Meet DreamGirls Demi Ajayi & Nekpen Osuan: Founders of WomenWerk

16Did I ever tell you guys that I was a Pan-Africanist? In essence, I believe in the importance of solidarity of those of African descent. I believe our unity is vital to our collective social, political, and economic progress and liberation. So, when I heard about The WomenWerk Forum which took place in March of this year and focused on the role of African women in leadership in the workplace and the world, I was on it. I wanted to be a part of the discussion. I wanted to hear what my African female contemporaries had say about feminism, solidarity, the African diaspora, and the development of the continent. 

Demi Ajayi (pictured on the right) and Nekpen Osuan(pictured on the left), founders of WomenWerk, made this possible by creating this forum and I wanted to use The Frugal Feminista to support the necessary work that they are doing.

What is WomenWerk and and why is what you do important?

We are the co-founders of WomenWerk, a dynamic new organization established to reclaim the celebration of International Women’s Day. WomenWerk was founded as a platform to bring both women and men together to celebrate the individual and collective success of women. WomenWerk’s first inaugural Forum and Gala gathered 350+ guests to New York City on March 8th and featured notable speakers like banking vice-president Anie Ekpe-Lewis, author Nana Brew-Hammond, African feminist Dr. Abena Busia, and philanthropist MacDella Cooper. WomenWerk’s Gala honored international icons including President Bill Clinton and The Clinton Global Initiative of the Clinton Foundation, former World Bank Managing Director and current Minister of Finance Dr. Nogzi Okonjo-Iweala, media mogul Mo Abudu, including many more. WomenWerk is blazing the trail in connecting women and engaging them as active agents of change.

 What advice would you give to your 20-year old self?

When we were 20, we were in college and working to do really well in school above anything else. Though we were very active in our community doing volunteer work and campus activities, we were not yet sure of our voice. Looking back, we would tell our younger selves to appreciate lessons from outside the classroom – taking time to network with a wider range of people and exploring opportunities that broaden your world view.

 What are three things that you know for sure?

First, we know for sure that women are doing amazing things around the world. When women succeed, their entire community reaps the benefit. From academia, to the arts, healthcare to homemaking, women are strong, hardworking, and WomenWerk is here to celebrate that.

That said, we are also sure that many women across the globe are capable change agents. As the Millennium Goals are renewed beyond 2015, the statistics about lack of access to education, proper healthcare, and protection from violence and abuse must improve with women as part of the conversation. The time to build a better world for both men and women is now and we are very confident our generation can take the lead.

Finally, we know for sure that the only thing constant about life is change. Our team at WomenWerk is committed to our community and we are excited to be part of the change that comes with running a dynamic organization. As we evolve, we are constantly looking to partner with and support others.

 What is the best advice (financial, emotional, spiritual, health-related) that you have ever received? Why did that piece of wisdom resonate with you so much?

The best advice we have received is to always be true to your own voice and to not be shy about speaking up. Over the years, we have had great female role models who shared this wisdom with us which motivates us in every area of our lives. This advice resonated with us because we’ve seen that when we articulate our expectations and ideas genuinely, we grow as individuals and are able to give the best of ourselves to others.

What are you the most proud of as a women, entrepreneurs, scholars, or anything in between?

We are most proud of founding WomenWerk and seeing the positive impact Forum and Gala have had on so many people. After a year of discussing our interest in having a more modern and uplifting way to celebrate International Women’s Day, we finally decided to be the solution and launched WomenWerk ourselves. We are really proud that our Forum and Gala resonated well with over 350 guests.  Since the event, we have heard feedback from our speakers and attendees as to how transformative the event was to them personally. We are happy to know our platform is connecting women for meaningful relationships and we are excited about the enthusiasm to support our 2015 program on March 7th and 8th.

What is going on in your business/career that EVERYONE should know about now?  Is there a product or service that we should ALL know about?

We are very excited to share that our 2015 Forum and Gala will take place March 7th and 8th. In 2015 we will include men as key speakers and thanks to the overwhelming support we received in 2014, we are very excited about International Women’s Day in 2015. We are very excited to bring together more amazing female leaders for a transformative Forum and highlight the work of internationally-renowned women at the Gala. We will announce more updates on our website (www.womenwerk.com) and via Twitter (@womenwerk).

 Where do you see yourself and your business in the next five years?

We are confident that WomenWerk will be one of the largest gatherings of women and men celebrating International Women’s Day in the next 5 years. We hope to sustain our vision of having inter-generational knowledge-sharing among women and increased participation by men in these conversations. We are very excited about the support from the community and media in sharing our platform and we are dedicated to providing a high caliber program for our guests each year.

 What makes you DreamGirls?

We are DreamGirls because we are making our dreams happen. As co-founders, we not only get to work with people we love and enjoy being around, but we also individually know that our work reflects our passion and labor of love. There is nothing more fulfilling than chasing your dreams and growing from each adventure along the way.

 What rituals, if any, do you do on a daily, monthly, or yearly to keep you focused, positive, or centered?

Two rituals we employ to keep positive and centered are:

  1. We pray often. We are strong Christians and believe that connecting with God helps us remain positive and centered.
  2. We stay connected to our family and friends around the world. We are always encouraged and inspired by our friends and family. Though everyone’s doing different, we stay connected and value their perspective.
  3. We set goals regularly and reflect on progress made along the way. We set personal goals and team goals which we write down and check-in about consistently. Our organization thrives on clear and measureable goals.

 How do you handle setbacks? What skills, support, or personality trait do you rely on the most to help you overcome adversity?

Setbacks are to be expected in event planning and program development – we have learned this from both personal experience and working with others on their initiatives. We are very blessed to be naturally resilient and positive women and we work hard to develop that part of our personality in order to overcome setbacks. We handle setbacks by discussing them thoroughly as a team -it is a blessing to be able to experience highs and lows together as co-founders. We find motivation to move past a setback by reminding ourselves that the vision we have for our community – specifically the women and men who take so much from our event and are excited to join us each year – is much more important than the hurdle at the moment. We also value the encouragement of our family and friends who are there to support us during times of adversity. We know that overcoming setbacks shapes us to be more creative and nimble in finding solutions, and prepares us for bigger challenges for the future.

Demi Ajayi is a co-founder of WomenWerk and is currently a graduate student at Columbia University studying Mechanical Engineering. Her research focuses on spectroscopy of recent nanomaterials which have potential for solar cells and next generation electronic devices. She’s also invested in STEM outreach to increase public interest and moreover the proportion of women and minorities represented in the sciences. She’s served as a research methodology instructor for the Ronald McNair program at Columbia University. She’s also served as a freelance science writer associate for the New York Academy of Sciences. Demi has a growing interest in entrepreneurship and tech transfer and serves as a fellow for Columbia Technology Ventures. Prior to moving to New York, Demi worked in Seattle as a design engineer and stress analyst at The Boeing Company.

Nekpen Osuan is a co-founder of WomenWerk. She is an Associate Professor at Columbia University and an Associate Education Officer at the New York City Department of Education.  Nekpen is passionate about bringing progressive, modern solutions to socio-economic issues. Nekpen is a founding member of The Council of Young African Leaders and served as Deputy State Data Director for Obama for America in the battleground state of Florida. Earning her undergraduate degree from Baylor University and her Masters from Columbia University, Nekpen is passionate about education policy, civic engagement, and economic development. In her spare time, volunteers on the board of The New Leaders Council-New York and  AfriMetro. She’s also a mentor for the Clinton Global Initiative and Lower East Side Girls Club. Follow Nekpen on Twitter: @NOsuan


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