Chioma Ikokwu is a lawyer, an entrepreneur, coach and an influencer, offering humanitarian services to women and children that are less privileged. Chioma’s passion for transforming lives extends beyond the realm of entrepreneurship. Through The Good Way Foundation, she actively works to empower women and children in underprivileged areas, while also focusing on improving access to healthcare and facilitating holistic development. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, she speaks on her recent outreach, raising awareness about the impact of Breast and Cervical cancer on women in the society. She also hints on how she is able to combine her business empire with practicing as a lawyer, without any lacking the needed attention. Excerpts
You are a lawyer, an entrepreneur, a couch, and an influencer yet offering humanitarian services in Nigeria. How did you set out to become all these at such a young age? Can you briefly take us through your journey to achieving all these?
It’s funny because everything that’s happened in my life has led me down a path that has linked to another. Some call it coincidence. I call it fate. I studied law at the University of Birmingham in England which was where I met my business partner Kika and that’s when I begun my entrepreneurial journey with “Good Hair” a hair, beauty and lifestyle company that has stood the test of time and is still operating today.
I started to shuttle between England and Nigeria when my dad asked me to go to the Nigerian law school after a year working in a law firm in Lebanon. It was shortly after that we set up a beauty salon in Lagos and started building our social media presence. This also applied to my personal life and lifestyle and very organically I started advertising for brands online as a side gig. A lot of young females also looked up to me and wondered how I was able to run a successful business yet remain so stylish and fabulous and that was when I decided to offer coaching classes on branding, marketing and developing SME’s. The Good Way Foundation was born out of my innate passion for helping others. It might have something to do with the fact that I am a natural empath and would ideally like to cure world poverty. The more time I spent in Nigeria, the more I witnessed the growing levels of poverty and inhumane living conditions that surrounded us. Only in Nigeria can you find a castle in the middle of a slum. I delved deeper into why there was inadequate healthcare and educational provisions for people and eventually decided to do something about it in my own little capacity.
The Good Way Foundation, which you are the founder, recently organized an outreach intending to raise awareness about the impact of Breast and Cervical cancer on women in our society. Tell us what precipitated this?
October was breast cancer awareness month and during this time I did a lot of research on the topic of cancer in general and found that over 12,000 Nigerian women die yearly from breast cancer and just under 8000 from cervical cancer. That’s the equivalent of 60 plane crashes annually. To think that half of these deaths could be avoided if detected early. It simply struck a chord in my heart as I have an aunt who also died from breast cancer at the tender age of 36. I decided to partner with a medical organisation called Breast Without Spots to screen 200 women in one of our adopted communities that’s predominantly filled with widows and single mothers for breast and cervical cancer.
So far, are there any success stories or expectations from the awareness outreach?
The outreach was a huge success because not only were we able to bring awareness to the causes and symptoms associated with cancer, we detected about five potential cases who will in turn benefit from early detection and treatment. In effect we could be saving 5 lives potentially.
Why did you set up the Good Way Foundation and how is the foundation different from other foundations set up to address one need or the other?
The Good Way Foundation was actually birthed from a health concern. My partner at the time had sickle cell anemia (a blood disorder that’s most common in WestAfrica ).Watching him go through excruciating unimaginable pain during his crisis would break my heart. I always considered it an unnecessary Illness because considering that it’s not curable, it is avoidable so why put your child through it? I decided to go into rural areas to bring awareness to the sickle cell disease and to educate them on how it can be avoided by simply knowing your genotype and ensuring that two carriers of the SC gene don’t procreate. I however, discovered that there was so much more than sickle cell that needed to be tackled in Nigeria. Extreme poverty, lack of education, poor healthcare, terrible living conditions and joblessness especially amongst women and children. I simply knew I had to do more.
Tell us about your fashion brand, the Good Hair Limited Brass & Copper Lifestyle and the Good Hair Space.
Good Hair is our baby. It was our first real business venture and we made all the mistakes and learnt everything about running a business with Good Hair. I’d like to think that it shaped me to becoming the individual I am today and the success of the business also inspired many young girls to go into the hair industry, many of them still doing well till date.
Brass and Copper was my first entry into the hospitality business. It definitely took me out of my comfort zone because I’ll tell you for free that running a restaurant is not childs play. It’s also extremely profitable and I enjoy seeing people have a good time in our establishment.
The Good Hair Space is the complex that houses our various businesses and we intended for it to be a one stop shop where women could get their hair, nails and makeup done whilst their husbands get a hair cut in the barbershop and they both go to brass and copper for dinner afterwards.
You also very recently ventured into the business of fashion “Chioma’s Closet” where people are able to purchase your pre-loved clothing and other top fashion picks. Why did you decide to venture into this fashion space? Was it the passion for the fashion business or something else?
Fashion is me and I am Fashion. I eat and breathe style and so it was only a matter of time before I ventured into the business of fashion.
I love shopping and I also get gifted a lot of clothes by designers thus as a result my wardrobe started to overflow. I simply didn’t have enough space to fit all my clothes coupled with the fact that people on social media kept asking if they could purchase the clothes that I had worn as I hardly wear them more than once. It became a no brainer. Give the people what they want whilst creating more space in your closet for future purchases! I formed Chiomas Closet. The amazing thing about Chiomas Closet is that 50 percent of the proceeds from the sales of the pre loved items go to The Good Way Foundation which in turn increases our capacity to do good the Good Way.
As a practicing International Environmental lawyer and Commercial Arbitrator, how are you able to combine your business empire and yet practice as a lawyer, without any lacking the needed attention?
It’s been really difficult wearing so many hats and wearing them well. My motto is that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well and thus I’ve set a very high bar for myself with regards to anything I embark on. This means that I’ve had to learn the act of balance and doing things in reasonable proportion.
When I find that I’m over exerting myself in one area to the detriment of another I quickly readjust and realign so that all get equal effort and attention. But I must confess, it is sometimes the hardest thing to do as a human being and naturally we do fall short sometimes. The ability to pick yourself back up and keep pedaling in that field is major key.
What are the major challenges women face that hinder them from achieving their dreams and professional goals in life?
We live in a very patriarchal society where women’s ambitions have been stifled for the longest time. Society has led us to believe that us women are only carers and nurturers and not inventors or providers when the reality has always been that we can be all of the above. As a result of such archaic beliefs and resulting socialization, there is an inherent setback when it comes to women’s ambitions with most believing that it would either scare men away or that they are simply incapable of achieving more. There is also the fear of not being taken as seriously by men in the workplace or being sexualized and facing potential sexual harassment by virtue of one’s sex.
Women have therefore had to work twice as hard to be respected in spaces taken up so easily by men and unfortunately not everyone has the grit to see it all the way through. I must add though, that the number of women creating their own tables, shattering these glass ceilings and achieving their lifelong goals is multiplying by the second and I like to think that I’m one of those women and therefore encourage each and every girl child or woman out there to absolutely do the same! The sky is not the limit but our starting point.
What is your advice to women looking to achieve their professional goals but do not have the funds and support to achieve this?
There are grants out there that support women’s businesses. You’d need to tap into some of these. If you have a solid business plan you can also pitch your business ideas to companies or angel investors and you never know who might buy into your vision.
The Good Way Foundation also has a segment called Fund my Startup which provides funding for viable businesses after a series of assessment stages. This vehicle could also be beneficial to someone in the future so do stay tuned.
What is the next big thing for The Good Way Foundation? Are you looking at partnering with international organizations to get a wider reach?
The Good Way Foundation would love to partner with other international organizations to get grants and funding to do more. At the moment, it is personally funded by me which makes it extremely limiting as the livelihoods of all the people we are responsible for is dependent on my personal income which can be quite challenging.
We are passionate about what we do and have the right team to carry out these exercises meaning that with the right funding we could be on our way to ensuring that every girl child in Nigeria is educated, the living conditions of many improved, health care pandemics mitigated and businesses giving the opportunity to thrive.