• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Problem-solving, strategy come naturally to me – Inya Lawal

Problem-solving, strategy come naturally to me –

Inya Lawal is a social entrepreneur working to impact the world positively through capacity building and economic empowerment. She is the founder of two not-for-profit organizations, Ascend Studios Foundation, for capacity building and social, educational, and economic empowerment of women and youth; and, the Africa Children’s Creative Network – to discover and nurture creative skills in school-age children through technology.
In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, she speaks on how she has leveraged her partnership with the U.S. Consulate to empower youths and women in Nigeria. She also hints at expectations on Global Tech Africa (GTA), which she oversees.

Could you tell us a brief about yourself?

I am the lead program partner to the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos, Nigeria, and the program partner for the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) – a U.S Government initiative designed to support women entrepreneurs with knowledge, network, and funding to start and grow their businesses. I oversee a diverse group of emerging and well-established business persons from different industries who receive lessons on business management and network with like-minded entrepreneurs and mentors.

I oversee an array of transformative programs like the African Creative Market (ACM), Global Tech Africa (GTA), Women Empowerment Program for Trafficked Persons (WEPTAP), Creative Technology Program (CTP), No Girl Left Behind (NGLB); and others.

I am the current Country chair for Nigeria on Export and Credits for the G100 – Women Economic Forum. I was one of 19 participants selected worldwide for the Fortune Most Powerful Women’s Mentoring program in 2019 where I was mentored by Dina Powell and a host of the senior executives of Goldman Sachs.

I am a recipient of an Honorary Doctorate Award from the ESCAE Benin University, the Benin Republic for her outstanding contribution to Women’s Leadership and Global Trade Development. I was also given a Women’s History Month honorary award by the American Corner Ibadan in recognition of her contribution to the development of women and girls in Nigerian Society. I am a two-time nominee of the Tällberg-SNF Eliasson Global Leadership Prize, an awardee of the Royal African Young Leadership Forum (RAYLF) Award, and a recipient of the Kidpreneur Award of Recognition for selfless effort and support toward the development and empowerment of Nigerian Children. I serve on the board of the Women In Film and Television International (WIFTI) as secretary and am the president of the Women In Film and TV Africa (WIFT Africa).

Let us start with the US consulate. You have done so many things with the US consulate, especially partnerships that empower women and youths in Nigeria. How has the journey been with this partnership?

The journey has been amazing. My journey started when I curated an event for the Consulate and then was eventually selected as one of 19 women worldwide to travel to the US for the Fortune U.S Department of State Global Women’s Mentoring Programme. The program supports emerging global leaders in women’s economic, social, and political empowerment through leadership workshops and mentoring assignments. All mentees are paired with leading executives of Fortune 500 companies. The program draws on the expertise of America’s most accomplished leaders to enhance the business and leadership skills of international women professionals. During the program, mentees engage in skills training, panel discussions, networking events, and a mentorship program with top women executives and their teams. I was selected in 2019 and paired with Dina Powell and other leading executives at Goldman Sachs. Due to some components of the training I got in the U.S. on a Goldman Sachs program, I was selected as a program and implementing partner to run their White House Initiative, the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) in Nigeria. AWE has transformed the lives of many women in Nigeria. We have trained 720 entrepreneurs so far, 100 women in 2019, 120 in 2020, 250 in 2021 and 250 in 2022. We are in preparation for the 2023 AWE program.

The U.S. Consulate Lagos has been a very supportive partner. They always support their Alumni, and participants of their exchange programs have the opportunity to partner with them on projects as long as it is in alignment with their mission. When I launched the Africa Creative Market with the U.S. as a focus country and brought in Hollywood executives, they hosted our guests. And now that they are focused on the Tech industry, they are partners of the Global Tech Africa Conference. They are an integral part of my journey.

In your partnership with the US consulate, you have touched various sectors from education to music, fashion and now tech, all in a bid to train talents. Why the diversification in sectors?

Our focus at Ascend Studios Foundation is economic empowerment and sustainability and the science behind achieving our goal matters. We are not limited to sectors because we are focused on building ecosystems. Our strategy is to partner with the Public, Private, and Development Sectors in designing and implementing programs that will provide economic empowerment for all. The Academy for Women Entrepreneurs is focused on Economic empowerment for women; as it offers business training, access to networks, mentors, and funding. The Africa Creative Market focuses on building a sustainable ecosystem for the creative industry as we work with all stakeholders to build our creative economy. Same way, Global Tech Africa focuses on building and transforming the Tech industry by bringing together the major players. So, economic empowerment and sustainability are our focus.

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Looking at the women empowerment program you have been running, what are the success stories in this program?

There are so many success stories. One of our Global Tech Africa volunteers was part of the AWE 2019 cohort. She started her brand with N500 and now she is running a major brand valued in hundreds of thousands of dollars. She is doing very well. There are several women with success stories who have also given back to their communities. We constantly get feedback from participants who have seen significant progress in their businesses. All participants learn on DreamBuilder, a 13-module Business Training platform covering key topics on business. Participants receive necessary business skills, business resource materials, and step-by-step guidance on business plan generation. We run a hybrid program with virtual and in-person components. We have also partnered with several organizations to either give additional training or funding to our Alumnae. The U.S. African Development Foundation (USAFD) and Lagos State Empowerment Trust Fund (LSETF) have given grants and loans to our women. So through feedback, I would say the success rate is at 96 percent.

You have a lot you are doing on a daily basis to impact women and youths in Nigeria. How do you manage all these and yet balance these with your personal life?

I love what I do so I have never really struggled with balance. Problem-solving and strategy come naturally to me. I have always been an advocate for women and youth, and economic empowerment because I believe that impact begins with empowerment. I was born for this and I’m here for this. I also believe that there is really no balance; something always suffers whether it is time with family or work. I just prioritize. I have my moments when I go on holiday and say no to work. I am more of a workaholic and I tend to overdo it but I have a checking system in place with my family and friends. So I don’t mind being busy doing what I do but I understand the importance of self-care.

Who are your mentors and where do you draw your strength and knowledge from?

I draw my strength from the good and positive people I surround myself with. And I stay away from negativity to avoid negative energy. I am blessed to have very good friends, wise and older ones too. I also have mentors from all over the world. I draw learnings from different experiences, places, young and old. I am also very honest with myself and sometimes allow my inner self to mentor me.

What is the driving force behind you?

The driving force has been God. I have a wonderful family. I am one of seven girls and I am surrounded by people who are always rooting and praying for me. My Mum and Dad are probably praying for me right now. I also have amazing friends who are extremely supportive.

For Global Tech Africa, what are we expecting?

We are bringing together African and international stakeholders in Technology to Lagos State, to unlock growth opportunities for all and build the tech ecosystem in Africa. The Conference will hold between the 17th – 20th of November 2023. The conference’s structure includes plenary sessions, breakout sessions, pitch competitions, exhibitions, sideline networking, and cocktail sessions.
Africa is poised to play a critical role in the global tech ecosystem, providing innovation, talent, and new market opportunities in areas such as mobile technology, e-commerce, fintech, and the digital economy. GTA provides a platform for stakeholders, including investors, regulators, consumers, academia, and the general public, to engage in discussions and explore opportunities for collaboration to shape the future of Africa’s tech landscape. GTA will focus on 13 key sectors – Cybersecurity, FINTECH, Robotics & AI, Agro Tech, Gaming, Entertainment, ED Tech, Geographic Information Systems, Gov Tech, E-Commerce, E-Health, Blockchain, Data & Analytics; as reputable implementing partners train 10,000 people in these sectors. The conference will also ensure that women are well represented, included in the tech space, have access to opportunities, and are equal recipients of all training programs.

Our partners at the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the U.S. Consulate General Lagos, Venture Garden Group, Business Sweden, RivExcel Health, DLD Conferences, and others are working with us to curate an effective program inviting the world’s best. So expect a transformative conference.