Olayemi Mesogboriwon: Don’t let self-doubt hold you back

There is something attractive about people who are passionate about what they do. When it coincides with their mission, it is on a deeper level. Olayemi Mesogboriwon ticks all the boxes of a woman fulfilling her purpose. She has an extraordinary and multifaceted career. 

In a male-dominated profession, she champions females going into STEM. She is a Program Manager at the Institute of Industrial Development.  This University of Benin graduate is a strong advocate of environmental sustainability and women's empowerment. The latter caught Omote Ro Dhe interest.

What roles does she play in uplifting other females? This and other questions Olayemi answered in this rich and enlightening interview. Read the excerpts below:

Can you share your journey and experiences that led you to become a passionate advocate for empowering young Africans and promoting leadership skills?  

So, my story starts back in my university days, where I was this eager student, always curious about how things worked and how I could make a difference. I studied Environmental Biology and Fisheries, which, at first glance, seems a bit disconnected from what I do now. But it planted the seed for my passion for sustainable development and making a tangible impact on people's lives.

After university, I jumped into the world of international development. My first big break was at Youth Effectiveness Solution and Skills Acquisition Center (YESASAC). Here, I got my hands dirty designing and implementing projects that aimed at improving STEM education and digital skills training for vulnerable children, youth, and women. I saw firsthand how access to education and the right resources could transform lives. I remember working with young women who, after our training, started their own small businesses or pursued careers they never thought possible. Those moments were golden, and they lit a fire in me to keep pushing for more.

Fast forward a bit, and I found myself at Engineering and Technology Against Poverty in Africa (ETAPA) Synergy LTD/GTE. This role was a game-changer. As Program Manager, I got to lead incredible initiatives that blended my love for technology and education. We set up STEM programs in schools, organized AWS Cloud Computing training, and even facilitated data analytics workshops. Seeing young people light up when they grasped new concepts or developed new skills was incredibly rewarding. It’s one thing to have a vision, but seeing it come to life and impact over 1,200 individuals? That’s something else entirely.

But it wasn’t just about the tech and education. I realized that true empowerment comes from building leadership skills. It’s about giving young people the confidence to dream big and the tools to achieve those dreams. I’ve always believed in leading by example, so I took every opportunity to mentor, encourage, and support young Africans. Whether it was through workshops, one-on-one mentoring, or simply sharing my journey, I aimed to inspire them to believe in their potential and strive for greatness.

One experience that stands out is our International Women’s Day event in partnership with the American Corner and the Nigerian Society of Engineers. We brought together 100 young women in engineering, and the energy in that room was electric. These young women left feeling empowered and ready to tackle the world. Moments like these reaffirm my belief in the power of community and support.

Throughout this journey, I’ve learned that it’s not just about providing opportunities but also about creating environments where young people feel valued and capable. I’ve seen shy, uncertain individuals transform into confident leaders ready to make a difference in their communities. And honestly, that’s what keeps me going.

So here I am, still on this journey, more passionate than ever about empowering young Africans and promoting leadership skills. It’s been a ride filled with challenges and triumphs, but every step has been worth it.

Can you share a challenging moment in your career journey and how you navigated it to continue driving positive change and innovation?

During my time at Youth Effectiveness Solution and Skills Acquisition Center (YESASAC), we were working on a large-scale project aimed at improving STEM education for vulnerable children and youth. We had designed a comprehensive program that included digital skills training and hands-on STEM activities. Everything was going smoothly until we hit a major roadblock: funding.

We had secured initial funding for the project, but halfway through, one of our key donors pulled out due to financial constraints. This left us with a significant budget shortfall, and there was a real risk that we might have to shut down the program. The thought of letting down the kids who were so excited about learning and the communities counting on us was devastating.

Navigating this challenge required a combination of quick thinking, strategic planning, and a lot of determination. First, we conducted a thorough review of our current budget to identify areas where we could cut costs without compromising the quality of the program. This involved some tough decisions, but it was necessary to keep the core elements intact.

Next, I rallied our team and we brainstormed alternative funding sources. We reached out to local businesses, applied for emergency grants, and even started learning how to do some of those activities that we outsourced. This was a massive team effort, and it was incredible to see everyone come together with creative ideas and a shared commitment to keeping the project alive.

Throughout this process, I also focused on transparent and consistent communication with our stakeholders. Keeping them informed about our challenges and the steps we were taking helped maintain their trust and support. It was crucial to show them that we were committed to seeing the project through, despite the hurdles.

In the end, we not only secured enough funding to continue the program but also strengthened our community ties and demonstrated our resilience and resourcefulness. This experience taught me the importance of flexibility, community engagement, and the power of a dedicated team. It was a challenging moment, no doubt, but it reinforced my belief in our mission and my passion for driving positive change and innovation. Looking back, I’m proud of how we navigated that crisis.

Can you list some women who have influenced you into the woman you have become and what endeared you to them?

Mrs. Ibukun Awosika has been a beacon of strength and resilience. As the first female Chairperson of First Bank of Nigeria, she shattered glass ceilings in a predominantly male-dominated industry. What endeared me to her is her unwavering commitment to excellence and integrity. Her story of rising from humble beginnings to becoming a top executive is a testament to her hard work and determination. She also founded The Chair Centre Group, showcasing her entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to empowering others through job creation and leadership.

What particularly inspires me about Ibukun is her dedication to family and faith. Despite her demanding career, she prioritizes her family and maintains a strong relationship with God, creating a harmonious work-life balance. Her love for her family and her faith is evident in how she navigates her personal and professional life with grace and humility. 

Additionally, her work on "The Life Series with Ibukun Awosika" is incredibly inspiring. Through this platform, she shares her experiences and insights, offering guidance and encouragement to countless individuals striving for success and fulfillment. Ibukun's ability to balance her professional achievements with her personal life and philanthropic efforts is truly inspiring. Her focus on mentoring young women and promoting gender equality in the workplace has profoundly influenced my passion for leadership and empowerment.

What role do you believe mentorship and networking play in advancing women's leadership and empowerment in the STEM and tech sectors?

Think about it: entering the STEM and tech fields can feel pretty intimidating, especially for women who might not see a lot of people like them in these spaces. This is where mentorship comes in. Having a mentor means having someone who’s been there, done that, and can guide you through the challenges. It’s like having a personal cheerleader who also gives you practical advice. I’ve seen firsthand how a mentor can boost someone’s confidence, help them navigate their career path, and even open doors to new opportunities. It's so powerful to have someone who believes in you and your potential, especially when you're just starting out or facing tough times.

Then there's networking, which is equally crucial. It's not just about who you know but also about creating a community of support. Networking allows women to connect with peers, industry leaders, and potential collaborators. It’s amazing what can happen when women come together, share their experiences, and support each other. I’ve attended networking events and joined professional groups where I’ve met some incredibly inspiring women who’ve not only shared their wisdom but have also become lifelong friends and allies.

These connections can lead to job opportunities, partnerships, and collaborations that might not have been possible otherwise. Plus, they help in staying updated with the latest trends and technologies, which is so important in fast-evolving fields like STEM and tech.

For me, seeing women like Ibukun Awosika and Adebola Deji-Kurunmi in leadership roles has been incredibly inspiring. They show what's possible and pave the way for others. Their willingness to mentor and network has created ripple effects, empowering many more women to step into their own leadership roles.

In the end, mentorship and networking are about creating a supportive ecosystem where women can thrive, share their successes, and lift each other up. It's all about community, encouragement, and collective growth. When women support women, incredible things happen, and we can break down barriers that seem insurmountable.

If you could have any superpower to help you in your work, what would it be and why?

If I could have any superpower to help me in my work, it would be the ability to clone myself and read minds. Imagine having multiple versions of me tackling different tasks simultaneously – one running a workshop, another meeting with stakeholders, and yet another mentoring young leaders. Plus, reading minds would be a game-changer for knowing exactly which donors are interested in funding our projects, saving me from writing endless grants. It’d be the ultimate way to maximize impact and drive even more positive change!

In your opinion, what are the vital skills every woman should have in this digital age?

In my opinion, every woman in this digital age should have these vital skills:

1) Tech Savvy: Whether it’s knowing your way around apps, mastering spreadsheets, or understanding the basics of coding, tech skills are a must. It’s like having a superpower in today’s world.

2) Adaptability: Things change fast in the digital realm. Being able to roll with the punches, learn new tools quickly, and pivot when needed is crucial.

3) Digital Communication: Learning the act of storytelling, from writing killer emails to crafting engaging social media posts, being able to communicate effectively online is key. It’s how we connect and make things happen.

4) Critical Thinking: With so much information at our fingertips, being able to sift through it all, separate fact from fiction, and make smart decisions is invaluable.

5) Cybersecurity Awareness: Knowing how to keep your data safe online is non-negotiable. From strong passwords to spotting phishing attempts, it’s about protecting yourself and your info.

6) Networking: Building connections online opens doors. Whether it’s LinkedIn or industry forums, networking helps you learn, grow, and find opportunities.

7) Creativity: In a digital world full of noise, being able to think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions sets you apart. It’s about finding new angles and making ideas pop.

These skills aren’t just about keeping up – they’re about thriving. Embrace them, and you’ll be ready to tackle whatever the digital age throws your way!

Success is relative. What does it mean to you? 

Success, to me, means feeling fulfilled and making a positive impact on others' lives. It's about achieving personal goals while contributing to something bigger than myself. It's also about maintaining meaningful relationships and having the freedom to pursue my passions with joy and balance. 

The joy of seeing smiles on the faces of beneficiaries, knowing that I've made a difference with what I can offer, gives me deep fulfillment. Ultimately, success is finding harmony between ambition and contentment, knowing that my efforts have made a difference in the world around me.

What advice do you have for younger girls pursuing purpose?

Hey youngsters, for all you awesome girls out there chasing your dreams and finding your purpose, here’s my advice:

First off, don’t rush it. Finding your purpose is like a journey with twists and turns. Explore different things, try new stuff, and don’t be afraid to change your mind along the way. Sometimes, the best discoveries come from unexpected places.

Secondly, surround yourself with positive vibes. Hang out with people who inspire you and lift you up. They’ll cheer you on when things get tough and celebrate with you when you hit those milestones.

Next, believe in yourself. Seriously, you’ve got unique talents and ideas that the world needs. Trust your gut, take risks, and don’t let self-doubt hold you back. You’re capable of amazing things – own it!

And lastly, remember that failure is just part of the game. Every setback is a lesson in disguise. Learn from it, dust yourself off, and keep going. Your journey to purpose is all about resilience and growth.

So, go out there, explore, dream big, and rock your purpose like the superstar you are!


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