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‘Why Quintessential Business Women Association’s membership is from grassroots’

by IGNATIUS CHUKWU

February 18, 2018 | 11:34 am
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A group called Quintessential Business Women Association (QBWA) has over one million members cutting across the 36 states and the federal capital with viable and verifiable listing? Two incidents seemed to shock its initiators into action that led to its formation. The first was the discovery by a Nigerian lady, Shimite Bello, who traveled all over Africa in her search for food taste. She later led a delegation to the US to how Nigerian products were fairing out there in the international market only to discover that our goods were either hiding or totally absent. The next shocker was the chaos witnessed in 2011 when widows were invited to a programme. Their chaotic scramble for minor gifts showed that most women especially the grassroots ones in business in Nigeria were not doing well; they were therefore far below poverty line due to lack of access to finance and poor business practices. Shimite and her team began actions aimed at turning around the fortunes of Nigerian women through business action. This led to the birth of what is now called the Quintessential Business Women Association (QBWA). In an exclusive interview with IGNATIUS CHUKWU in Port Harcourt, Judith Tanko, the director-general of QBWA, gave some insight into the Nigerian business woman and the reason for deploying agriculture and solid mineral business value chains to pull women out of poverty and help them leap above basic suffering. Excerpts:

May we know the reason for the focus on agric and solid minerals?

It is all about empowering women across Nigeria and beyond in businesses. QBWA decided to focus on Agriculture and Solid Minerals sectors of the economy, with reasons. If you look at women, they usually bend to agric and solid minerals. Nigerian women always start businesses but soon, you hear about crash of capital, and the business is down. The president of the association, Shimite Bello, (now Executive Secretary, Delta State Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (DEMSMA) thus set her mind on solving that problem, and things worked out.

The idea is, let the Nigerian woman do business and let it start and be successfully established. We started this in 2011 after she had started African Pot, a television programme in the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) that took her round African countries, to their local areas to see what they eat and what makes them tick. After that, she rested the programme on TV but she continued empowering women from one part of the country to the other and from there to some African countries.

Quintessential Group partners with organisations like DFID, GEMS 4, USAID etc to train for example farmers in palm produce. Then we partner with organisations like Central Bank of Nigeria, Bank of Agriculture, Bank of Industry, etc to get funds for people in the said trade We partner with Organisations like MADE and Propcom Mai-Karfi to create little cottage industries for our cooperatives along pre-agreed product lines.

We heard that the dream began when some women with husbands were rushing items meant for widows?

It began when we hosted a programme in Kaduna in 2011, focusing on empowering widows in their livelihood. We called up all the 23 LGAs to bring out their widows in a cooking competition. It was important to motivate the widows and know their passions such as cooking, cakes, grinding, etc, and not just giving them gifts. We called all of them to come, but we were amazed that the number was overwhelming. There was chaos; fight over the things to be shared, high enthusiasm, etc. We realised that non-widows swarmed the place too. We wondered what was really happening that made non-widows to attend something for widows.

Commissioners’ wives were there to help. We asked why things were not working for women and why even the so-called rich women could hardly afford required amounts. It showed that many women were struggling, not being as rich as they looked. None of us was able to produce the amount stated. It was obvious that people see you in a car or clothes and they would not know that you are merely trying to put body together. People, even family members, would be expecting so much from you. It became obvious that women and their businesses were not doing well. So, we wanted to know why businesses were not working well for women in Nigerian.

This is how the president decided to form a business women association. We saw that most of the women that came were involved in the agric value chain. It may not be that they were farming but anything you touch may either be part of agric or solid mineral; that is the value chain we are talking about. So, she now got the idea and created so many methods to move the association forward.

Nigerian goods were routed through other nations

We now looked at the area of the grassroots to see that they are well integrated. This is because, if women around you are not empowered and you say you are rich, you have not made any progress. So, we had to teach them how to improve their goods and do packaging. If you go to the global market, Nigeria’s goods are not there. We started by going to the 36 states. We later went to the US to see the placement of our goods but we found that they were nowhere to be found. Even if you find any, it is routed through Ghana or other countries; shea butter is routed through Ghana; our ginger product is routed from Kano through China to the world. So, all these things pushed us into saying, no, we need to work on our products. We Nigerians need to work on our products to make sure they compete well in the international market and represent Nigeria well.

Everybody was interested in solid mineral and agric products. The experiment started in the 19 northern states before other states joined when the president of the association was called upon to work with Mrs. Jubrin on ethics and values. It was found that the southern women were interested in it. So, it became Nigerian women association and become Quintessential. Then, other African countries became interested such as Ghana, Liberia, and North America. Some other countries are calling us to include them but it’s not easy. The Liberian leader and North American leader had to come to understudy us here in Nigeria and went back to start in their countries. We are focusing mostly on businesses of Nigerian women.

Why 70% of QBWA members are grassroots women

Some other women business groupings are doing things too but they do not have grassroots women in them. QBWA is for the grassroots women because 70 percent of membership is from grassroots; those that farm, those that sell in the market, etc. They are our targets because it is their goods that get to the final destination. If we do not get it right in the farm, it will not be good at the end point.

That is why we go round the 774 local council areas in Nigeria. Our structure starts from the local councils to the national level. Anywhere you go, you will find QBWA, even where there are no formal offices.

We source for funds for the women. For instance, in 2015, we were able to pull some money from the CBN’s N220billion MSME Fund. They approved N2.7billion but disbursed only N1.7billion to our women in about eight states. Later, some states brought in funds and disbursement grew to N2.4billion as at today. We are doing a partnership with CBN. It was not the fault of the women for not receiving the funds in all states. It was between the CBN and the MFBs. Some states could not receive the funds. At the end of the day, the CBN asked us to get our own micro finance bank (MFB) because the MFBs were not satisfying the CBN. Now, we are talking with Bank of Agriculture (BoA) so they can disburse the money to us. They understand us. Most of the MFBs are unit micro finance banks and that is a problem. We do not have a national MFB in Nigeria that understands us. Our women do not like to deal with the one that appears to be national especially their interest rates. Those who go to them are vulnerable women who have no choice. The MSME interest rate is 9 per cent but some of these MFBs will take more than 30 per cent, striping the women of any gains. BoA as an agric-committed bank understands us. We work with DFID in the UK-sponsored projects, in about five different areas of agriculture.

How the solid structure helps hold together the large membership

Membership is very large. We have the President at the apex level. We have about 10 national directors. I am the Director-General. We have the vice presidents (North, South.) We also have zonal coordinators in the six geo-political zones.

We have 37 coordinators for the 36 states and FCT. We call them FOTA (Friend of the Association).

In the states, we have 15 executives working with the FOTA. We have Local Government Coordinators (LGC). They are our strong pillars because they are the ones leading the grassroots. Even the national officers rely on the LGCs to coordinate the areas.

We have 1000 women clustered into 20 women each in 50 clusters. We have 200 youths per local council area.

We have QWC (Quintessential Women Cooperatives). We have QYL (Quintessential Young Leaders). The youths have their national coordinators; the youth leaders at the LGA, state and national levels. Then we have the Quintessential Women Professionals (QWP) and we focused on 10 professions fit for the structure and the women, including medical doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, nurses, agric extension officers, ICT, etc. They work in their various fields but they work for QBWA, 50 per local council. We have five Quintessential Civil Society Organisations (QCSOs). They are CSOs that partner with us, five per state.

The executives of these groups are working closely with QBWA leadership. We use Whatsapp to communicate because each group has a page and states have their whatsapp pages and each working groups does the same. We do not have to travel everyday to all parts of the country. You can find our members doing one thing or the other, and no week passes that our people do not gather for an event in one state or the other. ICT has been embraced by QBWA to effectively run the affairs of women in business.

All eyes on the achievements:

We have achieved so much so far. There are numerous achievements. The first achievement is the ability to bring so many Nigerian women into the banking system. We went round the LGAs to educate them on financial systems and so they opened accounts. This is why the CBN is happy with QBWA. The second is that QBWA created agency banking. No organisation had done that before. The office of the vice president is using our agency banking system to disburse loans (GEEP) for traders. Most people are trading even when they are farming. Our agency banking is in every ward. We had to train 10,000 agents to handle the GEEP loan. The third is financial inclusion which therefore our greatest achievement because we have brought several thousands of women into the banking network. The fourth is leadership: We have organised Nigerian women into groups with strong leaderships around the country. The fifth is our relationship with international bodies such as DFID, USAID, etc, is strong.

Agency banking, our new weapon

We can use the agency banking to disburse any kind of loan. As we are partnering with the BoA, they will work with our agents in every word for any kind of loan they want to give to our members. States that have not got the CBN loan will now get it through the new system. CBN has asked us to come, but we do not want what happened before between us and MFBs to happen again. We want the BoA to understand who we are and work with our agents so we achieve together.

Our key for loan recovery

I think as it is now, we did very well in recovery. Even if there were lapses, it was not our fault but that of the banks. We always tell them to allow us to train the recipients on the funds they are about to collect. We give our own KYC and most of the MFBs admit we do more KYC more than them. We look at achievement; let it be clean. We work on our members. Those that failed are where the MFBs did not wait for us and went ahead to disburse the funds. Some leaders did not understand it and were eager to disburse. They now understand that training is needed before disbursement. That is the key.

The women can apply the loans in other areas of business than agric and solid minerals.

Our members in the local council areas have contacts. When you call them, they will guide you to meet them. They have meeting centres at the local council levels and state levels. It is not every local council that has solid relationship with the local QBWA to give them offices. What we ask is for the state governments to give their citizens a good environment to run their business associations so as to grow their local economies.

We are in good relationship with most of the relevant ministries such as Women Affairs, Youth, Agric, Commerce, etc. If you mention Quintessential Group, they will easily identify with us. Also we partner with CBN, BoA, etc; so long as you would go to the right departments that handle matters affecting us.

We have annual reports that help to put our operations in order and measure our milestones and achievements. We have monitoring and evaluation in every state to measure performance.


by IGNATIUS CHUKWU

February 18, 2018 | 11:34 am
12893  |   93   |   0  |   Start Conversation

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