Women As Drivers of Innovation and Creativity


Nuru Alabi

The 2018 commemoration of World Intellectual Property Day held on April 26, 2018.

The World Intellectual Property Day (WIPD) is celebrated annually to focus on the role of intellectual property rights in driving innovation and creativity, across the world. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which established WIPD in 2000, says its goal is to “raise awareness of how patents, copyright, trademarks and designs impact on daily life” and “to celebrate creativity, and the contribution made by creators and innovators to the development of societies across the globe.”

This year’s theme was “Powering Change: Women in Innovation and Creativity.” In different fora around the world, attention focused on how the world can utilize the instrumentality of intellectual property to unleash the creative energy of womenfolk in driving human progress.

Women, even if uncelebrated, are rolling out creative inventions that are positively impacting lives worldwide and advancing human knowledge and development. In diverse fields in the sciences, arts and humanities, women are pushing the frontiers of creativity and innovation.

While many of such women stand out and have been duly accorded their places in the history books, one or two such women perhaps bear recounting here.

The story of Helena Rubinstein, for instance, is quite inspiring. A Polish-American businesswoman, Rubinstein revolutionized the world of cosmetics and created the first publicly-listed global cosmetics corporation, Helena Rubinstein Incorporated. She established the band Crème Valaze and protected the trade mark with its registration in January 1907. She built an empire and is today regarded as the first self-made millionaire of modern times. Her immense success would have been impossible were it not for the role of Intellectual Property Law.

Nigeria boasts of a long list of women who are making bold statements in entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity. Nigerian-born lawyer, Tara Fela-Durotoye, is today Africa’s leading beauty and makeup entrepreneur. Having established the House of Tara way back in 1998, she subsequently launched the first ever bridal directory in Nigeria in 1999, and followed up with the country’s foremost beauty academy in 2004. Well before she established EbonyLife TV, Mo Abudu had emerged the most renowned media personality and talk show host in Africa. Her talk show programme, ‘Moments with Mo’, was a go-to platform for a wide spectrum of eminent people in different fields from across the world. Once described as Africa’s ‘Most Successful Woman’ by Forbes, Abudu today uses EbonyLife TV to beam the African narrative to the world, with astonishing success. SecureID is today a globally respected brand in the field of smart card technology and digital security. SecureID Nigeria Limited was founded by Kofo Akinkugbe in demonstration of creativity by women.

Underpinning this year’s theme of the World Intellectual Property Day, therefore, is the imperative of ensuring that the latent intellectual capital in women is strategically nurtured and harvested for the good of humanity.

Incidentally, a good number of organizations in Nigeria, seem to be increasingly buying into the global drive to enhance equal opportunity in the workplace as a critical step towards engendering a more productive workforce, that runs on the back of diversity and its associated spin-offs including creativity and innovativeness. Job advertisements for many international organizations in Nigeria for instance, boldly inform prospective candidates that they are “equal opportunity employers” and that “women are strongly encouraged to apply”. This predilection is common among international multilateral agencies such as the USAID and DFID, but is also being quickly adopted by many other organizations.

Notable among these organizations are MTN, British American Tobacco (BAT), Guinness Nigeria Plc, Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc and Johnson and Johnson, who have embedded in their operational ethos an elaborate policy that seeks to enhance inclusion, gender equality, cultural diversity and empowerment of women.

At MTN Nigeria, there is no glass ceiling of any sort as every employee has the opportunity of reaching the summit of the organization. For the womenfolk, their presence at the top is exemplary in driving attainment of the company’s goals. Among them are Chief Enterprise Business Officer, Lynda Saint-Nwafor (formerly Chief Technical Officer); Vice President, MTN Group, Oyeronke Oyetunde; General Manager, Enterprise Marketing, Onyinye Ikenna-Emeka; General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Omasan Ogisi; and General Manager/Executive Secretary, MTN Foundation, Nonny Ugboma.

A similar situation exists at foremost brewer, Guinness Nigeria Plc, with several women manning top leadership positions. They are Corporate Relations Director, Viola Graham-Douglas; Marketing and Innovation Director (Guinness and Spirits), Adenike Adebola; Marketing and Innovation Director (Innovation, Lager, Consumer Connections and APNADS), Jody Samuels-Ike; and Human Resources Director, Bola Olajomi-Otubu.

For BAT, women empowerment, diversity and inclusion is entrenched. According to the company, it achieved 31 percent female representation on its Board. It also boasts of female executives in all its senior functional and geographical leadership teams and ensures a sustainable stream of women for senior management roles. One of the ways by which it is supporting women’s progression into senior roles is through a program called ‘Women in Leadership,’ which provides training, mentoring and other types of career support for high potential female employees.

Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc, a member of Standard Bank Group, also belongs in this category with women heading various subsidiaries and divisions. Titi Ogungbesan is Chief Executive, Stanbic IBTC Stockbrokers Ltd; Bunmi Dayo-Olagunju, Chief Executive, Stanbic IBTC Asset Management Limited; and Binta Max-Gbinije, Chief Executive, Stanbic IBTC Trustees Ltd.

Also, Johnson & Johnson has recorded remarkable progress in gender diversity. This belief is emphasized at every level of training and embedded in its training materials to ensure that staff imbibes them and that their thinking is not impacted by any hidden biases. Johnson & Johnson regularly communicates the organizational commitment to diversity, both internally and externally.

The attainment of a more balanced representation for both men and women in leadership positions undoubtedly demands that organizations articulate unambiguous policies and action points and strive to implement such policies in a consistent manner. Also, mentoring has been identified as a pivotal aspect of the goal of establishing a critical mass of women to assume leadership roles.

Having significant women representation in the work force is a critical step towards ensuring that across the world, the potential of women as innovators and change agents is effectively harnessed. Women are best placed to understand and appreciate the challenges that fellow women face and whatever obstacles might impede their ability to fully unleash their creativity. Women are also best placed to put in place the necessary mechanisms, based on their understanding of the issues, to foster innovativeness and creativity, including the deployment of intellectual property as an agent of economic and overall human progress.

– Alabi is a Lagos-based entrepreneur and economist