“I am passionate about the standard of living of women and children” – Oluwafunmilayo Oni

Oluwafunmilayo Oni has over 3 years of experience in initiating, developing and executing sustainable strategies for development and poverty eradication in urban slums in Nigeria. She is the founder and team lead of Iranwo Foundation where she focuses on providing economic empowerment opportunities for unemployed women in disadvantaged communities in order to end extreme poverty among women and strategically improve the standard of living of families . She has led her team to provide sustainable interventions for communities such as Oru refugee camp (an abandoned refugee camp in Ogun state), Ifo local government, Mushin by providing empowerment opportunities such as vocational trainings, seed grants, mentorship and support for over 200 women in these communities.

Recently, her team moved to Makoko (the world’s largest floating slum) where her organization has trained over 50 women in vocational skills such as Tie Dye and soap making and employed 20 of these women to generate income for themselves to improve their livelihood. Oluwafunmilayo also works for Kindle Africa in Makoko where she facilitates access to quality education for disadvantaged and vulnerable children in the community. Oluwafunmilayo holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics & Education and she is also a certified project manager. She is a Global Youth Ambassador for Education (GYA) and recently she was selected as Ideation Hub Africa Top 5 under 25 Social Innovators in Nigeria. Oluwafunmilayo is passionate about improving the living conditions of slum dwellers and she is vast in the advocacy for inclusion opportunities for women and children living in slums. She continues to work on creating disruptive and more sustainable intervention in disadvantaged communities, and gradually recommending policies and strategies for organizations and the government to further improve the standard of living in slums dwellers in Nigeria. The beautiful advocate shares her story in this interview.

Childhood Preparation
Yes, my childhood prepared me for this. I grew up in communities where several women are in need of financial empowerment. It wasn’t uncommon in these communities to see women lamenting about where the next meal would come from or how to raise their children’s school fees. My first act of charity was when I shared the notebooks my mother collected from the thrift and credit society at her workplace to some kids in class because their notebooks were not complete (LOL) I continued to do the little I could till I eventually found an opportunity to fully manifest my dream of empowering women and children.

Meet Me!
I am a social entrepreneur who is passionate about building peace in urban slums and disadvantaged communities by equipping women with economic opportunities and providing access to quality education for children. In 2016, I birthed Iranwo Foundation with the aim of bridging the economic gap between both genders, one community at a time through policy advocacy and the provision of business empowerment opportunities to end extreme poverty among women. In 2017, I graduated from Tai Sholarin University of Education in where I studied Economics and Education, I am also a certified project management personnel (PMP).

In 2017- 2018 I did a short stint at Catering For Africans in Need (CAIN) as the Country Director, working to break the vicious cycle of poverty in among families in urban slums by providing access to quality education for children living in slums and healthcare for all . In furtherance of my passion for social change, I also coordinate programmes for Kindle Africa Empowerment Initiative. Kindle Africa is a nonprofit situated at Makoko – The world’s largest floating slum and we provide empowerment programmes for women and access to education for children in this community.

I am most excited when I am opportune to work with woman and children and I continue to seek more opportunities to broaden my horizon.

Inspiration behind Iranwo Foundation
I was inspired to launch Iranwo Foundation because I saw a need. Prior to founding Iranwo, I was an active member of ENACTUS TASUED. ENACTUS is a campus based organization that provides support for students to solve community problems using sustainable models. In the cause of these outreaches, I was able to deduce why women are at a disadvantage when it comes to harnessing economic opportunities and the need for inclusion in all sectors for women in Nigeria.

Supporting refugee camps and slums with empowerment opportunities
In refugee camps and slums, women are saddled with more problems than men. Women and girls are trafficked to other states to work as house maids and prostituted while the meager sums they earn is sent to their families.

In these communities too, young girls are given away as child brides to lessen the burden on the family and her wedding cum marriage also serves as a source of income for her family .Women in refugee camps and slums also have higher chances of being raped and abused and they are always extremely poor, missing out on important and beneficial information. All this and more are the reasons why Iranwo Foundation continues to empower women in these communities.

Training over 50 women in vocational skills and the feedback
The feedback has been amazing. First, women at Oru refugee camp has started producing tie dye shirts, generating income for themselves, leading to an increase in the standard of living of their families. Another instance is the entrepreneurship boot camp held at Ifo Local government last year, we challenged women to come up with new business opportunities in their community. Mrs. Adeyemi and Mrs. Folashade came up with the idea of producing soap for schools in the community at a subsidized price, they produced the soaps, located schools and pitched their idea to them. Within 3 weeks, Mrs Adeyemi and Mrs Folashade have partnered with 24 schools and sold made a profit of 105,000.

Iranwo Foundation in collaboration with Kindle Africa Empowerment Initiative trained 56 women on Tye Dye production and soap making Makoko- the world’s largest floating slum . We also provided beneficiaries with business advisory and leadership sessions that bring them together in a group, sharing best practices to integrate ideas on marketing strategies, pitching, pricing, business plans and other strategies for scaling their individual business interest in. To improve the standard of living of women in this community, Iranwo foundation has employed some of these women to produce trendy adire wears and leveraged social media to sell the produce. Recently, we launched ‘the liberated women’ collection, it is a collection of adire shirts and jackets designed by women of Makoko.

So far, our beneficiaries have been cooperative and very appreciative of our efforts. Some of them have set up mini soap making stores at their respective houses, some of them produce adire independently while some of them are employed by Iranwo Foundation. In all, the journey has been worthwhile.

Work Challenges
The biggest challenge the team faces constantly is raising enough funds to empower as many beneficiaries that as we would love to. Eventually, we always had to select women who show a very high level of dedication for our empowerment programmes. Another challenge we face is the issue of trust, several nonprofits have abused the privileged given to them by God to help a community, most times nonprofit do very little in a community and blow it out of proportion to the world. Members of these communities are often wary of the cameras and video and sometimes uncooperative .Thankfully, the team has been able to build formidable relationships with these communities.

Being recognized by Ideation Hub Africa top 5 under 25 social innovators in Nigeria
It feels great to be recognized for my consistent efforts in ending extreme poverty among women and bridging the financial gap. I am honoured. It was an affirmation that my dream for every woman is valid.

Reward
For me the greatest reward for what I do is the significant increase in the standard of living of the women and children that I have worked with. My joy comes from meeting with them and seeing how well they are doing. For example, because of Iranwo Foundation’s intervention at Oru refugee camp, there was a significant decrease in child labour at the camp due to increased income of their mothers. Girls from the refugee camp reach out to me from time to time to intimate me of their progress in terms of schooling, work, relationship and life in general. This for me is enough gratification.

Advocacy in Nigeria
Advocacy has always been and will continue to be crucial to the growth of Nigeria. It is such a good time to be a Nigerian as we have several people advocating for different things such as good governance, human rights, women rights, children rights etc.

I believe that more work needs to be done to improve advocacy in Nigeria, Individuals and organizations should collaborate more and embrace partnerships rather than compete, this way advocates will have a stronger voice and a wider reach .

Never giving up
No, I have never felt like giving up. I have been depressed, I have received several rejection mails but it has never occurred to me to give up.

Who and what inspire you me to be better
First, my mum has been a constant source of inspiration, her life and her achievements considering that all odds were against her has continued to fuel my desire to be better. Oby Ezekwesili’s resilience, most especially how she handles the Bring Back Our Girls Movement continues to challenge me and I am inspired.

I also draw inspiration from the kindness of Olorunfunmi Adebajo and the soothing calmness of Fisayo Aransiola.

Being a Woman of Rubies
Oh yes, I am precious. Overtime, I have come to realize that I am a force, I effect change in my capacity and I go out of my way to make lives better. I have keyed into the words of God which are ‘yes’ and ‘Amen’ and through him I have manifested and help people manifest. I have also felt fulfilled at all my encounters with the beneficiaries of Iranwo Foundation knowing fully well that if I do not create an opportunity for empowerment for them, nobody will.

I shine bright, shinning my light to brighten the lives of others
Advice for young women who want to go into the advocacy and development sector

Advocacy and development sector is quite an interesting one and I will like to encourage every woman who is interested in the sector to embrace collaboration rather than competition. Since our ultimate goal is to make the world better, advocates should work hand in hand.

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