Oyinlola Sale is the founder of Women Connect, a platform that showcases women entrepreneurs and the impact they are making in society. Her initiative has helped over 100 women overcome social and economic barriers to business success.
She has also created a thriving and sustainable community for women to network. In this special International Women’s Day conversation with WASILAT AZEEZ, she shared insight on the role of technology in financial independence and women’s empowerment.
Can you tell us about Women Connect?
Sale: Women Connect is all about inspiring, informing and empowering women. We started this journey in 2020, precisely during the lockdown, and it was an opportunity for women to network online. We started an online community and we grew into having physical events.
We have at least one or two physical events in a year. We have women around the world. Some are in Nigeria, some live in other African countries while others stay in the UK, Canada, you name it.
We’ve had a lot of programmes over the years; we’ve had skill acquisition programmes; we’ve had a fair. We also organise an annual hangout for our women. Now, I must say, this has really empowered them because they gain so much in one day.
What are those personal experiences that motivated you to begin an initiative that cares about women’s empowerment?
Sale: I was actually inspired to start the platform a long time ago. When I was working with TVC, I was presenting a programme called ‘A Woman’s World’ and that was as far back as 2013 and I really loved it. Along the line, I stopped and then moved to another TV station.
Later on, I had a programme called ‘Amazing Amazon’ where I interviewed a lot of women. In fact, I interviewed over 100 different women from different sectors.
I must tell you, I finally realised in 2020 that I needed to create a network, a community for these women. That was how we created Women Connect and it has been a platform where women have connected. They have been able to empower one another. That’s what it’s all about.
You started your platform three years ago. Would you say it has become a success?
Sale: I can say my platform has been a success. We do so many things. We have the Women Connect show, which I do online weekly on Instagram and we interview different women on various topics. We also have our blog where we showcase women and their businesses.
We have a WhatsApp group; before, it was just one and now it’s two and we have close to 500 women. People always see opportunities in Women Connect because we have a great network of women that cut across various sectors and not just women who are leaders in the fields of business.
So, the kind of women we have are really awesome, really great and every year, the network keeps building. It keeps building because of the various programmes we’ve had.
Last year, we had a hangout and we also had a fair; so, it multiplied and it kept increasing. This year, we are having another hangout and different brands have called us that they have interest in Women Connect.
So, I am so excited. I’m happy that I was able to create a platform for women, to inspire them, to inform them, to empower them.
What are the challenges you have faced so far as an entrepreneur in Nigeria?
Sale: One of the challenges I’ve faced as an entrepreneur in this country is funding. It is not easy at all to raise funds but I must say, there are some banks that have accounts for women. One of them that I’ve really leveraged on is FCMB SheVentures.
They have been supportive to the Women Connect brand and I appreciate them. I would just say that there is a need to create more opportunities for women to gain access to funds so they can thrive in this economy.
Did you ever feel like quitting due to the challenges you encountered?
Sale: Last year, we had our fair and I must say, it was quite unfortunate. The period we had it was during the fuel scarcity, so it affected the outcome of the fair.
We are having our Women Connect hangout this year and it has been so frustrating. The bank networks are not working. To get access to cash is a problem. So, I’m worried. I keep asking myself questions such as ‘Why did I decide to hold this thing in March? Why did I not move it to April?’
So, all I can say is that the whole situation in the country is very discouraging. I must tell you that I’ve realised that after this Women Connect hangout, I’m going to sit down and restrategise. How can we make greater impact? It is important because people are suffering; women are suffering.
What is your vision for your platform?
Sale: Well, my vision is for the platform to grow beyond me, a platform that would outlive me and also go beyond Nigeria. I plan for Women Connect to be present in various countries where women would see the need to have that online community, to have that support group because it is all about women supporting women.
Women need to stand up for one another. We need to encourage one another and every March, I’m so excited about International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is all about innovation, technology, and that is where the world is moving today. You don’t need to have a physical meeting before you know that you’ve had a meeting.
When we started Women Connect in 2020, during the lockdown, we had trainings on our WhatsApp group where people would come and they would talk. People were inspired with that before we went on to having our Instagram Live on a weekly basis.
Anyways, I am happy because I am a woman and I have two girls. I believe that this legacy will be passed on to the next generation and women will keep growing, keep connecting one another and keep helping one another and it will grow beyond our imagination.
Who are the women that inspire you?
I am inspired by women who are selfless, women who put themselves on the frontline. That is why I admire Stella Adadevoh, the female doctor who stepped up during the period of Ebola. May her soul continue to rest in peace. If not for her, the thing would have escalated into something else.
There are other women who have had impact on me, such as Oprah Winfrey. I love what she is doing. She is someone who I can relate with her story.
Let me tell you my story. When I was presenting ‘A Woman’s World’, the reason why I was told to stop was because one of my bosses said that I wasn’t woman enough to handle the programme because I didn’t have children.
However, that should not be the basis for saying a woman cannot present a programme. But I decided to push on. I’m not just a woman, I am definitely a woman of substance.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a very wonderful woman. I appreciate her. I appreciate her work. I appreciate what she’s doing and what she has done. So, those are the kind of women that I feel we should look out for. Kemi Adetiba in the creative industry is also doing well.
There are various women across all sectors, selfless women, hard-working women, elegant women who are able to merge their personal life with their careers.
That is what makes you a complete woman and for those who don’t have children, you are doing phenomenally well. You are doing great things because to be a woman is not easy.
Even men cannot understand. They cannot comprehend how we women are able to stand. For a woman to be able to work in an environment, it takes so much for her to command that respect compared to a man.
That is why we celebrate International Women’s Day to empower women, to encourage them, to let them know their rights. This year, we are embracing equity. We must fight for it; it is our right.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female empowerment?
Sale: The most significant barrier to female empowerment is lack of access to capital. Once there is no financial support, a lot of things go wrong.
One of the concrete steps that Nigeria can take to advance women empowerment is to create schemes for women, whereby women can register, learn a skill, get a certificate, get at least N100,000 to start their own business.
Unemployment rate in this country is high and that is why it is very important that young girls need to learn a skill while schooling. That skill will help you in the long run. I believe the country needs to work on those kinds of skill acquisition programmes.
TheCable: What advice would you give to young women who want to become entrepreneurs or dare to be innovative?
Sale: My advice for women who would like to dare to be different is never take no for an answer. When people don’t want you to achieve something greater than them, they tell you no, but don’t take no for an answer.
No is just a stepping stone for you to move on and keep moving on. Just hold on to your dreams; hold on to all your desires; hold on to all your goals and trust me, you’ll surely achieve it.
If someone had told me that I would be able to have a platform like this today, I would have said no. That’s the reason you just need to keep moving, you never know who is watching. One day, it will all pay off.