Advocating To Empower African Women: Yetunde Odugbesan

Screen Shot 2012-12-24 at 11.33.16 AM

VENTURES AFRICA – There are several talented young leaders in Africa and Diaspora making positive change and making mama Africa proud. One of them is Yetunde Odugbesan, a young African business leader seeking positive leadership change especially for Africa and its female folks. Although she is based in the diaspora, Yetunde has been involved in several developmental projects across the continent. At just 25, she has been invited by the Nigerian government and World Bank to appear as a motivational speaker. She has also spoken at the U.N. World Conference on the Status of Women – advocating for programs that will empower girls in Africa to realise their potential – even in the midst of poverty and political strife.

Yetunde, who sits on several boards aimed at alleviating many of the social and economic issues in various African countries owns a consulting company, Yetunde Global Consulting LLC and a mentorship organisation, Young Women’s Guide which helps connect girls with women leaders and groups that can best help them pursue their quest for social change.

In this interview, Yetunde speaks about her personal and professional life as well as her plan for the coming year – she says “life is all about going to the next level and she says it takes consistency to do that!”

Please tell us about yourself growing up

I was born and raised in New Jersey USA to very loving and supportive Nigerian family. My parents always made sure that my brother (Abiodun) who is 3 years older than I were always a priority. We both attended private schools from a very early age – all the way until attending college. My parents never told me what I should study or who I should become, they would always says, “Yetunde, whatever you want to study- be the best and whatever you want to become -be the best.” And that constant reassurance gave me the confidence to always excel far beyond my peers. Also, I believe because my parents were so hands on; that truly made a difference. My parents put me in ballet at a young age and my father would take and drop me at the ballet school. In high school, I was the President of my high school, Student Ambassador, Captain of the Varsity Cheerleading team, Founder of the poetry club and most importantly – a consistent honour roll student. I was a very young lady active in and out of school and that had a lot to do with my personality and confidence as well as having supportive parents.

As a young girl growing up my aspirations were always larger than life. I always envisioned myself being the President of a country or Ambassador. I wanted to be a doctor, a neurosurgeon – to be specific like Ben Carson – or a journalist that could travel around the world to shed light on global, political and social issues like Oprah or Barbara Walters. I always had grand ideas for my life and I still do. Now at 25, the great thing is that I am living the reality of my dreams and working to see those visions as a little girl come into fruition. I am still active but on a different level. My passion to be of service, the confidence to always rise to the occasion in various leadership capacities and my ability to turn a vision into reality is something that was formulated at a young age and has developed into a stronger presence, as I grew older.

Today, you are regarded as one of the youngest and most influential leaders of a new generation in the African Diaspora; how did you attain this feat and what will you say is the motivating factor behind your success?

It is wonderful to be considered and regarded as one of the youngest and most influential leaders of my generation in the African Diaspora. I believe that being authentic, focused and passionate has truly served me well. I always knew what business venture would be right for me or what academic discipline reflected best my professional and personal goals and I believe the only way I was able to do that is by being authentic and understanding who I am. Two major motivating factors for me is to live my life with passion and the other is to make use of the God-given talents and skills given to me to serve a larger purpose other than myself.

Your formal leadership experience started when you were elected as the President of Student Government and Student Ambassador of your high school, how has the journey been from then till now?

The journey has been absolutely wonderful and worthwhile. Although the road was not easy at times, it took a lot of hard work, dedication and prioritisation. Today, as I reflect back I see that life is all about going to the next level. It is all about finishing one chapter in your life and going forward to write the next…and it takes consistency to do that.

What has been the challenges you had to overcome to get to where you are today?

I would not even call it challenges; I would call it life lessons. Sometimes when God places you in a certain place in your life – at times He has to move people in order for you to progress, and I understand that. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals and making a conscious effort to surround yourself with positive people is extremely important. Also, I learned early to pick and choose wisely which career or profession speaks to me. And I learned that it is important to have a well-rounded life to be fulfilled in every aspect.

It is a known fact that you are passionate about issues such as women and girl development, youth empowerment, human and social welfare and social entrepreneurship. What drives you to follow these paths? Did your childhood dream have a qualitative factor to what you are today?

As a child, I always knew that I was meant to do something almost like a servant…but a global one. I had this innate passion from beginning to make sure that people regardless of color, position, location or disposition had the same rights and opportunities to live a fulfilled life. I had this immense weight or calling that I could not ignore. I guess God had and still has a bigger plan for me that I could dream for myself. And I thank my parents for taking me back and forth to Nigeria during my school vacations because from that experience – I learned a lot about various social issues and was able to see it and understand it in person.

You are a young lady with enviable achievements and a flourishing company, how do you manage your staffs being that some of them might be older than you are?

Sometimes that may be a challenge because if people do know your age, they try to understand on the how’s and why’s instead of the job at hand. But it all depends on the way you carry yourself. When you carry yourself with integrity, class and grace; people have no choice but to respect you and what your business stands for. Today, age should not be such a hot topic. We have very young people who are multimillionaire entrepreneurs, professors, doctors, social entrepreneurs and more.

You sit on various boards that are aimed at alleviating many of the social and economic issues in various African countries; how much have you achieved with this and how much more do you plan to do?

To be on a board essentially means that you are in a position to take that organisation or foundation – no matter how big – to the next level through the use of your networks, financial ability and the ability to create or introduce strategic partners. You must be in a leadership or power capacity to do so. I am satisfied with the initiatives, foundations and non-profits that I support because I am able to make changes that I am truly satisfied with on a global scale. I still plan to continue supporting initiatives that are close to my heart to make sure that I develop and take my own organisation (Young Woman’s Guide) into the stage where it creates lasting and effective change.

You are currently working on your dissertation in Global Political Economy at Rutgers University-Division of Global Affairs as a Ph.D Candidate (ABD) focusing on political corruption and its effect on governmental performance and social services being delivered by local and state government; how viable do you think this is to what you do and how can you use to this to achieve the change you want to see in others?

Corruption affects the lives of many globally. It affects the manner in which decisions are made in all levels of government, as it manipulates political institutions, rules of procedure, and distorts the institutions of government. And most importantly it infringes on the human rights of people. The political and economic decay caused by corruption is most visible in areas where the government neglects to provide adequate healthcare, education, human security, good governance, government accountability, and basic infrastructure to support the development and vitality of the country. Some major issues of corruption on a macro level that result into micro or lower level problems breeds’ social, economic and political unrest. It presents itself as an obstacle to reducing poverty and has a direct negative impact on basic citizen needs while neglecting and abusing the human rights of many and disproportionally affecting all. I believe that my work currently is a reflection of my academic pursuits and interests and still see myself in the future to continue to work in both senior level positions and consultancy positions to think tanks, nations states, NGOs, IGOs and counter-corruption agencies globally in order to address such issues at hand.

It is often said in countries suffering the bane of corruption that the problems are with the leaders of the country. Do you think the problem of corruption is one-sided?

I do believe that the government does play a crucial role in the existence of corruption especially political corruption – which happens at the governmental level. Citizens are looking to the leaders of their countries to be a role model of a positive example but when you have “kleptocratic” individuals in the highest position in government; not only does it distort rule of law and undermines democracy – it says to the people of that country that in order for you to be successful or to even survive you must operate in the same manner. Corruption has many faces, many factors, and many causes and yes the leaders play a significant role but until the “culture of corruption” is addressed from the local to the national level…it will become difficult to reduce its effects.

How do you think Africa can further improve its brand as the next world economic hub?

Africa is already regarded as the next economic hub with promising outlooks for more investments and future growth. With all of the natural resources, foreign direct investment and business ventures in Africa there should be no reason why many of our countries are on the Failed Index list. We must address the serious issues or poverty, corruption, political instability and terrorist acts in various countries in order for the continent to claim its power and legitimacy on the global stage. We also have to ensure that governments are creating a space where agriculture, technology, scientific innovation, and the rehabilitation of our educational system to compete on world-class standards – come to fruition.

Your company: Yetunde Global Consulting specialises in Leadership development and training. What, in your opinion, makes a great leader?

Great leaders are those who understand the importance of ethics and integrity in their profession and personal lives. Great leaders also have mastered the art of communication skills and strategies, knowing how to reach people who come from different walks of life, cultures, religions and more. Another quality of a great leader is being able to be decisive, solve problems and be personable–being able to relate as well as motivate people. Also great leaders are often visionaries; they think outside the box and are often times able to execute their vision. Another great quality of a leader is that they are authentic. Last but not least, one does not have to be in charge to be a great leader. A great leader can motivate its constituents regardless of position.

Tell us about your company, Yetunde Global Consulting (YCG) and what motivates you to create the company?

Yetunde Global Consulting (YGC) is a management consulting firm that specialise in leadership development and training, organizational management and global business strategy for companies, firms, organizations and professionals. Its practical approach to effective leadership development inspires action and achieves results by developing leadership competencies, effective communication strategies and productivity.

At Yetunde Global Consulting, our vision is to raise the bar of excellence. Successful entrepreneurs, leaders, professionals and individuals know the importance of investing in leadership development. Our specialised and innovative coaching and consulting services represent a valuable investment in initiating changes today and realising achievements tomorrow. They are designed for leaders and organisations with aggressive visions and ambitious goals. Universities, organisations, career services and professional associations constantly tap into Yetunde Global Consulting expertise to develop their students, employees and professionals into more competitive and articulate leaders.

Yetunde Global Consulting offers valuable insight on how to develop and leverage strategic partnerships globally as well as provide branding techniques to help your business and organisation grow and reach its full potential. It identifies key players in their client’s field to create partnerships and collaborations to achieve results. Yetunde Global Consulting also provides performance management and measurement review for organizations and non-profits seeking to excel and boost their organisational goals.

It’s all about leadership development on all levels, as a leader and entrepreneur; I know the importance of having the right skills and management to achieve your goals.

You named your company after yourself, why is this and what will you say is in a name that affects the brand of an organisation?

I consulted with other people in business – especially my colleagues who are lawyers to gain their insight on my decision to name my company after myself. At first I thought about it long and hard but for me I wanted to brand my company and myself simultaneously. If Oprah can name everything after herself, why can’t Yetunde?

Tell us about your humanitarian and public speaking activities. What was your maiden experience like and what did you gain from that experience that makes you not to look back?

One thing for sure is that public speaking is what I also love to do. I can speak to a small group of 10 people to over 500 people and do it with ease. I also have extensive training in communication strategies and public speaking. I have mastered seven categories of public speaking and have worked on creating various conferences, lectures and symposiums on women empowerment and leadership development and training. I am comfortable and confident in my public speaking ability and most importantly being able to connect and empower others through my talks.

You are a passionate feminist as most of your works have been on women leadership, empowerment and resources, is there anything in your background that sparked your interest in this sphere?

As a woman, I have a natural desire to see other women succeed especially young women. This may be unique for me but I do believe that it is essential to uplift other women to realise their full potential. I believe there is room for every woman at the table. I had a lot of mentors throughout the years, who uplifted me, showed me the way, guided and advised me. They took the time out of their busy schedules to see me succeed and it is my turn to put it forward.

Tell us about “Putting Your Best Self Forward” and the “Young Woman’s Guide”

Young Woman’s Guide was founded in order to provide young women with the tips, tools and resources to live a meaningful, purposeful and impactful life. Our goal is to spread passion, raise awareness and offer solutions to and for young women. Young Woman’s Guide provides mentorship opportunities, women empowerment conferences and opportunities to give back and get involved with various philanthropic and humanitarian initiatives geared toward women and girls development.

What are the factors you think are militating against youngsters in achieving their full potentials and what advise will you give young/aspiring leaders out there?

My advice to all young people is to believe in yourself. No matter what circumstances you face, your destiny is bigger than your situation. Always surround yourself with positive people, people you admire and those who can uplift you. There is a great quote that I love to share with young people by Marianna Williamson and she says, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

How will you appraise youth leadership potential in Nigeria (or in any other African nation)?

There are so many youths in Nigeria who wants to make a difference but because of many factors they are not given the opportunity to do so. I have been interviewed by NTA in Abuja and I spoke about the responsibility of our government to ensure that our youth are employed with deserving job upon their graduation and that more opportunities of leadership must be created so that they too have a say in the development of Nigeria. I have always spoke to over 400 students at the University of Ibadan on leadership and gave them words of empowerment to make sure that they don’t loose hope and to continue to stand out and be a beacon of hope and change. I have also met with various leaders in government from the 1st Lady of Lagos State Hon. Mrs. Fashola, Minister of Women Affairs Iyom Josephine, to Dame Patience Jonathan in Abuja and other leaders about this issue. And I humbly and greatly appreciate their time, support and willingness to see our youth succeed.

You co-authored a published book titled, “A Call to Serve: Quotes on Public Service”, what is the book centred on and what do you think will inspire people to read the book?

The book was published in order to foster a spirit of service and civic engagement and to encourage more people to public service.

Who or what inspires you and how have this (these) influence you to become the Yetunde we know today?

I’ve been inspired by so many people, so many of my mentors far and near. I am inspired by President Barack Obama for his fortitude and inspiring life story, Oprah for her philanthropic endeavors, Pres. Bill Clinton for being so personable and able to achieve so much through his Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative, I am inspired by my mother’s class, grace and hard work that has molded me into the woman that I am today.

If Yetunde is not all she is today (professionally), what will you be and why?

I can’t quite answer that question because I do not think I could have been anything else that God has created me to be today. And I am more than content with what He has given me and who I have become.

You are an international public speaker, author, humanitarian, TV/Radio Personality and entrepreneur –all roll in one, how do you juggle all these and have fun (relax) at the same time?

I love what I do and if God give you that opportunity to do it all, why not do your best? I can say I have a well-rounded life and that took effort on my own part to create. Also when you are passionate about the things you do you in your life, it doesn’t feel like work.

What are your plans for the future?

To continue to excel, make a lasting difference, continue to stay humble and well rounded and to be a good example of using your God given gifts.

The holiday season is here, how are you celebrating this season and how will this reflect on your future plans?

My hopes and plan for the year 2013 is to do everything bigger, better and wiser and to be the best woman that I can be and see continuous success in my business and professional endeavors. And I wish everyone peace, love and God’s blessing.