• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Weyinmi Eribo’s multi-sectoral expertise is her distinguishing factor

Weyinmi Eribo’s multi-sectoral expertise is her distinguishing factor

Recently named top 50 African Women in Development and Top 100 Career Women in Africa 2024, Weyinmi Eribo currently serves as the pioneer Director-General of the Women Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture in Nigeria.

A trained geologist cum development expert, she is a highly experienced leader with almost 15 years of progressive multi-sectoral expertise spanning oil and gas, extractives, impact investing with a focus on gender, international development, non-profit management, financial inclusion, agribusiness, and entrepreneurship.

She has been involved in numerous significant national and international projects that have played a vital role in the development of both public and private sector institutions and was a member of the ministerial focal group for the design of the Nigeria Youth Investment Fund.

Weyinmi’s educational background includes an ongoing masters in International Business from SOAS, University of London, a certificate in entrepreneurial management from the Enterprise Development Centre, a certificate in nonprofit leadership from Lagos Business School, a certificate in entrepreneurship in emerging economies from HarvardX, a certificate in Global Governance from the European school of leadership, a certificate in gender mainstreaming in Development from MDF, Netherlands, a bachelor’s degree in Geology, from Delta State University, along with several other qualifications.

Can you tell us more about your role as the pioneer Director-General of the Women Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (WCCIMA) in Nigeria?

The women chamber of commerce, industry, mines and agriculture was set up to be the leading voice of women in the organised private sector. In 2005, the women’s trade group was set up within the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) to streamline support for women within the chambers. To provide a more prominent platform, WCCIMA was set up to ensure that women have their voice signaling a strategic shift towards a more comprehensive and specialised approach to empowering women in commerce and industry. It is also an important platform to bring more Nigerian women into the chamber movement across the world, starting in Nigeria, ensuring that more women are brought into leadership positions in trade and industry.

Our vision at WCCIMA is to be the foremost catalyst for women’s economic development in Nigeria and beyond. Our goal is to advance the role of women in business, not just as participants, but as leaders, influencers, and innovators. We aim to drive sustainable economic growth, foster innovation, and influence policies for gender equality in business, making an impactful and transformative contribution to the global business landscape.

In my role as pioneer DG, I am tasked with setting up and positioning WCCIMA as the leading women’s chamber of commerce and industry, not just in Nigeria but across the world. I aim to position WCCIMA as a bridge for Nigerian women entrepreneurs across the world, through advocacy, partnerships, and strategic collaborations.

How did your background as a trained geologist and development expert contribute to your work in promoting women’s participation in various industries, such as oil and gas, extractives, and agribusiness?

My career span across several sectors has been a blessing because it gives me a baseline understanding of the roles and needs of women across the sectors that we engage in. Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of working within these sectors, and it has provided great insights into some of the most significant areas in which women excel and where they require support, this has become very instrumental in the way we think through interventions, programs and projects we design and implement.

Share some examples of the initiatives you have spearheaded to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the business sector in Nigeria

To ensure that women businesses have access to funding, suitable for their businesses, I worked with the team at LAPO Microfinance Bank to design a special savings and loan product for female breadwinners which is now accessible across all their branches. This we have replicated for health insurance, business insurance, and equipment leasing to support women-owned businesses.

How have you utilised impact investing to support gender-focused projects and businesses in Nigeria? Can you provide some examples of successful ventures that have received support through impact investments?

In thinking through supporting women entrepreneurs and businesses, it is important to understand that a one-sized-fits-all approach cannot be deployed in designing effective interventions and programmes. Women are at different phases of their lives and so are their businesses, it is therefore important to consider the intersections of the needs of women and curate support that meets them where they are. This is where impact investing comes in, to ensure that patient capital, which could include grants or low/no interest rate debt are adequately deployed to women-owned businesses, and businesses that advance women’s empowerment, to support their growth and sustainability. The importance of this is that it intentionally brings light to women-owned businesses which may not have had the opportunity to compete with other businesses but have the potential to.

As part of the COVID-19 recovery for women-owned businesses in Nigeria, I managed a grant programme, funded by the USADF to provide grants for women-owned businesses across Nigeria. One major part of this was to ensure that these businesses were supported to digitise their businesses to ensure they do not lose out on the digital economy. The deployment of this grant ensured that these businesses were able to withstand the negative effects of the pandemic and remained in business.

As we build out WCCIMA, it will be a strategic platform for developing a pipeline of investment-ready Nigerian women-owned/led enterprises, ensuring that women entrepreneurs receive a blend adequate and effective capacity building and knowledge across various levels, relevant funding, are better positioned to take on leadership roles across sectors.

In your opinion, what are some of the major barriers that women face when it comes to financial inclusion and entrepreneurship in Nigeria? How can these barriers be addressed effectively?

Women face a myriad of challenges in accessing finance and building successful enterprises but some of the major ones include a lack of capacity, a huge knowledge gap, financial illiteracy, digital literacy and religion, traditional customs as well as stereotypical gender roles, defined by society. As women, we have to deal with the effects of unconscious bias that not only we carry, but that of others as well. These biases affect confidence and generally prevent women from taking up opportunities, usually more often than not, opportunities they are even overqualified for. We also see a lack of mentorship or sponsorship, and the ability to harness their networks.

To address these issues, WCCIMA is strategic in its approach to design projects, programmes, and interventions, through strategic partnerships with relevant institutions that address the needs of women to effectively overcome these barriers. Investment readiness programmes, capacity building, mentorship, policy interactions, tailored networking events, trade fairs, and other interventions are in the works to better position women to run successful enterprises across sectors.

What strategies have you employed to encourage more women to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated sectors such as oil and gas and extractives?

At the Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture (WCCIMA) we understand that women’s representation across all sectors, including the traditionally male-dominated sectors is extremely important and we are very intentional about ensuring that women are equipped to participate and lead in such industries. To do this, we are building strong awareness campaigns and platforms that enhance the knowledge and skills required through sector-specific programmes and workshops, mentoring programmes linking experienced women in these sectors with aspiring women, and those who are in middle career levels. We also ensure that we highlight success stories of women who are excelling in these industries as role models and encourage networking events. Furthermore, we advocate for gender-responsive policies within industries, urging companies to adopt affirmative action strategies and engage with government authorities to encourage supportive legislation and regulations. WCCIMA also understands the need for strategic collaboration and partnerships with other industry associations, chambers of commerce, and professional networks to create opportunities for women.

In some of these sectors like mining, we will facilitate access to funding and resources for women-owned businesses operating in these sectors and create platforms for women entrepreneurs to showcase their products and services to industry players through trade fairs and business forums.

The benefits of gender diversity in these sectors, showcase the positive impact on productivity and profitability, and at WCCIMA, through research and data, we strive to use this approach to address the challenges women face in entering and advancing in these sectors and using these data to influence interventions.

As a leader, what are some of the key lessons you have learnt throughout your career in promoting gender equality and supporting women’s economic empowerment?

One major thing that stands anyone apart is expertise and capacity in your chosen field, and for women, I have realised that building competence is a major priority. Being on any table and remaining on that table from a place of competence does not just work for you but it helps to leave the door open for other women. I have also learnt to be intentional about mentoring/coaching women on my way up the ladder, I learnt early that sharing space with women gives them the ability to dream more, to want more, and to strive for more. A woman who achieves more will become economically empowered, and a woman who is economically empowered will make better decisions for herself, her family, and her community at large.

How do you see the future of women’s participation in sectors like agriculture and agribusiness in Nigeria? What are the potential opportunities and challenges?

Women are already major players in agriculture. Data shows that women make up 70 to 80 percent of farmers in Nigeria, they also play majorly in food processing. However, we still see a huge lag in the business part of things. There is need for more women to become marketers to decide where and how money goes, to rise to leadership roles to ensure they are part of the design and implementation of policies that affect women across the agricultural value chain. We need more women farmers to engage in mechanised farming and improved practices too.

The future of women’s participation in sectors like agriculture and agribusiness in Nigeria holds great potential for growth and empowerment. Women have long played crucial roles in agriculture, and increasing their participation in agribusiness can lead to significant economic, social, and environmental benefits. With the right support and opportunities, women in Nigeria can drive innovation, sustainability, and inclusive growth in the agricultural sector.

Potential opportunities for women in agriculture and agribusiness include access to training and resources to enhance their skills and knowledge, greater availability of finance and market opportunities, and increased recognition of their contributions to the sector. By empowering women farmers and entrepreneurs, Nigeria can unlock untapped potential, improve food security, and foster rural development. Additionally, advancements in technology and digital platforms offer new avenues for women to overcome traditional barriers and access markets, information, and agricultural best practices.

More so, several challenges persist that hinder women’s full participation and empowerment in agriculture and agribusiness in Nigeria. These challenges include limited access to land ownership and control, inadequate access to financial services and credit, gender-based discrimination and cultural norms, lack of education and training opportunities, and poor infrastructure. Addressing these barriers requires targeted policies, programmes, and investments that prioritise gender equality, women’s rights, and inclusive development in the agricultural sector. Empowering women in agriculture is not only a matter of gender equality but also a strategic imperative for sustainable agricultural productivity, food security, and economic growth in Nigeria.

What advice or recommendations do you have for aspiring women entrepreneurs or professionals who wish to make positive impact in their respective industries and contribute to gender equality in Nigeria?

For aspiring women entrepreneurs and professionals in Nigeria looking to make a positive impact and promote gender equality in their industries, several key strategies can help pave the way for success. Firstly, prioritising ongoing education and skill development is crucial to stay relevant and competitive in the rapidly evolving business landscape. Seeking out learning opportunities, certifications, and mentorship programmes can enhance expertise and knowledge, empowering women to excel in their chosen fields.

Building a strong network of professionals, mentors, and role models is essential for support, guidance, and valuable connections. Participating in women-focused business networks and associations can facilitate meaningful relationships and collaboration opportunities. Additionally, cultivating financial literacy and planning skills is vital for long-term sustainability and growth, enabling women to make informed decisions and secure their financial futures.

Advocacy, leadership, and resilience play integral roles in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace and society. Taking on leadership roles, advocating for diversity and inclusion, and fostering a supportive community can drive positive change and empower other women to succeed. Prioritising self-care, continuous learning, and collaboration with like-minded individuals and organisations can further amplify the impact of women entrepreneurs and professionals striving to make a difference and contribute to a more equitable and inclusive business environment in Nigeria.

In promoting and carrying out access to finance for women including grants administration, capacity building, technical assistance, and business acceleration, what have you observed? What will you want women interested in these grants to know?

One major observation is the huge knowledge gap that exists in terms of requirements for women to access support. This is spread across access to capital, know-how in running businesses, and being properly positioned to take advantage of opportunities. I once handled a situation where a grant was to be given to a woman entrepreneur, one of the requirements was a 2-year tax clearance. I reached out to to her to inform her that we would give her some time to get this done to enable her to obtain the grant, but she responded that she wasn’t sure if she would get the grant so she would not want to waste resources in getting the tax clearance. These are the kind of mistakes women-owned businesses make, they must stay ready and ensure that all boxes required to access support and resources are ticked.

This however is why capacity building, technical assistance, and business acceleration are important, and where available, women-owned businesses must take advantage of them. These support interventions ensure that women entrepreneurs are adequately equipped to run profitable and sustainable businesses, providing them with the rights skills, information, and structure relevant for business success.

Tell us more about Wevvo Nigeria and why the specific interest in women breadwinners

Wevvo Nigeria is a community-driven foundation that supports female breadwinners with mentorship, capacity building, and access to financial products and services. In 2019, Wevvo was birthed out of my own personal experiences and interaction with other women who were raising children on their own. There was a huge gap in the support that these women received and stereotyped so negatively that it put them in a box and at the negative receiving end of society, this did not just affect the women but their children as well. Wevvo was set up to change the narrative of female breadwinners and give them a voice. Wevvo caters to women who are divorced, single mothers, widows, and sibling breadwinners. Since its inception, we have seen the community grow across the country with a representation in almost every state and now even extending to Ghana. We have witnessed a transformation of women in the community emotionally, mentally, financially, and socially. We have also witnessed women heal from the community and move on to get remarried.

Why does Nigeria need to take mining and agriculture more seriously?

Nigeria’s focus on mining and agriculture, particularly with an emphasis on women’s inclusion, holds immense promise for the nation’s economic, social, and environmental prosperity. By prioritising these sectors, Nigeria can unleash its potential to drive economic growth, create jobs, and alleviate poverty. Women’s active participation not only enhances productivity, but also fosters diversification and development, leading to a more resilient and inclusive economy.

Moreover, inclusive policies in agriculture and mining empower women economically, address gender disparities, and promote sustainable practices. Women’s involvement contributes to food security, environmental conservation, and poverty reduction, while also fostering long-term sustainable development. By embracing these sectors and ensuring women’s participation, Nigeria can chart a path towards a more equitable, prosperous, and diversified economy.

In what ways have you helped in the development of both public and private sector institutions?

Throughout the span of my career, I have worked with both public and private sector institutions contributing to the growth and development of these organisations. Through strategy development and advisory, staff training, and capacity development, process development and improvement, gender mainstreaming, programme management, and strategic partnership facilitation, I have supported several organisations in fostering an environment that encourages economic growth, innovation, and sustainable development.

Concluding words

The Women Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (WCCIMA) has been set up to give Nigerian women entrepreneurs a unified voice, first in Nigeria and across the world. Through strategic collaborations, advocacy, and partnerships, we will ensure that Nigerian Women entrepreneurs will receive the support that they need, no matter where they find themselves. We are some of the most resilient women across the world and with diligence and commitment, I believe very strongly that the world is ready for us to engage with, across different sectors and industries and across various levels. We will continue to work to ensure that we resonate the voice of every Nigerian woman entrepreneur.