“No woman chose to be poor, but we can choose to help poor women by investing in them.”
To learn about the art of embracing your personal struggles as a call to action and a springboard for mind-blowing impact, Nkem Okocha’s leadership journey is instructive. Nkem was born into a Nigerian family of four. Her name “Nkem” (a South-Eastern Nigerian name which means “Mine”) was inspired by her father’s utmost joy of having a female child, especially as he had no biological sisters.
As the first daughter, Nkem recounts fond memories of growing up with her doting parents. She remains appreciative of her mother’s sacrifice – shutting down a thriving trading business to become a stay-at-home mum and cater personally for her children. With this defining decision, Nkem’s father became the sole bread winner of the family, relying on the proceeds from his private practice as an experienced Electrical Engineer.
What seemed like such a perfect plan quickly turned sour when her father took ill, a few days before being awarded a multi million Naira contract by an international shipping company. Keeping hope alive, Nkem’s mother sought funds for her father’s hospital bills from his friends and family. All her pleas for help fell to the ground and her husband’s health condition was compounded with rising blood pressure. He later died at the public hospital where he was hospitalized and this changed everything for our Super Girl.
Just after her father’s burial, members of her extended family made promises to stand by them and fund the upkeep/education for Nkem and her siblings. These promises remain unfulfilled 19 years after they were made. Things became very difficult for Nkem’s family and it was heartbreaking to watch her mum struggle to cater for her 4 children. Her mum eventually used a token from a friend to start a local vegetable business. However, the business could not successfully fund the education of 4 children. In the midst of the struggle, Nkem’s older brother aced the West African Senior School Certificate Examination with straight As but could not go on to the university, as he had to defer his admission to work and ease the financial burden on their mum.
At the time of her father’s death, Nkem was in Senior Secondary School, preparing for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination. She sat for the examination soon after the news of his death reached her and failed all but one of her papers. Out of Secondary School and with no formal skills or results, she resorted to producing cosmetic products and hawking them at large markets in Lagos. With little savings and the strong support of her brother, our Super Girl registered and sat for the General Certificate Examination (G.C.E.) Unfortunately, her results were seized twice consecutively by the examination board, together with all other students’ results at her examination centers. Thereafter, despite strong opposition from her mum, Nkem later accepted an offer from a banker to work as a house help in her home. This was her turning point.
Loved by her employer for her dexterity and literacy, she was sponsored to write the G.C.E. and Polytechnic examinations. She passed in flying colors and was admitted to the Auchi Polytechnic to study Business Administration and Management. With the support of her brother and friends, she graduated from the school with an Upper Credit in 2003. Soon after, her former employer (where she worked as a house help) encouraged her to kick start her banking career.
While working as a banker, Nkem Okocha started running a bookshop for Christian and Motivational books. Thirsty for development, she also attended several development trainings and seminars, including the Daystar Leadership Academy and trainings convened by Enterprise Development Center. Before getting married in 2007, she had written 2 books (“120 Businesses You Can Do and Succeed in Nigeria” and “The Beautiful Pot & Other Stories”) and also started a Bachelor’s Degree program at the Lagos State University. By 2012, she graduated with a B.SC in Banking and Finance. She resigned from her job at the bank to focus on scaling up her business.
Owing to her experience, Nkem became drawn to women with neither formal skills nor funds to run their businesses. In June 2013, she saved up money for one week to organize FREE vocational skills acquisition training for the women in her community. She continued funding this monthly community project until 2014, when she was opportune to attend a 3 month Social Entrepreneurship Training by Fastlaunch Incubator. After a successful prototype to test the proposed business model in 2015, her Social Enterprise was incorporated as “Mamamoni Limited” – an organization which empowers women with vocational skills, interest-free loans and financial literacy. So far, Mamamoni has empowered over 2000 women in Nigerian rural communities with loans and several livelihood skills, in order to help them sustain their businesses and generate income to feed/educate their children. In partnership with the US Consulate, Mamamoni is currently organizing free vocational acquisition/financial literacy trainings for 1200 women across Lagos State, using the organization’s Business Toolkit.
In 2015, Mamamoni was one of the 1000 businesses funded by the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program. As a young leader with an innovative social business, Nkem Okocha was also selected to attend President Obama’s YALI Regional Leadership Center in Accra, Ghana. Also in 2015, she was inducted as a LEAP Africa Social Innovator. In Nkem’s view, her ordeal was orchestrated by God to prepare her for a higher assignment – helping Nigerian women break the chains of poverty. In her words, “…this is what I was born to do, and I will continue to do it until I leave this earth. The quality of leaders we have is 90% dependent on the kind of mothers they had…a women who is empowered with education and is financially independent is in a better position to make wise decision concerning her children’s health and education, among other things.”
We celebrate Nkem Okacha’s fortitude. We are also proud of her efforts to empower Nigerian women – pillars of the Nigerian society.