Irene Ochem is the founder and CEO of AWIEF, a premier Pan-African organisation bringing leading women entrepreneurs together and fostering sustainable women entrepreneurship in Africa through its initiatives and programmes.
She holds a bachelor’s and postgraduate degrees, as well as an MBA in International Management, acquired at the University of London.
Ochem is inspired by her mother. Living with her opened her eyes to the importance of women empowerment and why it cannot or should not be overlooked. According to her, “My mother was widowed very early in her marriage with five children to raise, educate and feed. I grew up and experienced firsthand, what it means and why it is imperative that a woman should be economically empowered” She says.
She understands the place of hard work but believes it takes more than that to succeed. “If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.” She says quoting writer and activist George Monbiot.
Irene’s focus is Africa’s most underutilised resource, women, and she is harnessing high-level, successful female entrepreneurs as well as young emerging businesswomen to create the unique AWIEF platform for women to connect and interface.
Her winning attributes are her track record, ability to tap into the knowledge and expertise gained globally, to network and understand the international development sector. She is fully aligned with the new SDGs that are taking the woman agenda to new dimensions. Perfectly positioned to promote intra-African collaborations for women, she is set to stimulate a whole new momentum of meaningful change for women in Africa.
Irene’s qualities have brought her across countries and continents, through daunting obstacles and deep-seated prejudices to where she now stands, spearheading a highly influential pan-African women’s economic empowerment organisation and business network.
The seeds of this ambition were sown many years ago when working as a young volunteer at The International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP-UNESCO) where she encountered the desperate need for female inclusivity in sciences. From there, extensive involvement in international organisations as conference organiser, administrative coordinator, research administration manager, international consultant and development specialist has steadily grown her vision to include the entire entrepreneurship ecosystem, from stakeholders and business experts to policy makers and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Irene understands that doing businesses can be very challenging, especially as a young start-up and that a lot of women business owners lack self-confidence, so her organisation helps women recognise their successes and achievements. According to her, “Part of what we do at AWIEF is provide skills, training and capacity building to women entrepreneurs. In doing so, we have found that to be a successful business leader, you need to have the right mind-set. It is important to be open to change and learning, persistent with your goals, as well as resilient.”
In addition, she says “Another important skill, which is good to have from the outset, is financial literacy. Unfortunately, many young businesswomen tend to lack this. We have found that a good deal of women business owners need to know how to better manage their finances and their cash flows. These are just some of the key skills that will allow you to succeed as a business leader.”
Irene holds postgraduate qualifications in project management, gender and trade-related issues. She speaks four languages and is a sought-after speaker and participant in international meetings on entrepreneurship, women and gender.