The WIMBIZ Chronicles
It started with three women in a kitchen, and no, they weren’t just cooking a meal…they were brewing an idea that would take on form and transform the lives of thousands of Nigerian women.
WIMBIZ (Women in Management & Business) is a non profit organisation created with the vision ‘to be a catalyst that elevates the profile and influence of women in management and business’. This it aims to do by promoting women and the female agenda in a non aggressive way. WIMBIZ was formed in 2001 by 13 individuals. In ten years the organisation has grown to become an establishment with members in the top echelons of the corporate world, business, and politics.
Ironically, the kernel of the idea for a structured organisation that would cater to specific needs of the Nigerian woman was brought by a man, Chichi Okonjo, who at the time worked with Accenture and is presently the only man on the WIMBIZ board of trustees. After attending a women’s conference in South Africa, he returned and suggested to his boss, Omobola Johnson, that it would be a great idea to start something similar in Nigeria for the Nigerian woman.
Omobola liked the idea and bounced it off her sister Yewande Zaccheaus. The go to person who knew everyone and everything was Morin Desalu and it was in her kitchen that they had the first WIMBIZ meeting, where they discussed what the organisation would be about and whom to invite as founding members. They chose carefully and very wisely as history has proven; Yewande Zaccheaus, Omobola Johnson, Ibukun Awosika, Morin Desalu, Adeola Azeez, Funmi Roberts, Faith Matthews, Mairo Bashir, Toyin Olawoye, Ifeyinwa Ighodalo, Ifeoma Idigbe, Julia Oku and Chichi Okonjo, … the choice of women cut across ethnic, religious, and professional backgrounds.
In the initial discussions on the aim and purpose of the organisation, the word ‘catalyst’ came up repeatedly and was unanimously agreed upon as being fundamental in defining the purpose of the organisation. A catalyst, a little thing that could stimulate change, speed up processes and cause reactions.
Regardless of how egalitarian the society appeared to have become, women were still disadvantaged due to cultural perception and conditioning. WIMBIZ aimed at becoming a catalyst that would stimulate the change process in women, giving them the encouragement and support to pursue their business and career goals as well as providing them with the training required to help achieve these goals without compromising their ethics or roles as mothers and wives.
Over the past ten years, WIMBIZ has used a set of programs to achieve its goals which were- influence, stimulation and catalysis, the centrepiece of which is the annual conference that holds every November. The conference is WIMBIZs’ flagship event which has a different theme each year with several related and layered sub themes, focused on addressing challenges experienced by women in business and management. The speakers are inspiring, experienced professionals who are role models for other women to look up to. During each conference testimonials of past attendees are shared, people who have been able to make pivotal business decisions and career changes as a result of things learnt or influences experienced in previous conferences. These testimonials are extremely motivating to other attendees as it shows how practical and valuable the lessons being taught are. People leave feeling enlightened, turbo charged, and ready to take on the world.
Apart from its annual conference, WIMBIZ has a six month Mentor/Mentee program which is a tool for positively influencing younger female associates in a practical and measurable way. It also has the WIWIC Initiative (Winning without Compromise) that is targeted at young girls in tertiary institutions as well as fresh graduates, teaching them about excelling in business and the corporate arena without compromising their moral values and ethics. One of its newest programs is the ‘Tribes of Women’, which was developed to encourage and support women who choose to pursue a career in active politics.
Gradually but consistently, WIMBIZ has spread its reach year upon year and is now acclaimed as the largest organised body purposefully and intentionally influencing women in Nigeria. Like many NGOs, one of its biggest challenges is the need for funding. WIMBIZ presently has several corporate partners who have remained committed to the vision of WIMBIZ over the years, and the NGO’s board members also levy themselves ‘seed money’ annually. The success of the WIMBIZ initiatives has however created a need for additional funding to hire and retain skilled staff as well as cater to the needs of its ever widening circle of associates and wards.
In communicating winning strategies to its younger associates, WIMBIZ has over the years effectively articulated the need to be passionately dispassionate; not expecting any breaks or concessions in the course of work or business on the basis of gender, not using femininity or maternal responsibilities as an excuse to welsh on a commitment or deliverable. It has bluntly communicated to its members through various channels that to succeed as a woman (without compromising the well being of a family) would require extremely hard work, probably much more work than their male counterparts. It however teaches that nature has imbued women with the strength and emotional intelligence to effectively excel in both.
The first annual conference in 2001 held less than 50 women and was advertised by word of mouth; WIMBIZ now hosts yearly conferences with over 400 attendees. This year’s conference will hold from November 9- 11 at the Harbour Point on Wilmot Road, Victoria Island, Lagos.
From an idea that was birthed in a kitchen to an organised structure that has fostered remarkable growth and change in the Nigerian womenfolk, the success of WIMBIZ has surpassed the expectations of even the founding trustees.
Nigeria is in dire need of strong leaders. Embattled by poverty and deteriorating infrastructure despite its abundant resources, the nation has a lot to gain from a level playing field. WIMBIZ has made a conscious decisive effort to groom leaders from the female populace of the country; leaders in the corporate world, in business and in politics. Wimbiz is cultivating a new species of focused, hard working, and passionate women whose voices will be heard and whose skills will be brought to bear in fashioning out a better future for Nigeria.
Plug Media Ltd.