In this exclusive interview with Bolanle Olukanni, founder of God’s Wives, an NGO that provides empowerment and wellness support for widows, she shares her opinions on social entrepreneurship and provides a roadmap to follow, using her journey as an example.
– By Lanre Solarin
Bolanle Olukanni is a TV presenter and producer, a host on pan-African talk show “Moments,” hit music reality show “Project Fame” and one of Nigeria’s favourite red carpet shows “On the Carpet with Bolinto.”
Raised in Nigeria, Israel and Kenya, Bolanle has seen a fair bit of the world but finds there is no place like home, here in Nigeria. She graduated from Loyola University, in Chicago, America with Honours in a double degree, of BA Communications and BA International Studies. After graduating, Bolanle returned to Nigeria to do her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), where she spent her service year working for a non-profit organization in Ekiti, Nigeria. During her NYSC service year, Bolanle and a fellow Corps member started ‘Girls For The Future’, a gender based empowerment workshop for secondary school students aimed at teaching the girl child their rights and providing mentorship for the students. In 2017, Bolanle founded – God’s Wives, an NGO that provides empowerment and wellness support for Widows. She is also the writer, producer and director of an acclaimed documentary called “God’s Wives” about the challenges that widows face in Nigeria. She is currently on the Board of Directors of The Self-Worth organization- an NGO that provides empowerment classes and supplies assistance to widows and single mothers in Nigeria. In her spare time she enjoys reading a good novel, writing poetry and watching “The Walking Dead.”
Bolanle believes a social problem to be anything that society is struggling with and can be solved with a business idea that can generate income but also address the social issues. She has been able to consistently address the issue of income generation through her NGO, God’s Wives, which supports other NGOs that provide empowerment for widows.
“We realized that a lot of women would prefer to have a way to generate income instead of depending on handouts. So last year, we trained 75 women in three different respective fields – Dress making, makeup artistry and catering. Once the women finished their training course, we gave them seed capital in business materials so they could each start a business. Therefore, if you are a tailor, you get a sewing machine, the makeup artists got makeup kits and the caterers got catering materials, including ovens. We also organize wellness seminars and expose the women to trainings on investment and insurance.”
Bolanle started and remained unwavering due to her belief that life is about positively affecting and impacting someone else’s life. As she stated, “I am not fulfilled as a person unless I know I am using my influence, platform and impact to help another person. We live in a society that does not have social welfare structures so we need to be the social welfare systems for each other.”
Due to the fact that she believed so much in her dreams when she started, she used funds that she had saved to provide investment for the training centre. “I think you have to invest in any project you have before you actually can convince a third party member to invest. In some cases, we can get investment early on but sometimes it takes diligence and commitment. We now have external support, as Lipton is currently running an initiative to support widows and provide seed capital for them during this season of Ramadan. So for every box of Lipton being bought, consumers are also supporting widows.”
For aspiring social entrepreneurs looking to empower through skill acquisition, Bolanle believes heavily in partnerships. According to her, “If you can find an organization that is already providing skills acquisition programs, work with them. I invested in the Self Worth Organization for women because I had seen the work they had done and I realized they had the structure and ideas for the centre already laid out. We collaborated and the centre came about.”
This is only the beginning for God’s Wives as Bolanle is excited about their plans for the future, “We already have another class of trainees being enrolled and we will have our graduation in August. We are also currently fully open to external support and have launched our ‘Support a Widow’ program, which allows people who are interested to financially support the women.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.