2016 Community Organisation Award for Gender
Women4Africa is a community focused organisation set up to celebrate ordinary African women doing extraordinary things. Their projects are focused on uniting, empowering and creating role models from African descent. They do this by hosting an Annual Awards night which is currently in its 5th year, with an average attendance of 750. Women4Africa is the largest and most successful African Awards ceremony across Europe, and supports a charity of choice that empowers women and mothers annually. Women4Africa was founded by Couple Sam and Tola Onigbanjo, they are the visionaries and drivers of this organisation. Their core focus is to identify and celebrate female role models of African descent from humble and ordinary beginnings, and to elevate them to a global audience.
We caught up with Mr and Mrs Onigbanjo after their win at The National Diversity Awards 2016! They were the winners of The Community Organisation Award for Gender and here’s what they had to say about it…
What did you think of the other shortlisted nominees in your category?
Tola: Well firstly we were very excited to be shortlisted, to be totally honest it was so unexpected and we were just so overwhelmed. When we received the email we were so surprised yet so happy, it was amazing.
After winning the award where is Women4Arica going to go from here in regards to diversity?
Sam: I think it’s given us so much more to talk about so when we are talking to people we can really emphasise the win. We are really going to be pushing it in London in these up-coming months. We hope that we can get an even wider involvement because of this win. One of the things we are passionate about is networking, we do have our blog but most effective is the networking. We are going to have the opportunity to talk to people and just let them know what we are about and how recognised we have become in the diversity network now because of our win. We just want to see them send more nominees our way, we want nominees from everywhere to ensure that they get onto our platform. The plan is for us to expand our reach on a global scale, we are taking our time to make sure that we build a credible base here. We are most definitely going global with this.
How is the work that you are doing within all strands of diversity making a difference?
Sam: When people come to Women4Africa all of a sudden their mobile phones don’t stop ringing, people that they were trying to reach out to suddenly recognise them and then doors open and they get much better changes from the visibility. The second thing is that because they are award winners of such a credible award it gives them that confidence because some women do still have confidence issues and so in a way this really helps them to stand tall and go out there and make a difference to the world.
Why do you think it is important to highlight diversity, equality and inclusion?
Sam: My response is very simple, we are all actually the same and I mean exactly the same. We are the same people with different genders. That is how I look at it, everyone is exactly the same but we talk and walk with our different genders, so that is the most basic way I can describe it to begin with. We all show a different shade of colour, we are all different heights, different ages, but the emotions the knowledge and the fears are all exactly the same. Everybody feels these things and that is just the way that it is. We always try to show this and that is why we celebrate ordinary women doing extra ordinary things because it proves that anyone because of their height or colour or age can achieve their goals and in that respect everybody is the same.
Who or what is the inspiration behind the work that Women4Africa do?
Sam: It is creativity. Previously my wife was a hairdresser and she had been for more than 20 years and she used to listen to people tell stories when she was doing their hair and she was just so amazed at the people that she came across with so much talent and so much to give however they were not being recognised. I think for myself, I am one of those men that was always their mothers handbag I was always with my mum. I really appreciate the amount of effort and work she put in every day and I praise her massively that. I see that there is so much more that she could of achieved as she was so capable of doing so.
Tola: I think also for me, it was women’s hair that I used to do and so everyday women would come in and they were from different countries, different races and they all had their own individual differences but I noticed that like my husband said, they championed something or they were doing something spectacular and it was ordinary women doing phenomenal things and that for me made me want to create a platform were these women were celebrated. Each woman is doing something unique and something different and it is something that everyone of us can relate to. We are all different in our own way but we are all women and we can make something great and that is what we are trying to show to the next generation so that they are encouraged by todays women. We want to portray that you don’t have to be a particular height or a particular race or a particular size or age or even follow a particular ethnic background. At the end of the day, look at the ordinary women and look what they are doing and achieving and for us that is what makes us as an organisation stand out because a lot of people look but they look at all the different women from different countries and look at how diverse they are but they are all doing amazing things so it makes it seem to them that I can also achieve this and reach this potential. I can put in this hard work and achieve what these women are achieving. That was my personal driving factor and for my husband Africa is a huge passion, we are trying to let people know that whatever part of Africa you are from or wherever you may be situated now we are still all one.
What has the reaction been from fellow employees and supporters?
Tola: The reaction has been great! We are very active on Facebook and we have received so much positive feedback on there. Once we posted that we had won, everybody was saying congratulations and letting us know what great work we were doing it was just so uplifting. Seeing that we won such a credible award in The National Diversity Award it was like a huge boost. There is so many awards out there it is so hard to be recognised by and win the right one however we feel that we have been very lucky to win this award. I think for a lot of people that follow us and a lot of people that know us, to hear that it was actually National Diversity Award that we had won was so wonderful for them to hear as well as ourselves. We also had a lot of people celebrate with us and on our behalf for winning such a great award so the buzz has been tremendous!
How has winning the award had an affect on you personally?
Tola: I think for me personally it has boosted me as I always say to people ‘I’m not really about winning awards’ as I am more about giving awards because that is what we do at Women4Africa. The thought that people have taken the time to recognise us and nominate us and now that we have actually won the award to see how happy people are for us is just letting us know that our work and what we are doing is being noticed and credited. For me, it has taken me to another level of direction for Women4Africa. Every little idea and thought I had when I first began this with my husband has been relived through receiving this award and it has just inspired us to keep going and continue to do what we have been doing and more.