By Yemie Adeoye, Ebele Orakpo & Moses Nosike
EMPOWERMENT of women and youths has been identified as key to alleviating the devastating effects of poverty and putting an end to youth restiveness in the oil-rich Niger-Delta region.
In pursuance of its corporate social responsibility, Esso ExplorationÂ and Production Nigeria Limited (EEPNL), a subsidiary of Exxonmobil in collaboration with Morgan Smart Development Foundation (MSDF), organised an economic empowerment programme for women and youths from three coastal communities in Delta and Ondo states.
Saturday Vanguard travelled to the restive city of Warri in Delta state for the two-day event which according to Dr. Evelyn Omowumi Urhobo, the Managing Trustee/Chief Executive Officer, MSDF, was to officially flag-off the entrepreneurial workshop for 24 youths and 150 women beneficiaries.
In a chat with Saturday Vanguard, Dr. Urhobo spoke on various issues including women development on a national scale.
Criteria for selecting beneficiaries
For this particular programme sponsored by EEPNL/NNPC joint venture, we went to some coastal communities of Delta and Ondo states where needs assessment was carried out using the bottom-up approach to confirm the development needs of the people and from the needs assessment, we were able to identify those that will benefit from the programme â€“â€“ the 24 youths taking part in the computer training and the cooperatives that will benefit from the women empowerment programme.
Role of women in development of global economy
The woman is still the core to development because when you empower one woman, it has multiplier effect. Like we always say jokingly, â€˜empower a man, he takes another wife and creates more problems; empower a man, he goes to a hotel and gets drunk. Empower a woman, she thinks of her immediate family. The woman has relations, she has children and the spread is very wide.
So if you can empower one woman, it immediately has a multiplier effect. One, the children going to school is absolutely guaranteed because she will make sure the children go to school.
She said it is pathetic when a woman cannot guarantee the meals ofÂ her children, not to talk of the children going to school because when they go to school, they are going to buy books, pencils, uniforms, etc and when the stress becomes too much, she withdraws them from school.
Such a woman has lost her dignity of impacting anything to her children and â€œchildren cannot respect you if you cannot guarantee them their basic needs. That is why we have a lot of the children today saying to their parents: â€œYou say you are disowningÂ me? I de-mother you, I de-father you because you cannot provide anything for me.â€
That is the genesis of youth restiveness.
A lot of these boys, grown up, mature are fine-looking youths butÂ they do not have education. What went wrong?Â I got an educationÂ in this same environment 50 years ago so that is what we are talking about. We want to empower the women.
I endowed the foundation in gratitude to God and in memory ofÂ my late father and also as my own way of giving back to society because I have realised that womenÂ needed to be trained apart from giving them micro credit. A lot of women do not know what to do, they have been so incapacitated by poverty they canâ€™t even think of what they want to do. So we have to actually create this forum where we expose them to business opportunities and then give them training in these opportunities, followed by micro credit. That is what we have been doing.
My mother was just 23 years old whenÂ my father died leaving her with two children. She put her hands to work to make sure that she put food on our table. She gave us opportunity to go to secondary school. She didnâ€™t have much, luckily, I was brilliant and got a scholarship and immediately I finished, I put my younger sister in school but all said and done, today, I am what I am and my younger sister is a proprietress of a school. The women donâ€™t have such opportunity 57 years later. If a woman now has two children, how does she put her hands to work?
Addressing the US Congress
Iâ€™ve been very privileged because of the process of our interaction with Mobil which I was nominated to attend. During our participation at that workshop, from the presentation of what MSDF has been doing in women empowerment because incidentally, I happen to also be the chairman of Coastal Microfinance Bank which we have been running over the years. They were quite impressed with what we were doing in our own little corner so I was one of those who were asked to come and do the presentation at the US Congress briefing and the role of women in development.
Basically, the idea was to showcase what women are doing. In my own case, for 16 years, we have been giving micro credits to the poor women to generate income and improve livelihood.
Participants were taught to look out for and take advantage of every opportunity
For instance, you are going to buy fish to sell and somebody says â€œplease help me buy kerosene,â€ which means there is need for kerosene. This means as you are buying your fish, buy kerosene also to come and sell. They were quite excited because this is the kind ofÂ information we need to impact over and over again; know business opportunities that are rare.
So we did some sessions and we were able to come out with a communiquÃ© as to how women can really be empowered to contribute to strengthening the global economy, starting from strengthening them to contribute to their own local economy. Then, they go on to contribute to state, to national and international. There is need also for the international community to know that in planning for the empowerment or strengthening of the global economy, concentration should be on the women at the community level.
This is the bottom-up approach. If you strengthen the woman at the community level, sheÂ is going to impact and it goes to the state, to the federal and to the international level. So that is our appeal and our determination to achieve in our foundation. We want to empower women because they are key to alleviating poverty and the problem of the Niger-Delta .
If they can take care of the children, if they can assure the children that they have a future, then this issue of militancy and restiveness and all the rest of them would not be there. So women are still the key. The issue is that they must be empowered because it is vital to development.
Paying back the loans
It is very important that they know from day one that it is not a grant or free gift. It is a loan. So if you do proper business planning, you would be able to pay back. You are given the money to go into a trade or an enterprise. From day one, we get you involved in our esusu contribution from the bank so every day, as you are trading, you are saving something. So at the end of the month, it is easy to have something with which you service your loan and then you also take care of yourself. Usually, the interest is very small and the gestation period is a bit long.