Nwamaka Onyemelukwe on Driving Sustainable Development #2
Nwamaka Onyemelukwe is the Director, Public Affairs, Communications & Sustainability for Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited. Before joining Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited, she worked at Philip Morris International, serving as the Manager, Corporate Affairs.
From Pharmaceuticals to FMCG
I started my professional journey in public affairs with Novartis Pharmaceuticals. There, I championed key projects delivering over fifty new lifesaving medicines under different disease areas (Malaria, Oncology, Hypertension, and Diabetes) to patients at competitive prices. I served in various capacities before leaving the company to pursue other diverse experiences.
There will always be challenges, but if you are prepared for it, you won’t be caught off guard. When challenges arise, your reaction matters, so, make sure you are never shy or hesitant to ask the right questions or call for help. This would help you handle issues as they arise. If someone had told me that I would be working for a brand like Coca-Cola, I would have argued.
For someone to start her career at a Swiss pharmaceutical company, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Services, that deals in a wide range of products ranging from antimalarial drugs to antihypertensive products and then transiting from pharmaceuticals into the FMCG shows the desire to take on new challenges.
While I worked in the pharmaceuticals, communication was becoming a fast-evolving space and was taking. I decided to add it to my responsibility and that led to the discovery of my passion. I didn’t realize that it was going to lead me to an entirely new career.
My Growth Journey
I always knew I wanted to do big things. I had big dreams and wanted to achieve them. I was passionate about people and loved to connect with them but having a full-time career in communication was outside my plan. I put in my best and was very deliberate about my growth.
I took short courses and went on short assignments that I knew would help me get better. Although it was extra work for me but I put my heart into it and was able to excel over time.
Now, I tell young people to go in and deliver excellence in whatever capacity they are called to serve, as no one can tell what will propel success in life.
My Driving Force
I am driven by how we can create a fair and equitable world. I believe that Sustainable Development is very critical to human empowerment. Hence, knowing that what I do daily impacts lives is a significant motivation for me.
Throughout my career, I have always gravitated toward issues that create a large-scale impact. I love making a difference, so I go out of my way daily to strive for excellence and look for opportunities to create a difference in the lives of others.
One memorable milestone The economic empowerment of over 450,000 women across various programs under my five by 20 Project stood out for me. There is no better fulfillment than seeing my work create smiles and make a difference in people’s lives.
Another critical milestone was moving into the FMCG space and getting to execute a
Mother and Child program when I arrived at Coca-Cola.
The program opened my eyes to the deplorable state of some teaching hospitals. I was shocked by what I saw, but seeing the changes made after a year was fulfilling.
Today, the organization has reached more than ten teaching hospitals in the country, providing life-saving equipment, ultrasound machines, and incubators, and upscaling their capacity to save more lives.
A major lesson is always to be ready. You must be ready to pounce on opportunities as they come in.
While switching my career, I sat down, created a strategic plan, and charted my way. Hence, I was ready when opportunities for taking on new assignments showed up.
Not only did I take them on, I always went the extra mile to ensure that I grew the capacity to excel and deliver at the top level. That’s why I tell everyone who cares to listen to take every opportunity with both hands.
Another lesson is to be prepared for challenges. There will always be challenges, but if you are prepared for them, you won’t be caught off guard. When challenges arise, your reaction matters. So, ensure you are never shy or hesitant to ask the right questions or call for help. This would help you handle issues as they arise.
Also, I have learned to grow my mental tenacity. Make sure that fear does not get you down. You must learn how to bounce back from failures and keep pushing.
On Women Empowerment
I was very fortunate to start my career in a multinational company, and one of the first lessons I learned was that competence is a much bigger factor in comparison to gender. It is not just about being a woman or a man; you must be able to deliver on your assigned tasks.
That was a vital lesson I learned very early in my career. So as much as I am passionate about creating a level playing ground, competence must be noticed. For instance, I was on a panel where we employed a pregnant
woman. It wasn’t an issue because she was entirely competent for the job. This is something we advocate for a lot. Whether she’s pregnant or not, this is not supposed to be a deterrent or a barrier to her getting a job. We have had many young women differentiate themselves in various fields, and this number keeps growing. This is an excellent motivation for younger professionals because they have people they can look up to.
At Coca-Cola, we have been able to empower so many women in a very short time. They learned that if they have access to the right support, they can be extraordinary economic multipliers both at the local and global community levels.
We seek to empower women in the workplace and beyond. Women are not only essential in building thriving communities, but they also represent one of the biggest economic accelerators globally. And that is why we are deliberately investing in initiatives that can further this goal.
Our project 5by20 is a ten-year commitment we embarked on in 2010 and ended in 2020. We economically empowered five million women over those ten years.
My spark is dedication, resilience, and hard work. These are the qualities that help me stay motivated every day to ensure that there is a better society.
I would advise young women out there to find and understand their passion. You need to realize that everybody is different. You are different from the next woman. When you stop comparing yourself with others, you become open to opportunities. Never forget that life is a marathon and not a sprint. So remain resilient and confident, and don’t forget that you can actually do phenomenal things.