By Vera Sam Anyagafu
Bishop Priscilla Otuya is the Nigeria chapter President, Mothers of the Nations and founder, Company of Women Enterprise Network (COWEN), a non-governmental organization that is founded to partner women across Nigeria in building a stronger Nigerian economy through engaging fully in socio-economic projects and building on financial intelligence.
In this interview, with Vera Anyagafu, Otuya, who seems embittered with how many Nigerian women stay limited to their household activities and are kept completely unaware of their rights and their own development, said COWEN will ensure that each and every grass root woman in the country is provided with the necessary tool that will enable them realise their full potentials.
What is COWEN’s mission in Nigeria?
Majority of Nigeria women are ignorant of who they are and how to move to get what they want or need as the case may be. So COWEN has come to stand as an interface and a bridge between this set of women, including also the middle and grass-root women and some of the non-governmental agencies and government agencies that are relevant to accessing the information needed to achieve what is desired for a better Nigerian economy.
COWEN, will base on empowering women with some small stipend to start up desired businesses and as a network, participants will have to register to become a members and be followed up by constantly monitoring the processes as they thread.
COWEN will also assist participants on business planning and as well partner some business experts to have forums, programs, training programs, meetings and so on where women will be taught through any field of expertise.
Is COWEN partnering the Ministry of women Affairs in this course?
Yes. COWEN will fully work with the ministry to reach and empower, importantly, the grass-root women. Many Nigerian women are oblivious of the fact that the Ministry of Women Affairs exists for them. As a ministry it has its purpose which the women do not know about.
You only see them on television doing what they ought to do but it does not go down the ladder. So after this formal launch of COWEN, we are going to schedule a meeting and relate with the ministry on some issues that bothers on women and empowerment.
We need to change the mentality that government officials are high up there and out of reach. Government officials are there to serve us. So we want to bring back that understanding that a public servant is there to serve our interest and not their own interest. It is our right to freely access them for the empowerment we seek.
Is COWEN limited to operating only in Lagos?
No. COWEN is going to be an international women empowering network. We have chapters springing up in various countries, but the Nigerian chapter situates in Lagos for now. In the civilized world they have systems that support women and the women are made to know what is in it for them. But the reverse seems to be the case in Nigeria.
The information gap is a big challenge and COWEN intends to break that gap in every way possible, so that our women will be made to understand that there are systems in Nigeria that are created to address and assist them in various business fields.
How will COWEN monitor this network of women?
Every local government area in Lagos will have a coordinator that will be monitoring all the activities there. Like I mentioned earlier, this is not regular stereotype networking. In every three months, we would have ‘THE MONEY WOMEN CONNECT’ lectures, where business experts from different fields, will lecture and train women on various business interests.
COWEN will teach women the importance of partnership and pulling resources together. With a simple Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU), participants will bring their strength together to create an enviable business empire.
For instance, one woman can have sewing machine but has no shop, the other can have a shop but no sewing machine and the third can have a bail of materials but cannot sew and has no shop, and so it goes. And so, what we need do, is simply coming together to fully actualise each and every of our goal. And as the women agree, zone coordinators will find out who is for which and it takes off from there. It is a very powerful, win-win, important fantastic idea that women should embrace.
The banks also are not left out here, because COWEN will partner banks women desks to actualise this, by acting as middle man, because many women do not know about it and cannot access them, and many others are too timid to take initiative and approach these agencies for information/solution and in this case, COWEN will stand in the gap.
I also want to state here that if big banks can merge to survive, there is no reason women cannot come together to survive themselves by pulling resources together.
We want women to have financial intelligence and teach them to live for their neighbor, who can be their husbands, children and or next door neighbor and to do all these, money is involved and so we need to educate these women to becoming financial intelligent.
Nigeria is a blessed country and so we are planning to learn how to network women to help each other by partnering banks that are ready to finance collective projects and with no collateral to be paid back at maturity to our group of women.
This holistic approach to empowering women, will also help motivate, develop a nd create employment, thereby, reducing the rate of unemployment in the country.
Just as women empowerment starts at personal level, it is a tool to developing a nation and Nigeria should not be left out.