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A woman with big plans

Ndidi Nwuneli

‘I would describe myself as a social entrepreneur. I like to start things,’ says Ndidi Nwuneli sitting in the conference room at LEAP, one of the many initiatives she’s started.

Ndidi is deceptively petite and soft spoken, for her goals and ambitions are BIG. She has a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School and  serves as a director for a range of nonprofit organizations in the United States and in Africa. In the 2003 she was recognised as a Global Leader of Tomorrow and Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland .

‘With LEAP we wanted to create an army of change agents. I started off thinking I could change the world. But look at Gandhi. He had lots of people working with him. For real change you need thousands of like-minded people who share the same values.’

LEAP stands for leadership, effectiveness, accountability and professionalism. The organisation runs several programme strands including youth and business leadership programmes through which they have already influenced thousands of individuals.

‘It’s about changing mindsets, empowering people and equipping them with the skills to enable them to make a difference. We started off providing direct training to business owners and youth. Today, we also train teachers to deliver our curriculum in public schools across Nigeria. Via its business leadership programme, LEAP has pioneered research on succession planning, governance and ethics and has published books on these topics.”

One of Ndidi’s sources of inspiration is her anger against injustice.

‘There are many things that upset me about our society. I don’t consider myself a very talented person, so I channel my anger to develop initiatives to change society.’

New ideas – in the form of possible solutions to social issues – come to her on a daily basis. She shares her ideas with friends, brainstorms about how to implement them. Some ideas are taken up by someone else and turned into a concrete project; some are still in the incubation stage.  Now that LEAP is running smoothly, Ndidi has left the daily management in capable hands in order to move onto her latest project. AACE Foods is a private company she established with her husband Mezuo. It aims to reduce Nigeria’s immense dependence on food imports. They source fruits, vegetables and spices from local farmers, process them and sell locally.

‘Even AACE is a social enterprise. Ninety percent of the processed food we eat in Nigeria is imported. So we want to replace food imports to improve the lives of people. By buying locally, we support farmers and create jobs, and we improve our health and nutrition by decreasing the cost of food and giving people greater choice in what they eat.’

And again, her ambitions are anything but small. ‘We want to eventually be the Nestlé of Africa.’

‘If I had to pick one thing that I love the most about Nigeria, it would be its great people. I didn’t really appreciate how much of an asset this was until I worked in other West African countries. Nigerians are very creative, innovative, hard-working, resilient people. They are really supportive, and that sense of community is something that I value.’

 

This article appeared in Wings Magazine, Issue 10

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