• Friday, July 19, 2024
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Collaboration unleashes women’s business potential,” says Candide-Johnson

Collaboration unleashes women’s business potential,” says Candide-Johnson

Olatowun Candide-Johnson is the visionary behind GAIA Africa, a unique private members’ business club exclusively for women decision-makers. As the founder and CEO of GAIA Africa, she is spearheading a powerful movement to transform the landscape for women in business. GAIA Africa, Nigeria’s foremost private members’ business club for women, is driven by a powerful vision: “To contribute to Africa’s socio-economic growth and transformation by empowering women to organize around the principles of female leadership and participation in business.” The club is dedicated to fostering business connections, enhancing financial prowess, and amplifying collective social impact among its members.

In an insightful and exclusive conversation with Lehlé Baldé, Candide-Johnson shares her profound insights on the significance of GAIA Africa for women and the paramount importance of collaboration, as opposed to competition, in fostering business growth.

What made you start the idea for GAIA?

My observation was that women weren’t engaging in business connections in the same manner as men. Typically, men’s discussions gravitated towards business matters, while women’s conversations often revolved around topics like family, fashion, and other areas. However, these discussions didn’t directly impact the bottom line. I also realized that I lacked knowledge about the day-to-day activities of people I knew. Without this understanding, it became challenging to identify potential synergies during our conversations. Without insight into their activities, it’s difficult to determine how you can contribute to their initiatives or how they can contribute to yours. By not sharing your goals or ongoing projects, people may not think about connections that could benefit you. Personally, when people share their endeavors with me, I instinctively consider individuals I can introduce to propel their progress. I noticed that many individuals prefer to keep their work private and don’t openly discuss their activities. Yet, when I started openly discussing my ventures, I began receiving connections to a diverse range of individuals. While not all connections led to immediate outcomes, some introductions resulted in meaningful collaborations. This underscores the importance of conveying your pursuits and aspirations to others, as it can lead to valuable connections and opportunities.

You have a very beautiful building here at GAIA. Could you tell me what inspired the architecture and design?

I hired a very great architect. His name is Ayo Asa. He stays mostly in the US. So the idea was, I needed to have a home away from home. I needed to be somewhere that I can come to in the morning and leave at night. When I come in the morning and maybe I want to do a bit of exercise and maybe later in the afternoon I am meeting someone for lunch and maybe I can have a massage and then go back to work, then shower and change for some event in the evening. So the idea is to have somewhere that looks like a home.

How long has the GAIA clubhouse been in operation?

While the physical clubhouse officially opened its doors in November 2021, the essence of the GAIA club has been established long before then. Becoming a member of the GAIA club involves a straightforward process that all applicants go through, conducted via our online portal. Our membership primarily consists of decision-makers, individuals who hold influential roles in their respective fields. However, we’ve recently introduced a new membership category known as “Ruby.”

The Ruby membership is designed for emerging leaders who are at the first and second levels below the decision-making tier. Recognizing the importance of nurturing and empowering the next generation of female leaders, we’re taking a deliberate approach to bring these women on board. As the Ruby membership cohort grows to a certain number, we envision curating a range of tailored activities and events specifically for this category. The goal is to facilitate meaningful interactions and connections among Ruby members, creating opportunities for them to engage and collaborate. This strategic approach reflects our commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive community of women across different stages of their professional journeys.

How important is mentorship to a woman’s journey to career success?

Between mentorship and sponsorship, I hold the view that sponsorship carries greater significance due to its effectiveness. While I am enthusiastic about offering mentorship and sharing my personal experiences, I recognize that mentorship primarily imparts guidance, often reflecting my path, which may not align with someone else’s journey. Mentorship serves as a form of valuable counsel.

However, sponsorship holds a distinct power as it goes beyond advice. By sponsoring an individual, you actively champion their cause, ensuring that their talents and capabilities are recognized by others. This opens doors and creates opportunities that can significantly accelerate one’s progress. It’s noteworthy that men commonly engage in sponsoring each other, yet this practice is less prevalent among women. This is precisely where GAIA steps in.

Addressing the perception that women may be more inclined to compete than support one another, I hold the belief that such a mindset is not universally true. While there might be instances of unhealthy competition, the GAIA community is firmly rooted in genuine support. Membership is thoughtfully selective, aligning with our brand’s values of trust, integrity, and authenticity. It’s essential to us that members share a commitment to authenticity rather than merely focusing on credentials or achievements. Our community thrives on mutual support, where every GAIA member can rely on one another for assistance without hesitation.

We create events specifically to encourage members to forge connections and establish relationships. Trust is a cornerstone of our community, and essential for nurturing meaningful collaborations. The clubhouse serves as a physical manifestation of our commitment to fostering genuine connections. To those who may feel intimidated, I would strongly encourage them to overcome their hesitations. In the year 2023, the imperative for women to support each other is more vital than ever. By joining GAIA, individuals can tap into an environment where support and collaboration flourish, transcending any barriers or doubts.

Indeed, our mission extends beyond individual growth. We aspire to contribute to the socio-economic advancement of women in leadership and business, while also providing a secure haven for social enterprises to thrive. This reflects our dedication to nurturing not only personal success but also the broader impact of women in business and society.

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Can you give me an example of how you are operating a safe space for women to thrive?

The essence of our community lies in its nurturing nature. Here, individuals gather to uplift and support one another, creating a dynamic environment where mutual growth is paramount. One of the ways we foster this atmosphere is through our mini-clubs, which are specialized interest groups. We firmly believe that when two people share common interests, a natural bond is likely to form, leading to deeper and more meaningful connections. Within these mini-clubs, we offer a diverse range of options, including a film club, book club, style club, travel club, and more. Our collective passion for travel is particularly evident, as we find that journeys to new destinations have a unique power to unite individuals from diverse backgrounds. Travel takes us out of our familiar surroundings and places us in the company of strangers, facilitating bonding and creating lasting memories. The impact of these shared experiences is palpable when participants return, reflecting the strength of the connections formed during these journeys.

Within our business club, the focus shifts to professional growth and development. Discussions revolve around strategies for improvement, where everyone is encouraged to share their insights and ideas. This collaborative environment ensures that each member’s voice is heard, creating a platform where needs and aspirations can be openly expressed. The club directory becomes a valuable resource, offering a glimpse into the skills and expertise of fellow members. This enables individuals to identify opportunities for collaboration, where someone seeking assistance can voice their requirements and find support from those with complementary skills. In essence, the community thrives on the ethos of reciprocity, where members both seek help and offer assistance, fostering a culture of interdependence and collective advancement.

How does it make you feel that your model is being replicated in other countries like Senegal?

The journey of inspiring others through our work has been truly captivating. Witnessing individuals find motivation from GAIA to embark on their ventures fills us with immense excitement. Recently, I had a conversation with a Nigerian residing in the USA who shared that GAIA was the catalyst for her entrepreneurial journey. This exhilarating feedback underscores the timeliness and relevance of our initiatives. The overarching vision for GAIA extends beyond borders; we aspire to extend our impact across different continents. In regions where similar clubs are fostering similar goals, we envision collaboration that fosters reciprocity, a model that holds the potential to revolutionize the way we approach such endeavors.

Reflecting on the mindset of collaboration versus competition, I’ve arrived at a firm belief in the transformative power of collaboration. Competition can often be stifling, akin to harboring animosity towards others. This ultimately takes a toll on the individual embracing such a mindset, as it restricts growth and progress. I’ve come to understand that when we collaborate, the potential for greater achievements expands exponentially. As I embarked on the journey of establishing GAIA, I initially sought a partner but ultimately found shareholders and investors who shared my vision. This experience reinforced the notion that collaboration yields richer rewards than competition ever could.

A recurring anecdote I share underscores this sentiment: when bids are opened, men readily join forces, while women tend to remain guarded and secretive about their endeavors. This dichotomy highlights the need to break free from this self-imposed constraint and recognize the power of collaboration. It’s a principle that resonates deeply within our community. Collaboration unlocks immense potential, a truth we’ve witnessed through our collaborations. A recent partnership with PWC exemplifies this. We set a goal, collaborated closely, and achieved it. Another example is our decision to establish a business club in Nairobi last year; by reaching out and working together, a triumphant outcome was achieved.

In essence, I firmly believe that the possibilities expand when we collaborate, leading to achievements far beyond what the competition could offer. Healthy competition has its merits, yet when the opportunity to collaborate presents itself, it should be seized. The capacity for collective accomplishment is boundless when individuals come together, pooling their strengths, insights, and resources for the greater good.

In 10 years, where would you like to see GAIA?

In 10 years, GAIA should be in at least five different countries in Africa and beyond Africa. You have a very beautiful building here at GAIA. Could you tell me why you decided to design it this way? I hired a very great architect. His name is Ayo Asa. He stays mostly in the US. So the idea was, I needed to have a home away from home. I needed to be somewhere that I can come to in the morning and leave at night. When I come in the morning and maybe I want to do a bit of exercise and maybe later in the afternoon I am meeting someone for lunch and maybe I can have a massage and then go back to work, then shower and change for some event in the evening. So the idea is to have somewhere that looks like a home.

What does a typical day of a GAIA member look like?

A typical day can look like a day she can come in for lunch, she can come in the morning, or come in for a private class. After her class, she can decide to have a massage. She can also prepare her day in the morning and book a meeting room for a series of meetings she will be having and maybe she has a lunch meeting and then she comes back up. And she wants to relax a bit and realizes that the members’ evening is this evening and she just wants to stay and participate in the member’s evening and so stays and leaves in the evening.

Why should one join GAIA?

There may be a woman out there who may be contemplating joining GAIA club or not. If there is one thing that you can say to her on why she should join, what would that be? I would say join because if I had had the opportunity of doing this all before now, I wouldn’t even ask about it. Because if I had understood the benefits, necessity, and value of a network at that age, I think maybe I would have done many things differently. You don’t understand the value of a network except maybe you are trying to do something all by yourself. If for nothing else joining a business nurturing community, would be my source of encouragement.