By Josfyn Uba
Doctor. Esther Obioha is an entrepreneur and humanitarian who impacts the lives of vulnerable people in her community, using her resources.
Obioha holds a bachelor’s degree in computer systems and a master’s degree in business administration. She is also the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University and Seminary of the CICA for her philanthropic work.
Obioha, a single mother who raised five graduate children, remains committed to helping those less fortunate. In 2020, she received the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Smart Ambassador Award from Diligent Care for Creative Intelligence Development.
In this interview with daily sunshe talks about the need for collaboration and transparency in every business, and other issues.
You are a brand in your community, Arondizuogu; how did you handle that?
Well, I’m not a brand yet. But I’m just lending a hand. Giving is second nature to me as I grew up in a large family of donors. And I had an incredible childhood.
Would you say that your childhood experience inspired this initiative?
First and foremost, I come from a large polygamous family in Arondizuogu, Imo State. In my family, I was raised and nurtured with so much love and affection. My family was very open and generous, for a fault, and I naturally embraced those values as a kid. I was born into a tradition of celebration and giving. We have this annual festival called Obioha Day and it is celebrated every December. The essence of this tradition is to create and deepen family unity and nurture the spirit of kinship. In this annual celebration called Obioha Day, all the wives cook assorted dishes and delicacies, while family friends and strangers gather to partake, no one is turned away. It is customary for passers-by to simply enter and join in the joy. This noble tradition that began before I was born is still ongoing and will never end. Therefore, giving is part of my nature and part of my upbringing.
What are your challenges as an entrepreneur and as a woman?
I wouldn’t call it a challenge because that’s what I like to do. I like to touch lives; I love helping people, I love impacting lives. There are less fortunate people who struggle to succeed in our society. I noticed that it is the passion of my life. I would like to leave this world better than I met it. Although being a woman is a bit difficult because you find yourself in a subordinate position in our society. A woman works very hard to overcome the hurdle before achieving economic success. But, more recently, the government seems to be doing something to close economic disparities and wealth gaps by creating opportunities for women to thrive. Women have not always shared the same priority as men in the past but, thank God, it is improving today. With increased empowerment of progressive advocacy, women, especially in underdeveloped countries, will gain power.
Do you intend to expand your business development and entrepreneurial prowess to the whole of Nigeria, knowing that there are many needy people here?
Some of us have probably heard the Igbo proverb or saying “aku lue uno okwu ebie”, interpreted as “charity begins at home”. Yes, I have always believed in the importance of helping others, no matter how meager my resources. For more than two years now, things have been very difficult and the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse. The cost of groceries has skyrocketed, hence hunger at home is a concern. Any little help goes a long way. And because of this and more, we tried to reach people in some orphanages in Lagos. We distributed toys, food and even cash donations. Likewise, we made cash donations in Abuja and Owerri. Another help in my local community includes distributing bags of rice, cartons of noodles to help relive the hardships of COVID-19. During the pandemic, we bought sewing machines and made face masks, which we donated to charity for free.
Would you agree to collaborate with well-meaning Nigerians to help in this initiative?
Collaboration is a great way for NGOs to grow by partnering with larger NGOs that have a reputation and credibility. Other types of partnership can go through foundations and respected political leaders. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed several times in the past. NGOs must ensure that there is transparency in their charitable activities. But regardless of my past experience, my zeal to help the poor and needy will never be diminished. Robert Green Ingersoll, a popular American lawyer, writer and speaker, is the one who said “We rise by lifting others”.
Similar organizations abound everywhere, even abroad. How have yours and your advocacy made you stand out?
Ours stands out because we do not only distribute food products. We also support young adults caught in the criminal justice system network by mentoring and connecting them with positive role models to build economic security and personal empowerment and much more. Whenever we have the opportunity to touch lives, we jump on them, even if our resources are limited. My passion is to touch lives and do my best to help those less fortunate.
What have you and your organization done for humanity?
I have volunteered with my five children in disasters, in soup kitchens, sometimes we help pack up relief items to ship to people in third world countries who have been displaced or to people suffering from the ravages of the war. Other times we save families and their children from malnutrition and starvation. We have also helped needy students pay tuition. We have also sent financial aid to those in IDP camps (people displaced within their own country).
What do you want the Nigerian government to do to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses?
I want the Nigerian government to help create an enabling environment for entrepreneurs to thrive, including providing loans with little or no interest payable. Small and medium enterprises, which drive the growth of local economies, should be encouraged. The government should invest in agriculture and create sustainable jobs for young people and graduates. What is the government doing for young people? Many complain about the lack of jobs for young people and graduates. Imagine not having a paid job after going through college? Frustration can lead some to engage in harmful activities and crime. I implore our government and even our first ladies to help create opportunities for our young people. These young people are the leaders of tomorrow. We should address their problems and their well-being before it is too late.
What do you want us to remember?
I want to be remembered for how I made a difference in the lives of the less privileged, those of limited means. I want my legacy to be that I left this world better than I met it.