Post Read 99 times
Oreoluwa Somolu, winner of the 2009 Anita Borg Institute Change Agent Award sponsored by Google is Executive Director of the Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC). Prior to this, she was Project Manager of Youth Empowerment & Restoration Initiative, an organisation working to increase local content in the Nigerian oil and gas industry by raising awareness of oil and gas careers among students. She worked for many years in the United States at an educational non-profit organisation on a number of projects, which explored the relationship between gender and technology and which sought to attract more girls and women to study and work in science and technology-related fields. Oreoluwa’s publications include: ‘Telling Our Own Stories: African Women Blogging for Social Change’ (Gender & Development Journal) and ‘Making the Most of On-line Learning: An Introduction to Learning on the Internet’ (Education Development Centre) Senior Reporter, ANTHONIA SOYINGBE, had a chat with this multi-talented lady recently. Excerpts:
You have succeeded in taking W.TEC to an enviable height few years after you founded it. What is the secret to this rapid but tangible success?
Hard work, persistence and a high sense of commitment are crucial to taking a project from an idea to a reality and to sustaining it long after. It is not easy, especially if you are proposing to do something that doesn’t already exist or is not very common, but a strong belief in your vision is important if you are to get others to buy into it and partner with you on it. We, at W.TEC, were committed to working to help marginalised women and girls build-up their technology knowledge and skills, even if we received little support from others.
How best can women make use of technology to better their world?
Information technology has changed how we receive and disseminate information, communicate with others, conduct our professional and entrepreneurial activities, receive our entertainment, conduct our banking and even, in some cases carry out some level of interaction with the government. Therefore, lacking the awareness of and ability to use even the most basic tools restricts the individual. Our activities help girls develop creativity and analytical skills through the introduction to programming classes and create content for the World Wide Web. We demonstrate how girls and women can use technology to find valuable information on careers, for school projects, on health, for their businesses).
For the entrepreneurs, we demonstrate how technology can help increase the productivity of their business and make them more efficient, through automating certain processes that would otherwise have been done manually, documenting important information. For civil society organisations that we work with, we demonstrate the use of technology including social media for their advocacy and development activities.
What propelled you to establish the organisation?
A computer course I took before my university education introduced me to what I could do with computers aside from playing games. In university, I started a business typing essays for fellow students and realised there was potential for entrepreneurship in various areas, especially for women. One thing led to another, as I explored different opportunities mostly related to information technology and looking at how women use tools like computers and the Internet. While studying for my Masters degree, I had an idea that I would like to organise some technology training for girls and, for a few years, I volunteered in various capacities at community technology centres and private initiatives. About a decade later, I set-up W.TEC.
Can you let us into your growing up days and how has it affected you in making decisions in life?
Growing up for me was fun. As the eldest child, I was always expected to be responsible, so I tried to live up to that expectation. I was always creative, and enjoyed reading and writing. I figured that my future career would somehow involve these. I also loved to play and would use my rich imagination to enhance my playtime. My parents were loving, but very firm when it comes to maintaining a good academic performance. They also encouraged us to pursue my various interests. I think this has helped nurture my creativity and sense of adventure. Starting and running an organisation requires both traits.
Aside the day to day running of W.TEC, what else do you do?
Running W.TEC takes up a good chunk of my days. I also manage a bookshop. I really love to read and am constantly trying to make more time to read especially reading for pleasure and not for work.
How far have you gone academically?
I have a bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Essex University in the United Kingdom, a masters of Science degree in Information Systems from the London School of Economics and a graduate certificate in Applied Sciences from the Harvard University Extension School in the U.S. I am currently doing a certificate programme at the Pan-Atlantic University here in Lagos in Social Sector Management.
What keeps you going in life?
My faith in God means that I believe that we are all here for a purpose. We are all here as part of God’s design and as such have important roles to play. Therefore, it is important to me to live my life as purposefully as possible. So, I constantly review my life and if I am doing what I believe I am called to do or perhaps one of the many things that I might be called to do. I don’t want to live an aimless life. There have been so many high points and in a similar vein several low points. Life will always have the two and places in-between. We need to keep going all through it all somehow. It is easier said than done, I know.
As an activist, are you giving marriage a thought?
Most definitely I am and that will happen at God’s perfect time.
Since you have been following your dreams, do you have any regret?
No I don’t have any regret.
What are the most important lessons you have learnt in life?
Our purpose on earth is to serve God. We should take our plans and requests to him and if we get a go-ahead from Him, we should be bold in pursuing these dreams. Although the fear of failure is very real and daunting, it pales in comparison to never knowing what you might have achieved if you had tried.
Do you have any Role Model or Mentor?
My mother, although there are many women who serve as inspiration in one or more aspects of their lives.
We talked about books earlier, can you tell us the roles they have played in your life?
I love to read and I have gained knowledge, encouragement and inspiration from them.