Olubunmi Aboderin-Talabi is the immediate past Executive Council Chairperson of Women in Management, Business and Public Service ,WIMBIZ. She is also the Founding Publisher of Clever Clogs Books and Convener of Akada Children’s Book Festival. In this interview, she shares her experience as leader of Nigeria’s top female platform dedicated to inspiring women to attain leadership roles in management, business, and public service. She also talks about her work as a children’s book author.
BY CHARLES KUMOLU, Deputy Editor
You recently concluded your tenure as the Chairperson of WIMBIZ. How was it like leading such a group of accomplished women?
At the beginning of my two-year tenure, 2018 and 2019, my goal was to continue the excellent legacy of the founders who are the trustees of the organisation and of my predecessors on the Executive Council. I set out to build on the solid foundation I met which is avidly dedicated to helping women as they contribute to nation-building. My goal was to enhance the organisation’s positive influence in society, strengthen the programmes we already have, deepen the involvement of our associates and expand the scale of our impact. I believe those goals were achieved. My time as a WIMBIZ volunteer was an amazing opportunity for me to learn and grow. I am truly grateful to have been allowed to lead. It was indeed a season of firsts and stretch assignments.
During those years our Roundtable Lunches extended beyond Victoria Island, Ibadan, Abuja, and Port Harcourt. It extended to Ikeja, Grand Bonny Kingdom; Uyo, Akwa Ibom and Accra for the first time. The Big Sister Programme was taken to Ogun and Rivers States. Our induction ceremony to welcome new associates into WIMBIZ took place not only in Lagos but Abuja and Port Harcourt for the first time. We launched regional summits in 2018. The first two took place in Abuja and Port Harcourt. We had a social media campaign to encourage organisations to formulate and enact a sexual harassment policy if they did not already have one. We also ran another social media campaign to encourage women to run, vote and get involved in the political process.
We started Executive Conversations platform to make sure the associates and attendees of WIMBIZ events from the early years have an avenue to meet and exchange ideas with like-minded peers. Our WIMBIZ App is now available on iOS as well as Android
We have done our best to connect our associates and with those outside their day-to-day acquaintance, through regular channels such as our Book Club, and extraordinary channels such as the Mentoring Breakfast Meeting with Indra Nooyi, erstwhile Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo. We have done our best to advocate for more women in leadership positions and innovative investments in people through WIMBOARD, WIMPOL, CEO/Policy Maker Interactive Forum. We also participated in a consultative dialogue organised by United Nations , UN, women.
We launched an in-house WIMBOARD Institute for the first time in 2019, training women on board operations, principles and structure; value creation and sound stewardship; enhancing board performance and effectiveness and financial management. We ran two streams that were both oversubscribed.
We expanded the scope of the WIMPol initiative to include a town hall meeting before the general election in February 2019.
We have done our best to EMPOWER through a star-studded faculty assembled for the Masterclass on Leadership through the ever-popular and always oversubscribed Annual Mentoring Program; through WIWIC which held at the University of Jos in 2018 and the University of Sokoto in 2019. We also achieved this through WIMCAP, a 2-day training session for SME owners, which expanded beyond Victoria Island Lagos, to reach entrepreneurs in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Gbagada and Lekki. We have been able to participate in several research studies published in 2019 including the Power of Parity Africa Report 2019 by McKinsey Global Institute; the Nigerian SME Survey by PwC and the Women on Boards Nigeria report by DCSL, IFC, and IoD. WIMBIZ was also featured in the 2018 Deloitte report on Women in The Boardroom.
The quantum and the depth of our programmes, are achievable because of solid, constant, teamwork involving an unimaginable amount of time dedicated to planning, preparing, fine-tuning and executing all of them.
What inspired the decision to become a children’s book author?
There are simply not enough custom-made picture books readily available for children in Nigeria or children of colour generally, but thankfully that is changing. In a country of over 170 million people, when you visit a bookstore you will find that there are not enough early childhood books which depict people who look like us and things we appreciate. If the alphabet charts in our region were true to form we would be seeing A is for Amala rather than A is for Apple. Both are true but one is more culturally intelligent. I am very interested in our children understanding our values and ideals as Nigerians from the moment they can start to read. This helps to build up their self-esteem and understand that there is also worth and great value in the culture to which they were born. Furthermore, reading the alarming contents particularly popular children’s book by a very prolific European author was another defining moment for me. I realised that we can’t let people from other cultures be the sole influence in shaping the world view of a child growing up in Nigeria. We also have to portray our culture and our values through these books. These things in part formed my decision to start writing for children.
Tell us about your latest work, Why Do You Wash Your Hands?
The book, Why Do You Wash Your Hands? is an illustrated children’s book that tells an engaging story about when and why we wash our hands. Handwashing is a simple way to avoid communicable diseases and prevent frequent visits to the hospital. My book shows young readers and their care givers at least, 13 different occasions when they should wash their hands. Why Do You Wash Your Hands? is also the first indigenous Nigerian children’s picture book to come out simultaneously in four languages: English, Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba. In addition, it is the first indigenous, Nigerian children’s picture book to come with stickers in four languages. It was launched during Global Handwashing Month last October. It is a culturally relevant, enlightening, and entertaining book ideal for parent-child discussions as well as being excellent bedtime story material.
Your book “Why Do You Wash Your Hands?” though written in native languages can only be read by literates. How can non-literates be encouraged on the importance of washing hands?
People emulate what they see, but other than that, there are many organisations and government agencies that are passionate about hand washing and work tirelessly to encourage hygienic habits. These organisations such as WaterAid or UNICEF teach hand washing in communities not only across the country but all over the world.
What difficulties have you been confronted with while writing children’s books?
As a writer of children’s books, one of the challenges is finding an illustrator who can interpret, and depict in a child-friendly manner, what the text is saying. It is also a challenge to find affordable book printers. As a publisher, one of the biggest difficulties is trying to attain profitability in an industry with razor-thin margins and fierce competition from cheap imports.
What is your appraisal of the reading culture in Nigeria?
It is very encouraging. Nigerians love to read. What we need is better access to books. It would be great if we could have several well-stocked, well-maintained public libraries in every single one of our 774 Local Government Areas across the country. That would be a dream-come-true. Pretty much consistently, I get invited to book readings at different places in Nigeria. Children want to read. They love to read. They just need better access to good quality and relevant books.
How are you managing competition in the Nigerian children’s book industry?
There are comparatively very few authors who write specifically for children in Nigeria. The children’s book industry is decidedly in its infancy here. To help it grow and develop, we are seeing cooperation and collaboration between children’s book authors.
The competition we are seeing that could potentially drown the local children’s publishing industry is from the flood of under-priced imports from countries like India. It is very tough to compete with import-quality books retailing at N250 per unit when it costs more than N650 per unit to produce that same book locally.
For guardians who seek ways to improve their children’s reading habits, what advice do you have for them?
When guardians ask me how they can encourage their children to read, I tell them to start reading in front of them. If they start seeing you read, there is a greater chance they are likely to want to read too.
Adults should read any place it is safe to do so and encourage their children to do same. They should be taken to libraries book readings and literary festivals. Idle moments should be converted into reading time. Set up a reward system for your children whenever they read books. For younger kids, simple prizes such as stickers are highly appreciated. During after school, hours encourage them to read for fun. Within reason, let them choose a book that interests them. Ask them questions about the storyline of their book, to ensure that they comprehend what they have read and to improve their critical reasoning skills. These habits will also help to improve their vocabulary and grammar as well as broaden their sense of creativity.
In your work as an author, what is the most important business discovery you made in the past year?
The most important business discovery I made in the past year is the treasure trove of business tutorials and testimonials on You Tube I discovered a podcast called “How I Built This on You Tube.” It is full of practical as well as inspiring examples of entrepreneurs who started usually with very little money but a lot of passion applied intelligently and steadfastly. These intrepid business owners ended up 10, 20, 30 years later with global brands that change the way we do things, mostly for the better.
Another big lesson for me in the past year is that hard work is not enough if you can’t communicate your vision and inspire others to work with you on your quest.