By Divine Muragijimana
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.