A couple of weekends ago I stood next to Wazobia FM’s incomparable Lolo1 (left) at Kensington Town Hall to host the 2015 Women 4 Africa Awards. When I spoke to my mother before hand she warned: “Don’t you go on there trying to be a comedian! That’s not you. You will only make a fool out of yourself!” True words from a mother who knows her daughter. And as always, I listened and tried to keep it in my lane; simple and straight-laced, elegant and eloquent. I am not an entertainer! The moment Lolo1 took over the stage with her vibrant personality, I knew that if I even tried to match her I will end up being the butt of her jokes and so I just did my own thing as the novice channeling my broadcasting aspirations inspired by my head girl / student council prefect days and I let her do hers as the professional entertainer that she is and it worked. Staying in my lane has never felt so good! Know yourself. Be you. Always.
From where I was standing looking into the audience, handing out recognition awards and listening to the amazing stories of the extraordinary women gracing the stage, the words I wrote in my article featured in the brochure came back to me:
If you pay attention to the stories of the women being honoured here today, it will occur to you that many of us have ideas on how and what we want to “achieve” but they remain ideas while we condemn and criticize those who have taken the risk to get started. You will appreciate that a lot of these women are not being recognized for perfection. They are being recognized for taking the important step towards making a difference, for remaining steadfast in their pursuits, some for uplifting women and others for enhancing the lives of those less fortunate than themselves. They all have inspiring stories that will hopefully push the rest of us to aspire progressively and grow.
Through Women 4 Africa I have encountered so many amazing women. Women whose stories I would never have heard of if not for this organisation and for that I will continue to thank Tola and Sam Onigbanjo the formidable husband and wife duo who started this movement. It has been an honour and a privilege to watch them realize their dreams of celebrating Africa and her sheroes from front row seats.
It is beautiful to see how Women 4 Africa has evolved since its inaugural year. Last year I was a little critical and I shared some of my reservations with the organizers. This year I felt the event was so much better and apart from the fact that Parkers4Events had transformed the space into a corporate event venue fit for purpose, the nominations and winning stories were the strongest and most inspiring we have seen to date. The only issue was that yet again, time wasn’t enough. I didn’t get it last year but being a part of it this year and standing on that stage made me realize that when you give unsung women a voice and a platform, it is a joyous moment for them as well as an opportunity which they may never get again to share why they do what they do and also to reach and engage with more people and garner support. And so you find each winner uses much longer than the allocated time slot to deliver their thank you speech.
My suggestion after last year was that the categories are cut down. They did that this year and we still ran over time. So next year it may be a matter of making allowances for those extended thank you speeches. The platform has been created. You can’t tell people not to use it. I would suggest that one way to make those allowances would be to cut out all the speeches and have one keynote speaker as is the common trend for such formal events. I think one strong keynote address is enough. Maybe there is scope here for a Women 4 Africa seminar / workshop pre-awards event.
I regret not making it to the red carpet for pictures and interviews. I met some truly great women like Ghanaian Royalty Naa Tsotsoo Soyoo I, Yvonne Thompson, Ayo Sonoiki, DJ Sho Sho who was instrumental in holding all the pieces of the night together. Princess Deun Adedoyin-Solarin and Betty Makoni, perpetual and very vocal Women 4 Africa supporters were also in attendance. Julia Bwoma who gave a great speech about the inspiration behind her organisation. Check out her speech here. Nimi Akinkugbe, a woman after my own heart who set out to ensure that Ghanaians and Nigerians can play Monopoly and see places they can actually recognize on the board with the customized editions. Ifrah Ahmed who flew in all the way from Somalia to receive her award and the beautiful Deb Ferguson who made it a point to send me a message after the event to commend my efforts. I also discovered Long Feet Boutique and met the founder Aramide Adebayo. What a godsend! I am yet to make a purchase but I intend to. If you have long feet issues and struggle to find nice leather shoes that last and are comfortable and fit well, not the plastic stuff that gives you corns, you need to check them out. It would have been great to have pictures to document these moments. But I was the last person on the makeup artist’s schedule and we were running late and so I literally ran straight from getting dolled up on to the stage. Usually I am a professional camera dodger. Call me camera shy. One of the few selfie-free Instagram account holders you will come across. Sigh. This time around I couldn’t dodge the cameras from the stage!
Mum asked after the event if I would ever host again given the opportunity and initially I said probably not. Too much pressure and very little control. I can tick if off the bucket list now and stick to writing. However you never say never! A few days later I am thinking actually I can do this again. Next time I’ll just make sure I do my homework. Had I known a bit more about the speakers, presenters and performers I would have had more control and enough information to adlib with, against Lolo1’s jokes. I found myself scrambling for fillers. For some reason I was expecting a script! Silly me. Having said that it was a great experience and I am happy I took on the challenge.
On the night I didn’t get to thank the lovely Jumoke Alli who made sure I had something nice to wear. The story of how this dress evolved from brainstorming what to wear, to its original version and then eventually what I wore is a picture story in its own right! But for now can I have three cheers for that belt which I made using Velcro and spare fabric with my bare hands please! ! And Kindly check out Arachnid Creations on Facebook and show her some love.
Next year Women 4 Africa will be 5 and I hear that sponsors are already queuing up to close deals off the back of this year’s success. It is never too early and so if you are interested, you can contact the organizers via firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. It is a great organisation for African women in business to be affiliated with because of their reach. Even if it is not your target demographic, it is a great place for networking and a potential hunting ground for mentors. Excited and looking forward already. I may not be on the stage next year but I am sure Tola and Sam already know that I am committed to helping out in whatever way I can. I will not be missing out on the red carpet though so you can catch me there! Until then I am taking my own advice from another article about making Africa happen:
In the midst of all of this greatness, I felt like an underachiever. Not in a way that made me consider myself inferior but in a way that made me realise that I have a lot of work to do. I felt inspired to kick down a few more doors, to network, to engage and to begin to make things happen. I get it now. Position yourself strategically with the achievers, not the noisemakers. Feed off the positive energy of those who are striving for excellence. And go out of your comfort zone to do the same. Your network is indeed your net-worth. It is not enough to sit on the side-lines observing, critiquing and complaining while doing what merely gets you by. Those of us who are impassioned and yet do nothing with our passions are also a part of Africa’s problems. We are a disservice to the continent.