‘I can’t believe I am this late’ The words flew out of my mouth as I hurriedly bundled my still sore body -no thanks to Azman air- through the revolving doors of Ado Bayero mall in Kano, Nigeria. I had recently complained to a friend that when it came to events, I was in no way a Nigerian, I got there right on time, and in most cases, a few minutes before, but time and again, I found myself waiting a good two hours for the event to start. In this case however, the organizer/founder, Aisha had ticked all the right boxes by starting exactly on time, calling to confirm the event was well underway, and wondering if I was still going to make it on time to give my talk. This left me frantic and out of breath as I made my way to the hall, and sat down to catch the tail end of Aisha Babangida’s keynote speech.

From the feedback and responses, I could tell that she had connected well with the audience, and there were near concert-like chants of having her as a mentor to help guide them through their business decisions, immediately she was done talking. I could see why, let me explain.

Although I still consider myself a visitor in Kano, I have been around long enough to know that such a gathering where women discuss how they can move their businesses forward through open and honest dialogue about the challenges they face, is quite rare. I also know that the Nigerian business atmosphere, makes it almost impossible for women who seem to have it all, to actually genuinely connect and make statements like, ‘You keep me motivated. You are the reason I stay motivated’ as an answer to how she stays motivated, when asked how she – Aisha Babangida- does this much and still take time out to champion the cause of women. Politically correct or not, it was the right anecdote, administered just at the right dose, when most of her audience where starting to wonder if they needed -or could afford- to stay in business in the coming year, and if they could get those businesses to thrive.

After the thunderous round of applause, and scrabble for photographs, our chief host took the stage to introduce a young fashion designer to the crowd. The 17year old fashion designer not only had a great selection of outfits, she spoke so impressively well about her brand, the vision she has for it, and closed her short speech with a glowing remark of how being incubated at the hub had made her a more focused and determined entrepreneur.
When I finally took the stage to deliver my talk about branding. Inspired by the comments earlier, I made a good example of aligning values being at the core of running a lasting brand by using Aisha Tofa, the convener. Without surprise, the crowd agreed that if someone else whom they didn’t trust or think could deliver such a quality event, was holding the conference even at their neighborhood, they will not have made time out to attend and be such a receptive audience. They were four speakers, including myself, and I was happy to note that the attendees had been charged to do things differently by all the speakers.

The message was clear; in the room, and the interactions after, a good number of our women have realized that indeed, we are stronger as a unit, that supporting someone else’s passion doesn’t make yours any less important, that validating an idea by investing time and giving good feedback, is not only a service to the receiver but also a boost to the giver.

I can only imagine the work involved when it comes to getting over two hundred women in a room on a Friday morning in December-wedding season- to talk about business in Kano- the undisputed arewa capital of buki. Some big congratulations are therefore in order to Aisha and her team, for their dedication in keeping this conference going year after year, and for getting our women to tap into the age-old wisdom of a healthy ecosystem that supports their dreams and goals for their brands. I look forward to attending more of these events, and sharing participants’ testimonies with you soon.

See photos from the event below:

Registration point
The startup Kano team
A cross section of guests
Aisha Tofa, founder, women founders group and convener of the conference
Dr Hauwa Lamino, co-founder, EYE Africa delivering her talk