SPICE4LIFE CHATTED TO IRENE OCHEM About Your Business Tell us about your business (what product or service you provide and who your target audience is). I operate two businesses. I am the owner of ICO Conferences and Events Limited, an international professional conference production and management company. I am Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Africa Women Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF), a pan-African, non-profit women’s economic empowerment organization, promoting and supporting women enterprise and innovation as imperatives for development across Africa. At AWIEF, we celebrate success stories of many illustrious African women who have made indelible impacts and contributions to economic growth and have shown that women can be equally successful business, thought and corporate leaders. These successful African women serve as eloquent role models for other aspiring, young and emerging African business women. We are pan-African. Through our work and the AWIEF Community, we foster intra-Africa trade, opportunities, networking, sharing and learning across the continent’s borders and its diaspora. AWIEF is not only a continental platform for showcase, discussion and dialogue on issues concerning women empowerment, entrepreneurship and innovation, we also engage in programmes and initiatives targeted at fostering a positive impact and changing the African woman and African girl’s economic fortune for the better. Capacity building for innovation and entrepreneurship is a conceptual approach to development. With our understanding of the obstacles that inhibit African women innovators and entrepreneurs, our capacity building includes human capital development, equipping our young entrepreneurs with skills and access to information and resources, markets, finance, mentorship and networks to enable them grow and expand their enterprises. Our initiatives culminate into our flagship annual Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum conference and exhibition event. The 2017 AWIEF edition will be held, for the first time on South African soil, on 5 – 6 October at the Century City Conference Centre, Cape Town. The AWIEF conference will gather a multi-sector mix of both established and next generation female businesses, governments, support organizations and programmes, all within the entrepreneurial ecosystem and actively seeking opportunities, ideas, solutions, information and guidance. Our exhibition is a platform for all-sector business services companies and corporate organizations, startups, small business owners, and women-owned businesses to showcase their products, innovations, solutions, technologies, services, roles and contributions to the African economy and society. Small business owners will get an excellent opportunity to market their brands, network and interact with prominent business leaders, investors and corporate organizations at an international and pan-African level. What does being a business owner mean to you and why did you become an entrepreneur in the first place? Being a business owner means being a job creator and contributing to poverty alleviation and development. I also cherish the independence and flexibility in use of time that being an entrepreneur offers you. What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date? Founding AWIEF and working extremely hard to make it a successful and an impactful organization. What have been the most effective marketing initiatives or programs you have used to promote your business? We live in a technology-controlled and digital world. I am at home with how technology and the new media can be used to drive and transform our work and business. We have made good use of the internet and social media to get our messages across to stakeholders. What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy the engagement with strategic partners. But most of all, I cherish meeting and getting to know lots of African women who are now part of the AWIEF Community and who are doing amazing things in all business sectors all across Africa and African diaspora. Seeing their successes, hearing their stories all help to fire my energy and excitement on a daily basis. Has the impact of the online space and social media made an impact on your business and why? Digital and online media has become for us a use or die resource. It has made the world smaller and it is affordable. We have a strong presence on social media platforms. If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently? I would probably take time to hire qualified and skilled people. I have made some mistakes in this context. Unfortunately, in Africa, this is not an easily available and affordable resource. On Success What three things/people/ROLES have contributed most to your success? The decades I spent living and working with UN agencies and international organizations in Europe and across African countries. The experiences, international exposure and learning have been invaluable resources. I come with a mind-set that easily and effortlessly makes for adaptability, appreciation and respect for diversity. Believing in my vision and being passionate about what I have set out to do, trusting my guts and being committed, resilient and persistent in overcoming challenges have all contributed to my success. I am constantly motivated by the positive results of my efforts and contribution. Every little impact makes me want to do more. What one thing have you learned as a business owner that has served you well over the years? I have learnt that things hardly work out the way you planned them and so that adaptability, staying focused, persistence and resilience are key for my success. On Motivation How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated? Challenging circumstances and the fear of failure motivate me. I am then doubly motivated when I surpass the hurdles and obstacles to achieve my wins, no matter how small. On Leadership How would you describe your leadership style? For one, I lead by example. The rest of my leadership style is situation-specific. I am generally fair but can be quite firm and decisive where the situation calls for it. What leadership qualities do you most admire? Integrity. Strength of character coupled with humility. Sense of responsibility and commitment. Effective communication. Persistence and resilience. Ability to act despite your fears. What women inspire you and why? Hard-working and fearless women with integrity inspire me. I am greatly inspired by successful women who are unapologetic about their success but who like to help other women grow. These women are confident and understand that they do not need to feel threatened by other women becoming successful too. These are my role models. About Yourself If you knew then what you know now, what would you tell your 18-year-old self? I would not tell her to do anything differently or to make different choices. I have known great love, peace of mind, goodwill and a good measure of success both in my private and work life. These were the things that mattered to me at 18 and still matter to me today. How do you get balance in your life? Having my family around me has always been my best therapy. I used to travel a lot across the globe for leisure and that also kept me in balance. But since I left paid employment and became an entrepreneur, I am not able to do so anymore for lack of resources. Currently, I travel only for business needs and I work impossible hours trying to grow my businesses. However, I still find time to practice my yoga and this helps to keep me in balance with my mind and body. What “rules” do you live by? I live by the rules of hard work, honesty and integrity of character. I have no compromise for these three basic principles of my life. I also have very little tolerance for mediocrity and laziness. What three things could you not live without? God, family and yoga, in that order – but may I please add spaghetti? What’s Next? What is Number One Business Goal you plan to accomplish over the next year? Raise funding to implement two critical AWIEF women empowerment projects. Motivation for Others For anyone starting their own business, what three things are most critical for them to be aware of? I would advise budding entrepreneurs to be aware that starting up a business is a daunting task. To turn your idea into reality, you must keep alive that initial strong, burning desire and will. Your passion for your marvelous idea is your driving force, and your commitment is what gets you working endless hours without feeling the pinch. Secondly, you must stay in tune with technology and the new media and network extensively. Thirdly, failure can happen – make mistakes and learn from your mistakes. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers? Join us for our annual Africa Women Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum conference and exhibition on 5 – 6 October 2017 at Century City Conference Centre. You can participate as delegate, exhibitor or sponsor. What’s the best way for our readers to connect with you (feel free to include the links to your social networks and websites)? https://twitter.com/ireneochem http://awieforum.org/ http://www.icoconferences.com/ Facebook: www.facebook.com/AWIEF-Initiative-435287229967410/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/awieforum Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/awief2016/?hl=en *Website address: www.awieforum.org www.icoconferences.com *Affiliations /Member of Business &/or Women’s organization/s: Founder and Member, Africa Women Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF); Member, Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI); Member Cape Chamber of Commerce; Member South African Translation Institute; Member, Founders’ Carbon Network (fCN-Africa). Leave a Reply Cancel Reply You must be logged in to post a comment.