Womenwerk, uplifting women, celebrating greatness – a conversation with the founders.
WomenWerk was founded in 2013 by Nekpen Osuan and Demi Ajayi who met during graduate school at Columbia University. They started WomenWerk out of a passion for uplifting women and building community in the Tri-state area.
WomenWerk is a non-profit organization founded to bring together women to talk about issues of gender equity and to provide a space for us to connect and be inspired. We started this organization because we were looking to celebrate International Women’s Day in a way that we felt was relevant to our lives as women in an urban setting. A lot of International Women’s Day events we’ve seen tend to, and rightly so, focus on development issues for women in other countries. We’re full supporters of that, but we also wanted something that spoke also to the challenges we are dealing with as professionals. Our name “WomenWerk” speaks to the uplifting spirit of what we are trying to capture: a space where women acknowledge and celebrate the greatness in each other and are inspired to #werk even more.
How did you come up with the annual forum and why did you choose this medium of organising?
The Forum and Gala came about because we sought to create an event where women could discuss, network and also be inspired. We decided a two-part program would fit our needs best: a more intellectual and professional development Forum as well as a celebratory gala that would be fitting for International Women’s Day.
Why did you choose New York as the place for this event?
New York is home to a lot of amazing and high-achieving people pursuing their own dreams in business, law, arts, finance, medicine, and everything else you can think of. It’s a great city for bringing people together both as speakers and participants for really dynamic interactions. We’re also both New York residents, so we have a great network and community we wanted to plug into and connect with.
What has improved globally or locally for women rights and what are some of the issues or things the world is yet to catch up on or improve on.
We think our new media age has provided an incredible platform to amplify and disseminate stories and ideas rapidly. So whether news stories such as #BringBackOurGirls or eye-opening social media topics such as #NotAllMen, we are able to learn more and share more quickly. It also creates a greater connectedness where women and allies can gather together, challenge their thinking and work towards solutions. Besides a growing solidarity, strides have been made with policy. In the US, the Lily-Ledbetter Fair Pay act is a step in the right direction towards achieving gender pay parity. In Nigeria, the ban of female genital mutilation was definitely another step in the right direction for women’s rights. We still have a long way to go locally and globally to close the gender wage gap, combat maternal mortality, rape culture and violence against women, amongst many other things. A lot more work is yet to be done.
We like your theme for this year’s event. Why the theme for this year?
Thank you! Well we are definitely living in interesting times. Globally, we are faced with international unrest, climate change, different social awakenings. Yet we are aware in the 21st century we have incredible opportunities and this pervading sense that we can make something spectacular of our lives. We felt it was important to discuss what our stake in our world is and especially in the hustle-mode of New York City to discuss the various pulls on our lives for “doing good vs doing well”.
What are your goals for the African woman in New York and around the globe?
Our goals and desires are for her to find spaces to amplify and celebrate the incredible work she is doing, to connect with other women to create amazing new initiatives, and to find a sense of home within a community of supportive women.
Our goals are the same for women around the world. We believe by connecting and creating new initiatives women are better positioned to tackle the local challenges they face.
Ok, tell us more about what to expect at this year’s conference.
This year’s Forum and Gala is not to be missed! The Forum will be a day of insightful panels on Leaving a Legacy and Relationships with dynamic leaders such as Abiola Oke, CEO of OkayAfrica, Semhar Araia, founder of DAWN, Amini Kajunju, President and CEO of The Africa-America Institute and Sandra Appiah, VP of Face2Face Africa. It will also include amazing workshops, including a timely discussion on the 2016 Political Climate.
What is going to be different from previous events?
Every year we try to mix things up a little. This year we are delving a little more into tech with workshops on Managing your Digital Footprint with Christina Morillo, founder Women of Color in Tech Chat and Starting your Media Boutique with Sherra Pierre-Marche, founder of Digazi Media and former CTO of iROKO Partners, which owns the popular platform iROKOtv. We also have a coding workshop as part of our Youth Forum for college and high schools students.
What is a must-see at this year’s event?
It’s so hard to pick a favorite! A must-see for us would be our panel, The Conversation: Relationships, co-sponsored by Khedoo App. It’s definitely something on our minds here in this amazing city of New York! We’ll be delving into professional and personal relationships.
Another absolute must-see would be Luvvie Ajayi, our 2016 Gala Image Award Honoree at our Gala. We love her commentary at Awesomely Luvvie and we are very excited to meet her in person.
We are excited for it and we hope it’s a massive success!
Interview by: Afropolitan Insights
Co-founders: Nekpen Osuan and Demi Ajayi