Updated: Feb 5
Josephine Nzerem ( Director, Venture & Fellowship, Ashoka Africa, Founder, Human Angle) talks to us about her new venture- the Ten Feet Tall Initiative and how she hopes it will unite women around the world, starting with Lagos Nigeria
Josephine is not new to social innovations and social enterprises. She was doing it long before these became buzz words! Starting with Human Angle, she went on to become a Director at Ashoka, the think tank that provides networks and builds capacities for social entrepreneurs. Herself an Ashoka Fellow once, Nzerem has been working on building skills to make more self reliant and more entrepreneurial for over 3 decades now.
Working with Quiet Value Consulting, the project is still very much in nascent stage but Josephine wants to share the idea with the world, an idea she hopes will spawn new courage and thinking in women everywhere. The project is itself quite simple, to bring women together under one roof and create an atmosphere of sharing and understanding, but at the same time, keeping career development and work-life balance in focus.
"TFT" cafes will roll out first, she says, where women of all ages and life-stages, from students to career women to entrepreneurs to retirees can drop in to discuss various pressing issues women face. Each cafe will have an overarching topic and this will be moderated, but kept flexible enough to bring in new issues.
"I am very particular that the women of today, of all ages, shapes and sizes should see themselves as independent thinkers whose mind is not shackled by anything and are open minded to learn new ways to understanding themselves"
On the services side of things, Jo has a long list of ideas and services- cafes, speed networking, life-work balance sessions, learning from people with lived experiences (an area Jo says is highly underrated) and B-School style program with its own certification. She is aware of the rather ambitious take of TFT but then again, Jo has never been one shy to try new things!!
Pic credit: Jo Nzerem
(Read also the Quite Value Case study on Jo Nzerem)
Jo's work with women for several years now has given her enough insight into what they want, how they think. Yet, she assumes nothing! "Things evolve, women change, so does their thinking. A 20 year-old today has so many options her mother never had. She can communicate better, faster and to anyone in the world. But does she know that she has that power? Or is she just using that to reach 20 of her friends who live in the same neighborhood and go to the same college instead?" she asks. And this is what TFT aims to work on. To tell women of the power they have, and to show them ways to use it wisely and effectively!
Pic credit: Muhmmadtaha Ibrahim, Pexels.
What stands out about Jo Nzerem, is how humble she is, despite her past success, track record and extreme goodwill she has. She is aware that TFT is a whole new venture, a whole new ballgame and she needs to treat this with the same caution and care that her previous ventures have needed. Not that is bothers her.
"I am here because I stand on the shoulders of other women who had to struggle before me"
Speaking of her own rise, she mentions the support and breaks she got from other women who were established in various careers back in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, she has developed a deep respect for the power of women helping women. "It is an irritating myth that women are harsher on women", she says, "we just tend to remember when women are harsh on us because we might have assumed an automatic support". She is emphatic about not playing what she calls "the female card", and says her aim with TFT, as it is with her work with women's empowerment is this: 'I want women to know how to fill in a loan application and go and talk to the loan officer confidently. Not defer to her husband/brother or father to answer questions about her loan application.'
The loan application is spoken both as a metaphor an literally! I ask her whether this is where the B School comes in. Yes and no, she says. The B School might tell her what to do and say, but it is interacting with other women heart to heart that will give her the confidence how to say it! And this is also where her insistence on speaking with women who have scaled heights in their own careers comes in. To know, to see others around them have done it will be a good boost to the women.
"I am here because I stand on the shoulders of other women who had to struggle before me" she says, "they had to work really hard just to be given an opportunity to stand in the same room as their male counterparts. I choose to focus on that, it makes me realize how fortunate I am, keeps me grounded, grateful and helps me move forward" she concludes.
No one doubts whether or not her new venture will succeed! Her dedication, interest and enthusiasm to help women is unparalleled. While she wants to start small in Lagos Nigeria, she already has her sights set on the globe! As she puts it, "I really want women to understand they are already ten feet tall! Guiding and shaping the world and not taking enough credit for it! It is time as women we all understood what we are capable of and made small or big but effective changes in our lives, careers and families".
Here's wishing her success that is ten feet tall and more!!
Details of The Ten Feet Tall Project can be seen here.