By Kehinde Ayeni
In sub-saharan Africa, women’s struggle for equality begins from birth irrespective of religion and economic status. For many years they were denied rights to lead organizations, socio-economic and political roles. Despite the odd, overcoming this challenge has led to women emancipation which may have come at some costs; were they sacrificed all to be on the frontlines of change. Whether in the corporate world or individual endeavours, there is meteoric rise of women in management and leadership in sports, technology, literature, manufacturing, law, education, science and governance. Amongst women inspiring change in the world are Hilary Clinton, Chimamanda Adichie, Ellen Johnson Serleaf, Oby Ezekwezili and, Francisca Okeke.
Contrary to the misconceptions that women are fit only for the lower rung of the professional ladder, female executives have proven to be ambitious and sure of their own abilities to become top managers says a Mckinsey & Company 2014 report. Yet, even in the US, Denver post states that at the highest levels of the American workforce, less than 20 percent of the top leadership jobs are held by women while the World Bank 2012 reports that 39.8 percent are female in world’s total workforce. Ursula Burns, CEO Xerox; Margaret Whitman, CEO Hewlett & Packard and Indra Nooyi, CEO and chairwoman of Pepsico, a multinational corporation with 22 brands, each generating more than $1 billion in sales annually are a few of the minority women leading some of the world’s biggest corporations. Gender diversity, therefore remains an important cause to advocate, as it is quite important to economic growth as the size and quality of workforce.
As more women assume management and leadership roles, there is a need for reciprocal increase in social development causes lead or advanced by women. This would consolidate the impact of women in society and essentially project their deeper empathy for the less privileged and the true understanding of challenges confronting communities and women.
The question is, are the few young Nigerian women presently leading corporations and public institutions conscious of the need to give back, set agendas and create avenues to develop the capacities and potentials of other people, especially women, to lead positive lives and equally contribute to social development. Such deliberate attempts will reduce the challenges that predispose women to dependency and lack. Improving women empowerment and literacy levels remains one of such key social development focus that can enhance woman involvement in social transformation and economic development.
An interesting perspective shared by Funmi Ajala; a LEAP Africa alumnus and Computer Scientist on self development that inspired her social change, narrates her experience spending four hours as a child every Saturday in the children’s library where she discovered her love for reading. At a tender age her parents encouraged this habit by buying her many books as they could afford. Her interests made her a subject of emulation for her siblings and peers. Soon her quest to read two books daily grew until she read all the children books in the tiny state library and ventured to her father’s African series collection.
Two decades later, Funmi moved to Ekiti State where she works with the state government, and was conscious to observe the absence of a community library in her locale. Education is one of the 8-Point agenda of Ekiti State and the idea of a community library and a youth development centre was immediately borne as a grassroot development project in her home town and local government area in Ijero-Ekiti. The project known as ‘Reading Room’ is an opportunity to work with the local government to develop the educational and entrepreneurial skills of children and teenagers with aims of making the students more exposed and competitive with their peers from anywhere in the world. The facility will develop their reading and oratory skills through different learning sessions organized by the centre.
To commence the project, Funmi started out by collecting books from the US through a friend and donated current editions of medical journals to Ekiti State. Today, her idea has taken roots; the local government has donated a building for the project. Beyond acquiring space for the ‘Reading Room’; Funmi plans to hire professionals with degrees in English language to manage the centre, develop and implement a curriculum that will help the students with reading, speaking and writing. Presently, there are over 45 cartons of CDs and books for children and teenagers, from nursery rhyme to literatures and key subjects.
The building needs repairs, furnishing and renovations work, however Funmi is undaunted at the support she has received so far. Her vision is to establish community library and youth development centre in each of the sixteen local governments in Ekiti State.Her action towards child literacy for her community is her way of developing of the next generation of leaders. Funmi Ajala is 2004 alumnae of LEAP Africa’s Youth Leadership Programme which develops change agents. LEAP Africa is a nonprofit organization committed to leadership development in Africa.
A day like International Women’s Day, a day where the world celebrates women’s purpose, courage, commitment and impact should inspire more young Nigerian women like Funmi to act, get involved and to believe they can be high influencers of their time.