Sunday, October 24, 2010

Find your bright spot: A woman making a difference

I am inspired by stories of young girls/ladies who have found their bright spot. One of them is Emilia Asim-Ita. Does that name ring a bell? If you are familiar with the Futures Project (Future Awards), Youth Talk on NTA 2 etc. then you’ll know this dynamic lady that simply describes herself as a woman making a difference.

A graduate of Mass Communication, from the University of Lagos, twenty-three years old Emilia is currently the CEO of Thistle Praxis Consulting, a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Consulting firm she started after she moved on from The Future Project (Future Awards). She didn’t just wake up one morning to start her company. She has her recipe, an experience you can trace back to her work “Youth Talk” on NTA 2, The Futures Awards project and other youth development work. All these she did while she was still in school.

Thistle Praxis Consulting that is barely six months old has worked for three organizations and in talks with many more. As a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Consulting firm, the major challenges they see in the sector is the lack of core understanding of what CSR is and should be; proper funding and reporting standards (GRI indices etc). On how they intend to revamp the sector, Emilia said “We expect to promote compliance and proper training on CSR through awareness creation. Then, an increase in organizations implementing CSR policies in mainstream business operations.”

She didn’t just wake up one morning to start her company. She has her recipe, an experience you can trace back to her work “Youth Talk” on NTA 2, The Futures Awards project and other youth development work. All these she did while she was still in school.

How do you combine your activities with studies?
It is quite challenging but unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid it. The option of abandoning one for the other cannot be considered, so I take everything as each comes. Timing is important. Setting priorities for each task and deliverable helps to put some pattern to the chaos workloads.

Was it very challenging for you when you first ventured into youth development work?
It was. Then, the social entrepreneurship sector had not emerged and corporate organizations were clueless about what CSR is all about. Advocacy for young people at all levels and in all sectors is key – always. For each organization and project, what is the succession plan, is there a youth version for the project to ensure that the future is carried along immediately? These are the big questions...So far, a lot of people have grown into this realization. Unfortunately, there are so many other branded or self-acclaimed ‘activists’ who do not pursue what I like to call the Youth Agenda. In summary, the challenges still remain just that they have taken new dimensions; effects and so require new approaches.

Did you often put education on hold to accomplish the other?
I did put a few things on hold to accomplish one or two things, in this sense. One has to take life a day at a time and in so doing, certain things will rank higher in any individual’s priority list. What matters is how long you put something on hold for another and what plans you have to accomplish all that you dream of or have set out to do in life.

What practical steps have helped you create a balance these past years?
New media has helped a great deal. Emails, telephone meetings/conference calls substitute for regular or frequent physical meetings. For over 5years, I didn’t have a life as I could hardly find time for social functions, vacations and even family engagements. However, I have come to realize the importance of creating a balance and have since taken drastic steps to do so. For instance, weekends are sacrosanct to reach out to friends and family – take time to call, pay short visits, show up at social engagements – even if very briefly.

What is your advice to young Nigerians struggling to find their path/purpose and/or those aspiring to start-up a company like you?
There are really no hard and fast rules to starting a business. Do your feasibility study (no matter how basic) to ensure there is a gap your business will fill which ensures demand when you set up.
In order to find your path, there's work to be done. To discover one's self, understand the problem you solve and the purpose for which you were born. Read, learn, ask - self-discovery and the truth are never too far away.

What is your advice to young Nigerians who still believe no young person can “make it” in Nigeria?
That's a big lie. With all modesty, it is not that easy and simple; but its not rocket science either. It is possible to 'make it' - which will mean build a successful career and business and not become rich in an unreasonably short period of time. I have seen people evolve from obscurity to positions of impact and relevance and I think it is possible.

What are the key principles that have kept you on course and eventually helped you start up your firm?
Plan. You can never overplan. Never be afraid to dream BIG; I am a big dreamer and all those who have worked with me before can attest to the fact that I dream big. Even if I am mocked; my dreams always are achievable. So, dream but in dreaming; walk the vision - the future, backwards on a path to where you are - the present.
Principles. Define the principles you live your life by. Its always pays off- even if everyone else is doing the wrong thing. Stick to the right thing. I have learnt that goodwill and integrity can never be bought with money or replaced by wealth. Never abuse relationships, which amounts to abuse of individuals and potential - that ruins people and businesses faster than they can ever imagine.

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