Friday, 21 November 2014

360 Woman: CEO Modalali, Maryam Aliko Mohammed On Being Northern, Muslim And Divorced

When I started interviewing women for my series - 360 Woman, the objective was simple: Get outstanding young women who are making things happen, are happily married and are not afraid to tell their story. Maryam epitomizes all of these things but er, she's divorced. After thinking through, I decided to speak with her. If I exclude women who for whatever reason are divorced, I'm inadvertently saying these women are not complete. And nothing can be farther from my objective. So, enjoy Maryam's story. It takes a special kind of grace to open up like she did. By far my deepest chat yet...

N: Hi Maryam
M: Hello Naomi.
N: It's taken us like forever to get round to doing this. When did women become so busy?
M: When they started getting bills.
N: Hahaha. True that. Okay, let me confess, I was half expecting you to say no when I asked if you would do this, especially because I know you are not the all-out-there kind of person. So... why?
M: Because you asked, and also because I have learnt that the things you mostly don't want to do are the ones that need doing.
N: Hmmm… Thanks though. I think this is going to be one enlightening chat.
M: For me especially :)

N: Great! So, what does Maryam do?
M: She tries to do everything.
N: Lol. I can totally relate.
M: Yea. Seriously though, work wise, in the past year or two I have concentrated on building my Personal and Professional Development Company, Modalali, while pushing my NGO, Mariacutty, to inspire as many young people as possible to be and do better.
N: Okay...
M: The past 3 months had me re-organizing my mum's school as part of an Educational Consultancy I belong to. Passion/art wise, I am trying to be a writer.
N: Lol. You are way too modest Maryam.
M: See you fa! I am trying to find my muse and win the Caine Prize, not caring what Binyavanga says.
N: Lol. The NLNG prize is closer to you here... Caine...Okay, let me stop here before I derail this conversation.
M: Gaskiya fa and loads more cash I hear.
N: Lol. That's right. Speaking about your personal and professional Development Company, tell me about that. What's the journey been like for you?
M: I started working for my father about the same time my marriage started falling apart, so personally I was obsessed with (un)happiness, and with the factory (Which I was managing at the time) ...why people did not go beyond a certain limit even though they had all they needed. I have always been interested in why people do not reach their potential, what stops them etc. And that's how the company came into being.

N: Hmmm. Lots of threads I will explore as this conversation goes on... But for now I'm listening.
M: So I set up the company some 8 years ago and got distracted by my own issues, even though I was moonlighting and doing training with other companies to get experience. I knew I wanted to do it differently. I hated that I had to follow a script and teach adults soft skills like they were in school. I did a lot of research, read books and identified the competencies I needed.
N: Okay...
M: Coaching resonated with me so I got the formal qualification. And with the training I got with the commonwealth, UNIDO and ILO, it got synthesized to something that worked. So I have private clients I work with one on one, I do conversations with small groups and Corporate Organisations too.

N: Great. I saw marriage and falling apart in the same sentence. Do you want to talk about that? I'm asking because I understand (Sort of) what it means to be northern and Muslim in that situation...
M: It was a time of searching for many whys, personally and professionally for me.
N: How did you deal with it all. Whatever ‘it’ means.
M: I had lead a fairly charmed life till then, never really failed at anything, fantastic family and friends, but I couldn't charm marriage into working for me. I am one of those people that need to know why. I also realized that I had known myself in good times and this Maryam in this marriage is someone I need to know, understand, accept and hopefully forgive.
N: Hmm...
M: Fantastic family and friends, gaskiya! I had lost my old self and their love and acceptance helped.

N: Did you have to deal with any snide, side comments. Did you find the Maryam you were looking for?
M: My faith was tested too in ways that I was grateful for. It made me not accepting of religion at face value. I discovered my Islam. I was looking for a nice Maryam, but she was gone for good. Instead I found the real one. By the time I left, those comments washed over me. I found them amusing. No one that makes those remarks has walked in those shoes, so I don't take their ignorance to heart. It takes a special kind of courage to walk out of a marriage. Marriage is sticky and it institutionalizes you. So it's best to do it for the right reasons. And having said that, I thought I did do it for the right reasons.
N: I think you are a strong woman Maryam. I really think you are... You talk about the boys sometimes. Like I had to wait until you put them to bed before we could have this chat. Tell me about them. Tell me about life as a single mum.
M: I have two boys, 13 and 10. Boys are doing good. I have had to make a home and provide the stability they need. Our world is not very kind to people that are different. Not having a father around is a challenge for boys as they grow up, so we try to maintain a cordial relationship with their Dad. Not easy but we try.
N: Aw... Well done Maryam. So, what have you learned from all of this?
M: I have learnt that you have to love yourself, and forgive yourself. Forgiving myself I still struggle with when I think of what prejudices and life changes my boys will have to deal with but I am getting there. I have learnt also that you have to live life to the fullest; be the best version of yourself, you owe yourself that.

N: Thanks for that Maryam. I couldn't agree more. To the lady out there who might be dealing with what you have been through, what would you say to her?
M: Seriously though, it's hard to give generalized advice. Because I am divorced, women feel comfortable to tell me the most appalling things going on in their marriages, things I would not have taken, not at all. So what I would say is self-knowledge, you have to know yourself, not the nice person but the real one.
N: Okay...
M: You have to know and accept why you got married, if it's not working, examine why and be truthful about it, then if it's something you can work at or not you choose. Divorce is not the solution for everyone, it has it's own set of devils too.

N: Hmmm. Thanks for that. So, For your company, for you and Mariacutty, what should we be looking forward to?
M: I think I am in one of my transitioning phases. For the company; I have been operating out of Kaduna because of the boys and my awesome support system, but boys are off to boarding house, so I am moving out of Kaduna in the new year.
N: Fantastic!
M: For Mariacutty, it needs a lot of support, which it gets from Modalali (my company) so when I get that sorted, this will follow.
N: There's also your documentary on domestic help in Nigeria. What were you hoping to achieve with that?
M: Awareness.
N: Did you achieve it?
M: People don't see house helps. Not as much as I would have liked.

N: True. So, any updates with the project you'll like to share?
M: I still have not been able to get it on the mainstream so it's derailed the other parts of the documentary mostly because I am doing it all myself. This was the introduction to get people to see that these house helps are are young people with aspirations, dreams and hopes.
N: may want to consider getting some strategic partners to drive the vision then?
M: Unfortunately not, the domestic servants are also suspicious of NGOs like mine that publicize their plight. They don't want to be identified with this service, borne out of necessity, which they hope to forget one day.
N: Hmmm, That's a tricky one...
M: That would be the way to go and I have tried but all I hear is "we have given grants for this project to so and so, please contact them." And I can never pin them down. But I am open to collaborations and partnerships.
N: I'll be on the lookout should I hear of any grant makers interested in such.
M: Thank you Naomi. Thank you for asking me.
N: Thank you Maryam. It really has been nice chatting with you. And thanks for opening up to me. This is my deepest interview yet... I look forward to the feedback from other ladies :)

M: You are most welcome. And you too.
©Naomi Lucas
Follow me on Twitter @msmaikasuwa

Maryam Aliko Mohammed is Chief operating Officer at Modalali. She is an accomplished professional with over 12 years in senior management positions, and leadership of over 200 employees. Her wealth of human resource experience in both private and public sector, manufacturing, education services, oil and gas makes for empathetic understanding of the challenges of managing diverse groups.

She holds MBA with specialisations in Marketing Management and Human Resource Management by the Cardiff Business School and a certification in Coaching from the University of Cambridge, UK specialising in Executive Leadership and developmental Coaching. A member of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council and the Chartered Institute of Coaching and Mentoring in Nigeria and a visiting lecturer of Leadership and Ethics at the Kaduna Business School.


Tessa Doghor said...

Women in business always have charities,
something that gives back to society.
I love women role models

Anonymous said...

inspiring piece.

Amina Sambo said...

I would really appreciate it if i could get Her email address, someone? Anyone?