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Women should embrace unity of purpose – Attai, AWLO founder

Dr. Elisha Attai is President/Founder, African Women in Leadership Organisation (AWLO). He spoke to Daily Sun recently in Lagos.

How did you develop the interest in advocating for women?
As a media and Public Relations consultant, I have been fortunate to work with a lot of African women leaders across the globe. I discovered that if women can realize and come together to enhance, support, and exchange ideas among themselves, they will do much better as leaders. I saw the untapped potentials among them and the need to create a structure for mentorship. I felt the more experienced ones should pass across their experience to the younger generation and also exchange ideas among themselves.
The organization is unique in that it filled an existing void. There was no other cross-continent platform that brought women leaders from across all sectors together. An incident in Ghana 10 years ago when my media company Studio 115 integrated services was consulting for the Ghanaian High Commission motivated me to starting AWLO.
We began to look for solutions and I saw the need to bring together female parliamentarians from both countries on one platform to collectively work for ways to restore peace between the aggrieved parties. That conference held in 2009 in Accra and at the end, the crisis was terminated.
I began to see the potential for more platforms for women to come together to move Africa forward.
Also at numerous times, I have also witnessed first-hand, the amazing results of having women work together with unity of purpose to achieve social change. I have witnessed the power of their synergy.

How has your organisation impacted on women and society?
When we started out in 2009, we tried to tackle the leadership problem headlong by engaging top tier leaders of the African community via conferences and meetings, garnering their support and pledge to provide excellent leadership to their constituents. We recorded considerable impact and the society was the better because of it.
However, to get more results, we decided to be more strategic and surgical with our methods. We decided that, to achieve our objectives and realise our vision faster, we needed to engage the leadership and the followership at the same time. We engaged the leaders with trainings and conferences with the goal of producing better leaders and increasing the capacity of existing leaders.
That is how our Youth Council, the iLEAD initiative and the AWLO Leadership School were born, which is to produce and ensure the quality of the next generation of female leaders. The Youth Council is a leadership incubator that engages female youths age 18 – 25 years. They are taught ideal & excellent leadership and exposed to scholarships and opportunities from our partners. It is currently established in five states in Nigeria and the United States. In one year, we have had Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and IBM organize Digital Skills, branding and leadership training for the Youth Council to over 800 of these youths.
The iLEAD initiative engages female youths under the age of 18 who are in secondary schools and hold leadership positions in their school. It was inaugurated in 2006 in Akwa Ibom State and had students from many schools in the state in attendance and was endorsed by key stakeholders in leadership such as Heads of Government, Common Wealth youth delegates, UN Ambassadors, Heads of Schools, Representatives of Government Parastatals, and Heads of Leadership Institutions.
The Leadership School is a structured institution of learning designed to teach and certify professional leaders. It is currently in talks with the University of Lagos to provide short term executive trainings. This year, some of the Alumni in partnership with Toastmasters International took leadership trainings to secondary schools.
In engaging followers, we decided to provide palliatives to cushion the existing effect of poor leadership which the region has suffered for a long time. We have 1Mother1Child project, a giveback project of AWLO where members are expected to educate a child up until the level where the child can do the same to others. We have incorporated 100 children into the program; many of them in the primary school and secondary and 5 in the University of Maiduguri.
Teachers have been employed, teaching over 70 children at the IDP camp in Abuja on a weekly basis. 25 of the IDP children were registered for WAEC and JAMB last year alone. We have also been able to send some of them abroad for studies.
Our chapter in Port Harcourt and Lagos for example has been engaging female traders in rural areas; rebranding their stalls and also providing access to capital to start or enhance their businesses. We have done the little we can with the resources we could muster. But I believe with more support we can do more and better.

What are the challenges that you have faced as a man in the vanguard of female gender advocacy drive?
We have had a lot of challenges, from the number of people who don’t even believe that Gender Equality is an issue, to the dragging-of-feet by those who have tried to even join, to some who say “Why is a man leading a woman organisation?”. We have had challenges, but none of it is near the challenge of resources and finance. It has continued to plague us.

What are the expectations from this project and how do you intend to sustain it?
Our latest project, AWLO HeForShe movement has about 100,000 commitments in the first six months. We also have a strategy on ground to get businesses, companies and institutions to signup, not just only individuals. They will help drive the actual implementation of the project’s objectives. They will provide periodic reports and assessment of how much progress is made in their companies with regards to Gender Equality. This will show progress in Gender Equality in their staff strength, top 6%, their board and new hires. We also expect to roll out meet-ups and trainings to provide awareness for the campaign.
The project is supported by a heavy database technology framework and resources to give it what it needs to sustain itself and scale.

What is the significance of your birthday in relation to this project.
I wouldn’t call it a celebration, I would rather like to think of it as a reminder. That is what it has always been for me. My birthday has always been a reminder of why I am here in this world, what my place is, and my contribution to the grand scheme of things. It is always a time of reflection and retrospection for me. It is a time to assess and strategize.
We have tried over the years to rouse women to stand up for themselves, work together and close the gender gap and we have also asked men to give women more opportunities. But lately, on a closer assessment we have found out that Gender Equality is not just a women issue but a human issue. It is what the project is saying; the name itself is binary.
And all of this came to me last year during my birthday when I was assessing my efforts so far and thinking: “How we can attain more speed? How do we get more men involved?”
So, I’m glad that on my birthday this year, we are able to record a milestone that came as a result of my reflections last year. I look forward to what next year holds for us.

Why should women partner with men in the quest for equity and equality drive?
It is simple: “Men have realised that it is not a women’s issue and are beginning to join forces in the drive for Gender Equality. It is a time for women to double their efforts and give them the required support.” We just might achieve Gender Equality before 2095 as projected. It is possible. We can do it.

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