Rev Dr. Shade Toyin-Kehinde is the convener of Ladies Affairs Initiative. She is also assisting her husband to pastor Agape Generation International Church with headquarters in Maryland, Lagos.
In this interview with Church Times Nigeria, she shares her experience on how she has been able to take many women out of poverty using the platform of Ladies Affairs Initiative. Find below excerpts:
Ladies Affairs Initiative is 13 years. What informed the idea in the first place?
As a pastor and counselor, I discovered that a lot of women were struggling to find fulfillment in their matrimonial homes. Many of them assumed marriage would solve all their problems, especially their financial problem. But by the time the initial bliss of marriage is over their husbands start reacting and getting uncomfortable with them. They begin to see them as burdens because of the heavy financial toll of taking care of the family.
So they start having issues in their marriage. When they come for counseling they talk about many things but sometimes don’t get to the root of their problem. But as a counselor, I have found out that many couples grapple with the problem of finance, sex, and communication. It’s always one of those issues.
When you have trashed the issue of sex and communication and there is still no headway, you know it’s about finance. But in some cases, the men are the cause of the problem. They probably had given false hopes to their wives before marriage. They had promised them all the comfort one could ever think of. Some would even say they don’t want their wives to work.
But after they start bearing children and the economic reality begins to dawn on them, they get tired. Some women on the other hand are lazy and do not contribute to the family upkeep. So everybody is frustrated.
It was while counseling such couples that God opened my eyes to see that the solution is to get the women engaged so that they don’t become a burden to their husband.
We then began to ask the women what they can do and what qualifications they have. For those who don’t have anything, we began thinking of exposing them to profitable skills so that they too can contribute to the home. That was what led to Ladies Affairs Initiative.
You talked about sex, finance, and communication as some of the challenges facing many couples. Which of these challenges is a hard nut?
I think it’s sex. I discovered that many married couples especially Christians are not properly taught about sex. And when they are taught they don’t get the right education. It’s the number one issue that tears most couples apart. Next to that is communication and then finance.
Does that mean finance is the least of the problem of most homes?
It is the least but it can scatter so many things. A woman wants to change her wardrobe. But the husband is only giving upkeep money. So the woman feels the only way to arm-twist her husband is to deny him sex. But the reality is that sex, finance, and lack of adequate communication are mostly interwoven. The man may also want to retaliate by not supporting the woman who does not satisfy him sexually. You find out that all the challenges dovetail into one another
So what has been your experience trying to empower women economically?
The experience has been awesome. It has been one of appreciable progress. A number of women have benefited from the forum. Some of them did not even believe they could be happy and be able to do something to make money. Some that were not skilled before became skilled. There were women we had to encourage to further their education, some have been empowered to run their own businesses. We have had to expose some of them to profitable skills and trained them on how to turn their ideas into money-making ventures.
Many of them that have been written off have now become somebody. We can now address some of them as MD/CEO because that is who they have now become within this short time. It gives us a sense of fulfillment that we are part of their success story. Some of them have got loans and paid back their loans and are now even giving back to the organisation. Some have become sources of blessing to others.
In South Africa for instance, we were able to assist about five women when we first went there. A lady touched my heart the most. She collected a loan from us to go into the perfume business. But rather than buy and sell perfume, she went to learn how to produce perfume all within a year. By the time we were there the following year, she had started producing perfume for sale. She brought some to the venue of our meeting. We were able to buy her perfume. It was a shock to many of us. She had grown the business so well that she paid back her loan and also supported the organization.
Unlike the first year that we had to pay for the hall we used; the women in South Africa were able to contribute money to hire a hall in a five-star hotel for our subsequent conference. I was taken aback by the gesture. That is why I always appreciate Pastor Kemi Onanuga who has been the one handling the women in South Africa. She is such an amazing woman. Those helping in Lagos too have been wonderful. The support from all ends has been great.
I would also like to say here that those who have been benefiting from the loan support and our training are not restricted to Christians. We support people from various denominations and people of other faiths and people who don’t have any faith at all. We believe what we do is an evangelical tool to spread love to all.
You talked about the support you gave the South African lady and how she was able to turn it around. Does that mean a lot can be done with minimal intervention?
Oh yes. When we started, it was not as if we had too much money to throw around. It was just a desire to be a blessing to others. On our part, it’s a sacrifice. We don’t have moneybags supporting us. No organisation gave us money as it were. The forum was born out of a desire to help distressed women. We have given out soft loans as little as N50k which has really been of great help to beneficiaries. We have also given as much as N500k as loans.
Sometimes we have had to help women plan their businesses. A lady wanted to start a cold room business. She was thinking of renting a shop. But we told her to forget about renting a shop for a start. Incidentally, she lives close to the market. So we advised her to start doing the business from her house and also to use the freezer they use at home for the business.
We only gave her money to buy the cartoons of fish and meat she would sell and asked her to get a small generator. We started with a N200k loan for her. Before we knew it she had become a business tycoon making so much profit from the business. Her husband was so excited that he had to visit me in the office to say thank you.
Incidentally, by the time the economy of the family improved, it robbed off on their marriage. The lady who had been waiting on the Lord for the fruit of the womb became pregnant.
So I discovered that more than just helping them to make money the gesture touched on every other aspect of their lives. Their joy increases, their love for people is enhanced. They begin to live a fulfilled life and begin to spread the joy around.
How do you determine the people who benefit from the support and how do you handle the toll of the demand for support on you and the organisation?
We have had a lot of applications over the years more than we can handle. But we are able to discern genuine ones and give priority to them. The first thing is to give support to those who are truly in need, not people who want to get additional support. We also ask beneficiaries to bring guarantors. The person must be their pastor. For those who don’t go to church, we ask them to bring somebody of repute who can stand for them. They must also have profitable skills or talent that could guarantee that they will make good use of the funds. Apart from that, we look at their sincerity and willingness to learn and make profit. We also monitor beneficiaries of the loan. Before we give out the support, we do background checks.
All these steps have helped us to reduce the number of defaulters. We have had a 95 percent success rate. Just about 5 percent defaulters.
On loan defaulters, is it that they deliberately don’t want to pay back or that circumstances make them not pay?
For those who default, I can say it is not due to their fault. We have had cases where their husbands lose their jobs. The entire family now depends on the business of the wife. In such circumstances there will be pressure on the funds and she may not be able to repay.
We actually also tell them to pay back the loan in a way that is convenient for them. They set the re-payment terms. We don’t breathe on their neck. The interest we charge is minimal just to take care of our running cost. The loans can be paid back in a year, two years depending on the beneficiary.
You said earlier that you don’t have moneybags helping the organisation. How do you then get money to run it?
We raised money among ourselves when we started. We brought our resources together from all available avenues. We collected money from our husbands even from our children’s accounts just to keep the organisation going. I took the lead in the giving. Surprisingly, over the years, those that have supported have experienced God’s miraculous interventions in their finances. With time we began asking our friends doing business and those in corporate organisations for help.
The loan we give is a revolving loan because some other women are waiting to benefit from the gesture. We let beneficiaries know this. For now, a chunk of the support comes from private individuals who run their own businesses and have a passion to help the womenfolk.
Are you saying you have not been able to get government patronage on this project despite the poverty eradication programmes the government talks about?
We have not. Let me say that apart from giving loans to women to do business, we also support widows. In the case of widows, we give them the money and don’t expect anything in return because of their situation.
Over the years we have had cause to talk about what we do in the media at least to sensitize people. But we have not gotten any support from the government. Rather, the government at a point tried to get money from us. When they saw that we were in the media space they came to us and asked how we get money to run. They brought a form for us to fill. I thought they wanted to support the project. I was shocked when they came asking us to pay tax. I made them realize I pay my Personal Income tax and that what we are doing is what government should do.
They can’t be asking us to pay tax on a charity when in actual fact we are helping the government to carry out its role. I told them if the government will not support us with what we are doing they should not frustrate us by asking for tax. When they realised they were looking for money in the wrong place they let us alone.
You have been to a number of places on the basis of this project. What is your rating of the women in these places? Does the environment affect them in actualizing their potential?
There are a lot of women with potential who only need some push for them to do what they can do. Some only need some funds and you see them turn things around. We have seen the lives of women turn around. If a woman sets her heart at something, she will do it and excel in it.
Some women have brilliant business ideas but without support, it looks as if they don’t know how to do things. When we discover such women we connect them with our friends in business. Our annual forum is also a place for networking. We have recorded successes in Lagos, Oyo State, South Africa, and of course in Ogun State. We are also trying something out in Togo.
What is the place of men in this organisation. I see that men are also part of the annual forum?
When we do our annual forum we have this slogan that it’s for women and men who hire them. Some of the women, only need jobs, they don’t want to do business. The men are like our partners who come to do business with the women at the forum. Men who come for the forum come to network. They come to introduce what they do to the womenfolk and also create a business synergy. But we don’t give men loans. Women are our priority when it comes to loan
How was the yearly forum in recent times and what is the projection for the 2022 forum which holds March 12?
The past two years have been tough. We had our outing as usual at the Lagos Sheraton hotel. The 2020 forum was the last we had. We could not meet in 2021 because of Covid-19. The 2020 conference came shortly before the noise of covid-19.
We had booked a large number of people for the forum. But the Lord led me to reduce the booking eventually. It was not long after that there was a government order that restrictions be placed on large gatherings. So God saved us from unnecessary expenses.
We had our programme on Saturday, by Monday there was a complete shutdown. Last year we could not do a physical meeting. It was done online.
The theme this year is, renew, revive and reignite. Our passion is to see our businesses become profitable and to help the female folks to become top-notch. We want to renew and revive our businesses. Some who are victims of Covid-19 will be injected with a dose of confidence during the 2022 forum.
We want to tell participants they can do more with their businesses. We also recognize there are people whose business soared during covid-19. If some people were crying, some are actually smiling to the bank. We want to tell the women it’s time to come out and be the best they can be. We want to break the barrier just like the slogan of the 2022 International Women’s Day.