For her youthfulness, one is tempted to underrate and ignore her. But when she speaks, the intellect and organisational prowess bring you back to reality that there is more to this young lady than good looks. Antonia Ally is a good example of the jet age as jut still in her 20s, she is the managing director and chief executive officer of The How Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded by Mr. Herbert Wigwe, the managing director and chief executive officer of Access Bank Plc., with special focus on malaria, prostate cancer, youth leadership and mentorship. Nursed by her Danish grandmother, Mrs. Sonja Ally, in Lagos, she appeared to have gotten more for society care than just from genes as her grandma was also into charity activities. Azuka Ogujiuba caught up with Antonia recently and discovered she is on a mission to change lives. Excerpts…
Tell us what your early life and education was like?
Let’s just say I am old enough to be running a Charity Organisation. I was raised in Lagos by my grandmother from the age of three. I am the only child and I went to Corona, Ikoyi, Lagos for my primary school and I attended an all-girls boarding school called Rainbow College. I did my A-Levels in Reading, United Kingdom and my Degree in Brunel University, West London, where I studied Business Management and Marketing and I have a Certificate in Life Coaching from Scotland.
What do you do exactly?
My foundation is called The HOW Foundation. We were established on the 20th of July, 2016. We want to contribute towards the global and national fight against malaria so we focus on malaria eradication. We have a passion for prostate cancer awareness and we specialise in different forms of youth leadership and empowerment such as seminars, scholarships and youth partnerships.
What were you doing before this?
Before this I was into marketing. Although anyone with a marketing background can tell you it never ends. I have seven years’ experience in different forms of marketing from telesales, direct sales, product development and PR. But my most recent employment before this was for myself. I ran a freelance marketing service business for about two years. I specialised in marketing research for companies so I collect data from the company, its environment, its target audience, its competitors and develop a detailed strategy report for my clients. It wasn’t bad as it paid the bills.
How did you start this Foundation?
It was really a matter of destiny. When God has set a path for you, one thing or another would always lead you to it. As I said, I was doing marketing related projects for individuals so I had met with the founder of the foundation, who was not the founder yet, as the organisation had not yet existed in an official sense. We were discussing my work and my recent projects. We then began to discuss his passion for helping organisations’ in need, which he has been doing his whole life. He had mentioned his drive to want to start his own organisation. So then and there we decided to turn it into a brand and make it official.
What is your itinerary like in running your Foundation?
Day to day activities involve lots and lots of research, lots of emails, lots of movement and a lots of administration. So, for the research, you need to research the current status of our causes. Take prostate cancer for example. It is very much underfunded, understated and a relatively unknown situation in Nigeria, yet it is the highest cause of cancer-related deaths in men. It takes a lot of research and we have to research the status of prostate cancer in the county. These statistics are constantly changing. We also research other organisations with similar passions for potential partnerships after all. Oscar Wilde said: “if you want to go fast, you go alone but if you want to go far, go together.” We are constantly looking for new innovation around our causes. Like with malaria, we have discovered repellant soaps and bracelets. Then, we also have to physically meet with other organisations for meetings to discuss ways we can effectively reach our goals as a society. Administration work involves keeping track and keeping accounts of all forms of interactions.
What are the different projects and activities you have rolled out so far?
So far, within malaria, we have a programme called Give Malaria No Place (GMNP). This is a programme we do in partnership with the Doctors Save a Life Foundation in Port-Harcourt. They are doing amazing things in Nigeria. So with GMNP, we basically target remote but large villages in Nigeria where we set a day to go and educate the people on the possibility of malaria eradication. We teach them good malaria prevention habits, personal and environmental. We perform rapid malaria tests and we provide free medicines based on the results of those tests. We also distribute free nets and most importantly, we educate the people on how to use them. From our research, it shows these events are very successful in achieving our goals which is to educate the people on the very realistic possibility of malaria eradication in Nigeria. So far, we have done two of these programmes. We have a youth leadership and mentorship programme which we hold once a year for secondary school children. We believe it is important for us to encourage children. We have mentors speak with them and give them reasons to be hopeful for tomorrow and realistic advice on how to go about daily challenges. Children watch the news; they are very aware of climate change, security and even the economic status of the country and this is very discouraging. We take time to reach out to these children and motivate and encourage them. We had our first mentorship programme last year and we are working on doing another one this year again. When we take a survey from the experience the children had, it is very encouraging and we want to be able to make them bigger and better. We are currently partnering with God’s Children Great Talent, a City Of David project, and we are using this as a platform to encourage youths and support excellence and talent.
How do you fund your projects?
The organisation is responsible for generating its own funds just like all organisations. We do not have any special system in place.
What challenges have you faced?
We all face daily challenges but I think the biggest challenge has been getting volunteers. Nigeria does not really have a volunteer culture in that sense. So getting people to help out donating their time has been a bit challenging. I usually have to call in favours whenever I am having programmes. Times are hard but being a part of a society such as Amnesty International and International Women’s Society, you are required to donate your time and energy. Those are priceless resources. Rather, people are more focused on what they can get out of it, financially. If money is the main motive we cannot move past certain situations as a society. We should think of moving together as a nation for the good of all and not just ourselves. We need more ‘able’ people to reach out to us, other societies and organisation and donate their time and knowledge. There are so many organisations like mine that need the support.
What impact have you made?
We are still very young so I am going to discuss the little impacts we have made and a few of the projects we have under construction. Already we have impacted over 2,000 families through our Give Malaria No Place Initiative. We have touched over 1,000 secondary school children with our Leadership and Mentorship programmes and our competitions which have been put in place as a form of motivation and we have found very effective. We are currently working on national scholarship programme for 10 brilliant students annually. A scheme such as this, being able to provide scholarships, does not only change the lives of the child but also the family and the community.
Let’s go a bit personal. Are you married?
No. I am not yet married.
While growing up, did you have a favourite subject?
Growing up, I was always very creative in my younger days so I loved the arts and craft but in my teenage years I grew to love Economics and Government.
Were you a mischievous, cunning child while growing up?
I was not at all cunning. I do not have a cunning bone in my body. Mischievous? I think all children are. But my grandmother knew how to handle that part very well. I was punished quite a lot though she never really spanked, which I preferred, because it was like an injection. Once you take it it’s over. She would always take away my favorite things. So to avoid that, I tried to be a good child for as long as I could.
What was your childhood ambition?
I really wanted to be in a position to make a difference in our society. I love my home and I love my country. So I always had the ambition to be able to influence some sort of positive change.
What’s one beauty/fashion trend you regret trying?
A beauty trend I regret trying is having a fringe. When I was younger, I insisted on having a fringe like my grandma. Everyone that went to primary school with me can never forget my fringe faze. I thought I was cool. Now, looking back at the pictures, I can’t believe my grandma allowed me leave the house with it. What was I thinking?
Your skin is glowing. What routine do you follow for a flawless complexion?
Thank you. Well I believe in natural products. For so long, I have avoided using products with too many chemicals I can’t pronounce. Now my skin is so sensitive to harsh chemicals. My routine is black soap, bio oil and I drink a lot of water and I leave all my problems to God.
What beauty products can’t you live without?
My apricot Scrub and Ultimate Beauty Oil