“When you put together deep knowledge about a subject that intensely matters to you, charisma happens. You gain courage to share your passion, and when you do that folks follow” – Jerry Porras – Success Built to Last: Creating a Life that Matters
Every now and then, you get to meet people whose life and journey inspires you, their charisma keeps you captivated and puzzled about what makes them who they are. We have been following the WIMBIZ organisation for a while now, and truly one can see that the phrase women being their own worst enemies is about to go extinct. The last WIMBIZ conference had over 800 business women and career ladies in attendance, with support from some of the largest organisations in Nigeria. It was a successful event that rounded off with the women loosening up at the disco event that closed the two day conference.
For those in the audience, one cannot help but appreciate the work and effort that goes into putting these events together; look no further, the WIMBIZ chairperson, Mrs Osayi Alile Oruene and her team have done a fantastic job over the years since she stepped into the position of the Chairperson of the organization.
We met up with Mrs Osayi Alile Oruene at her office in Lagos to chat about the WIMBIZ organisation; she not only wowed us with her insight and knowledge about the business world and her dedication to women empowerment, community development and the concept and the pursuit of success; she also charmed us with her cheerful demeanour and humility.
Here are excerpts from our conversation with her.
Outside of the press write-ups and news about your work with WIMBIZ organisation, can you tell us a little bit about Mrs Osayi Alile Oruene, the individual, the businessperson and the Woman in business and success advocate?
I was born and bred in Lagos, I have lived all my life here, went out for a short while to do my Masters in the United States of America and came back immediately after I finished; my whole journey has been with community work and I am a community development specialist, I have worked in this field for almost 18years now. I am passionate about development and I also love teaching, I am the third chid of eight children, my family is very close, I also believe in the value of family and supporting each other; that’s where I get my drive for supporting others in terms of growth and development.
The drive for community work isn’t something one picks up randomly; can you share with us the inspiration behind this drive?
It’s so interesting, I actually never thought about it until someone asked me this same question a few weeks ago. My parents influenced me a lot, we are 8 children, quiet a large family, but we always had 10-15 people living with us every now and then; my parents always emphasised in words and actions about the importance of doing good and sharing. If you have one, make sure you share with someone else and just about the culture and value of sharing with others, I am sure that’s where I got it.
When I went to the United States of America, I planned to do an MBA, somewhere along the line I got involved in volunteering work with the Volunteers of America; the volunteering experience was a light bulb moment experience for me – I thought to myself, this is me, this is what I should be doing and I followed that path, I refused to do any other thing, In fact, I could have changed where I was, but I changed my mind and decided to stay the course all these years.
You have worked in the capacity of growth and economic support over the years with the various foundations you have headed, what are those things that have changed about your then and now perception of success and what the younger generation need to know about succeeding?
Success is such an interesting word; when I started out, I kept saying when I get to this level or that levels, then I know I am successful, but now I realize above all else that success is a journey and a very individual journey for that matter. 10years ago, if you had asked me about success, I would have said maybe when I become an Executive Director or Managing Director at this firm or that corporation, I would have achieved success status, but right now it means more than positions; it is more of an individual race, on an individual lane and you cannot measure your success based on anyone else’s success.
It is what I also teach; right now, I teach a lot. I will never shy away from letting the younger generation know that finding and knowing your purpose in life and following your own path, regardless of what anyone is doing makes you an even refined, content and better person. You can’t and shouldn’t tell yourself – this is what this person is doing at this age, this is what I should be doing too, because it never really works out that way. The people we started with at the beginning of our lives, some got married earlier and had kids, while some got on with their careers with marriage and kids coming afterwards, when we look at both, we all have different lives with different outcomes – this fact brings one down to why you need to find your path and purpose, even if you don’t know what your path or purpose is; you still need to make your journey personal and your success measured based on personal guidelines, then and only then can you measure your success with who you feel you are as a person.
What drives you?
Change! I loathe things that are the same, I like to go into a place and think that I have made a difference. Change drives me, I want to see things done differently and properly; I want to see people connected to each other and doing meaningful things because they met me or our paths crossed. I feel we are all brought into this world to create an effect on people, circumstances, situations and that whatever you do, there is a positive ripple effect and to continually find ways to get that done.
WIMBIZ remains the largest annual gathering of women in Nigeria with no comparison to any other network of women, are there plans to expand the reach of this phenomenal movement outside the shores of Nigeria?
WiMBIZ has been a very long journey and a great one too, especially because it is not what anyone is doing for money, fame or just for the sake of it. When the founder of WIMBIZ started the movement, it wasn’t to change the reputation of women or anything of that nature, it was founded out of necessity, the positive kind of gathering that helps women as well as a program to help them be even better people; chairing the organisation for me is a great opportunity that I refuse to take for granted in anyway.
With regards to taking the conference outside the shores of Nigeria, yes! We actually wanted to do a program outside Nigeria this year, but the health crisis confronting the African continent had us backpedalling on the plans for now, but we still have plans for it in the near future. This year’s conference had quite a number of non-Nigerians who flew in to attend the conference and we are very excited about that as well. Change and women is not peculiar to one country, as you find out that we are all dealing with the same issues, but with different geographic locations; we are women from various countries with same issues confronting us, when we do get into the conversations – from lack of opportunities to unfair representations on major boards and business hierarchies. I hope that we get the opportunity in 2015 to step out as planned with the conference.
As the chairperson of WIMBIZ and also an advocate for women in business, do you think women ask/demand for too many opportunities and constantly compare the playing field to that of the men; rather than proving what they are capable of?
Yes! I think sometimes we think it is an entitlement thing, we compare – “oh! The men have it and so should we”. We have to take the opportunities without looking at it from the entitlement angle, nobody is entitled to anything; you have to work hard for whatever you want, you have to push yourself hard, ask questions, if you get opportunities as a woman where people decide to go for a woman over a man, that means we are still on the same level. I always encourage women to horn their skills, so that when these opportunities come you are equipped to take them. Most especially we have to let go and move past the entitlement mentally, you get what you work towards and not what you think others should think you deserve because often times they don’t.
There was a conversation at the recently concluded WIMBIZ conference, the question was –“Do good girls get the corner office?” what are your thoughts on this topic?
First of all, it is a fantastic topic we talk about all the time, I am glad we brought it to the forefront to dissect it as women. What is the definition of being nice? If you look at it closely, you don’t get the corner office for being nice, you get the corner office for being dogged and pushy to get what you want, the word nice also has to be defined as such. I think women feel that they need to be aggressive to get some things, personally I don’t think so; I think you have to be yourself; you also can’t sit down and expect that things be handed to you.
We have to take opportunities – “can you do a thing?” Say yes! I can do it, even if you can’t, you learn along the way. Do good girls get the corner office, if you ask that question without putting the work in, then no, they don’t, but it will always remain an interesting topic of discussion?
They say doing business in Nigeria is not for the faint hearted, with your interaction with these amazing business women, if you had to share based on their experiences and selling Nigeria to an investor in a few words what would they be?
No matter what the challenges and difficulties you are facing, look at the people who have succeeded and forget the thoughts of failure and look at the women who have failed, failing and trying again and then say to yourself – why can’t I be one of these achieving sisters? Also, the opportunities are overwhelming and where else can you do business that is easy? I worked with starting businesses for 10years at FATE FOUNDATION and I understand the issues that come with it, and I know how many thousands we got started and how many of them failed; so it is still difficult, but we still have a very good opportunity in Nigeria, we are just starting. You should think of the numbers first of all, the human beings that your business can service, quiet a lot of people and investors are coming in now and there are so many beneficial advantages.
Like I always emphasize, just do it, don’t start calculating unnecessarily, just start something and keep your “just do it spirit fired up.
You are a woman in the business and development world with years of outstanding work and recognition (World Economic Forum, Fellow of the African Leadership Network, Director FATE Foundation for 8years), how do you feel when you sit back and ponder on the achievements so far, what words comes to mind, plus what is it like being on the board of both House of Tara and Zapphire Events?
“I am Thankful” – for me, the journey is not what I planned, so I think I didn’t come up the way I thought I was going to, but I knew I wanted to succeed and there was just something inside of me that I knew that I had to do this and do it well too. There were also things that happened along the way that made me realize God’s hand was in this and I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given and I am grateful for the successes I have seen.
On working with Tara Fela – Durotoye and Funke Bucknor Obruthe – I am overwhelmed, learning from them as well; yes, you help them with strategy and governance, but you also learn a lot because they are dogged and strong women. I have sat on both boards from the start of these businesses and I have seen the businesses grow to this level and I know they have not even started yet, especially looking at their projections for the next five years, I am so privileged to sit on both boards, as well as a fantastic relationship both Tara and Funke. Whenever I leave them, I go “gosh” I need to go do something else with my own life, they are very inspiring, in fact both of them are very inspiring Nigerian women, I am proud to know.
If you had to address a room full of aspiring young businesspeople, what is the one thing that you need them to know from your experience?
I will start with what I tell my own child. Life is a journey; we want to get to the top of the 20th floor by flying up there, even the elevator goes from floor to floor on its way up. There is a rush; everyone wants to do things fast without respect for the journey and the work. I look back on my life and realize, okay; I am not there yet and I also look back, and think to myself to appreciate the failures and the many challenges I have encountered.
I think young people need to respect the journey and to never expect that everything must be done overnight, there is no such thing as overnight success, people talk about Alhaji Aliko Dangote and the fact that he is a billionaire without realizing how many years it has taken him to get there and if he tells you his story and how he worked for his cousin and other stories that make his journey; there is a story and we should never disrespect the story. The story is so important.
The second thing is focus, we tend to just go in the direction of the crowd/gathering, you need to look internally and find what you are and who you are as a person and what you have been put on this earth to do. Find your own story, your own journey and what is important to you and be focused; don’t go with the voices.
When I started doing community work many years ago, we were very few in the field, it was a strange occupation out here, people hear Not-for-profit and the first thing they ask is –“so you are not getting paid? And they go, what is that?” It is interesting, but I knew this was where I needed to be and that is what has kept me going, I just want to be better at what I do. Young people need to respect the journey, be focused on who you are as a person and it helps you to translate it into who you want to become.
None at all! Everything happens for a reason; the good, the bad and the ugly. You will always have challenges and that keeps you prepared. Challenges must come at some point and you have to ask yourself, are you physically and emotionally ready for the challenges that travel ahead of success?
Lastly, 30 years from now, what would you want the world to remember when the name Osayi Alile Oruene is mentioned around the world?
I actually started asking myself that question this year, and realized that one needs to plan for life after life; everybody has to go at some point.
The two things I want to achieve in the next year, is to one, be a better person and be a better mother. I want my children to be able to say I was the best mother they ever had, that is the most important thing for me; “my mother was a great person, a wonderful person” just about them and I and everything else in terms of my career, I want them to look back and be able to say over the years, my mum helped this person and that person, and she touched and changed things for the best anywhere she found herself and also be able to point to a few people whose lives I touched and impacted positively.
Wealth, success and fame et.al are all great, but not as important as what my children think of me and the lives I touched along the way. I had someone talk about my mum a couple of weeks ago and I was so proud, that’s what I want and how I want to be remembered.
If you missed the previous parts of the 15 Questions with the CEO series, please click here