“I developed an interest in women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship projects when I watched women and girls in my family and community being robbed of their fundamental human rights,” Julie Obi recalls.
Seeing the women in her Nigerian community being unable to afford school fees, becoming single mothers at an early age and lacking access to resources to take care of themselves motivated Julie to make a difference in her community. Identifying these setbacks, Julie realized that she could help by advocating for education and economic empowerment for these women — and she did just that.
Currently, Julie is the program director of the African Entrepreneurs Support and Mentorship Program, an initiative she started during the COVID-19 pandemic to help give back to her community and implement empowerment training programs for over 1,000 entrepreneurs. Julie pushes her female mentees to be bold and lead the conversation; she says this helps give them confidence and challenges them to engage in demanding assignments.
In addition to her role as program director, Julie is also the chief executive of Djulies Sustainable Eventplace, a social enterprise that emphasizes food processing, product development, social and economic empowerment and more by using technology to share knowledge. This enterprise helps women in rural communities brainstorm and cultivate their innovative ideas. She is also an alumna of the YALI Regional Leadership Center West Africa program.
Due to the global health crisis, Julie has had to pivot to digital engagement. Her training programs could no longer operate in person, so she started incorporating virtual workspaces and entrepreneurial communities on social media. She notes that she has created a new normal in her work. However, the pandemic is not the only challenge Julie has had to overcome with her business.
Julie describes several workplace obstacles that she has had to manage, such as wage disparity, sexual harassment, inadequate maternity leave and low promotion rates for women. Despite these, Julie is determined to find solutions. She explains, “Effective solutions to these challenges will enable women to face adversity, which will enhance inclusiveness in politics and business. Women can navigate and influence change when they have the right environment to thrive.”
Additionally, Julie notes that men have an urgent role to play in helping women’s transformative projects. For Julie, boys need to learn empathy early in life to help support girls. Young boys must be taught topics related to sexual and reproductive health, child care and gender-based violence prevention. She says, “It’s so disheartening to know that the social expectations of men and boys have directly affected the attitudes and behaviors related to a range of health issues in our communities.” Men play a paramount role in continuing the positive changes Julie has implemented in her community.
“We need to get them involved in this transformative project if we want to see a positive change in our community where girls and women can fully be seen as human,” Julie says.
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The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.