The above words seem inadequate to describe a philanthropist like OGAY IRONO. She operates within these power words, whether it is to tackle women’s issues, economic empowerment, education, global health, food security, water, sanitation, hygiene, agriculture, or solar power training. I found her and her husband Emanuel Irono so passionate about making a global impact in this world. I wanted to learn about the global footprint that she intends to leave in this world. We met at one of her charity events at their beautiful home. I was fascinated by this beautiful, Nigerian philanthropist. I wanted to know more about her so that I could send her through to our WOW Readers. She was gracious enough to grant WOW an interview and did not disappoint. I started with the basics.
Mrs. Irono, how would you describe yourself?
Boldly, she focuses on who she is. I am a non-profit leader, educator, counselor, mentor, philanthropist, business strategist, and champion for women, youth, and families. As a Nigerian-born woman, I leveraged the discipline and knowledge gleaned from my undergraduate studies in molecular biology and Master’s degrees in Public Administration and International Community Development to address the needs of for high poverty communities here in the US and abroad.
As the President of TIS Foundation and ACBF, I have devoted 25 years to service. As a leading expert in entrepreneurship and business development, I have been able to positively touch the lives of many women and children in Africa through our flagship, African Community Bridge Foundation. Now my mission is to replicate what we have accomplished in the U.S. through TIS Foundation by focusing on the fight against inequality and poverty.
Tell us about your family.
I am married to Emmanuel O. Irono, President and CEO of MOTIR Services, Inc., who had the vision to create MOTIR, which stands for Memory of Theresa Irono Romanus and a foundation to serve. My husband is also a global social entrepreneur who generously supports my philanthropic work in the U.S. and Africa. Each year, his company that provides construction, facilities management, environmental services, moving and logistics, information technology, medical staffing, and consulting support, donates up to 20% of net profits to the non-profit organizations. Emmanuel and I have been growing our business and serving others together for decades, and our marriage has birthed a beautiful family. I am a mother of three children, Chidera, Zikora and Obinna. And I’m proud to say that my oldest son is now in his first year at Morehouse College.
What is the mission of the TIS Foundation?
TIS Foundation’s mission is to revitalize high-poverty communities through the delivery of essential support services, innovative educational and workforce development programs, and creative entrepreneurship opportunities to high-need families.
What type of work do you do in Nigeria?
I am President of TIS Foundation based here in the United States, and President of African Community Bridge Foundation (ACBF) based in Nigeria. I oversee the work of ACBF and lead a team of committed individuals who are working hard to help Nigerians overcome extreme poverty. We are now trying to work with the Nigerian and U.S. governments to strengthen economic relations and build bridges across the divide between Africans and African Americans that began 400 years ago. We believe that we can begin to have an impact in this area by focusing on research, international convenings, leadership development, education, training, and business investment from the private sector.
Do you mentor young women in Nigeria?
Yes, it is one of my passions. As a Nigerian woman, I know the capabilities and strength of Nigerian girls and women. The Conversation US noted in 2019 that forty percent (40%) of Nigerian women are entrepreneurs contributing to the data point that women in sub-Saharan Africa have the highest entrepreneurship rate in the world. I do everything I can to encourage them to live up to their potential regardless of their circumstances.
Your Charity work, how much of a priority is it for you?
My husband and I started our charity and philanthropic works in Washington, DC, and Prince George’s County, Maryland area in 1994. Most of the work that we do is done through the two non-profit organizations, TIS and ACBF. ACBF has made a significant impact on the lives of people in some of the most underserved rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Using our existing infrastructure, we are scaling up to fill more unmet needs.
I know you are an Influencer, so, How do you impact the lives of women?
In addition to addressing the basic needs of women like food, health, and education, we are helping them to develop into entrepreneurs. We are very proud of the fact that through training, startup grants, and mentoring, we have been able to give women, like those affected by Boko Haram who have virtually nothing, a new start in life. We believe that they are the foundation of the future of the family and that’s why we are committed to investing in them. We are deeply grateful to our partners at the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Bank of Industry for their generous investment in our work. Equally, our work with faith-based food pantries makes all the difference in feeding families that number more than 400 people a day and 5000 families per month.
Mrs. Irono, Do you consider yourself to be an Influencer?
I have learned to embrace the reality that I am an influencer. I’d rather think of myself as someone who is simply trying to lead others, especially my children and other young people, by example. I now understand that the number of people watching what we do and the ability to make one phone call or send one email or text can help those in need, provide access to vital resources and open doors that otherwise may have been closed. As a family, we remain committed to giving back as much as we can, not just with money, but with our time because we have been blessed with so much. That is a principle that we are trying to instill in our children. There is so much need and suffering around the globe and I’m just trying to do my part to make a difference.
“Each one of us has the power to transform and improve the lives of others. I would just encourage others to give back and partner with us in transforming as many lives as possible.”
Let’s talk about Partnerships with the TIS Foundation, do you have any?
“This has been an exciting period in the life of TIS Foundation,” She goes on to say, last year, we celebrated 25 years of working with populations in socio-economic distress. After many years of hard work, we have begun to attract the support of major funders like Capital One, Fannie Mae, SunTrust, DC Lottery, DC Department of Health and the Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation. We have also become a grant funder establishing partnerships and providing support with several grassroots organizations that directly benefits our target communities. And, as if that is not exciting enough, we have established a partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to provide one million dollars in scholarships to students over the next ten years. We began this commitment with five schools that are near and dear to our heart – Howard University, Morgan State University, University of the District of Columbia, Bowie State University, and Elizabeth City State University.
When asked when and where did it all begin? Irono replied:
My visions and dreams for an inclusive global world are tied up with the goals and objectives of TIS Foundation and African Community Bridge Foundation to end global poverty and inequalities. In the quest for the fulfillment of our dreams we established TIS Foundation whose original focus was primarily on providing humanitarian support in Nigeria. We later established ACBF in 2002, to serve as our on-the-ground partner. ACBF started small and has grown continuously since our inception over 20 years ago. I conceived ACBF based on Dr. King’s global vision of a place where all people can equally share in the abundant resources of our world. In ACBF the tolerance for poverty, hunger, and homelessness are replaced with human dignity, mutual respect, and love for one’s neighbor. While we want to see tribalism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice, replaced with a spirit of fellowship, equality and love, we know that economic empowerment, education and training are the keys to unlock doors and transform hearts and minds.
Tell us about challenges you experienced along the way and how you overcame them.
One of the most challenging experiences I’ve encountered thus far in my life was when we experienced a devastating fire at TIS Foundation’s Headquarters in Washington, DC, a place we share with my husband’s
business, MOTIR. The fired wiped out everything and we had to start over. The hardest part was finding the emotional strength to fight our way back from the loss that effected our entire team. Thankfully, no one was physically harmed and today our international headquarters stands as a beacon of hope on East Capitol Street blocks from Capitol Hill.
We know that you are all in with your Two non-profits so, please tell us what is in this for you?
With transparency, Irono answered; For me, it’s about seeing the transformation that even the smallest effort can make in someone else’s life. Transforming the life of one individual can transform a family, transforming a family can transform a community and brick-bybrick, community-by-community we can transform a state, a country and make a global impact in the world. By serving this greater mission to eliminate economic and social inequality across the globe, we can each do our part to change the world.
What an awesome mission, so tell us, how can we the people help?
We need resources in terms of funding, human capital including volunteers, supplies, infrastructure and so many things to bridge this incredible gap in underserved populations that seems to be growing every day. As has been rightly noted by many, the world has never been this rich and yet we see such an incredible number who are very poor. We must all join hands to do something about it.
When we asked Ogay Irono to tell us about the work she did for the former Governor of Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha, she spoke with deep passion as she went on to explain the controversy centered around the Nigerian election:
She explains, You know there is a saying that, ‘something new always comes out of Africa.’ This view is usually presented from the derogatory point. But in the administration of the Governor of Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha, something new and very positive came out of the political leadership in Africa. However, it has been temporarily cut short by a shocking judgement by the Supreme Court in Nigeria, when it unexpectedly cancelled the election of Governor Ihedioha and went ahead to anoint the candidate who came a distant 4th as the governor. The good news: however, is that the same Supreme Court has agreed to review its decision and there is hope to continue the new ideas that are planned for Nigeria. One of the most significant “new things” was Governor Ihedioha recognizing the value of the African Diaspora community in the U.S. especially Imo citizens who have excelled in all aspects of lives endeavors.
The Ihedioha Administration empowered the kind of creativity that is essential to moving Imo State and Nigeria forward on the global stage. During the short time that I served as a Senior Special Advisor to the Governor of Imo State on Youth Empowerment and Development, over 4000 were provided entrepreneurship training that included the development of their agricultural skills and being given startup kits for jumpstart their agricultural endeavors. I was able to get Bill No. 37 passed by the Imo State House of Assembly. This very important bill, called for the establishment of an agency charged with training, fundraising and disbursing funds for trained startups and youth businesses under the Imo State Youth Employment and Empowerment Act. This bill also called for the creation of a search engine for job search and placement for youth and industry. We were also successful in arranging Governor Ihedioha’s meetings with a cross section of key leaders and professionals in the African Diaspora in Washington DC. We also coordinated bilateral discussions between his government and major U.S. government agencies and international organizations. These efforts began a powerful journey that we hope to continue for the good of Imo State, Nigeria and the world.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers, I asked?
In her own words, Irono closed the interview with “Each one of us has the power to transform and improve the lives of others. I would just encourage others to give back and partner with us in transforming as many lives as possible.” You can learn more about what they are doing and make a donation to the TIS Foundation at www.tisfoundation.org and ACBF at africancbf.org/.