By Ephraim Oseji
Her appearance bellies her achievements, both professionally and academically. UK-based Mary Dinah, the Chief Executive Officer of M.A.D. Hospitality, a hospitality consulting firm, has over 15 years of experience working in some of the world’s leading hotel brands. Within Starwood Hotels, she was Food and Beverage Marketing Representative for all 49 hotels in Africa and the Indian Ocean, while also Head of Marketing in charge of five hotels in Nigeria: Four Points by Sheraton Lagos, Sheraton Abuja, Sheraton Lagos, Le Meridien Port Harcourt and Le Meridien Ibom Golf Re¬sort.
Dinah holds a B.Sc in Computer Science from the University of Nottingham, M.Sc International Hotel Management from the University of Surrey (Distinction), Master’s in Global Business from the University of Oxford (Distinction) and a Post Graduate in Entrepreneurship from Harvard University (Distinction).
A philanthropist whose ultimate goal is to feed every child in Africa with three meals per day, Dinah is the Founder of ‘Food for Thought’, a non-profit established in 2014.
In this interview, the dark-complexioned genius who recently fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a beauty queen, speaks about her profession, charity work and reveals plan for her one year reign as Miss Nigeria Great Britain and Miss Lagos 2019; two crowns won within the Miss Nigeria Great Britain showcase.
How did you build a career in hospitality?
Well, I have been in the hospitality industry for over a decade. I started when I was very young in the UK as an intern with five star hotels such as Hilton, Sheraton and Marriott. I have been able to progress and grow within my hospitality career both practically and academically. I also set up a hotel management company, M.A.D. Hospitality, about 10 years ago, which has grown to be very successful. So, I am quite pleased that I have accomplished a lot in hospitality.
What are some of the key principles you stood for that you think young ladies aspiring to venture into hospitality and pageantry should emulate?
There are two things I have always stood for. The first is not to let anyone place you in a box. We all have the capacity to do a lot of different things at the same time. After receiving a Distinction from Oxford University for my Master’s in Global Business, I was told I couldn’t be a beauty queen as I am ‘beyond that’. I politely told them ‘no’. It’s not possible to be beyond a dream. If you want it, go get it and remember, you can obtain the things you want in any order you wish. The ladder I am climbing is mine; and the picture I am painting, only I know. So, it’s important not to let anyone distort the pixels in what they don’t understand and can’t visualise. You are the master artist in this composition and everyone else is a spectator; so, run the show. If they don’t fully understand your path, they can catch up later.
Secondly, there should always be a higher goal in everything you seek. One that is ‘non sibi’ which means ‘not for oneself’. I look forward to using this platform to alleviate hunger in children all across Africa through my charity, ‘Food for Thought’. Already, we’ve started feeding all the 120 students in Anglican Girls’ Seminary School in Lagos. We feed them daily and we will continue to do so forever. I chose to start this programme with an all-girls school as a subtle nod to my push for gender equality in Nigeria.
The world of pageantry is perceived to be a cesspool of immoralities; is that the reality?
Well, there are a lot of people who might misunderstand modelling and pageantry, just as they misunderstand hospitality. I remember that as a young girl, I was excited to work as a hotelier but was told by my Pastor that it is not a decent environment for women to work in. This is a very backward viewpoint which again hinders women from pursuing their chosen career paths. In my many years in hospitality, I have gone on to win numerous awards, including the Golden Circle Award at Marriott and Marketing Award at Four Seasons amongst others. I was previously Ambassador of Tourism in Lagos State and I’ve been asked to speak on several occasions including the Women in Tourism Entrepreneurship Conference at the Lagos Business School and the British Council Study UK conference. I continue to make an impact in society with my hospitality knowledge and that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t dispel naive and unfounded comments about women in hospitality.
…and how will your one year reign as Miss Nigeria Great Britain and Miss Lagos affect Nigeria positively?
On the night I won the pageant, I remember saying in my speech that “if you’ve been given fame or fortune, it’s imperative to use it for greater good and make an impact to elevate the lives of other people”. Personally, I have a responsibility to use everything I have achieved to make a big impact during the next one year as Miss Nigeria. It will require all my knowledge and skills from diplomacy to academia, hospitality, charity work and my personal training, sports and fitness. As a focus, I have chosen ‘Zero Hunger’ as my area of impact. It is a United Nations sustainable development goal. Whenever I eat, I think of children who are hungry and have nothing to eat. Without food, we wouldn’t be alive; hence Abraham Maslow places it in the category of very essential basic needs in his widely published ‘Hierarchy of needs’. I am passionate about ensuring that children have three meals a day across Africa. Like I said earlier, I am already realising this dream on the platform of my NGO, Food for Thought.
What other aspect of Nigeria’s economy will you use your influence to develop?
Tourism. I was quite fortunate to have met the DG of Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation, NTDC, when he attended one of our rehearsals and discussed ways of using this platform to develop tourism in the country. Lagos is an incredibly beautiful state and should be a global megacity. So far, it has not got as much tourist traffic compared to cities like Miami, London and Paris. I love travelling and I have visited those cities but to me, Lagos is the most fun place on earth. Recently, I was at a private beach in Ilase which looks like a scene from day dream in paradise. Lagos has untold beauty that people, including ‘Lagosians,’ have not had time to explore. I definitely will be promoting tourism and encouraging other people around the world to come to Lagos and experience what we have here.
Let’s talk about Food for Thought and its agenda…
Food for Thought is focused on alleviating hunger and poverty by feeding poor children in Africa. The organization actively supports five United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and works in partnership with the UN. Established since 2014, the foundation has been successful in other youth benevolence programs including Job-Link which was Nigeria’s first ever job centre. Now acquired by the Nigerian government, Job-Link connected over 10,000 youths to gainful employment and trained more than 5,000 people on employability skills and CV writing. We have received numerous awards for our contribution to society including the Vice Chancellors Award at The University of Surrey, Governors Award in Lagos State, Social Impact Award at British Council (2017) and I received the Future Leaders Award (2018) in the United Kingdom.