Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day – an opportunity to celebrate women across the world, and to amplify the fight for gender equality in a world where nine out of ten people are biased against women and where not a single country can yet claim to have achieved gender equality. This year’s Women’s Day theme is ‘I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights’. It calls for people across the world to work together to change societies and create a generation for whom equality is the norm, not just an aspiration.
The fifth of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to achieve gender equality. Not just a basic human right, it is recognised as an essential foundation for strong, peaceful, thriving communities. The UN states that “Providing women and girls with equal access to education, healthcare, decent work and representation in political and economic processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.”
Routes to Resilience is a female-led initiative working to empower young people of all genders to step into their power and have the confidence to lead sustainably and compassionately. We are lucky enough to work in partnership with schools, companies and organisations that seek to enable our next generation achieve their full potential, righting the wrongs of their forebears.
One of those is Afrika Tikkun Services, an NGO that exists to support communities and the youth of South Africa, by providing holistic development in disadvantaged communities, from ‘cradle to career’. The ultimate goal is to empower young people to develop their inner strength, sense of self worth and empathy for self and others. With these attributes, they will be able to access and achieve equal opportunity and economic empowerment, so they can support themselves, their families and their communities and develop resilience, self-sufficiency, peace and justice.
Today we wanted to discover the story of Afrika Tikkun Services’ inspiring CEO Onyi Nwaneri. Onyi not only empowers other women: she is herself a woman with an interesting story of stepping into her own personal power and equity, of harnessing her passions to drive change in a country and a continent that she loves.
Born in Nigeria, Onyi’s trained in corporate law and provided free legal services to people who needed social justice support. This was her first inkling of her passion and potential for a future in social and economic development. Her journey to Johannesburg and Afrika Tikkun was not a straightforward one, but for Onyi, purpose and a belief in her power to contribute, to drive change and to recognise commitment to ideals bore fruit when she discovered Afrika Tikkun. This was an organisation that shared her belief that Africa has great promise – blessed in terms of people, talent and natural resources, but blighted by high levels of poverty, human rights violations, corruption and poor access to justice. She now leads Afrika Tikkun Services, which focuses on career development for young people and the translation of their qualifications and experience into economic empowerment.
Onyi is particularly passionate about supporting people who have traditionally been at the margins of history – including young women and people living with disabilities. Women, historically seen as second-class citizens in much of sub-Saharan Africa and indeed across the world, remain much more likely to be unemployed, are over-represented in informal and vulnerable employment, and are more likely to carry out unpaid social care work that is so crucial to the functioning of an economy.
Much of Onyi’s work is rooted in the fact that if you invest in a woman, your investment transcends the individual woman. The investment creates value far beyond her own life, impacting her family and her community. A report from KCL notes that ‘giving women greater economic empowerment means enabling women to increase their right to economic resources and their control over meaningful decisions that benefit themselves, their households and their communities’. And it’s not just those around a woman who benefit: the World Bank estimates that the world is losing $160 trillion in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between men and women. Investing in women and gender equality is not only the morally right thing to do – it makes sense economically as well.
Onyi and Afrika Tikkun work hard to nurture a generation of economically empowered women who will play a key role in helping Africa to achieve its untapped potential. This month, they are launching their new 2020 Youth Career Development Programme (CDP) developed by Routes to Resilience to include a strong focus on Work Readiness for Sustainable Futures. Of the 57 young people taking part, 42 are phenomenal women getting ready to drive their own contributions to #GenerationEquality. By becoming strong but compassionate leaders who put the welfare of the planet at the heart of their life and career decisions, we believe they can nurture and direct a viable resilient future for their communities and our world. So much responsibility rests on the shoulders of these young women and all young people. We must take the responsibility to ensure they are equipped with all the knowledge, skills and tools they will need to create a bright future for the world and for the people that live in it.
So how can we uplift and empower the young women of our world? We can recognise their talents, believe in them and nurture them from potential to power. As Onyi says, they carry seeds that just need to be watered in order to flourish. We must listen to them when they tell us about what it is that is waiting to be watered, and we mustn’t patronise them. We must allow them to believe in themselves and to know that nothing is impossible. Above all, we must invest our time, money and skills in them, and give them platforms from which to soar.
Caption: The many faces of the women participating in the Afrika Tikkun Services Youth Career Development Programme this March to May 2020
Postscript: Routes to Resilience is collaborating with Afrika Tikkun Services to deliver a bespoke version of the R2R Sustainable Futures programme. Sustainable Futures is an employability, career readiness and leadership development programme designed with the challenges and demands of a rapidly changing world in mind. The programme is intended to give young adults the frameworks and language needed to not only develop their professional behavioural competencies but also their understanding of the current and emerging global context, the principles of sustainability, systems- and design-thinking and the ability to navigate complex situations as resilient and empowered leaders. Sustainable Futures builds on the foundations of Routes to Resilience’s core programmes in sustainability leadership action and includes modules dedicated to “Knowing my Competent Self”, “Building Empowering Relationships”, “Sustainability Leadership”, “Acting with Impact” and “Practical Skills Must Haves”. Designed by specialists for post-school, undergraduate or early stage professionals, it works to build intra and inter-personal skills, ignite catalysts for change, provide simulated workplace scenarios to navigate opportunities and positively impact on the communities within which participants live.