How we created Whole Women Network — Ume-Onyido

Lets meet you please?

My name is Juliet ‘Kego Ume-Onyido. I believe in the power of written spoken words and aligned action steps to transform our lives and societies. I am a Poet, Storyteller, International Speaker and Master Certified Leadership Coach, Trainer and Consultant.

What do you do?

That’s an interesting question because I do quite a variety of things. I’ve had an eclectic professional and personal background that cuts across different multi-disciplinary fields:  Electrical Engineering, Investment and Financial Advisory, International Business, Creative Writing, Leadership Training and Consulting….

I love the idea of exploring different facets of our personality, and developing our unique God-given skills, talents and abilities. I believe that we haven’t even scratched the surface of our individual and collective human potentials.

Presently, besides consulting on leadership training for organizations, companies and government agencies, I’m focused on and passionate about building up ‘Whole Woman Network’, an Empowerment and Leadership social enterprise for African Women, which I co-founded, with a friend of mine – Diana Barikor-Wiwa.

What was the motive behind Whole Woman Network?

Honestly, when we started Whole Woman Network in Toronto, Canada, it was in a coffee shop by the way, there were no grand ideas. It was born out of a conversation between friends on how we could make a positive impact in our lives, families and communities, both in the diaspora and at home in Nigeria.

We simply wanted to transform all areas of our lives and by default or design, the lives of those around us. At that time, we adopted a fun slogan, ‘Taking action  towards a Healthier, Sexier, Wealthier YOU!’ And we started having interactive networking meetings and inviting different subject matters’,  experts in areas such as Health and Wellness, Personal Finance and Wealth Management, Family and Relationship Well-being, Faith and Spirituality, Career and Entrepreneurial Development, Personal and Leadership development…

juliet-kego-ume-onyido-polka-dot-professional-picture
Juliet ‘Kego Ume-Onyido

The premise for ‘WHOLENESS’ is based on the truism that until people are able to bridge their personal integrity, responsibility and accountability gaps, it is futile to attempt to lead or empower others. At the heart of our model, the family and community play pivotal roles.

As our membership base grew, we started evolving the organization to be more structured and sustainable in terms of our operations and projects. Our vision  and mission  for the organization also became much defined and bolder. We really seek to empower women (and girls) all over Africa, especially in underserved and developing communities, by raising and celebrating a new generation of creative and transformational leaders with an ethical value construct.

We offer practical and results-based coaching, training and consulting services to help bridge the leadership gap. And we also developed a series of signature courses, programs and proprietary projects that have been lauded for their measurable impact, practicality, success and efficacy. Such programs include our Financial Literacy programs for women (F.L.O.W), Various Certification Programs in Leadership, Creative Writing and Communication Program, Sustainable Education & Empowerment Development for Girls (SEED4Her), Lifestyle Loan Programs, and TRACE Community Development Model etc. A huge component of our trainings is that they are often tied to participants delivering measurable and tangible project(s) in their respective communities.

We’ve been able to achieve a lot in a relatively brief period of time due to the support of our project partners and angel investors. They have faith in our unique model and share our vision that Africa (and in particular, Nigeria), can be transformed not just by choosing competent ‘leaders’ but also through the combined efforts of both leaders, strengthened institutional structures and most importantly, empowered followers. (This is the basis of the concept of empowered citizenry).

It is a shift from the notion of ‘charismatic leadership’ at the top or center, to a more sustainable distributed and transformational type of leadership, where the levels of awareness of each individual in the system is very important, and thus, strengthens the overall efficiency of the system. We believe in the idea that everyone can be a leader wherever he/she is and that we can all create the society of our dreams by focusing on one small idea, person, project and/or community at a time.

Where did you start the network and what is the population now?

We started formal operation in December 2010 and our global population is approximately over  5,000,  with 40 percent of that number being paid members. We also have a rotating and expanding base of committed Angel Investors and Project Partners. We tend to joke that our dream to build a global enterprise from our kitchen or basements. We hope to become an empowering model, especially for the women we coach and train and live the idea that business startup or running costs do not have to barriers for entrepreneurs.

Any plans on having a branch here in Nigeria?

Yes, first, we hope to implement a series of trainings and projects, across the six  geopolitical zones in the country and then establish a central hub within the country; a lot of our programs are geared towards training and empowering other leaders. This way, our members are able to take the learning and adapt them to their own passions and areas of interest in their respective communities. We really believe in the ability of people to positively influence and transform their local environments or communities and having a hub in Nigeria will expand this vision.

How do you intend to reach out to your target audience here in Nigeria?

In addition to traditional print, electronic and social media advertisements and in line with some of Whole Woman Network’s core principles of growing organically and running a lean organization, we tend to partner with a lot of creative media platforms, local agencies, schools/institutions, businesses, individuals, civil and faith-based organizations, who share aligned values and a common vision with us.

One of our most recent partner organizations is WAAW Foundation (Working to Advance African Women), founded by a good friend of mine, Dr Unoma Ndili Okorafor. It’s a phenomenal organization, committed to bridging the gender-technology gaps in Africa by operating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) camps for teenage girls throughout Africa.

We learnt you had  a Leadership-training programme for residents in Ilorin, what is this all about?

Yes, we were very excited to have our first training in Ilorin. It was a full-day training on Saturday, April 18th, 2015 from 9 am to 5 pm. We were able to meet with our target audience for the training: Women entrepreneurs/small business owners, professionals, stay-at-home mothers, community and faith-based leaders etc., who were passionate about having breakthroughs in their personal and professional lives. We met with those people who were committed to making a difference in their families, workplaces, communities and seek to expand their sphere of influence. These leaders have recognized that they require more practical and world-leading leadership skills, tools, resources and systems to take their ideas, causes, dreams, platforms etc. to the next level and thus, achieve their goals. It was fantastic outing anyway!

Did you charge any fee for the leadership training?

Good news! This first Leadership training in Ilorin was actually funded by two of our angel investors, who are indigenes of Kwara State (on an anonymous basis), as their way of giving back to their community.

However, subsequent trainings will carry an affordable fee commensurate with the immense value that will be delivered. All our trainings come with a money-back guarantee if the trainings do not achieve clear, pre-defined objectives and deliverables. This is one of the ways that we ensure the quality and sustainability of our social enterprise model.

Do you have projects on ground in Nigeria in these regards?

Yes, we’re very happy to be working on three  different projects in Nigeria, in the area of Girl-Child Education, Financial Literacy and Leadership Capacity Development. They are all in the final stages of project approval and would be communicated in due course once there is  green light.

Are there requirements for any corporate body or government agencies willing to partner with you on this project?

We welcome all interested bodies and government agencies to partner with us to expand our reach and transform more lives. However, WWN does have an internal criteria list; standard operating procedures and principles for engaging in partnership agreements. This is done to create value for all the stakeholders and protect the integrity of our model.

You are not based in Nigeria, why are you so passionate about empowering and training our women and youths through your programs?

Great question! Although, I am currently based in Canada, Nigeria remains first and foremost my beloved homeland. It’s trite but so true; there is really no place like home. Wherever we are in the world, the sights and scents of Nigeria ignite us to excellence. Regardless of the challenges we currently face and the standards that have been eroded over the years, I am an optimistic realist about the latent potentials of our nation (and indeed all of Africa).

I strongly believe that based on our current population demographics of over 60 percent  Youth and the historical roles of women in advancing remarkable development and progress, implementing well-thought out and integrated education, entrepreneurial, empowerment programs for women and youths will solve a myriad of our problems. We saw firsthand, the power of youths to leverage on  social media and technology in making their voices heard in the last elections. This can be built upon in so many areas of our national life.

Furthermore, I was born and raised in Nigeria at a time when ethics, meritocracy and hard work were core values in our nation. I come from a middle-class family and was fortunate enough to have been a recipient of Federal Government scholarships and grants throughout my educational experience, first at the Federal Government Girls College Onitsha and later at the University of Lagos for my Electrical Engineering degree.  From my initial work experiences, through my National Youth Service Corps at MIS Global and later as an Engineering Management Trainee at Honeywell Group, Lagos, I saw the power of skill competency, meritocracy, unity, mentorship and commitment to excellence, among other values.

These experiences shaped my personal philosophies, perspectives and principles. I am a product of my family upbringing and societal influence. We all are social beings and are shaped by our larger environment, for better or worse. It is only fitting that I give back to a society that has given so much to me.

Today, we have created a society, where leaders fail at their primary responsibilities and citizens look away in apathy. We live in a country where many graduates are not skilled in their abilities to create solutions and value, with respect to the prevailing socio-economic and technological trends. Also, many young women (and men), have a hierarchy of values that places materialism ahead of creative talents, intellect and social values.

Besides, the critical role of women (mothers), as creative shapers of the value paradigm in homes and communities need to be revisited. The economic climate has moved a lot of women into the ‘primary bread-winner’ quadrant and yet no one is talking about the associated consequences, in terms of stress, changes in family dynamics etc.

There is such a huge chasm between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and a lot of people fail to recognize that we must give back not as matter of random acts of largess, but rather with consistency, as a matter of necessity and social responsibility.

Of what use is having 10  state-of the-art cars in our well built garages, if we are not willing to advocate and hold our leaders accountable to providing good roads and/or we fear our drivers or security guards may steal from or attack us? Of what value is it to send our children to the best private schools in the world, if they are going to end up living in a society where the person who becomes governor is incompetent because he attended a run down public school, with ill-equipped classes and/or shortage of qualified staff and universities were on strike for most of the academic calendar? Why do we spend so much on burials and weddings and yet look away when our community hospitals and health centers are in dire need of repairs? Why do we praise corrupt politicians and fail to recognize the effect of our collective acts of corruption on our overall quality of life? I believe that women and youth are a powerful force in changing this narrative, for obvious reasons.

With the incoming administration and the leadership of General Muhammadu  Buhari, who is generally lauded to be a man of integrity, I am hopeful that as citizens, we will all begin to have an honest conversation about the twin-responsibilities of leadership and followership. And hopefully, we may all become open to playing our parts and hence, make the needful sacrifices required to create the society of our dreams. Most of all, I’d really love to leave a worthy legacy for my children and know that I did the very best I could, with all that I was blessed with. Empowering women and youths fulfills my passions, purpose and divine path.

Where do you see WWN in the next three years?

By the sheer grace of God, through our committed focus and with the support of all our stakeholders: members, project partners, recipient communities, angel investors, donors and sponsors, our dream within the next three years, is to have directly impacted at least 100,000 lives, through our projects and programs. The goal is to have a hub in each of the six  zones of the country and to also have a strong presence in four regions of Africa.

A word of advice to women, who are hopeless, disturbed and need a boost or change to be that real person they desire to become?

As you read this, I pray for peace in your hearts, homes and lives. I’d like to remind you that it is a fallacy to believe you are broken, fractured, incomplete, hopeless, loveless, or that your dreams are ‘impossible’. You are a unique being filled with love and light. You are complete and whole.

Uproot yourself from unhealthy environments and surround yourself with positive role models and mentors in all areas of your life. You have everything you need within you and as long as you focus  and continue to take aligned, empowered and consistent action steps, you will bridge your integrity gap and begin to manifest greatness in your life. You are a transformational and creative leader and Nigeria needs you now!

About Time Nigeria

Time Nigeria is a general interest Magazine with its headquarters in Abuja, the nation’s Capital.

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