Photo Credit: Aisha Dirisu
Aisha is a trained Development Economist from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom, an M&E consultant with a government Parastatal in Nigeria and experience in Institutional Management spanning over six years. She has a certification in Non–Profit Leadership and Management from the prestigious Lagos Business School Nigeria.
She is currently the Executive Director of Peniel Foundation – a Non-Governmental Organization that inspires, empowers, and advocates for youth living with disabilities to attain their full potential. Recently, in response to the COVID -19 pandemic, she launched the Peniel Live Series on Instagram, this is to inspire the youths with disabilities to aspire for greatness by inviting successful persons with disabilities from around the globe to show what’s possible and how they attained their success.
Aisha envisions an inclusive African continent where youths living with disabilities attain their full potential and can contribute to nation building.
Tell us about, Aisha Dirisu, what’s your story?
For as long as I can remember, I have always been passionate about solving the problems of others in any way I can. I believe this undying resolve to change the world around me led me to Economics in the University of Abuja, where I obtained my first degree. I believed that with the right principles and strategies, I could effect a positive change in my society.
This unwavering desire to make an impact led me to my next role at The British High Commission where I spent 5 years. At the end of my time with the British High Commission, I took a short career break and during that period, I finally discovered myself and gained clarity on my life’s vision and purpose which birthed Peniel Foundation.
In addition to the above, I am passionate about fitness and leading a healthy lifestyle. In my spare time, I create smoothie recipes and juices.
You are a strong advocate for youths living with disabilities, how you find yourself on this path?
After the successful completion of my undergraduate degree, I set off to the United Kingdom for my master’s degree. During the course of my master’s degree at the university of East Anglia, I volunteered to care for autistic children. This was the first time I had ever come in contact with any physically or mentally disability. In the course of my training, I realized just how skilled and talented each child was under the right circumstances.
On my return to Nigeria, I witnessed and heard a lot of horrid stories on the plight of persons living with disabilities. For instance, a young lawyer posted for his court attachment in a law firm, got there and was called an imbecile and sent out by the MD, because he was being helped by others to manoeuvre his way into the building that had stairs and no ramps. A deaf pregnant woman died due to complications because no sign language interpreter to interpret what was wrong with her.
The injustice and compassion led me to become a strong advocate. I wanted to be the voice for change. I knew how important it was to have a disability inclusive society for the betterment of the lives of people living with disabilities as I had witnessed firsthand just how much power the society had in shaping them.
As ED of Peniel Foundation, can you share with us what Peniel Foundation does and what the impact has been like since it was founded?
Peniel Foundation seeks to inspire, empower, and advocate for people living with disabilities to contribute to nation building. Our major focus is to connect youths living with disabilities to jobs & opportunities and equipping them with all the tools required to succeed. At Peniel Foundation we envision a world where every youth living with disability is financially independent and capable of catering to his/her own needs without any external assistance.
Since our launch in 2018, we have made significant impact in our community and the society at large.
- We had a free 2-day workshop & training tagged Peniel Empowers for youths living with disabilities where they were trained on Digital marketing and entrepreneurship skills. A year after, one of the attendees got a grant to upscale her business from Disability Rights Advocacy Centre (DRAC).
- We partnered with British High Commission & CBM to increase representation of persons with disabilities as beneficiaries of the scholarship. On 20th July 2020, an attendee was awarded the Chevening Scholarship.
- We launched an E-mentorship program to connect youths with disabilities in Africa with successful Mentors around the world for their personal and professional development. 3 of our mentees have gotten internship opportunities, 1 about to be employed by a radio house.
- We provided mental and emotional support to youths with disabilities during the Covid lock-down by inviting successful persons with disabilities to share their stories to inspire them. We received over 25 positive feedback on how the series helped them overcome their anxiety and also gave them hope.
You actively advocate for the inclusion of women living with disabilities, What is the Motivation and Inspiration behind your projects, what drives you?
Women with disabilities face triple jeopardy; firstly, because they are women and secondly because they have a disability. Women and girls with disabilities are at risk of sickness, injury, negligence, maltreatment and exploitation. Stories abound of women and girls with disabilities who fall victims to ritual killings. Notwithstanding their skills, knowledge and experiences, they are marginalised from formal decision-making and the contributions they make often ignored. They continue to be seen as victims alone rather than as resources for community resilience to insecurity.
Our motivation and inspiration behind our project is to see women with disabilities having a voice and being empowered enough to become leaders in their field which will eventually have a ripple effect in the disability community.
What Challenges and Lessons have you learnt on your journey?
- Peniel foundation was borne out of my passion to empower youths with disabilities. I quickly realized that passion alone wasn’t enough, proper planning, structure and system is needed to run a sustainable non-profit. I immediately signed up for Donors for Africa inner cycle membership & then enrolled in Lagos Business School for certification in a Non-profit, leadership & management course
- I also struggled with getting skilled personnel as volunteers. This made us more rigorous in our selection processes
- I also realized that having a vision to empower youths with disabilities was only the first part, I had to find people who were willing and ready to put in the work to get the desired results. This made me narrow down the selection process and remove inactive members from the program.
Care to share any memorable moments and highlight in the course of your work?
In October 2019, I wrote to the Chevening Scholarship Board to propose a formal training to increase the representation of youths living with disabilities on their scholarship program. The highlight was when we got a positive feedback from them and an invitation to partner with them and Christoffel Blinden Mission. On the 20th of July, 2020, one of our participants got selected as a scholar.
Do you have a life philosophy, personal mantra perhaps that keeps you steady when the going gets tough?
My life’s philosophy is to live a life where I can positively impact as many lives that come in contact with me.
Are there upcoming projects that you’d like to hint us on?
Peniel Foundation is developing an accessible career network platform that connects youths with disabilities looking for jobs to employers by training, coaching and e-mentoring to get them job ready with E-rating badges for disability employers.
Tell us about the Social Innovators Bootcamp for which you recently qualified as a winner and its impact on your journey?
The Social Innovators Bootcamp is a once in a lifetime experience organized by Donors for Africa Foundation to strengthen the capacity of impact driven leaders to create change on the African continent. it was an intensive 12 week of learning and building necessary skills required to be an impactful non-profit leader. I met and built great relationships with like minded individuals.
My interaction with Donors for Africa not only helped me gained clarity about our work at Peniel Foundation but also created new opportunities for my organization. Thanks to their support, I was selected to attend the World Youth Forum in Egypt, became an African Change maker fellow and now winner of the 2019/2020 Social Innovators Pitch Competition.
I was pushed beyond my comfort zone and for this, I can boldly say I am a better leader.
The LLA Grassroot Series is a monthly interview series that highlights the achievements and journey of African female who has demonstrated exemplary initiative at the grassroots level.
The vision is to showcase the Leading Ladies who are transforming Africa and the African narrative through impact at the community level.
It is an off shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes leadership, inclusion and diversity for women of African descent.
If you know any kick-ass women of African Descent doing phenomenal things at the grassroots level, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and she could possibly be featured.