Serena and Venus Williams are sport and entertainment a-listers with success stories to tell. A gala night held in their honour last week in Lagos as part of their 'Women Empowerment Drive Visit'project. An A-list evening, no doubt with trappings of top-notch individuals, classy ambiance and delicious menu.
Glitz, Glam and Essence...
Much more than socialising, it provided an opportunity to provoke women into activating and mobilising their own energy and resources towards breaking the mould and making a lasting difference. As individuals who had gone through same, Venus and Serena were perfect role models for this.
The Williams Sisters and their mother, Oracene Price stepped into the event hall at Federal Palace at 8:15pm after a brief Red Carpet Reception during which they were received by the MD of Nigerian Breweries, Nicolaas Vervelde.
After a short profile of the sisters was read by Dr. Shola Gbinigie, they were invited up stage for a brief interview session during which the sisters narrated the story of their journey to the top. Gbinigie who was also the moderator for the chat session, a medical doctor and amateur tennis player. she presented the chat session in a fashion reminiscent of the Oprah show.
Two exemplary Nigerian mould-breakers were honored Nike Okundaye of the Nike Art Gallery and Dr. Ola Olakunrin of Air Ambulance Nigeria / Flying Doctors were both honored for their courage and resilience in the face of adversity, and for daring into sectors that many deemed were reserved exclusively for men.
The host for the evening was on-air personality, Tolu Oniru, fondly known as Toolz. Entertainment was provided by Yinka Davies and Timi Dakolo. As guests dined, the Williams Sisters expressed how excited they are to be playing against each other at Friday's exhibition match slated at the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, Ikoyi.
Increased empowerment for women...
Accompanied by their mother, Oracene Price, the Williams' sisters described Africa as a great continent that has produced many great mould breakers, even as they declared that their African descent was never a disadvantage in any way. Visiting tennis champions, Venus and Serena Williams, advocated adequate empowerment of women in Africa , stating that the presence of women in eminent positions around the world is a demonstration of the significance role which the female gender can play in the scheme of things.
The duo, said women have more to offer if they were adequately empowered and motivated to be the best they can be. They stated that women empowerment and equal opportunity for the girl-child were dear to their heart, which was why they supported the Breaking The Mould (BTM) initiative, a women's empowerment programme aimed at advancing the cause of women in Africa .
They added that they were excited to be in Lagos , which was their first visit to Africa while noting that the tour of Lagos would afford then opportunity to meet and impact the lives of women and young girls through the BTM initiative.
Venus, the older of the Williams' sisters, said that for her, coming to Nigeria in particular was an exciting experience. "It is exciting to be in Africa . It's been great to be part of the Breaking The Mould initiative. We look forward to meeting Nigerian women and learn from each other as women have so much to over", she said.
She said further that they were amazed by the rousing welcome they received from Nigerians, even as she promised that they would thrill the nation when both of them engage each other in an exhibition match on Friday.
"We have played so many finals in different places and look forward to playing another final in Nigeria . I don't know who is going to win between the two of us, but it's going to be a good match. We feel the excitement all around us and it makes us feel so special, loved and encouraged to do better and win more matches."
On her part, Serena explained that the visit was a great opportunity to inspire and motivate women and young persons. "It is an honour as this is our first visit to Africa and Nigeria in particular. We are more excited because we are here as a family and most importantly, we are here to do something different; to mentor the young women and young kids, and in general to understand ways of breaking the mould", she said.
"We are here to let them know that, if you have a dream, you can achieve it, and that it is okay to break the mould. We are really honoured and proud to be part of such a great idea. We look forward to playing each other in the presence of our lovely Nigerian fans, who have been following our coming to Nigeria on twitter through their messages."
Roots in Nigeria, not quite? ...
While reacting to a question at a media parley on whether they originated from Badagry, in Lagos, the sisters who were in company of their mother, Oracene, said: "We surely have an African roots, but we are from America. My mum just named our late cousin, Yetunde, after a Nigerian, but from America," Venus affirmed with a grin on her face.
The sisters said it was so exciting and a great privilege to be in Nigeria , just as they also admitted that it will not be their last visit to the country.
"I feel great to be here for such a wonderful initiative. We will continue to make the difference in the lives of oncoming black tennis players in the world and this will definitely not be our last visit to Nigeria," Venus, whom Serena described as the spokesperson for the two stressed.
Serena, who had to dash to South Africa before touching down in Lagos said Nigeria is giving her a great and different feeling, just as she said she receive many mails from Nigerians on twitter.
"I feel honoured and proud that some Nigerians are taking to tennis as a result of our rise to the top of our career. It's really amazing," she said.
Continuing, the 2012 US Open winner said she feels sad each time her sister loses a game. "I take her loss the same way I feel when I loses, I feel angry. It was always emotional each time I watch my sister loses," she said as a matter of fact.
Recalling her first Grand Slam win, Venus described it as an 'amazing feeling'. Saying she appreciates those moments more than now, just as she said her dad did a great job working and improving on them. "He was very tough on us," he said.
While Nigeria is still holding various workshops on how to move sports forward, the Williams Sisters are already preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. "We hope to be in Rio and we are already preparing for the games," Serena confirmed.
The duo also played in Ikoyi Club 1938, where they held a tennis clinic with about 200 school children of ages six to 16 years.
Breaking the mould Initiative.
Tunji Adeyinka, the MD of Connect Marketing Services, the facilitators of the Nigeria BTM campaign told guests that more room has been made available courtside to accommodate the teeming fans of the Williams Sisters at today's match. He further revealed that tickets will now be sold at the gate, in order to give everyone a good chance to watch the Tennis champions battle it out.
Kazeem Abimbola, the executive director of Connect Marketing Services also thanked the guests for supporting a worthy campaign aimed at empowering African women. He expressed his company's gratitude to the Williams' family, and also to the sponsors for their immense support.
A full buffet it was and guests tucked into their meals. VIP guests such as Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas, Mr. Goddie Ibru, Akinwale Goodluck and others such Dolapo Oni added pizazz to the event.
Breaking the Mould (BTM), the facilitators of William sisters to Lagos Nigeria is a new initiative to catalyse, acknowledge and reward Nigerian women who have risen above their own set of challenges and adversities to succeed and inspire. Whether at work, home, play or in their communities, women are making a difference every day and the more we are able to share their stories, the more we can positively and happily influence future generations of Mould Breakers.
BTM is a connector - connecting women from all walks of life to one another and highlighting success stories that have been achieved no matter what the odds were and the challenges faced, which serves to grow leaders of the future. By identifying, recognising and informing the greater populous we can grow more leaders and have a positive effect and (some means of) control of our future.
Mould Breakers provide guiding lights for our 'aspirational' compass.
International Mould Breakers such as Venus and Serena - into today's celebrity driven consciousness, there is a need for international personalities to lead the way, particularly here in Nigeria .
The first edition of BTM, In Venus and Serena Williams - international tennis stars, were selected because they have both overcome series of hardships to reach the pinnacle of tennis and personal success. Their story resonates with women all around the world. Not only are they celebrities and sports women, they are more importantly known for their philanthropic ventures make them TRUE and authentic mould breakers.
Each year, the BTM programme will alternate between a leading sports star or stars, with someone from the arts and entertainment sector who will be invited to Nigeria to share their mould breaking story and carry on the inspiration and motivation.
Earlier, the Managing Director, Connect Marketing Services Limited, the West African affiliate of Octagon, property owners of Breaking The Mould, Mr. Tunji Adeyinka, explained that the initiative was aimed at helping women and young girls to overcome the limitations put on their way to success by society.
He said, "the essence of this visit by the Williams' sisters is Breaking The Mould initiative. All over the world, there are imaginary and real limitations that have been placed in the way of women, whether they are engaged in business, politics or sports, where they are competing with men. BTM aims to help remove these obstacles."
Adeyinka added that women represented a significant percentage of the population whose contributions to national development could not be under-estimated. "If we continue to suppress women, we are suppressing a very vital segment of the population that can contribute significantly to the Gross Domestic Product", he declared.
Speaking on the participation of its company, Marketing Director, Nigerian Breweries Plc, Mr. Walter Drenth, said Amstel Malta sponsored the initiative as the official drink because of the synergy between the initiative and core values of the brand, namely empowerment to be the best. "Amstel Malta is about determination, passion and hard work", he noted.
On her part, Head, External Relations for Sub Africa, Procter and Gamble, Temitope Iluyemi, affirmed that the company's sanitary product, Always supported the BTM initiative because it aligned with the brand's core value of empowering the girls. "We are proud to partner with Breaking The Mould initiative in line with our vision to help women break the mould. The Williams' sisters represent passion, determination, self-belief and hard work, which are necessary to breaking the mould", she stated.
Notable industrialist and tennis promoter, Chief Molade okoya-Thomas, in a welcome remark, said the visit of Venus and Serena Williams was a dream come true for many Nigerians, who had longed to see the tennis icons over the years. "We are so happy to have you in this country. It has been our wish and dream to that, one day, you would come back to us and give us the recognition that we deserve."
He said there were lot of tennis fans in the country, who had been eager to see the duo play against each other on the Nigerian soil.