ok I may love her more than Oprah.
(CNN) -- From shaking up Nigeria's
fashion scene to striking it rich in the oil business, Nigerian
billionaire Folorunso Alakija has tasted success in all walks of life.
The former banking
executive-turned-fashion designer-turned oil magnate is one of the west
African country's most accomplished businesswoman, boasting a long and
successful career in several fields.
In recent years, the
61-year-old has been dedicating her time to give back and help those in
need as an author and philanthropist -- in 2008, she launched the Rose of Sharon foundation, a non-governmental organization that provides for widows and orphans across Nigeria.
"We found out that widows
are a stigma in this society," says Alakija. "Once they lose their
husbands, the society turns their backs on them, their in-laws begin to
mistreat them, they become depressed, they don't know where to turn,
they don't know where their next meal is coming from."
In some parts of Nigeria,
many widowed women face untold hardships as a result of traditional
customs -- in many cases, if a widow doesn't have any male adult
children she can lose all her husband's property, while in-laws often do
not provide her with economic support, especially if she does not
accept becoming an additional wife to one of her husband's brothers.
Alakija, a mother of four
sons, is working hard to change such conditions, using her financial
background to provide interest-free loans and scholarships.
"We try our best to bring
hope back into their lives," she says, noting that so far the
organization has been able "to fend for 2,751 widows and 963 widows'
children, 66 orphans and actually 11 widows at university through the
Alakija says her
organization's next goal is to help set up schools across Nigeria, in
areas where the women would be able to work the land while their
children would attend classes within walking distance.
"Where they and their
children can live and grow fruits and vegetables and sell them so that
they will be able to build their confidence a bit more," she says.
Born into privilege in
1951 in Nigeria, Alakija grew up in a very large family -- her father
had eight wives and 52 children in his lifetime. At the age of seven she
moved to the UK with her sister to attend a private school before
returning to Nigeria four years later.
She did her first
professional steps in the 1970s as a bank secretary but quickly moved
along the corporate ladder, becoming the first head of corporate affairs
at IMB, Nigeria's International Merchant Bank.
Edited by PurpleHaze - Dec 04 2012 at 10:30pm