Bringing Others Along – An Evening With YPO

I am constantly asked why Alldens Lane primarily supports and provides business advisory services to female entrepreneurs and CEOs. To be honest, I am always as amused as I am surprised that many deem it odd. In many ways women in business, especially in Africa and particularly in west Africa, are not a rare breed. From Nigeria to Togo to Benin and Ghana, women dominate and have thrived as entrepreneurs and business people in the marketplace. Think of the Nana Benz of Togo who dominated the African print textile industry. But where women have jostled a few minds and disrupted a few paradigms is when we are seeking yet again to enter into a path less trodden, and a space traditionally with less room for us.

For myself and Alldens Lane that space is in the professional small and growing business sector, what some call the SME sector. Ordinarily that sector is synonymous with micro enterprise and to some extent semi-educated entrepreneurs seeking to make a living, no survive, because there are social, institutional and educational barriers to their entry into the formal business sector, and even if they made it there, they could never be accepted. Juxtaposition this thinking and ethos to women in the small and growing business sector. A double whammy of errors. How could anyone serious take you seriously? More so, how could/why could any well educated and professional woman choose to operate in the small and growing sector?

But despite what one may think, all creatures started small – even the creature that is business. What causes a creature to grow sure and steady and to thrive is the quality and nature of the nurturing that creature receives, as well as the determination of that creature that though it falls sometimes it will always rise. The same runs through in business.

It was an especial honour this past week to convene professional women entrepreneurs in the small and growing business sector with a group of established business leaders from the YPO Global family. The YPO, the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), is a global network of young chief executives with approximately 22,000 members in more than 125 countries. It is the premier chief executive leadership organisation in the world. Women in the Alldens Lane network that were present included professional women who work across sectors and industries from oil and gas, to health and medical services, to education, investment and financial services, and luxury fashion. The YPO members that were present, present with their spouses, included highly successful business leaders from equally diverse sectors and industries – manufacturing, law, financial services, telecoms, and the list went on.

What was striking, beneficial and humbling for me was the enthusiasm, the interest and the commitment of YPO members to engage with, impart counsel and gain further insights from each and every one of the women there present who, well, yes, have businesses in the small and growing business sector.

You see, as all creatures start small, these chief executives remember all too well that they also started small. The recognise all too well that more of us should become like some of us, and they remember that someone somewhere mentored, guided and coached them, perhaps even from afar, into greatness.

Men as well as women in business perhaps share the same values of hard work, risk taking and the sometimes dogged conviction against all odds that their vision and purpose has value and will speak volumes commercially and for society. But where women differ, and as so precisely articulated in the recent edition of KMPGVoices, is that women in business have some unique concerns – namely they seek work life balance, they demonstrate a willingness to improve their skills, they lack particularly female role models, and they have a strong desire to have mentors.

The rationale behind Alldens Lane’s support and nurturing of women entrepreneurs in Africa’s small and growing business sector is so to ensure that even those outside of the privileged professional organisational set up have a chance at success. The business giants of tomorrow are not only going to be birthed from today’s corporate giants. Many will be birthed by women entrepreneurs who, spellbound by a resolute conviction of a business idea, and losing sleep over it, decided that come what may, I will live my dreams and achieve my aspirations. Women who have decided like Olajumoke Adenowo, Grace Amey-Obeng, Tara Durotoye, Lucy Quist, Maidie Arkutu, Mo Abudu, that I will, I must trail blaze, for this conviction burns so fiercely within me that I cannot contain it. In essence what these women have done is to embrace their authority. We flourish when we embrace our conviction and our purposes, as if our very existence depended on it.

I close, and I do so with a warning from Sheryl Sandberg: ‘we hold ourselves back in ways both big and small by lacking self confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back.’

Leave a Reply