Social entrepreneur Rosemary Obi pioneered “Project FX Africa,” the first-ever make-up reality show in Africa, in June 2016. It was a platform for new and upcoming make-up artists from Nigeria and other African countries to showcase their innate creativity. She is also the convener, “Empower 1000 Women,” which has so far empowered over 3000 African women in various crafts. The two initiatives, as well as her other entrepreneurial exploits, earned her the “2019 Most Impactful Entrepreneur in Africa” award by the Tony Elumelu Foundation. She shares her story of focus and tenacity with Assistant Editor CHIKODI OKEREOCHA.
Focus, tenacity and planning are her greatest assets. And by leveraging these attributes, Rosemary Obi, a Nigerian make-up artist and social entrepreneur, has effortlessly transitioned from a make-up artist to one of Africa’s most impactful women entrepreneurs.
With her ability to multi-task, the 2005 graduate of Industrial Mathematics from Delta State University, Abraka, has her finger in virtually every entrepreneurial pie. She is a software programmer, a website developer, video editor, graphic designer, speaker, author and life coach.
Rosemary, more popularly known and called by her initials, ‘RM’, is also an industrialist. For instance, she is co-founder and managing partner of ReneAfrik Designery, a handcraft high quality shoe manufacturing company based in Ogudu, Lagos. She runs the business with her husband.
However, it was her business as a make-up artist, which she started as a hobby back then in the university, that tossed her onto the national and continental stage. “Back then in the university, from 2001 to 2005, I used to make people up; people will queue up in front of my room because I was staying off the campus.
“It was an all-girls hostel so, when they are going for any function, they will queue up in front of my room and I will make them up without collecting a dime. People were wondering why I wasn’t collecting money for my services. I didn’t need the money back then; my needs were being met by my daddy,” she recalled.
Unknown to her schoolmates and friends, Rosemary, who was rendering her make-up services pro bono, was only riding on the back of her leisure pursuit to hone her entrepreneurial skill. She gradually developed the art of professional make-up application. “I wanted to train myself fully, just to know what it entails to have a business,” she told The Nation.
The entrepreneur, however, said it was not until she graduated in 2005 that she fully launched her make-up business. That was before she went for her mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 2006. But, in throwing her hat into the entrepreneurial ring, she was focussed on playing on the global stage, first by making her impact felt at the continental level.
So, from make-up artistry, Rosemary was determined to advance into other businesses and initiatives that will significantly impact the fortunes of women and youth in Africa. And she demonstrated that determination by pioneering the first-ever make-up reality show in Africa, tagged “Project FX Africa,” to inspire the youth in make-up artistry. That was in June 2016.
The hugely successful pan-African show featured new and upcoming make-up artist contestants from five African countries, providing them a platform to showcase their innate creativity. According to Rosemary, the major reason for organising Project FX Africa was basically to unite Africa through make-up.
Her words: “The continent is a big one; we have about 55 countries and you have these young ones who are coming up in the make-up industry who do not necessarily have anybody holding them by the hand to show them how to do the business.
“So, that’s why I came up with the creative competition. It wasn’t just the soft make-up; it’s the movie make-up, the character make-up, the special effect and everything.” Noting that the Project was self-funded, she said she almost gave up doing it because every company she went to for sponsorship wasn’t particularly interested in the make-up reality show.
Besides, it was a pan-African show, which required her and her team travelling to many African countries. But, RM refused to be discouraged; her tenacity and focus kept her pushing. Although the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 forced her to put the physical edition of the show on hold, she is still firing on, relying on the digital space, this time, to continue her crusade to impact lives.
“The physical competition is on hold because of the pandemic. We are not thinking of a physical edition of the project,” Rosemary stated, adding, however, “We are taking it digital. We are announcing the 2021 competition in few days. The entries will resume sometime in April, this year. Whoever wins gets his or her award plaques in their various countries. We are working on partnerships with a few make-up brands.”
While the pandemic may have forced her to turn to technology to continue her campaign to empower the youth, the Mathematician-turned social entrepreneur is not new to the deployment of technology and the digital space to push the boundaries of her enterprise.
In doing this, Rosemary said she draws her strength from the impact the project is making. “We are always making people,” she said, pointing out: “The project itself is impactful because you are giving the up-coming make-up artists the opportunity to dream and reach for the skies. We are mentoring them and we have a three tier objective, which is “Discover, Inspire and Develop. So, it’s a ‘DID’ mandate”
Explaining further, she said what she does, in line with the DID mandate, is discover the talent, inspire them, and then develop them and then take them to various parts of the world for various make-up competitions. Before the pandemic struck, Rosemary took some South African women to London, where she was invited to represent Africa at their national make-up show.
Empower 1000 Women also
The Delta State-born businesswoman also said training for Empower 1000 Women, a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative she set up to empower women in Africa through free training in makeup, baking, tie & dye, gele tying etc., are kicking off online in March.
Incidentally, March is “International Women’s Month.” “So, we have a lineup of training to share with women across Africa. We held one last year July online. That was what increased the number of women that have benefited from the empowerment programme to 3000, from 2500 people,” Rosemary said.
Launched in 2018, the Empower 1000 Women is the CSR arm of Rosemary’s business. “It’s our way of giving back because it’s a platform through which we train women in various crafts, make-up and other crafts.
“So, we teach them tie & dye, baking, shoe making, bag making so that they can use it to fend or support their families, because I know that when you train a woman you train a whole nation,” she explained.
According to Rosemary, the mission was to go to a few African countries and empower 1000 people. But as it turned out, even before she and her team left Nigeria for the programme, they had already empowered about 800 women just within Lagos, Ogun State and Ibadan. So far, the initiative has empowered over 3000 women in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia and Tanzania.
Although it targets women in the rural areas most of who don’t have access to the Internet, it means that those who have access to the Internet and who are probably out of jobs and are looking for a business or craft to start are the ones that will benefit from the online trainings that will start in March.
The movement restriction to curtail the spread of the pandemic also dealt severe blow on Rosemary’s shoe making business. She said, for instance, that many people, especially office workers, who were patronising ReneAfrik Designery, her shoe manufacturing company in Lagos, were no longer buying shoes.
With many of her customers forced to work from home, the business experienced a downturn, as sales dwindled. However, not one to pull back in the face of a challenge, the situation only served to bring out the creativity and ingenuity of the co-founder and Managing Partner of ReneAfrik Designery.
“What it (the pandemic) did for us was to look into other space. The people were at home. What do they wear? They wear slippers, sandals, canvass for gym. Of course, with the pandemic, people were taking to working out, keeping fit, staying healthy. And so we started diverting. So, we have been able to keep afloat even with all of that,” Rosemary told The Nation.
Expectedly, her doggedness, focus and resolve to positively impact the continent’s entrepreneurial space through youth and women empowerment have not gone unnoticed. For instance, shortly after she launched the Empower 1000 Women in 2018, the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), the following year, invited her and rewarded her with the “2019 Most Impactful Entrepreneur in Africa” award.
Founded in 2010, TEF is an African-funded philanthropic organisation focused on supporting entrepreneurship in Africa by enhancing the competitiveness of the private sector. The Foundation creates impact through business leadership and entrepreneurship development programmes, impact investments, research and policy advocacy.
Rosemary is an alumna of the TEF. She also won the Foundation’s grant in 2016, aside participating in the “Road to Growth” programme by Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.
Since the Foundation’s inception in 2008, it has been helping to release the potential of women entrepreneurs in low- and middle income countries, including Nigeria, and closing the global gender gap in entrepreneurship.
She is also one of the ambassadors of the Access Bank Womenpreneur, which was designed to provide female-owned businesses across Africa an opportunity to access finance and world-class business training as well as mentoring opportunities.
To stay on top of her game, the entrepreneur has also gone a notch higher to develop herself by attending several courses and training at the Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) of the Lagos Business School (LBS).
“I have already launched out the business and when I got to the point where I knew that development is going to help me further, I started enrolling for different courses and entering for some competitions that will allow me gain access to some training. You don’t stop learning. Right now, I am running two courses online,” she said, adding that her target is to empower 10, 000 women by 2025.
But how does the mother of three juggle her busy work schedule with family? “Planning,” she said, adding: “It’s just the planner in me that has enabled me to allot time for different activities. I make sure that none of the programmes encroach on the other. I ensure that I stick to my time. I have the time of the day I drop my phone and that’s it, you don’t find me online.”
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