatives and campaigns geared towards violence against women. Our voices must be heard.

You wear several hats all at the same time. How do you manage to keep up with all you do?
It’s called balance. To be honest, I am still working on that balance. It is not easy, but with God and a bit more organizational skills, I can do whatever I set my mind to do through Christ who strengthens me.

Who and what motivates you to keep going, keep pushing?
The women who are members of our community inspire and motivate me everyday. I’ve met some amazing, selfless women along the way. All team members of TWI, Anu, Mibi, Sarah, Tade, and Initeme. All our amazing volunteers who take out time to assist us. My friends and family who have supported me in many ways along the way especially my mum with her love, connections and prayers and my friend, Yanate, who has been absolutely selfless. Grateful to all the silent supporters as well. I am indeed thankful and forever grateful most of all to my father in heaven who has been so good and so generous.

What would you tell other women looking up to you?
Consistency is key. Self-love is paramount. Self-improvement is constant and never ending. You can do and be whoever you want to be with hard work, dedication and lots of prayers. Ask and you shall receive (not always) but what’s the worse that could happen? Never give up. Keep your heart open to all the goodness that the universe brings. Support other women. When you are wrong and you do wrong, apologise and move past it. When you fall, get up no matter how many times. You are not in competition with anyone. Strive to be the best you in every aspect of your life. Never rush into anything. Never settle, know your worth. Marry a man who loves you with all his heart and treats you like a queen, but above all, be happy and stay positive no matter what.


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