When Ego Boyo-led Women Society Empowered Women 

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Recently, the International Women Society executive members led by its 60th President, Ego Boyo, graduated 85 women in different vocational skills training at its Lekki centre. It was at its 18th graduation ceremony where Funke Olaode, captured the life-changing experience and confirmed that, indeed, the IWS through its empowerment programme is not just building careers but also providing steam that is driving the nation’s economy

The popular cliché has always been “women’s place is the kitchen” while they are often expected to operate behind the scene as weaker species.  This notion is changing gradually as women are now taking their rightful places, calling the shots in both private and public sectors, as many have realised that if you educate a woman, you empower a nation.

Empowerment has become the buzzword for the 21st century, often bandied around and used even in cases where there is no actual empowerment.  At the dawn of the millennium, the International Women Society, which has thrown its weight behind women for over five decades, empowering and mentoring them, got a boost in 1999 under the leadership of Mrs. Marie Fatayi-Williams, who with her team, floated skills acquisition centers to rehabilitate children under the bridge and positioning them for gainful employment. Today, the centre plays its part in combating the menace of unemployment, thereby extending a lifeline to those considered the dregs of the society bereft of formal education and therefore unemployable.

Since inception in 1999, the centre has graduated and equipped over 1,500 trainees and impacted over 27,000 people. Evidence of its impact in Lagos is the swelling number of students each year, with over 120 per annum. Its strength of partnership with traditional rulers, Barclays Bank, Exxon Mobil and Eko Atlantic, that have supported the centre by sponsoring a number of students annually has not waned which signposts enthusiasm and impact.

Beyond the skills centre, the society’s tentacle is also being felt across the state and beyond.  Founded in 1957, the society primarily has six charities and the Skills Acquisition centre is one of them. LUTH Library trolley, Day Nursery School established in Yaba in 1961, a home for abandoned babies and children at Ijebu-Ode, Trust Fund for Widows who want to start a business to support their families and a scholarship for girl-child in both primary and secondary schools among others.

Operating under five departments such as adult literacy, computer literacy, hair-dressing and salon services, sewing and fashion design and catering and event management, July 18, 2017 would remain evergreen in the lives of  85 students who benefited from the society’s gesture at a well-attended graduation ceremony at the headquarter of the Society.

Basking in the euphoria of her successful ‘first outing’ since her election as its 60th president, elated Ego Boyo couldn’t hide her joy. Asked how she felt, she replied, “I feel wonderful, elated and grateful and thankful that we were able to achieve again because IWS has demonstrated that we continue to do exactly what we set out to do, to empower a whole generation of young people with resources to enable them strengthen their position, develop themselves through continuous education and skill acquisition, with resources to be the best in their personal lives and their chosen field or profession. IWS has been graduating student here for the past 18 years. It is a testimony to a good work that we continue to do here and the idea is that we continue to do it and probably exceed that from potential partners and collaborations.”

Impacting lives goes beyond providing skills acquisitions as Boyo stressed that a follow up was required. “We set up an alumni to find out how they are faring and how they have utilised the experience gained at the centre. We assist them through collaboration, for instance, what the Lagos State government is doing with entrepreneurship and business through Lagos State Employment Trust Fund will help in granting those loans. We look out for those opportunities for them while they are here so that at the end of their training they can get involved in such collaboration.”

Giving back, serving the under-privileged, impacting lives for Boyo has been fulfilling, but to her, it is a gesture that everyone must embrace, adding, “I always say that in anywhere you find yourself, try your best by helping others because how you are born, raised is not by your doing. God has given you these advantages it is something that one must do to help those who don’t have those privileges you take for granted.”

Mrs. Boyo advised the graduands that as they leave the centre and become citizens of the world, she hoped that the time they had spent under their tutelage had shaped and would help propel them towards their aspirations and goals.

Corroborating Boyo’s position on how the society has been enriching lives in the past 18 years, Chairperson of the International Women Society Skills Acquisitions Centre, Lekki, Nkoli Ogbolu, who has been in charge in the past two and half years gave kudos to the supportive team who made the journey smooth since she came on board as chairperson. The centre has a principal, Kehinde Akinwunmi, who runs it, but there is no doubt that it has recorded tremendous success under her watch. Ogbolu promised to continue to put in her best even as her tenure expires in February 2018. According to her, “impacting lives is my calling.”

On how corporate organisations could collaborate with this kind of center to give a women financial inclusion through empowerment, guest of honour and General Manager, Fidelity Bank, in charge of Small and Medium Enterprise, Ken Opara commended IWS for initiating such wonderful programme.  According to him, “there are so many ways corporate organisations can get involved. At Fidelity Bank, for instance, we insist you need to build skills, you need to build capacity to enable you take your business to the next level. Part of the areas we are going to collaborate as a corporate organisation is to partner with this society to help them build the skills and continually ensure that the facilities here are top-of-the-range and to also help people beyond when they have graduated but to track them to the next level in terms of mentoring and sustainability.”

Opara noted that when you empower a single woman, the multiplier effect was enormous and therefore charged the government to pay more attention to women empowerment through special funding as statistics had shown that women were more entrepreneurial than men and credits given to women were judiciously used and repayment is also guaranteed. Opara continued, “As part of building financial inclusion, government should have a dedicated fund of a single digit to give to different institutions. When you have these funds in different sectors where women  can have access  to develop their skills in ICT, Fashion, entertainment and educational areas (make it to be single digit),  is the best way to improve and empower women. For us as a bank, we have created a product for women entrepreneurs where they don’t have to pay any charges operating such account.”

For the best graduating student, Lisa Omonya Inaku, a computer science graduate of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State says she is fulfilled because the centre has made her day. “It was a dream come true following my passion. I developed passion for fashion at age 16. I had always wanted to do fashion. The centre has impacted me a lot taking me through the fashion tutelage and to re-awaken my dream. It is a great privilege to be an alumnus of IWS Skills Centre that is empowering lives.”