IWD 2021: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Others Who #ChoosetoChallenge (Part 1)

This March, which is recognised globally as Women’s History Month, we will be highlighting the women and men whose lives and achievements perfectly embody the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, Choose to Challenge (#ChooseToChallenge). 

ASPIRE Challengers
Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Myma Belo Osagie, Amanda Gorman, Toyin Sanni, Ivana Osagie, Kamil Olufowobi, Atedo Peterside, Melanie Hawken

Our introductory article on this special feature gives an insight into the work that went into our selection. In this edition, we start with the iconic Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who candidly, needs no introduction.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngosi Okonjo-Iweala is on our list of Choose to Challenge people for International Women's Day
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has broken many barriers in the world of finance. Image courtesy of World Trade Organisation

February 15 was a typically ordinary day until it wasn’t. For the first time in its history, the World Trade Organisation appointed its first female Director-General. This woman, who also happens to be the first African to occupy this seat is none other than Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, popularly called NOI.

NOI is constantly shattering glass ceilings. She was Nigeria’s first female Finance Minister, a position she held at separate times, first was during the Olusegun Obasanjo-led regime and then during the Goodluck Jonathan presidency. She was also briefly the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the country, again the first woman to hold this position. As Finance Minister, she negotiated the cancellation of 60% of Nigeria’s external debt, a huge feat that was done just two years into her tenure and which has not been replicated since.

Her 25-year career at the World Bank was no less impressive. Her tenacious resilience saw her rise to become Vice-President and Corporate Secretary in 2002 for the World Bank Group as a whole, liaising between the board of governors and all of the Bank’s disparate units. After her first tenure as Finance Minister, she became the Managing Director of the same organisation, responsible for an $81 billion operational portfolio across Europe and Central Asia, South Asia, and Africa, a position she held from 2007-2011.

She sits as a chair for numerous organisations, including GAVI, (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) and the Board of the African Union’s African Risk Capacity (ARC). She is co-Chair of the Commission on the New Climate Economy and is a board member of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Harvard University, the Oxford University Martin School Advisory Council among other institutions and organisations.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala continues to live a life that challenges not just women, but everyone who can see themselves in her, which includes minority groups and people from disadvantaged countries/backgrounds.

Kola Oyeneyin
Kola Oyeneyin at the End SARS protest where he chose to challenge
There is no more profound example of Kola Oyeneyin’s commitment to social justice and equality than his activities at the #EndSARS protest. Image courtesy of Damzi via Twitter

Kola is a people person, and it reflects in his businesses and the organisations he has either founded or worked at. He is the founder of Venture Creation and Investment Company, Venia Group, and co-founder and partner at Volition Capital, a Private Equity company.

Perhaps, there is no clearer example of Kola Oyeneyin’s commitment to doing away with gender bias and inequality than his actions during the #EndSARS protest in 2020, where he not only stepped back for younger people to take the lead but also gave women the platform to lend their voices to the movement.

Kola continues to work with people of all ages as director and founder of various establishments including the aforementioned Venia Group and Volition Capital, as well as GenVoices and the Adullam Network. He also keeps advocating for social justice and good governance on his social media pages.

Amanda Gorman
Amanda Gorman is on our choose to challenge list for International Women's Day
Amanda Gorman has been consistent and overcome challenges to attain the fame she now enjoys. Image courtesy of The Hill

If we are focusing on women/people who choose to challenge on International Women’s Day, Amanda Gorman, who is also a lady of many firsts, would definitely have to make the list. First youngest poet to read a poem at a presidential inauguration; first poet to be commissioned to write a poem that was read at the Super Bowl, and, the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States. For anyone, these are impressive achievements but when they belong to a 22-year old, they are phenomenal.

Yet, Amanda has not been without her fair share of challenges. She and her twin sister Gabrielle, an activist and filmmaker, were born prematurely. In kindergarten, she was diagnosed with an auditory disorder that gave her a speech impediment. In fact, in a recent interview with Michelle Obama for TIME, she admitted that she only learnt how to properly pronounce her surname three years ago. It took her teachers’ hard work and her love of poetry to get her through the early difficulties she faced.

Amanda’s life, work and achievements challenge people the world over, both young and old. She stands as an inspiration especially to the ones who look like her – young Black women who may themselves be navigating their own hurdles and are wondering how they could ever rise above them. Whether or not she has chosen to do it, she stands as a symbol to everyone who is blessed to occupy the same time and space as she, as well as future generations for whom she has shone the light.

Chief Atedo Peterside
Chief Atedo Peterside has always challenged gender norms
Chief Atedo Peterside has been unequivocal about placing merit over anything else, including gender. Image courtesy of Connect Nigeria

Atedo Peterside is not an unfamiliar name in the finance world, but what many people may not know is that Stanbic IBTC, which started out as IBTC bank in the 90s when he founded it, has the highest percentage of females on its board and management.

Chief Peterside explains the reason for this uncommon situation in the Nigerian banking world at least. From the beginning, he had insisted on merit over any other thing, and if the person who was qualified to do the job was a woman, then she was given the job. This singular decision led to women, who had faced discrimination in other banks on account of their gender, to move over to IBTC where their talents were sure to be recognised.

Chief Peterside’s principle of merit first continues to help Stanbic IBTC to be the successful financial institution it is, and the fact that it has remained standing with its higher percentage of women in management roles while others have faltered is a lesson to similar institutions that still struggle with equality and inclusion.

Long before gender equality became ‘fashionable’, Atedo Peterside was quietly enforcing it in his own corner. He chose to challenge early on, and others have learnt from him as a result.

Toyin Sanni
Toyin Sanni chooses to challenge with as CEO of Emerging Africa
Toyin Sanni is on a mission to educate and empower women financially. Image courtesy of The CEO Magazine

Another financial guru, Toyin Sanni is the CEO of Emerging Africa Capital Group, a wealth management and investment facilitation firm that provides business and governance consulting, as well as investor representation services.

She is also the Founder/Chairperson of Women in Finance Nigeria (WIFng) – an advocacy and development platform for women in the Nigerian financial sector. She has been unequivocal about her support for women, especially when it comes to excelling in their chosen careers and their finances.

This Women’s Month, we celebrate Toyin Sanni who every day proves just how competent women can be in leadership roles and in the financial world while pursuing ways to propel women along the corporate ladder.

Dr. Myma Belo-Osagie
Dr Myma Belo-Osagie is on our international women's day choose to challenge list
Dr. Myma Belo- Osagie quietly enforced gender balance and fairness at her law firm. Image courtesy of GBFNG

Dr. Myma Belo-Osagie is well-known and respected in the legal world – she is a beacon of hope.

Dr. Myma Belo-Osagie served is founding partner at Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie, a corporate law firm in Lagos, Nigeria and until her retirement practised for 33 years. Under her watch, the law firm was recognised as an equal opportunities organisation for its equal number of male and female partners which earned her an IFLR1000 Women Leader award in 2018. In her profile, the international law firm rankings body said that the organisation had “more female than male associates… [implemented] policies that support female employees, such as a 6-month paid maternity leave (100% more than the statutory requirement)… [had] a staffed creche/playroom on the premises… [and sponsored] the attendance and participation of female members of staff in professional associations and events tailored to women – such as Women in Private Equity (PEWIN) and Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ).”

She is retired now, but she continues to quietly impact women’s lives personally and professionally, helping them attain heights and overcome barriers they may have never been able to do on their own.

Kamil Olufwobi
Kamil Olufowobi chose to challenge inequality and bias
Kamil Olufowobi’s work helps to put men and women on a global stage. Image courtesy of APF

For almost two decades, Kamil has used his expertise and network to elevate people to a global stage so that an aspirational audience can see themselves in these people and relate with their lives, struggles and accomplishments – using their stories as a blueprint for success.

He calls his method ‘connectology’, an art he has employed in his company, Most Influential 100. He is also the founder of the Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD), “a global civil society initiative in support of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent that identifies and recognises high achievers of African descent worldwide pairing those based across the Diaspora with their counterparts inside Africa, across various verticals, annually until 2024.”

In his recognition of high achievers of African descent, he has constantly ensured that men and women are equally represented. MIPAD challenges the way the world views people of African descent, especially the women who make up this often ignored group.

Melanie Hawken
For our Women's Day Choose to Challenge list, we talk about Melanie Hawken helps women become entrepreneurs
Melanie Hawken has created a platform for female entrepreneurs to emerge and thrive. Image courtesy of European Business

Chances are that, if you’re searching for the profile of an African woman who is excelling in business or some other field, you’ll find something on a website called Lioness of Africa. Melanie Hawken is its founder, and her goal, in the beginning, was to positively impact 1 million African women entrepreneurs (the most underserved on the planet) by the end of 2018.

She has since reached that goal and even surpassed it, successfully fostering a community of female entrepreneurs in Africa working in synergy to grow and scale their businesses while empowering the new generation to walk in the same path.

Melanie has not stopped in her pursuit for a strong and thriving community of female African entrepreneurs, however. In her words, “… if we can move the African continent away from requiring financial injections from big global governments [then] we can reach the goal of making it self-sustaining. Entrepreneurship ‒ and particularly women‘s entrepreneurship ‒ is key to that sustainability.” 

Ivana Osagie
Ivana Osagie is on our choose to challenge list for Women's Day
Ivana Osagie is fostering a new generation of female leaders. Image courtesy of Rise and Meet Summit

Ivana Osagie has had a rich career. For the earlier part, she worked in management consulting where she specialised in business transformation, strategy and change management assignments. Later on, she switched over to investment banking where she occupied managerial roles in three well-known investment banks – Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and HSBC. It was in these roles that she saw firsthand the challenges women face in the workplace and in leadership roles.

These challenges caused her to roll up her sleeves and seek ways to support women in leadership roles and make workplaces more gender-sensitive. In 2013, she founded the Professional Women Roundtable (PWR) – a non-profit focused on building female leadership capacity and accelerating gender parity towards achieving the UN SDG5. Every month in the last 8 years, PWR has brought together young career women for an intimate roundtable event (a max of 25 in order to achieve an intimate and ‘safe’ space where people can open up, speak freely and have real conversations) .They meet inspiring guest speakers and dialogue on personal and professional issues, engage in training, exchange ideas and experiences, as well as network.

She also sits on the board of directors of Rising Tide Africa, a female angel investors’ network and a mentor/adviser to entrepreneurs and start-ups. She continues to personally mentor many young women and match those she cannot take on with other suitable female mentors.

Tyler Perry
For Women's Day, we select Tyler Perry who has decided to choose to challenge discrimination and bias
As an employer of labour, Tyler Perry has ensured that Black Women are paid fairly. Image courtesy of 54History

Whenever discussions of Tyler Perry movies come up, what usually follows is a controversial debate on his depictions of Black women and how this helps the world to not only view but understand them. In fact, his movies have grown so contentious that projects and articles have been written on them.

So, how does his name appear on a list of people who choose to challenge gender bias in celebration of International Women’s Day?

One actress who has featured repeatedly- three times in fact- in Tyler Perry movies is Taraji P. Henson. She is the first actress to admit that Tyler Perry was “the first person to pay me what I thought I deserved at the time.” She insists that it was his fairness that increased her worth in the American movie industry. “Now I’ve proven my worth, so I say No a lot. You want a discount price? Get a discount actress,” she said.

Just before her passing earlier this year, Cicely Tyson released a memoir, Just As I Am. One of the things she touched on was Tyler Perry’s generosity to her. “When [Perry] heard how little I was paid for Sounder and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, his mouth fell open. From then on, he decided to double, and sometimes triple or even quadruple, my asking price for any role he requested that I play,” she wrote in her memoir.

Tyler Perry has had a direct impact on Black actors and actresses in Hollywood, and especially his fairness towards the latter. He has taken a strong stance against the bias this group has suffered for years in the industry, and we celebrate him for that.

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