Chief Bisi Ogunleye

Chief Bisi Ogunleye

Founder, Country Women Association of Nigeria

Chief Bisi Ogunleye Chief Bisi is a pioneer in the economic empowerment of women, a gifted advocate for their full participation in policy and decision making, and a long-time leader in the fight to free her country from poverty, hunger, malnutrition, environmental degradation and injustice. For nearly two decades she has been promoting the active involvement of Africans in development issues that affect them. A hands-on activist, Chief Bisi's strength is derived from a firm foundation in the villages of Africa, and the committed partnership of her late husband, Peter Adeleke Ogunleye. She began helping women organize themselves by donating one month's salary to a group of rural women to use as seed money to start their own business. The repaid loan was reinvested in other groups until, in 1982, Chief Bisi founded the Country Women Association of Nigeria (COWAN) with six cooperatives of 150 members. Today COWAN has over 1,390 groups and 31,000 active members across eight states of Nigeria. It is known for its women-designed programs in credit, agriculture and small business development. In 1993 COWAN incorporated into its program the Centre for Development and Self-Help Activities (CEDSHA), created by Peter Ogunleye in support of youth and rural women. In 1994, in partnership with the international organization CEDPA (Center for Development and Population Activities), COWAN began an integrated health and family planning project designed to reach 3.5 million women in Ondo State. Through COWAN, Chief Bisi established NARWA: the Network of African Rural Women Associations. An articulate spokesperson in the international community, she also currently serves as co-chair of the Women's Environment and Development Organization, and is one of eight women on the 20-member United Nations Earth Council. Chief Bisi's inspired leadership grows out of her tenacity and vision, long before it was fashionable, that rural women possess the desire, capability and commitment to work to improve their own lives and their communities.