[Interview] Funke E. Adeniji, Founder, Women Elite Sports Empowerment Initiative, UK
The Women Elite Sports Empowerment Initiative (WESIE) was founded in 2012 by British/Nigerian Funke E. Adeniji, who began playing basketball in her teens, working her way up from collegiate level basketball in the UK to division 1, the UK’s premiere league for women. Her experience as a clinical pharmacist with an interest in Global Health Policies has also made her especially sensitive to current health challenges being faced by millions across the globe within the context of struggling health care systems, especially across Africa.
Tell us how you came to start WESIE, and what made it necessary.
The initiative was borne out of my struggles as a female athlete and the realisation of the limited opportunities available to help females achieve their full potential as athletes, hence individuals. My professional experience as a pharmacist with an MSc in Global Health Policy also made me realise the need to tap into the power of sports as a health and social empowerment tool to effect change through tackling gender inequality and improving the health and wellbeing of communities.
Where is it located and who can be a part of it?
Our operations and events currently take place in Nigeria and the UK. We are also registered in both settings. Most of our sporting events are geared towards young women between 15- 30 years of age, although the health element of what we do including screening and health talks is open to everyone including men. We welcome support from individuals, other NGO’s and businesses who may share some of our goals and want to develop long term partnerships with us.
How is the initiative funded?
The initiative has been funded by the CEO, donations and contributions from kind hearted individuals. Key government parastatals and media outlets have also made vital contributions to our cause by way of access to facilities and media exposure amongst other things. We have also worked with national health bodies and other NGO’s to achieve common goals. We have received some donations in form of health equipment from health related businesses.
What, if any, strategic partnerships has WESIE formed since inception?
Strategic partnerships and organisations we have worked with include Howard University via SIDHAS funded by USAID, NBBF- Nigerian Basketball Federation and the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria.
What has been the community response to WESIE?
Community response has been phenomenal as there has been a steady increase in participants since inception over six years ago. Alongside this the support garnered from individuals and organisations has also increased. We hope this will growth will continue as the vision takes shape.
What are the long term ambitions of WESIE?
WESIE’s hopes to expand the reach of its competition to increase the number of participants and conduct it over a longer period time period and across more venues across the country. We hope to provide a bigger platform to inspire and sustain participation through the local competitive opportunities we provide. This platform will also provide opportunities for coaches to develop as well as jobs to support the local economy of hosting communities.
In addition we hope to increase our health outreach efforts by creating more practical means of engagement and access to health improvement tools including but not limited to various public health campaigns and seminars teaching the public how to take control of their health and improve it.
What can women in Africa do to launch and advance careers in sports?
Women in Africa interested in launching a career in sports need to make sure they master the basics from their coaches and watch loads of youtube videos and master key quotes or messages from those considered leading coaches in their sport. They should also make use of every opportunity available to compete to learn the art of competition. This will help ensure that they are ready to play and compete professionally or outside their comfort zone and do not end up being bench warmers!
In addition, they should seek to learn as much as they can about different positions in team sports and the roles of game officials. An all round knowledge will ensure they have a variety of options available to them for a career in sports.
In what direction will WESIE be going this year?
We hope to expand our health outreach by conducting more health empowerment seminars alongside practical and fun fitness days. This together with our first book publication released in the UK and scheduled for international release shortly will help us further our ambitions of effecting health and social change through various tools of empowerment including sports, one of the greatest tools of all. We also hope to step up our efforts in Nigeria by expanding our annual competition to include more participants whilst altering our style of delivery to raise the profile and competition level of the event
What does the initiative need to grow and reach more women?
Help!!! Lots of it! We know from the data we have collated and support garnered since inception that what we do has had and continues to have a massive impact on those that partake in our sporting and health events. However to reach more women and maximise our impact we need sponsorship and funding to move to the next level. Where possible, we hope to form long term relationships with sponsors and supporters as we are running a marathon so would much prefer to run it with those willing to go the distance with us.
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