Isoken Nwabunka, our Woman of Substance for this week, is very passionate about eradicating poverty, and she has been in the business of empowering women for the past 12 years
Early life and career
I see myself as a highly self-motivated professional and entrepreneur, with a strong belief in empowering women and households through financial intermediation. I have always demonstrated a keen knack for business and founded various thriving enterprises in the automotive, beauty, health and wellness industries before setting up Grooming Centre. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Master’s degree in International Relations and Strategic Studies, both from Lagos State University, and an alumnus of the Lagos Business School, in addition to various international certifications in financial inclusion.
After receiving extensive training at LAPO on microfinance, I set out to implement a vision I shared with my husband in creating Grooming Centre. As the pioneer Manager and indeed the first ever staff member, I nurtured the Centre from inception, guiding its early growth and stabilization. The Centre is now one of the leading microfinance institutions in Africa. To God be the glory I currently oversee the administrative function of the entire organization.
They shouldn’t always look at what they can get without looking at what they can do. Because little drops of water makes a river, every little effort counts. When there is input, there will be a reward in the long run. Even though there are those who try hard and get rewarded sparingly at least there was that effort.
Women at the bottom of the pyramid must not give up there is no manna from heaven any longer. They can start from somewhere. That’s why we are here to provide financial and non-financial services, so as to encourage them to start from somewhere. We teach them what kind of business or trade can profit them. You will be surprised at the profit one can get from tomatoes and other basic inventory if one does the business diligently. MY advice is for such women to think of what they can do and start from there.
Grooming Centre helps women because the woman is the strong hold of every family. The children of a woman who has no means of livelihood are likely to suffer, that’s why we concentrate on women. That is why we believe empowering women is the key to eradicating poverty.
When we first started the challenges were numerous but I will just mention a few. There was the challenge of the language barrier. I am a Bini woman so starting this kind of business in the South West when I can’t speak the language was tough. At times the women thought we were around to beg for money not knowing that we were there to assist with loans.
There were a lot of security challenges; there was also the challenge of how to assist the indecisive women, those who didn’t really know what kind of business to go into. Another challenge was staff related. A number of people we hired weren’t trust worthy, some defrauded both the women and the organization at the initial stage. It was a major challenge back then. Thank God, through our work, we have been able to overcome most of those challenges and have built trust.
We also provide financial and business advisory services for young medium, small and micro enterprises (MSME) operators. At household level, we help our beneficiaries by giving their children scholarships to help them to move forward in their education, in addition to other community focused corporate social responsibility initiatives. We have also been able to make contributions to the empowerment of youth by directly employing over 3,500 young people.
Actually when I look around me and see so many of our clients’ success stories I feel fulfilled. Twelve years ago, even though I knew we had a goal to empower women, give them a voice and uplift their businesses, I would never have imagined that we would have come this far and improved so many lives. By improving their circumstances, these women motivate me every single time I see how far so many of them have come.
Philanthropy is seeking out those who are in need and providing the means for such people to live better lives. As noble as it may be, I don’t see those who just go around giving food or money to the less privileged as philanthropists. In my opinion, philanthropy is helping people in such a way that there will be lasting impact upon their lives. Helping them in such a way as to teach them how to fish for themselves instead of giving them fish. Teaching them to grow. Teaching them how to make a decent living. That is what I see as philanthropy. I see philanthropy as impacting people’s lives in a special way, as creating lasting impact by freely using the gifts you were born with to make lives better.
I want Grooming Centre to not only outlive me but to also diversify in outreach to have more impact on the lives of others. I want to be seen as a woman who came, saw, conquered and also helped so many others to conquer. I want to be remembered as Mummy Grooming (smiles).
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