Meet Arese Ugwu: Getting women focused on financial literacy  - Destiny Connect
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Meet Arese Ugwu: Getting women focused on financial literacy 

Society needs to focus more on talking to women in a manner that will resonate with them. In doing so, they will take it to heart and make the necessary adjustments in order to enjoy financial freedom. 

Talking to women in this way is just one of the factors that drove author Arese Ugwu to pen her book The Smart Money Woman, which was adapted into a Netflix series of the same title. The women-led series on Netflix is the first show for women of colour focused on financial literacy. “The idea for the book came about when I was writing personal finance pieces for a Nigerian platform. 

The first one was called ‘A Chanel bag vs a stock portfolio’, and it was at a time when I was coming out of struggling with my own finances. A friend of mine suggested that I write a book, but I was reluctant, as I considered myself as someone who reads books, and not 

someone who would ever write one,” recalls the 36-year-old Lagos native, who has gone on to write her second book entitled The Smart Money Tribe. 

“Then I thought about the types of books I like to read, which cover business, as well as women who had to overcome challenges in their lives before they became successful. I also wanted to prove that Africans do, in fact, read. 

The Smart Money Woman has done so well across the continent, and this Netflix series is testament to that. The series was so popular, it was even pirated in several countries!” she chuckles.

 “Africans, and particularly African women, are hungry for financial information, but it has to be authentic and relatable to them.” It seems like Arese is on a trajectory that will lead her to being the female and African version of Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad) and Dr Spencer Johnson, author of the much-acclaimed Who Moved My Cheese?

African men are more likely to save to build, whereas African women are more likely to save to spend. And by spend, I don’t mean on frivolous things, but more on stuff that makes a house a home and making the children more comfortable.

But she is definitely doing it her way. “As I had never written a book before, I had no idea what I was doing,” she admits. “But it was also an organic process, where I decided that it would be a fictional story about five African girls and their personal financial journeys and struggles.

 “As I was putting my thoughts on paper, I realised that I was easily understanding the financial lessons embedded in the stories only because I have a financial background from my writing, but not everyone has that luxury. That is why I started putting smart money lessons at the end of each chapter; this way they were clear and concise, after reading the details in the more creative story. 

“I spent so much time developing the characters and thinking of the stories while in the shower, I thought I was going crazy, as I was constantly talking to myself. It took me about a year and a half to write The Smart Money Woman and another year and a half to write The Smart Money Tribe,” says Arese, who holds an MSc in Economic Development.

Financial literacy sells, said no one ever. There is a reason why topics such as sex, politics and religion do well on any platform – we all have some or other connection with them and we personalise them. The truth is that finance should be on that hallowed list, as all of us have to confront our finances at some or other part of our lives. The obstacle is that we consider it a dreaded subject. 

“My exact goal was to make financial literacy for African women cool, sexy and for us to talk more about it. I want African women to have conversations in the same way they talk about The Real Housewives of Atlanta. I want them to talk about it to their sisters, friends, mothers and daughters in a way they understand. 

Arese’s journey, as well as those who are concerned about women’s financial literacy, is an increasingly difficult one. According to the latest Africa Check survey, only 15% of the South African population are active book readers, and a mere 5% of parents read books to their children. It is safe to say that these numbers dwindle when you drill down to black parents and black, single mothers. Arese was aware of this and knew she had to reach out further than just through her books. “Turning the book into a Netflix series first originated from the readers. 

As they read it, they gave me feedback, such as: ‘it felt like I was watching a movie’ and ‘I read it in one sitting’. Then I started to talk to some friends in the film industry and we shot it so that it could be on Nigerian TV. “What made writing the book even easier was imagining who would play the characters, if it had to be turned into a movie. For example, the main character, Zuri, I always imagined would be played by Osas Ighodaro. 

Using my mind’s eye to have well-known Nigerian actresses play the roles was part of my book writing process, but it turned out that it also helped for the TV series later on,” she explains. Often, visual reinterpretations – whether films, series or documentaries – are critiqued for straying too far from the books they are based on. 

This is in part due to the fact that something such as a Netflix series has to colour in any gaps that the manuscript might have had. The silver screen is also regarded to be less forgiving than literature. Luckily for Arese, her TV series continues to receive raving reviews from her readers. “One of the things that makes me the happiest is that many of the people who loved the book are also very happy about the series.  



This article was published in the January/February issue of DESTINY. To read the entire article get your copy now.