Irene Ochem, founder and CEO of Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) is soft-spoken but compelling, of gentle approach yet radiating passion, firmly rooted in reality yet driven by a strength of conviction and determination that will bore their way through any opposing circumstances or situations. These are among the qualities that have brought her across countries and continents, through daunting obstacles and deep-seated prejudices to where she now stands, spearheading a highly influential pan-African women’s economic empowerment organisation and business network that she is determined will be the number one, globally recognised platform for female entrepreneurship in Africa.
The seeds of this ambition were sown many years ago when working as a young volunteer at The International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP-UNESCO) where she encountered the desperate need for female inclusivity in sciences. From there, extensive involvement in international organisations as conference organiser, administrative coordinator, research administration manager, international consultant and development specialist has steadily grown her vision to include the entire entrepreneurship ecosystem, from stakeholders and business experts to policy makers and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Highly qualified, holding bachelor’s and postgraduate degrees as well as an MBA in International Management acquired at the University of London, Irene holds postgraduate qualifications in project management, gender and trade-related issues. She speaks four languages and is a sought-after speaker and participant in international meetings on entrepreneurship, women and gender.
Irene’s focus is Africa’s most underutilised resource – women, some 50%+ of the continent’s population – and she is harnessing high-level, successful female entrepreneurs as well as young aspiring businesswomen to create the unique AWIEF platform bringing big and small together to connect and interface. Her programmes, including the annual AWIEF Conference and Exhibition, the AWIEF Awards, the AWIEF Growth Accelerator Programme to make companies “investment ready”, the AWIEF business networking breakfasts and her impressive profile as conference speaker have enabled AWIEF to enter into partnership reputable international and global institutions, including partnership with the Southern African Network for Biosciences (SANBio/NEPAD) as Country Coordinator for implementation of the FemBioBiz Accelerator Programme which focuses on women-owned businesses in the health and agriculture biotechnology sectors. AWIEF has recently partnered with Nedbank to implement the AWIEF Growth Accelerator Programme in South Africa in 2018 and 2019.
However, the feather in her cap is seeing AWIEF partner with the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA-ACP-EU) as implementing partner for Southern Africa in the #VALUE4HER programme designed to create more value for women in agribusiness. Irene’s winning attributes are her track record, her ability to tap into the knowledge and expertise gained globally, to network and understand the international development sector. A dynamo in female guise, Irene is fully aligned with the new Sustainable Development Goals that are taking the woman agenda to new dimensions. Perfectly positioned to promote and facilitate intra-African collaboration and partnerships for women, she is set to stimulate a whole new momentum of meaningful and lasting change for women in Africa.