After working for several years in the United States at an educational nonprofit exploring the interplay between gender and technology, Oreoluwa Somolu decided it was time to take her skills back to her native country, Nigeria.
Combining her love of female empowerment with technology, she launched the Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC). The nonprofit serves as a hub to encourage Nigerian women to use technology to empower themselves socially and economically through a number of programs, projects and workshops. The primary objective of the center is to aid Nigerian women in developing financial independence through these programs, as well as help instill confidence, activism, awareness and advocacy for a better life. In addition, W.TEC has partnerships with a variety of local and international NGOs, educational and research organizations, including the International Development Research Centre, the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, Rutgers Universiy’s Women in Computer Science Group and more.
“I love working with girls and young women,” Oreoluwa says. “Seeing them come into their own, with respect to learning how to use information tools in interesting ways, is heartening.”
What responsibilities do you have in your job?
As the executive director, I oversee the day-to-day operations of W.TEC in Nigeria, Africa. Key aspects of my work include strategic planning and leading the implementation of W.TEC’s vision; identifying and building partnerships and relationships with complementary organizations and networks; and leading W.TEC’s fundraising and sustainability strategy.
How did you decide a job in this career field was right for you?
I would say that I fell into my current career from following my various interests. A computer course I took before starting college introduced me to what I could do with computers—aside from playing games. During college, I started a business typing essays for fellow students and realized there was potential for entrepreneurship in varied 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 Master’s degree, I had an idea that I would like to organize 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.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love working with girls and young women. Seeing them come into their own, with respect to learning how to use information tools in interesting ways, is heartening. We have girls who are able to build simple websites or create short films following their programs with us. Unfortunately, as W.TEC grows, I find that I can no longer be as hands-on, especially with training, like I used to. However, empowering our staff so that they are equipped to deliver training on their own is a very important part of the process and also is necessary for an organization’s development.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
Nothing keeps me awake anymore. I am a planner by nature, and in our earlier years I stayed awake worrying about getting more funding to run the organization and our programs. I worried about the best way to grow the organization and increase our capacity. I worried about how to keep a good staff motivated.
As a small organization, it can feel sometimes that no one wants to give you a chance with funding. However, the advantage of being a young organization include the ability to act very quickly and to have a certain amount of flex, so I needed to learn now to use those qualities to our advantage.
Today, however, I’ve realized the futility of worrying about things, so I just try not to do it anymore. It’s easier said than done though.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
Yes, this has been a huge challenge for me. As anyone who has ever started or created anything—be it a company, a volunteer group, a book, etc.—in order to make it successful you need to devote a lot of time and effort to the birthing and tending process. This has taken away time from other parts of my life.
I have come to acknowledge that my time is a limited and extremely precious resource. Because of this, I have learned to cut back on activities that do not add any value to my personal or career goals in any way. At work, I think, “Focus! Focus! Focus!” I don’t see the point in expending energy on activities that do not help realize my vision. Similarly, in my personal life, I try to make time for what I’ve determined to be most important, which includes nurturing my relationships with God, my family, close friends and myself. I’m by no means accomplished at doing this yet, but I try.
Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I made it!” What was it?
LOL! No, I can’t say there has been. While, W.TEC has been successful in organizing training programs for groups of women and girls, there is still so much that we want to do and so many other women who we have not yet reached. There are so many plans I have for W.TEC’s growth and development as an organization. As my role evolves within the organization, I find that there is so much for me to learn.
What are some of the rules you live by?
I tend to make decisions quickly, going with my gut instinct. I think that has served me fairly well. So, I would say to pay more attention to that still, small voice inside me.
Another one is to have no regrets. When you try something new or embark on a new project, there is always a likelihood that it will not turn out quite the way that you had hoped. I try to use these situations as learning opportunities and move on.
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?
Well, I would say it probably takes the same qualities it takes in any industry to be successful: hard work, discipline, the ability to delay gratification and focus. It’s also important not to take rejections and failures personally and to keep moving.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
Have fun more often! I have always tended to be a serious person. I would have told myself that, despite how things might appear sometimes, everything will turn out fine. Also, I would have said that worrying doesn’t solve anything, so make plans, commit them to God and readjust them as necessary.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
W.TEC will be a more mature organization and I will have scaled-back my responsibilities. I hope to have a highly competent and dedicated team running the daily affairs of the organization. I will probably be more involved in some other entrepreneurial ventures and very busy with my family.