This past June, I joined the Crans Montana Forum and European Parliament to address a subject very close to my heart. People frequently frame Africa in negative light or diminish the promise of the continent by only discussing the problems, when in fact, like every area, with its problems, Africa also holds a wealth of potential. As a Nigerian, I know the potential my friends, family, neighbors and community members hold. Even still, some of that potential still goes unused or wasted. I think it’s important for everyone to begin to focus on how we tap into that untapped potential.
To overcome the social, economic and political problems that plague areas all over Africa, I think we need to reconfigure the way we approach problem-solving so that rural Africans in particular, can also benefit from this new wave of progress. The simple solution, the key to the puzzle for me, has always been empowering women and rural women in particular.
As many know, my late mother Dr. Maryam Babangida began our NGO the Better Life Program for the African Rural Woman because she saw the untapped there. She wanted to enable these women to actively participate in their local economies, speak up on social and political issues and help them soar to these unsaw heights. Her vision and inspiration is what now inspires me today as the Chairman of the Better Life Program.
If we can develop these women’s capacity and opportunity in their communities through education initiatives, skills training and cottage industry development, we all benefit. If they improve themselves, they will also improve the lives of those around them, and their nation as a whole. I am privileged to be able to see this transformation take place on a regular basis. With help and support from businesses and policymakers alike, we have been able to bring about a new generation of empowered women through access to education, health services, and an introduction into the agriculture industry.
Our programs build the capacity contained in each of these women and help foster a sense of independence. Strong, independent women support a strong sustainable economy. While our efforts may seem modest, we are pioneering a new approach to problem-solving, a new economic model based on holistic development. In creating a system where empowered women are the foundation rather than the exception, I think we will see a shift and sustainable change.
The fact of the matter is, our old model of government-led aid was not effective at developing an independent society, because I believe they were too far removed from the issue. I myself spend a lot of time speaking at events about rural women knowing full-well that neither I, nor those in the crowd, can truly understand the issues unless they have seen them firsthand. For us to make informed and effective decisions in developing a strong development model, we need to turn our attention toward those on the ground that have an in-depth understanding of what we want to achieve and how to achieve it. Together we can support them in becoming agents of their own betterment.
We cannot see the impoverished as a plight, but rather a wealth of potential. In my experience, smart, progressive and profit-oriented companies have managed to turn poverty and a lack of financial access into new market opportunities. So how do we implement similar practices, on a wider scale? I’d like to quote one of my fellow panelists, Mrs. Malika Laasri Lahlou, Advisor of the Phosboucrââ Foundation. She said, “If a woman succeeds, the whole ecosystem around her follows. If you ask them what would be helpful, they answer that they need support to make their children graduate from school. But women are too devoted: that’s why we should be focusing at least part of our work on them.” We need that kind of selflessness and devotion. If women are devoted to their children, our next generation, then we need to become equally devoted to helping these women succeed at their goals.
- Governments need to actively support female empowerment, especially in rural communities where many women are more vulnerable, by supporting increased legislation that guarantee women education, pensions, land and property rights. In writing history, the government has the power to stimulate great change or prolonged inactivity. We need to push for progress rather than languish in waiting.
- Businesses can stimulate change by providing support and inclusion for women in the workplace and mentoring female entrepreneurs. Eliminate occupational segregation that prevents women from working in fields previously dominated by men and honing their technical skills. At the end of the day – companies should want the best person for the job, unbiased by gender stereotypes.
- Community members can support empowerment and development by supporting local cottage industries spearheaded by women who are able to open their own businesses through financial inclusion programs like microfinance banks. Prove our dedication to a prosperous future with our actions and not just our words.
The ‘Africa problem’ can often feel like it is a step removed from the rest of the world, but the Crans Montana Forum reinforced the idea that Africa’s main concerns are the world’s main concerns. In order to achieve our goals for 2030, as cliche as it may sound, it needs to be a team effort. If Africa is struggling to overcome the obstacles before them, the world struggles. That being said, the effort Africa puts forth to overcome those struggles is compounded by the world’s efforts to support Africa in overcoming.