It is a fufilling moment for super-rich businesswoman, Mrs Folorunsho Alakija. This is not just because her businesses have kept blossoming, but because her Rose of Sharon Foundation has clocked 10.
The foundation dedicated to the emancipation of widows and orphans is thus counting its blessings and Alakija is delighted that it has not in any way failed the vision she has for it.
Part of the great stories the foundation has to share is the fact that it has touched the lives of over 3,000 widows.
Alakija says in an interview with our correspondent, “We thank God for the grace and ability to impact the lives of these wonderful people. We have to thank God first and foremost because He is the one who called us into it. Whatever we are doing is only in obedience to His instruction. Right from the beginning, we have been allowing God to guide us. Even while evolving the name and logo of the foundation, we allowed God to guide us. But because we also believe strongly and passionately in the cause, we have, from the bottom of our hearts, been giving the foundation all it takes to achieve our dream.”
While also thanking her husband, Mr Modupe Alakija and the staff of the foundation, Alakija noted that one of the things that had worked for the Rose of Sharon was that it allowed experts to run its affairs. According to her, it also gets ideas from people with the right experience in the running of NGOs.
Rose of Sharon is built on the philosophy of teaching people how to fish, rather than just giving them fish to eat. Alakija believes that this is the best approach not just towards helping the beneficiaries to become independent but also make the foundation sustainable. As a result, she places a lot emphasis on the education of widows and orphans, as well as in financially supporting their businesses.
She adds, “We give the widows interest-free loans and allow them to pay back over a long period of time. We give them till a year and half to pay back the micro loan. We usually start a widow off with N30,000 and many of them have come back with wonderful stories. When they repay, we allow them to ask for more so they can raise their businesses to a higher level, for them to be able to expand their coasts. We then give up to N50, 000.”
When the Rose of Sharon Foundation started, it gave scholarship to up to two children per a widow’s family. But when demand grew, it reduced the number to one per family. But it also realises the need to help the women to further their education. Now, Alakija explains, the foundation had produced 11 graduates from among the widows under her care.
One lesson it has learnt is to strengthen and tighten its structure especially to guard against manipulation by beneficiaries. The reason is that there have been cases of women who are not widows but claimed they were. They ended up getting from the foundation what they are not entitled to.
“Apart from the fact that we ask would-be beneficiaries to bring the death certificates of their husbands, we follow up on the claims they make in the documents because some of them cook up documents. There are other ways we check their claims – which I need not disclose here. Of course, we have data-capturing equipment. Well, when the women realised that we have strengthened our check system, some of them on their own stopped coming as there is no place to hide again. “
At a time, the foundation had to suspend taking new widows and orphans. The reason, according to Alakija, is that it needed to concentrate on the building of an independent head office, a skill acquisition centre and a clinic. But before the end of the year, it will admit another 350 widows, with the intention to take 100 on the coming International Widows Day.
Alakija does not believe that it is only rich people that should go into charity or philanthropy. According to her, everyone has a role to play in ministering to the lives of others.
“We all have to be our brother’s keeper,” she says. “Some say they cannot help others because they don’t have money. But there is a lot everyone can do to help their neighbours. You can enlighten, encourage and use your talent to assist others. You can package your old things in your home and give to those who need them. Anything you have in your home, which you have not used in the past two years, give them out because it means you hardly need them again.”