Nkem Okocha: A Woman on a Mission to Empower Low-Income Nigerian Women

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Article by: bird story agency

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A former hawker and house help, Okocha has developed the award-winning MamaMoni, through which rural and urban slum women get free vocational and financial skills and loans to help them run small businesses.

Nkem Okocha posing for a picture. Photo Courtesy: Nkem Okocha

by Gbemisola Esho, bird story agency

For Modupe Ademola, Corporation road in Lagos state is a place that will forever be etched in her memory. It was on this street that her life changed.  

She's not the only one. Almost every day of the week, several women and girls flock to gate 31B on this road to have an experience similar to hers.  

The MamaMoni Foundation training hub is situated here, and from fashion design to catering, coding and photography, the women come here to learn vocational skills at no cost.

"I've learnt video editing and photography through the Foundation all for free. I only found out about them through a flier and came for the trainings. I never knew I could learn a skill for free. I am so happy because I now earn from it," Ademola said.

MamaMoni is a fintech social enterprise founded by Nkem Okocha. It empowers rural and urban slum women with vocational skills and later with mobile loans to start businesses.

But Okocha says she never set out to start MamaMoni when she left her banking job.

"I left my banking job in 2013 to start a trading business and bring up my children because balancing corporate and family life was not working for me. I moved into the Amuwo Odofin community and noticed that a lot of women were unemployed or doing jobs like washing clothes that paid almost next to nothing," the founder said.

This situation tore the social entrepreneur's heart out since she had come from similar circumstances.

As a young girl, she had been forced to drop out of school to help her widowed mother provide for her family. After street hawking shampoo in many markets in Lagos, she was sent to work as a house help.

Fortunately for her, the family she worked for took her back to school and paid her fees up to the tertiary level.

"The plight of these women reminded me of my mother's circumstances, so in 2015, I decided to start the MamaMoni Foundation. MamaMoni means "Mother's money," said Okocha.

Although MamaMoni began as a training and skill acquisition hub, it slowly morphed into a fintech organisation. Okocha discovered the women who acquired vocational skills could not start businesses because they lacked the funds.

The Foundation started to give out micro-loans and credit to enable the training beneficiaries to start their businesses.

A Mamamomi beneficiary empowered with equipment. Photo Courtesy: Nkem Okocha

"When we started, money was a challenge because I set up the Foundation from my personal savings, but I later got partners who saw my consistency and what I was doing. So we started getting grants, and some partners invested in micro-loans.

"Our partners and donors include the Tony Elumelu Foundation, the US Department of State, and even my former boss, in whose house I worked as a help, sits on the board of MamaMoni," explained Okocha.

According to her, the Foundation has impacted over 100 communities, trained over 700 women, and directly benefited over 28,000 children.

"In MamaMoni, our vision is aligned with SDGs 1 and 5; to end poverty and achieve gender equality. When women have the skills to make money for their household, poverty will be eradicated," said Okocha.

Besides the physical training, MamaMoni has gone digital to increase its reach.

"We launched the "SheSabi" app in 2022 and it is now available on Google Play Store. Through the app, women can go through the courses and gain skills. We introduced the app so people outside the state who can't even afford transportation to the hub can still take part and be upskilled out of poverty," she said.

"We give out phones in the foundation to enable the women to access digital training from the app and we also give them POS vending devices," Okocha added.

Nkem Okocha holding one of their POS vending machine. Photo Courtesy: Nkem Okocha

Precious Maibiofor, a beneficiary of the POS vending machine, said:

"I started with zero naira. I had been trying to do this POS business for a long time, and all the other people kept saying I needed so much capital. MamaMoni supported me with a micro-loan I collected every Monday and returned with very little interest every Saturday evening.

"I now have an additional outlet, I'm financially independent, and can contribute to my household income and care for the children without begging people or asking my husband," she added.

The founder has been widely recognised for consistently uplifting and empowering low-income women.

Okocha is a 2020 Innovative Justice Accelerator Fellow, a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow, a 2016 LEAP Africa Social Innovator, and a 2015 Tony Elumelu Foundation Alumna.

Despite the accolades, she still envisions more for the women beneficiaries of MamaMoni.

"We have come a long way from a skill acquisition training hub to giving out microgrants and now a fintech company. We are now looking at getting the women who have products to brand, certify them, and get them into supermarket shelves," she said.

"This may seem a long and difficult road, but I know it is possible. If we have come this far, we can go the whole stretch," Okocha concluded.

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