Allure Cover: Inya Lawal
Words By – Yemisi Suleiman
Inya Lawal is not your regular girl next door, she is one young woman driven by a strong passion to create a better life for women and youths. Alumni of the Fortune-U.S. Department of State Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership program, Inya Lawal is a goal-getter who is passionate about making significant contributions to society. A character trait she has proven true to over time, with her track record as boss of Ascend Studios Foundation, a not-for-profit organization with the mandate to provide Capacity Building and Social, Educational, and Economic Empowerment to Women and Youth.
As the president of the Foundation, Inya oversees all program partnerships and projects poised at developing women, youth, and our community. One of such projects is the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs, AWE, a U.S Government Program that supports women entrepreneurs around the world. Over the years the program has trained and empowered two cohorts of women, 100 entrepreneurs in 2019, 120 entrepreneurs in 2020 and trained the third cohort of 250 entrepreneurs from July to December 2021.
During the intensive program which came to an end on the 3rd of December, participants received lessons on business management, networked with like-minded entrepreneurs and mentors, and learned the practical skills required to create and run successful and sustainable businesses. The participants were also privileged to learn through DreamBuilder, a blended business training course developed through a partnership between Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and global copper mining company Freeport-McMoRan.
On the final days of the program, participants were camped at the Ife Grand Resorts and Leisure, Ile-Ife, where they experienced a series of activities including networking sessions, debates, pitch competition, product showcase, mentoring sessions, and a celebratory dinner.
Inya shares with Allure her mission to change the world positively, family influences amongst other issues.
What is the expected outcome after this program for AWE is over? What is the anticipated feedback and how do you act on it?
The testimonials from the 2019 and 2020 cohorts have been amazing, we have seen businesses transform, some participants grew their revenue by up to 200%, many have expanded and started exporting to other countries. We expect more this year with collaborations and partnerships amongst our women.
After the program, our women within the AWE Alumnae network benefit from several National and Global opportunities to continuously expand their businesses.
How does each program connect to your overall goals for the organization?
We are very passionate about women and youth empowerment and most of our programs focus on positively impacting and developing women and youth. It is proven that empowered women develop their communities so the goal is sustainability and prosperity for women. Our programs reflect the needs of society and we have put structures in place for the successful implementation of our programs.
What differentiates you from other non-profit organizations?
We are result driven and sustainability matters to us. If you look at our track record, we have remained consistent and we are positively making an impact. We also collaborate with strategic partners on projects that reflect a shared mission.Tell us a bit about your growing up years. Where did you grow up and what was it like for you?
I spent my very early years in Ilorin with eight siblings and parents. I have lived in Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. I was a very creative, active, and extremely assertive child. I knew from a very young age that I was a girl on a mission to change the world positively and this mandate always stuck with me. I am lucky to have a supportive family and to be surrounded by some of my sisters who have made their mission to see me succeed.
What in your own background prepared you or inspired your act of giving back to society?
Growing up as the last born of eight female siblings, I had first-hand experience of discrimination against women and the challenges the girl child faces in her daily life. My experiences are the inspiration behind some of the programs we run. I was surrounded by hardworking and entrepreneurial women who made things happen against all odds through strategic thinking and steps – so naturally, I do not see limitations but opportunities.
For you, what is the essence of giving? What does it mean to you to give back to society?
Giving for me is making an impact and giving without expecting anything in return. I believe giving is an opportunity to give back to society by creating sustainable opportunities and empowering especially through women and youth, the economic impact for these two groups cannot be overemphasized. To give your best is also to receive the best.
In your opinion, why is it important for people to also donate to nonprofits?
I think we all have our parts to play in society, so everyone who has a donation capacity to help society should donate. It is amazing what a little donation can do. A meal can be the difference between life and death and a grant the difference between a successful and unsustainable business. A laptop donation can change the life of a struggling student or even an entrepreneur.
What values and principles would you say have led to your success?
One of the greatest values in life is learning that success is supposed to be subjective. However, my principles play a key factor in my journey to running a successful organization.
You are an effective female leader. What drives you?
The passion I have for women and youth drives me daily. Their success stories also play a big role. I am highly motivated, committed to my work, and passionate about making a significant contribution to society.
What do you, personally, spend most of your time on?
I am very big on personal development, so I spend a lot of time strategizing and educating myself. I love some family and film time so when I am not spending quality time with family, I binge-watch TV series.
What message would you give to younger women and men?
Patience is a virtue, although being patient does not mean we should sit and wait for success and happiness to find us. Success needs motion.
We need to be authentic and true to ourselves because every other person is taken. Always seek and share knowledge because the world is smaller than we all think.
How would you describe your style?
My style is semi-formal. Most of the work that I do is quite formal so my go-to-style is semi-formal. However, I love to be comfortable because my work requires constant interaction and movement.
How does your style fit into your lifestyle?
My style is a reflection of my lifestyle. My lifestyle is comfortable, stylish, and very business-oriented, hence my semi-formal style.
What are the first items you gravitate toward when shopping?
I love accessories, I’ll probably go towards statement earrings, and bracelets before anything, they are like finishing touches when dressing up.
What’s your dream project?
I have dream projects that are in the works for Ascend Studios Foundation and Ascend Studios
For the foundation, we are creating a Women and Youth Development Hub to unleash the entrepreneurial and leadership potential of Africa’s women and youth.
Ascend Studios is working on a slate of film and TV projects in partnership with local and international companies.
Where do you see yourself in the next 20 years?
20 years is a very long time. I have started building sustainable impact systems that will run independently of me in the next 3 years so my goal is that in 20 years, considerable impact and economic prosperity would have spread to many women across Nigeria and Africa.
Personally, I will be one of the most powerful women in the world by God’s grace.