• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
businessday logo


Olatowun and Yemi are winning together

Olatowun and Yemi are winning together

In celebration of International Women’s Month, this interview is about winning together. Winning Together is part of the Lady Boss campaign, a collaboration between Lady Biba Designs and Gazmadu Studios. In this interview with KEMI AJUMOBI, Associate Editor, OLATOWUN CANDIDE-JOHNSON and YEMI KERI share on how women can and should win together.



Olatowun Candide-Johnson is a lawyer with over thirty years’ experience in corporate and commercial law and in business development and governance of multinational corporations. During the course of her career, she worked in Law Practice, Shipping, & Oil and Gas. Whilst working with the Total Group, she worked in different divisions including three years at the New Business Division in the Paris HQ. Before taking early retirement, she held the combined role of General Counsel, Executive General Manager, Management Services Division (incorporating Legal, Audit, Insurance and Anti-Corruption Compliance) and Chief Compliance Officer for the Total Upstream Companies in Nigeria.

In 2016, she obtained a Global Executive MBA awarded by LSE, NYU Stern and HEC (Paris), known as the TRIUM Global Executive MBA.

After many years in corporate life, she decided that it was time for her to venture into the entrepreneurial space and in 2018, she founded GAIA AFRICA; a member only business (and social) club for women leaders in Lagos to facilitate business connections and expand bottom lines.

GAIA AFRICA is dedicated to serving Africa’s top 5% of female C-suite executives, professionals and business founders. Their members support and encourage each other through business opportunities, peer to peer learning, mentoring, and collaboration. It is for the select female leader who is looking for a community of like-minded women and who is challenged with the issues of leadership, business growth or career next steps. GAIA AFRICA is a safe space for women in this demographic around Africa and in the diaspora to meet connect, build trust, elevate and sponsor one other, collaborate and/or partner in business, share important information about business, investments, and social impact projects and actively participate therein.

What changes have you seen in GAIA from inception till date?

That’s a great question. When we first started in 2018, we didn’t start as a clubhouse, we started as a business dining club with interest groups which we called mini clubs such as business and investment, arts and culture, style, book club, traveling club and we created events around these clubs to bring women of like-minds together.

In 2019, it transitioned to a network membership, and again, further transitioned to a strictly membership only, all the while testing the market. This really was a pioneering venture which helped us to see what worked and what didn’t work. Looking back at where we were and where we are now, it was a bit of a painful journey and sometimes I wondered if I was doing the right thing but we kept pushing..

Share your thoughts on women winning together

Winning is when women start to trust each other, do more business together, invest in each other, really support and sponsor each other in business, for board roles, generally and so on. It says first of all that women can win together. Having said that, my very first shareholder/ investor was a woman and today, I have 21 shareholders that are female. The entire Gaia Africa management team are women and it’s pretty phenomenal and exciting when they come to the table with bright ideas to brainstorm. This for me is women winning together. In the past, women bonded together on so many levels except for business but now the landscape is changing everyday in an amazing way.

Who are you winning together with and why?

I am winning with my pair, Yemi Keri and also with the members of the Gaia Africa Club. Yemi is one of my greatest supporters. I have called her at odd hours crying and shouting and she’s a calming influence.

Have you experienced the other side of winning together?

It’s very true that there are disaster stories, however for me, this is why we have a honour code of Mutual trust, Integrity and Authenticity at Gaia. Also, you have to decide who you are friends with and build trust to a point where you know that you can trust well. You can usually tell the people you can be in business with and whom you can trust. It’s never really a huge revelation when something like that happens. You need to develop that sort of sixth sense and make enquiries as well.

Why is it important to encourage winning together?

It’s important that women win together because we cannot do things alone. We cannot work in silos. In the past, women were brought up to compete with each other, we were constantly at loggerheads, but in retrospect, how did that work out for us? What works is when women agree to do things together because women are doers, and when they decide to do stuff, they will do it with no excuses. It is also important to encourage women to trust other women. It’s the only forward. The sooner we realise that women are the backbone for each other, the better for us all. Collaboration and cooperation over competition any day.

Read also: Women in industry: Upskilling for a transitional energy industry

What does the month of March signify to you?

First I would like to encourage women as well as the men to break the bias. We have these conscious and unconscious biases, male and female alike, that women cannot do certain things simply because they are women. We need to begin to reorientate our thinking and look at the world in a different way. March is Women’s month and therefore the month that reminds me to be more deliberate about what I do and how I behave vis-a-vis other women. Pulling younger women up, and being a big support for my network. It’s also a great month to expand my connections.

What advice do you have for every young lady out there?

First of all, start to build and nurture a network and relationships with people you can call on. You also have to be tenacious and surround yourself with people who want to see you win.

Any words of admonition to mothers?
I totally agree with Yemi. There is no such thing as work life balance. For me, I think it’s very important that you have a support system. I had to deal with a lot of self guilt at the time. Have an understanding partner, organise your life but you have to remember that you yourself are important.


Chief Executive Officer of Heckerbella Limited

Yemi Keri is the Chief Executive Officer of Heckerbella Limited, a Technology Business Transformation company.

She is an award-winning commercially minded technologist with 20 years’ experience in the Information Technology and Telecommunications industries, operating at CEO and C-suite level across the public and private sectors.

Yemi is at the forefront of digital transformation to tackle business and social problems, recognised as one of the foremost Women in Technology in Nigeria with demonstrable evidence of delivering reliable business solutions through technology.

Yemi is a Board member of the First City Monument Bank Ltd (FCMB), Investment One financial Services, the Nigerian-German Chamber of Commerce, Beyond Credit Limited, GAIA Africa and Nigeria Climate Innovation Center.

She is also a member of the Technical Committee of NASSBAR of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, an External Faculty Member at the Fintech Institute and on the Advisory Board of Ingressive LLC, The Assembly Hub, Majeur Chesterfield and SabiHub.

Yemi Keri is the co-founder of Rising Tide Africa, a women’s movement initiated with a vision to increase women’s participation in angel investing as an asset class and promote education, cross-border investing and investor-mentoring across Africa.

She is a member of the Board of Governors of the Lagos Angel Network and serves on the Board of Africa Business Angel Network (ABAN) as well as the Investment Committee of Acumen Resilient Agriculture Fund (ARAF); managed by Acumen Capital Partners. She is a mentor to various digital and technology-enabled start-ups.

Yemi is an Expert in Residence (EIR) at the Enterprise Development Center (EDC) of the Pan- Atlantic University, Lagos.

Tell us more about Rising Tide Africa

Rising Tide Africa was just one of the opportunities that I found when we saw a gap of women not being invested in at the time in 2018. The investment eco system had just really started, but then we noticed the pattern in which only men were being invested in more than the women and so we decided to do something about it and that was the birth of Rising Tide. Ensuring that women invest in other women, as well ensuring that they see Angel investments as another asset just as you would see your jewellery, or financial instruments.

Why do women find it challenging to get loans?

I believe women are shy to owe money and are very averse to risk. Women need to realize that they have to show up to get the funding. Sometimes they show up but they are not asking enough. Women have to speak out about it and be more confident to ask for funding. We have to take the bold step to ask for money and raise our hands and say ‘í need’. Women are so risk averse that they won’t ask for the audacious finances that they genuinely need.

Share your thoughts on women winning together

Winning together means supporting each other through a journey to achievement, having an audacious dream and building it to fusion, sharing the challenges and the successes throughout the journey… simply put, being there for one another. Helen Keller said, Alone we do little but together we do much. To me winning together is when women come together with different initiatives, collaborate, and build upon their dreams. Winning together is about trust, having a shoulder to cry on and sharing the joys when success hits. That for me is winning together and I am winning with my dear friend, Olatoun Candide-Johnson.

Who are you winning together with and why?

Winning together with Olatowun Candide-Johnson in her creation of GAIA AFRICA, a private members business and social club where leading women come together to do business, socialize, and establish bonds for impact.

Why is it important to encourage winning together?

It is important to have a support system and know that at tough times, you are not alone and at your highs you have those to celebrate with. It helps in stabilising the mind, encourages your next steps and fortifies your decisions, and when the chips are down, a shoulder to cry on. Character alignment is key in winning together. You have to be certain that the character of the person you are winning with is aligned with yours and if you see a negative trait that doesn’t align with yours, you either call it out to give the benefit of the doubt and if it is not addressed, walk away.

What does the month of March signify to you?

March has significantly become the month where women are celebrated in various forms, our achievements are celebrated and a month when we take stock of the inches we have attained in our various gender lens endeavours. For me this is a month where we look at how far we have come and how much we have been able to achieve and accomplish so far.

What advice do you have for every young lady out there?

We are all born with God given talents. It is our responsibility to nurture and discover who we are and don’t let the boundaries put you down.

Any words of admonition to mothers?
Quite frankly, there is no such thing as having a work life balance. It is a never ending process. You have to look at your support system, find a way to manage all you are doing and you need to stay focused and ensure you are on top of each thing.