Nkem Okocha is a banking and finance graduate who resigned her bank job to focus on her passion. Propelled by her personal experience of watching her widow mum struggled to raise her four siblings, Nkem decided to do something about the under-served women in her immediate community.
That was how Mamamoni was born. Today, she empowers and advocates tirelessly for women at the bottom of the pyramid, who are arguably the worst hit by the Coronavirus pandemic, and speaks against the general systemic financial and economic exclusion of the poor at the macro-level.
Tell us about the Mamamoni idea and how today’s realities, specifically the Covid-19 pandemic, has influenced or is influencing the vision?
Since inception, Mamamoni has been about empowering poor women in rural and urban slum communities. We do this by training them in different vocational skills to help them generate income. We provide easy access to mobile loans via our platform www.mamamoni.org and that way we’re able to invest in them.
When the first Covid-19 lockdowns were lifted, we visited some of our women and we found that most of them could not restart their businesses. They had spent their money on feeding and basic survival during the compulsory stay-at-home period. So we pivoted and initiated the MamaBiz Grant – a Mamamoni’s Covid-19 Business Grant for low-income female entrepreneurs across Nigeria. We intend to reach 5000 of these women, providing them with N50,000 grants each and to also provide training for them to restart their businesses. We are currently sourcing for partners and sponsors who can help make that happen.
Do you think initiatives like Mamamoni could be the key to women’s financial inclusion in Nigeria and what could be the ripple effects of that success on the country as a whole?
Yes, most of these women are unskilled and lack sources of livelihood, which is why they are poor. A woman that has no source of income cannot buy into any financial service. When she learns a skill that can help her generate income, she can make financial decisions whether to save, borrow, invest, insure etc. Mamamoni does that very well – we empower women so that they can make better business, financial and life decisions.
What would you describe as the biggest success for Mamamoni?
At Mamamoni we celebrate our milestones, however small. When we launched our website in 2016, we celebrated. When we opened our factory in 2017, we celebrated. When we launched our Innovation Hub in 2019, we celebrated again, and even most recently was the celebration at the launch of MamaBiz – our Covid-19-induced initiative for low-income female entrepreneurs. Every little progress matters to us.
What is the motivation behind your focus on empowering Nigerian women with credit facilities and financial education?
My experience as a child of a widowed mother and the poor women in my community continue to drive me. My mother was a full time housewife when we lost our father. She faced a lot of challenges trying to feed and educate all four of us. I believe when women are financially literate and independent they are able to make good financial decisions concerning their health, children’s education etc.
How do you ensure that the messages you are trying to pass are properly understood by these women, especially the uneducated among them?
We train and teach them in the language they understand – most times in Pidgin English, Yoruba etc. We listen to them to understand how to help them. We use examples they can relate with and understand. We have our toolkit that helps us teach them financial literacy.
What kind of policies would you like to see implemented by the government that could help scale your organization’s success and impact?
The government needs to create policies that will really impact women at the bottom of the pyramid. There should be easily accessible and trusted initiatives to educate these women and fund their small businesses. To formulate truly impactful policies, the government through its responsible agencies should work with organisations like Mamamoni, and other foundations and not-for-profits already working in these communities, and who interact with these women on a day to day basis. That way, they gather firsthand the challenges of poor women and the solutions they prefer.
Why do you think a great majority of women are still financially excluded today; is the gap closing at all?
Most women are financially excluded today because of three major challenges. One, poor financial literacy; two, low trust in formal financial institutions especially in microfinance banks; and three, poverty.
This year marks the deadline for Nigeria to attain an 80 percent financial inclusion rate; do you think the country is on track to meeting its target?
Not really; there has been no visible movement or change and the Covid-19 pandemic has also caused some setbacks definitely.
How do you work with existing formal financial institutions to improve female participation in economic activities?
We work with formal financial institutions by creating opportunities for partnerships via initiatives. An example is our Innovation Hub for low-income women in partnership with Union Bank – it’s a creative and safe space where women from different communities come to learn different vocational skills for free. They also get starter packs to start their businesses after learning a skill.
What are some of the lessons that you have learnt from working with women at the bottom of the pyramid?
I have learnt that it is easy to assume a lot of things about them – like that they are poor because they are lazy. This is not true. A lot of poor people, especially women, are ready to learn if they find a credible platform. The average poor woman is hardworking and diligent but they lack opportunities most times for reasons including their location, religion, and even culture.