• In Nigeria, I felt I was in the midst of my sisters
By Chrsty Anyanwu
The US Consulate recently supported the first Nigeria Climate Resilience Salon. The event which hosted stakeholders, government officials and climate tech entrepreneurs was held at 21st Century Technologies Limited in Lekki, Lagos. The event was organised by Shelley Taylor, a tech veteran and Folawemi Umunna, an alumna of the US Department of State-funded International Visitors Leadership Programme. At the end of the one-day forum, Shelley Taylor, who was in Nigeria for the first time, spoke with Saturday Sun about the Salon, her passion, Nigeria and lots more.
Why do you have interest in climate change, among other things?
I’ve been working in humanitarian and public sector technology for seven years. It started as a passion project where, in response to the massive displacement and migration due to the war in Syria and the people arriving in Europe with only their phone, I created an app for migrants/displaced/refugees – RefAid. This mobile app provides users with information on a map of services and resources closest to them – medical, wifi, legal assistance, food, etc. The app allows service providers, NGOs, governments, to list, map and manage their services and put them in the app. There are now about 10,000 organizations making their service information available in the RefAid app and the app is in 50 countries. So when a woman I was talking to, a refugee living in Europe, said she was going to COP27 (Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and felt like there was no representation of migrants/refugees/displaced people in the solutions being discussed at this and other international governmental conferences on climate change, it got me thinking. Who is making the policy and decisions about how to save the planet? Thirty-three thousand people were registered COP27 in Egypt (2022) of which two-thirds were men. And the people most impacted by climate change, climate migrants and the most vulnerable women are not represented. The very people with the lived experience of climate disasters do not have a seat at the table. Most wars are fought over resources. When climate change reduces resources like arable land, like in the herder-farmers conflicts in Nigeria, men tend to fight. What would be the difference if women had power? Would they fight or would they find solutions? The solutions that women with lived experience of climate change, migration, first responders, climate activists and female climate tech founders provide may be what can save the planet. The Climate Resilience Salons were designed to cultivate and amplify these solutions by women. I like to say “men broke the planet – it’s time for women to fix it.” We only have a few more years before it will be too late, so let’s look for ideas that have not yet been heard or tried.
In what ways did the US Consulate support the Climate Resilience Nigeria Salon?
They offered a grant. That covered some of the costs of bringing the women delegates and other key participants who couldn’t cover their own costs, including some members of government and others. The Consulate sent US Deputy Political and Economic Chief, Kenise Hill to welcome us and to support the effort, because they are very supportive of women and climate resilience.
In her speech, she noted that women in climate action will help create a more sustainable and equitable future for all. She said that climate change is a threat that sees no borders.
The consulate, she said, was glad to enable this dialogue that gives voice to the women with lived experience of climate impacts and to facilitate their collaboration with women who have developed strategies for creating greater resilience to find shared solutions to our global, shared challenge of climate change.
Tell us about your experience working on this in other parts of the world?
The first Climate Resilience Salon was European wide, held in Brussels in May. We had women delegates from 10 countries, a combination of women in nonprofits and female founders of start-ups. They represented women’s reproductive health, education, inclusion, gender equality, photovoltaic electrical energy, migration, human trafficking and building resilient cities. We brought 10 women delegates together with 40 people from other stakeholder groups, including people from the private sector, investors, NGOs, academics and people working in government. What people said is that it was the first time they had been with such a mixed group of stakeholders. The idea is that these stakeholders can support the solutions the women have. That was our first one and it was such a success that I am so excited about the one in Lagos, which is a country-specific one.
How can women become part of the solution?
Women are already part of the solution – they are frontline workers helping people face climate disasters like floods and fires. They are engaged in finding sustainable methods of farming and fishing. And there are female founders of climate tech companies. Women are typically undervalued in society, and underfunded. Much of what women do to help is unpaid. I think women who have this intimate knowledge of how their lives and communities have been impacted (like women fishing in mangroves who are losing their fertility due to increased salinization or farmers who are facing years-long droughts) can come up with scalable solutions because they have observed reality on the ground. So many of the women doing non-profit work can transform their work into businesses where they can generate profits from climate solutions, increasing their wealth and influence in society. Existing climate tech founders can scale their solutions into other regions within their country and across borders. But both groups of women – all women – need support and resources. They need to have the same kind of global platform, amplification and access to networks that men have traditionally had. This is what creates success – the network. So our goal is to help people access the networks and resources they need, including access to capital for their ideas. In the Salons, they will get support for their ideas from other founders and from the broader group of stakeholders. Their solutions will then be disseminated through all of our networks to people around the world who can learn from and support these solutions. But most importantly, giving credit to women where credit is due will attract customers and financing.
What are some of the memorable moments working in the sector?
Some of my most memorable moments working in this sector have come recently from talking with all of the amazing women who will be attending the Climate Resilience Salon in Nigeria. There are some very big structural challenges in the climate action and non-profit world. I think it results from a culture of grants and donors where great ideas are not given the accountability and rewards of for-profit businesses. So while the women and their ideas are great, the market mechanisms have been missing. So the result is smaller implementations of good ideas. Nigerian women have the hunger and hustle energy required for creating climate impact start-ups. But the current capital structure is not sustainable – there is no such thing as a non-profit that is sustainable financially. I get so excited hearing about what women here are doing, and so frustrated at how hard it is for women to move from their local actions into national actions – all because of lack of funding and the systemic problem of the non-profit world where most of the money goes into salaries. If that money were used to fund scalable businesses it would create employment, profits, and wealth. The opportunities to fix the planet are probably as great as those in the industrial revolution. This is the time to convert many non-profit climate response initiatives into technology enabled, scalable solutions. What I love about the people I have met who have been displaced or migrated due to climate is their strength and resilience. My RefAid app has allowed me to have some amazing conversations with people taking great risk to go to places where they will find safety and opportunities. Capturing this energy before people leave their home countries could lead to a giant leap in innovation. In the US, many of the largest and most successful companies have been created by immigrants. Why not harness this creativity and hunger right here?
What are some of the other things that occupy your time?
My main job is running my company, Trellyz. It is a humanitarian and public sector supply chain software company. We have solutions for coordinating responses across many organisations to crises. Our software is the first and only platform built to help a sector – the public sector, humanitarian sector – to work together. Our software is being used to manage multi-jurisdiction, multi-entity, multi-stakeholder responses to fires and floods (disaster management) and also to help in other crises, like migration or war, where government, NGOs and community organizations (and sometimes the private sector), or in health crises, need to work together and be able to see the same information at the same time – like maps showing weather, populations, incidents. My company is a tech start-up and so it is more than full time. I got a little detoured by these Climate Resilience Salons because I’m so passionate about it and I would love to see other women starting companies like mine to deal with the potential mass extinction event we may be facing. Fortunately, there are overlapping goals between my company’s mission and the Salons. And I’ve been meeting great organisations that my company can eventually partner with.
How do you unwind?
I do sports every day. I live in a town in France, Capbreton (near Biarritz) where there are 3,000 people. It’s next to a beach so I swim year around, even in the winter when the water is 10 degrees. I bike and take long walks. Then the other thing I do is to cook. I love cooking. I just live with my husband but I cook actual meals for lunch and dinner
What are your memories of Nigeria and the Salon?
What I loved the most about Nigeria is the women who I’d never met in person, only on the phone, picking me up (two different women in two different cars) from the airport to make me feel welcome. And how I immediately felt like they were sisters! Also, as a black American woman (my dad was black, my mom white) I instantly felt the connection between Africa and African Americans. It was so weird and I didn’t expect that. The warmth, the feeling of becoming part of an extended family
One of the women who picked me up brought her friend and that friend basically drove me everywhere while I was there, gave me tours and even slept in my hotel room the last night to give me a ride to the airport at 3:00 am. I feel like I’ve made these sisters for life. I loved all the strong women! I love the colour, fashion and women.
The other side was that I did not like feeling security was such an issue. No one would let me go anywhere alone. I didn’t like the extreme poverty mixed in with the wealth (on Victoria Island). It seemed that this disparity was really the source of the security issues, but I don’t know. I am a foreigner.
About the Salon, I did not like hearing that women in many parts of the country cannot own land and that in a divorce, the women leave the house with their kids and the men stay home. I loved the Salon itself and hearing the amazing women with ideas, their solutions were so cool and so unique to women.