Looking back at 2015, and thankful for some of the folks who have made my year. Here is a glimpse of one of those people, published earlier on ElleAfrique….
My mother has taught me to live life with open hands. To be a custodian, rather than the owner, of my blessings.
1. Don’t change who you are to fit other people’s molds of you
I saw it. Over and over again. I would see family, friends, colleagues and community members abuse my mother’s generosity. Maybe it couldn’t be helped. She is that type of person who goes out of her way to help people no matter the circumstances. I guess that would explain why I now have three adopted siblings. While my reaction to seeing this was always outrage, my mother always responded by saying, “if they are taking advantage of me, let God deal with them. It is not my place to judge their motives.” As a young girl, I didn’t think highly of such an attitude, especially when she would get home (often very tired) with yet more work that needed to be done. However, as I grew up, I saw the wisdom in her words. My mother knew that if she allowed people’s actions to change who she is, then she would spend her life reacting to people’s ideas of who she is and what she should be doing. Despite our large family, she stays true to herself. As her daughter, the “let it be” attitude concerned me; now I’m told that I have become quite like her. It took me several years, but I finally learned (first hand) that the best way to journey peacefully through life is when you get to determine the terms of the journey and which roads you are willing to take.
2. Life is precious, don’t waste it
It might have been the combination of a civil war and an exceedingly hectic family life, but my mother thought it important to never let me forget that life is short. She would always ask, if you died today, how will people remember you? At 15, I didn’t consider myself “memorable”; a couple of good grades, extracurricular activities and a penchant for trouble. My mother understood that she was blessed and smart and she made sure I knew that, as her daughter, I was to carry her mantle. She instilled in me the value of hard work and making sure that whatever I did, it counted for something and that I tripled the talents given to me. Yes, the parable of talents was quite popular in my family.
3. Don’t let your circumstances determine your outcome
As long as I can remember, my mother has always championed other women. As a child I would accompany my mother to her meetings with women in the community as they provided a place for support for each other. Often I would accompany my mother to these meetings and listen to some of their discussions as they shared recipes, advice on how to handle a family matter and take part in community service projects.
It was no secret how society viewed a woman’s role. It was taught to me in school and reinforced at home and in the community. However my mother made sure I understood that I had options.
One day, she came home with a recipe for a butter cake. We had no oven and no measuring cups or spoons; however, she said “we will improvise”. And we did. After we had made a makeshift oven with sand and coals I opened, what would become, my first “business”. I baked the cakes and my mother would sell them for me. At that time it seemed so insignificant, but now I realize just how much that meant to me. I didn’t end up owning a bakery; but I never, and will never, lack options. She made sure that I knew that my choice on the outcome of my life was guaranteed, no matter the circumstance I would find myself in. (Now only if she could stop worrying about me being single at 30…..).
4. Above all, have faith
If faith could move mountains, my mother has moved several. I am the daughter of a bishop and pastor. Faith, in this instance, seems “guaranteed” – the obvious choice. As a young girl, it was easy for me to follow my mother and father to church and do what every minister’s daughter does – follow instructions with blind obedience; but eventually rebellion set in.
Even through those years when I found myself lost, in so many ways, and trying to figure out where I fit in this world, my mother refused to give up on me. She would call, email me and keep asking me to have faith. I spent many years “riding” on my mother’s faith – that belief, without doubt, that ALL will work out. It is that faith that she passed to me, even while I was figuring out how to grow into myself, that I never forgot. I will always remember that just a bit of faith carries one a long way.
If I could be half the woman that my mother is, I would count myself lucky. My mother has taught me to live life with open hands. To be a custodian, rather than the owner, of my blessings. Because of her strength, I have found my own. In many ways, she has allowed me to be “heard” in a society that believes that women should just be seen.
About Funke Michaels…..
I will never forget meeting Funké. It is the kind of meeting that you replay in your head, over and over again, wondering if you dreamed the whole encounter. During my time as Editor-in-Chief of Applause Africa, an online magazine dedicated to showcasing innovation and success within the African Diaspora, I took a team of three to cover the first installation of the MIT Africa Investment Forum in 2013. I saw her before she saw me, and it was not until a colleague introduced me to her that I realized I had found the woman I wanted to be when I ‘grew’ up. By then I had already read her bio and, given her accomplishments, I instantly assumed that she wouldn’t bother speaking to me. So I was shy to approach her; but, to my surprise and immense relief, she hugged me warmly during our first encounter. Not only did she make me feel welcomed but we also spoke extensively about our mutual interests. I could not believe that a woman of her caliber found the time to listen to, advise and even champion my causes. For a while I thought I was an exception, but then I saw her do the same over and over again. The rest, as they say, was history; that day I learned that Funké was a novelty in the realm of successful women.
Nigerian-by-Birth and Kenyan-by-Marriage Funké Michaels is co-founder of The Pro-NICHE Network, a not-for-profit organization that provides free concept incubation, niche-networking and consulting services for African startups. She started this venture after spending over 19 years in managerial positions with brands such as Coca-Cola, Peugeot, Rothmans, Heineken, Subaru and Samsung. She has spent her time in the corporate circuit as a cross-functional resource for African, Caribbean and North American governments and multinationals in various consulting capacities.
With three children, two of whom were born while she was finishing her MIT Sloan Fellowship and preparing for her Mason Fellowship at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government, Funké inspires one to have the audacity to chase their dreams. You will often hear her call her women colleagues “Rock Stars”- a phrase that I have since borrowed from her.
To her, there is no greater instrument for change than that of women who are united together with a common goal.“Women are like the proverbial broom. As individual broomsticks, we can achieve little. But bunched in a strong bond, we become the instrument of change: sweeping out systemic laxity and preparing our communities for the future. Women hold society together, we hold our families together. It’s time to actively hold our sisters together. We are more effective when we work in solidarity, “ she told me.
More often than not, when she is not speaking on entrepreneurship and education, her favorite topic is women and their advancement politically, socially and economically. You will not hear it from her, but she has fought for women’s inclusion in various dialogues and often has funded women leaders all over Africa to attend conferences on the continent and in the United States.
Despite all she’s already accomplished, Funké continues to mentor young women, offering support and, at times, adopting them as her own “daughters”. One day I had to ask: why? Why do you do what you do? Why do you continue to fight for women, when sometimes the easiest route is not to? Her answer? “The most precious natural resource we have is our women. It’s the values that our women teach, that have helped us to survive so well with so little. Imagine what we could achieve if every girl got a sound education and the resources needed to excel in her chosen field? Just imagine what the following generation of Africans could be?”
I am inclined to believe her because if women were empowered to excel, we would see a different Africa than we see now.