They say the worth of a woman is in the value she creates, this woman has created so much value that I literally almost drowned in it. Writing about Ms. Ndidi Nwuneli was a spiritual process for me because of the depth and weight of richness she carries. Please read with you heart and mind open. I hope that you feel what I felt and catch what I caught as you read through the words herein.
Ndidi Nwuneli has 19 years of experience in International Development and Business Management working with multinational firms, the public sector, and international organizations. She’s mostly known as the founder of LEAP Africa, a nonprofit organization that focuses on encouraging leadership and development initiatives for youth and business owners in Nigeria and Ndu Ike Akunuba (NIA), Igbo words which translate in English to Life, Strength, and Wealth focused on female empowerment. She is also the co-founder of AACE Food Processing & Distribution Ltd. (AACE Foods), and is one of the directors of Sahel Capital & Advisory Partners, an advisory and private equity firm in Nigeria, which focuses on the agribusiness and manufacturing sectors.
Ms. Nwuneli holds a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Graduate School of Business. She received her undergraduate degree with honors in Multinational and Strategic Management from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
5 Practical Lessons we can learn from Ndidi Nwuneli
The values you embrace will outlive you
Ndidi was raised by two professors who were determined to set excellent standards in the Nigerian education system and in the lives of their three young children. Till date, Ndidi credits them for stirring up her passion for Nigeria and the desire to succeed. According to her “My parents exposed my siblings and I to the concepts of patriotism and service from very young ages,” she says. “(They) provided me with a strong foundation in integrity and a very strong work ethic.”
Their investment certainly paid off, with her starting LEAP Africa in 2012, a social enterprise which has trained over 50,000 Nigerian entrepreneurs, youth and teachers in the area of effective leadership. In turn, trainees have started 1,000 change initiatives in their communities.
Your decision to succeed… your decision to live a life of honor and dignity and its effects do not stop when you die. They outlive you by influencing the kind of life your children in turn live even after you are gone. Generations are tied to you therefore you cannot afford to be careless in making your life choices and in picking the values you live by. Ms. Ndidi’s success began from her parents.
Check your motivation
Ndidi Nwuneli while advising young people during an interview said “Check that you are motivated by a desire to solve a problem and create value, that is rooted in God’s plan for your life, plan effectively… (and) carefully build a dream team, composed of a strong board and committed employees.”
Money or self-gratification is not a good foundation on which to build your business, career or enterprise. A life lived outside self is a life well lived.
God is the author and finisher of your faith… Literally.
In an interview Ndidi said “Ensure that your motivations are aligned with and rooted in God’s plan for your life and that they clearly reflect Christian values of honesty and integrity. The reality is that if God has not sent you, He will not equip you, and you will struggle.”
When the chips are down, Nwuneli says she hinges her trust in God, and acknowledges him as her anchor. “My relationship with God is my anchor I gave my life to Christ when I was 13 and I have never looked back. He is the source of my peace, joy, vision and strength. He has also blessed me with a close circle of family and friends who serve as my champions – prayer partners and advocates.”
“The vision for LEAP Africa was inspired by God…”
A relationship with God is not an add-on. It’s the foundation ad determinant of your success in life. Don’t put the one who can take you to where you long to go in the back seat of your life. He should be at the fore front. He is literally the author and finisher of your faith. Proverbs 3:6 “In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct your paths” and you can be sure that God will never lead you outside where your glory lies.
Keep it moving
In 2002, Ndidi Nwuneli founded LEAP Africa and NIA. In 2009, she co-founded AACE. In 2010- She co-founded Sahel Capital. I currently split my time between AACE Foods, Sahel Capital (a private equity and investment advisory firm), and LEAP Africa. All three organizations are at defining moments in their histories. LEAP celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2012, and is embarking on a strategic repositioning and succession process. AACE Foods recently moved into its own factory in order to focus on scaling up sales and operations. We are also expanding our partnership with smallholder farmers across Nigeria and diversifying our product line to include complementary food products. At Sahel Capital, we are filling an important financing gap for small and medium-sized enterprises in the Nigerian agricultural landscape.
Ndidi also writes for connectnigeria.com on the business of agriculture amongst other topics
Through my experiences I have gained an even greater appreciation for the magnitude of work and the time and energy required to transform lives, communities, and countries. Sadly, we have only scratched the surface.
Where you are is not the ultimate. As long as you have breath you can move forward, do new things and scale your already existing businesses/ideas. Someone said your destiny is not a mere destination but an adventure. Don’t be afraid to take on new opportunities and explore new ideas. Stretch yourself!
Let the Lord be your guide
Here’s Ndidi’s account of how she came back to Nigeria
“Five months after returning to McKinsey, I was basically sitting in my apartment in Chicago on a Saturday morning in February 2000 when I received a telephone call from a successful Nigerian entrepreneur called Fola Adeola.
He basically said that he heard that I wanted to move back to Nigeria and that he wanted to offer some jobs to me. (Without any mention of interviews! Hmmm??? Convinced about a God-decision yet?) He basically mentioned four positions in the Nigerian private sector, and the 5th option was that he needed someone to help him start a nonprofit focused on creating wealth in Nigeria through entrepreneurship development for youth. I clearly knew that I was not interested in anything but the fifth option. Then and there, I told him about NIA, and my plans for establishing something similar for Nigerian women…we went back and forth about the merits of helping youth versus women…and neither of us could convince the other. Before I realized what I was saying, I heard myself promising to give him an answer in a month!
During that month, I consulted with my mentors, family members and very close friends. The reactions and advice that I received were very mixed.
Some said, this is a great opportunity, it sounds just like NIA, go for it, life is too short. Others said, Ndidi, if you are going to join an organization in Nigeria, why don’t you consider going through a more formal and robust recruiting process, so that you can compare your options…What if this big shot – Fola – runs out of money?…We hear he is a devout Moslem and you are a strong Christian…hmm, is this really a move? Yet, others said, What level of the Nigerian society do you want to come into? Stay at McKinsey for a couple of years and then you can return to Nigeria as a minister of finance or trade, instead of joining a non profit. Still others said, what is pulling you to Nigeria? Is there a man that we don’t know about? and to them I responded, I wish. (Isn’t it always true that whenever you decide to move to a new state or new country, you suddenly discover all the gems in your own back yard…or they discover you…)
From a financial perspective, the options were simple, (1) Stay at McKinsey until Oct. 2001, that way you will owe the firm nothing and have tons of savings. 2) Stay at McKinsey until at least December, by then you will only have worked at the firm for 14 months, use your fat end of your bonus to repay your remaining debt to the company 3) Leave now, take a 70% pay cut by joining FATE, and repay McKinsey at least $45,000 (O.K. I got to set my own salary, but could not justify paying myself a U.S. salary in a start-up nonprofit environment, in Nigeria!)
From a spiritual perspective, I felt completely at peace! Every time I prayed about the option, I felt a sense of urgency about the need to make a move immediately…and by May 2000, I DID! Three years later, I am thrilled that I took option 3! Through the wonderful support of Fola Adeola and the Ford Foundation, and the hard work of a committed board, amazing staff and over 200 volunteers, I was able to successfully establish FATE. Today, the organization operates offices in Lagos and Port Harcourt, has received numerous international awards and is recognized as one of the most professionally managed and performance-driven nonprofits in Nigeria. I remain actively involved as a board member and supporter of the FATE. ( http://www.fatefoundation.org )
Happily married (to an old friend that I reconnected with in Nigeria…this was all part of the Master’s plan, but I did not realize it when I made the move), Debt-free (Thank God!), I have started a new nonprofit organization called Leadership Effectiveness Accountability & Professionalism (LEAP) Africa ( http://www.leapafrica.org ) Guess What? During the summer of 2003, with support from the Association of Women’s Rights in Development, NIA will be born!
A little older, and hopefully, a little wiser, I have learned more than ever before to lean on God’s direction rather than advice from any man or woman.
10 prerequisites to consider before making a major decision (A special message from Ndidi Nwuneli)
“For what it is worth, if you are faced with a major decision concerning your career, consider the ten prerequisites that God has placed in my heart…and may they be a blessing to you.
- What are your passionate about? What gets you excited? If you are still unclear about what you are most passionate about, make a list of the things in life that make you angry! Rank them in order of priority!
- What are you good at? What comes naturally to you? Now, I don’t mean technical skills…but softer skills. (e.g. I never realized how much I absolutely loved public speaking and training until I was put in a position in which I had to do it repeatedly. In your case, it could be that you make everyone around you feel comfortable, regardless of their social, economic and racial backgrounds)
- Are any of the skills that you listed above directly relevant to the passions that you noted in question 1? (e.g. since I love training, I believe that I could help more Africans improve their personal effectiveness by organizing Leadership Institutes. In your case, it could be that since you love spending time with all types of people, and are deeply upset about the absence of good African restaurants in Boston, even if you hate cooking, you could consider opening a restaurant! You can always find someone else to do the cooking…while you focus on attracting and retaining the customers)
- Would you be willing to do this for free? (Does the option still look attractive to you if you take all financial considerations out of the equation?) Success will always follow passion and talent! This will not happen overnight, so you need to have enough passion to see you through the empty bank account. Believe me, if you are passionate enough about something, you can always convince others to part with their money or time.
- Would you be willing to do it even it did not carry a prestige factor? (Often times, we are trapped in resume-building mode and are only concerned about adding brand names to our repertoire. Have you ever considered the fact that you can create your own brand? Oprah is a brand! Believe me, fame follows passion and talent!)
- When you pray about this opportunity, do you feel at peace about the opportunity? (Of course, you have to be at a place in your walk with God, when you can distinguish his voice from all others. Are you living a life that is Holy and Acceptable unto God? Do you spend time in his presence? Are you humble before him?)
- Is this the right time? Are there any signs from God that indicate that this is the right time to pursue the opportunity? (By signs from God I mean what many of us call unexplained coincidences such as people popping into your life, open doors, unsolicited advice that is surprising on-point etc.)
- Do your close friends think that this is a good move? (e.g. only talk to two or three close and consistent friends who have always told you the truth, even when it hurts!) If you don’t have a prayer partner, it may be wise to find one…consistent spiritual support is critical to success.
- Do your progressive family members think that this is a good move? (e.g. believe me, when you step out in faith, you always need all the support that you can get, especially from your spouse and progressive family members!)
- Are you prepared to remain committed to God and humble in spite of any success?
“If your answer to most of these questions is YES! Then, make the bold move and step out in Faith!”
Awards and Recognitions
- Honoree of the Global Fund for Women during their 25th Anniversary Celebration in San Francisco – 2013
- Winner of the Harvard Business School Nigeria Business Club 2013 Leading Social Entrepreneur Award
- Recognized by Forbes as one of the 20 Youngest Power Women In Africa, 2011
- Excellence Award from Anambra State, 2011
- Selected for Harvard Business School’s Africa Business Club’s Excellence Award, 2007
- Selected as Young Manager of the Year by THISDAY Newspapers in 2005
- Received a National Honor – Member of the Federal Republic – from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on December 16, 2004
- Selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, Davos; 2004
- Selected as a Global Leader of Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland; 2002
Some Positions held
- President of the Penn African Students Association
- Member of the Penn Gospel Choir and the Black Students Union
- Intern at Mitchell & Titus and Arthur Andersen
- founding and Co-chairing the Annual African Business Conference in Harvard
- Vice President of Faculty and Student Affairs for the Africa Business Club in Harvard
- International Liaison for the African American Student Union in Harvard
- Publicity Chair for the Christian Association in Harvard
- Business Analyst with McKinsey & Company in New York.
- World Economic Forum as a committee member on the Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership from 2011-2014.
She currently serves on the following boards:
- LEAP Africa
- AACE Foods
- Sahel Capital
- Nestle Nigeria Plc.
- Cornerstone Nigeria Plc.
- Nigerian Breweries Plc.
- USAID Advisory Committee on Voluntary Aid (ACVFA).
Beneath Ndidi Nwuneli’s petite frame, femininity and pleasant charm is a strong lion’s heart set on change. A silent achiever, Nwuneli has garnered over 19 years experience in international development and has led a range of initiatives in Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda and Senegal. She notes, “LEAP foundation has engaged over 50,000 youth and business owners through core training programmes and over 250,000 individuals in local and international speaking engagements. LEAP’s beneficiaries have also initiated over 1000 change projects in their communities.’’
She authored a book “Walking for God in the Marketplace” which is a reflection of her deep conviction that faith must be backed by actions in the world of work. Treating such issues as punctuality, integrity and initiative, she urges readers to show that their faith is more than mere words.
You can watch my Favorite video of her here.
There’s just so much to be done ladies. We have to submit ourselves to our purpose here on earth.
This post was culled from the Thresh woman WCW Column. The ThreshWoman WCW is a column I manage with the goal to celebrate and encourage the successes of women all around the world while inspiring other women to chase their dreams fiercely.