(Editor’s note: The International Women’s Society of Nigeria is honoring Teresa Clarke, Africa.com’s CEO, with the Humanitarian of the Year award today. Her acceptance speech is republished below.)
President Cecilia Aqua Umoren, the Executive Committee and Board of the International Women’s Society (IWS) of Nigeria, Other Awardees, Members of IWS and Guests:
Greetings to all of you on this special and festive occasion.
I am very sorry that I cannot be with you in Nigeria today. I have had a long standing obligation to be in South Africa this week for an important board meeting, related to the charitable work I do in South Africa. I am particularly disappointed because I was in Lagos just two weeks ago, and will return again next week, and wish that I could be there in person with you for this important occasion.
When I first learned of your organization, its mission, and its long history dating back to 1957, I immediately thought of my late grandmother, and how proud she would be to know of my association with your esteemed society. At about the same time that you formed the International Women’s Society of Nigeria, in the late 1950s, my grandmother became a board member of a similar organization in Bridgeport, Connecticut, not far from New York City. The organization she helped lead was established to foster international and inter-denominational understanding among women, and this was a cause she was committed to throughout her life, having formed personal and professional friendships among women of various races, nationalities, and religions. She also served her community by working in several of the same fields in which IWS operates: child care for working mothers, library services, and assisting the unemployed attain skills to enter the workforce. I know that today she is looking down from heaven, and proud that I am carrying on her tradition through this affiliation with the International Women’s Society of Nigeria.
I thank my dear friend, Yimika Phillips, for being there in person to receive this honor. Mrs. Phillips is an accomplished attorney as partner at Olaniwun Ajayi & Co, where she heads their banking practice. I have known Mrs. Phillips and her family for about 15 years, and this relationship, across national boundaries, is itself a prime example of the international friendship and understanding that IWS promotes.
I first traveled to Nigeria about 10 years ago, and in the last decade, I have seen tremendous growth and development in Nigeria. It is not news to any of you in this room that now is Nigeria’s time on the global stage. The United Nations predicts that by the end of this century, based on current population and fertility rates, the three largest countries in the world will be China, India and Nigeria. Nigeria will supplant the United States in becoming the third most populous country in the world. The implications of this population explosion are profound.
On the one hand, the opportunities for economic development are great.
But on the other hand, it will be hard for the Nigerian government to keep up with the demands that this population growth will place on social services. Helping the Nigerian government to serve the needs of women by providing day nurseries, homes for abandoned babies, library services, scholarships, skills training, and the very important widow’s fund, will be essential as the Nigerian population grows, and the needs of Nigeria’s women increase accordingly. The work that IWS does for women in Nigeria will grow in its importance over the next 100 years.
But beyond providing for the needs of women in Nigeria, IWS has been and continues to be, a forward-thinking organization in terms of its global perspective. As Nigeria takes its place on the global stage, IWS is a significant Nigerian institution in recognizing the importance of international understanding. Nigeria’s interchange with the global community has always been significant, but in just these last few years, we have seen that exposure increase by many fold. For example, who could have imagined even five years ago that a major Broadway musical would be based on the life of Fela Kuti? Would we have imagined that my former employer, the international merchant banking powerhouse Goldman Sachs, would identify Nigeria as the one of the top 11 economies in the world? The number of global companies moving into Nigeria at this time is unprecedented.
The new economic opportunity for these global companies moving into Nigeria today is to serve Nigerians, not extract its natural resources. They want to sell their products and services to the increasingly wealthy, and ever growing large population in Nigeria. They want to sell Nigerians their burgers, their cars, their clothes, and provide Nigerians with their computers, entertainment, and communications. They must come to know the Nigerian customers they so badly seek. They cannot simply invest capital equipment offshore to take oil back to their countries, and have no relationship with the Nigerian people. These new global companies moving into Nigeria must develop meaningful, long term relationships in Nigeria, with the Nigerian people, in order to achieve success. They must know who these people are, understand them, and befriend them. The human aspect of this type of business is essential for their success. All of this means that IWS’ role is that much more important as Nigeria integrates itself into the global economy. With a mission of fostering international friendship and understanding, IWS will play a role in fostering relations across international boundaries.
I applaud IWS for its ambitious agenda, its long history of service, and its powerful global vision.
I am humbled to receive this award, and consider it to be one of the greatest accomplishments I have achieved. To be recognized by women from the other side of the world, women who themselves are so accomplished, is an honor larger than any other.
Please know that I accept this award with much gratitude and humility.
I will be in Nigeria next week, and I look forward to thanking Mrs. Umoren and the other members of the committee in person for this extraordinary acknowledgement.
Thank you very much.