ID : 11001
Name: Titilayo Meraiyebu Ogunbambi
Location: Chicago , USA
Domain: Global Development and Public Policy, Gender rights activist, Project Management, Data Analytics
Job Profile: Consultant, Development Impact Evaluation (DIME), Gender Economic and Fragility team at the World Bank, Executive Director of Boundless Hands Africa, 2021 Mandela Washington Fellow
The Yoruba tribe in Nigeria has passed down pearls of wisdom from generation to generation, and one such states:
‘Omi yi iay’ a mon ee san gb’onen ee.’
‘The water one is destined to drink will never flow past one.’
Destiny is something that some people believe religiously to be an unexplainable fate that has already been written for us. In contrast, some people are firm believers in creating their destinies. Whichever side one may choose to be in, there is no debate on the experiences that shape us all as human beings.
This wonderful story personifies the journey of a remarkable woman who is determined to change the gender issues that exist in her community and the world. Her personal experiences have influenced her views to mold her destiny to be a voice for her people.
So, here’s introducing the amazing Titilayo Meraiyebu Ogunbambi, a 2021 Mandela Washington fellow and gender-based violence and harmful practices specialist, who has won several accolades like the 2022 UN Women Chicago Champions Award and ONE Champion for 2019 for her wonderful work and involvement in gender rights and global development policies. She is also the author of ‘Emerge: Rising from the shadows of sexual and gender-based violence’ and is working with several organizations like the World Bank and NGOs.
Growing up in Nigeria
Titilayo grew up in Jos in the northern part of the Nigerian plateau states, and she reveals a huge gap in how boys and girls were treated in her community while growing up. She had four brothers and a sister and remembered growing up in a close-knit family.
‘I noticed how I was treated differently from my male counterparts. I grew up in a family of four boys and two girls. Within my family… my parents were quite educated, and I didn’t see any discrepancies. But outside my family, in schools or communities, I always had the impression that women were treated as second-class citizens.’ she recalls seeing the treatment of young girls.
She noticed early on in her life how masculinity and leadership were bestowed on her male counterparts, and females were relegated to being obedient and subservient.
‘It was interesting because I used to fight for my fellow friends, especially girls who were being bullied in school. So, I noticed fairly early how some girls did not have the privilege to be educated, and it shaped me and my career to help women and girls in my community. And also, to provide solutions to gender inequality problems.’ she explains her early influences.
Her experience of seeing someone close to her go through gender-based violence was one of the turning points in her life. So, while at Uni, she joined an association called AIESEC, an international organization that mentors young people into leadership roles. And she feels hugely grateful for the mentorship she has received from diverse people who have supported and helped her navigate her career.
‘I had specific people that I was, you know, looking up to, that I could go for two to four pieces of advice for recommendations and to, you know, streamline what choices I wanted to make.’, she discloses.
She started her career in the private sector and was involved in procurement and project management. That was how she was introduced to technology and how it could be used to solve real-time business problems. And later, she would get into the social sector and create solutions for gender-based violence issues and social problems in her community.
‘I realized how without technology; it was hard to create the solutions I needed. That’s how I applied to the Young African Leadership Program or YALI in the United States, which is a program for young Africans looking to advance in their career. It gave me a view on how to use tech to create a solution for social problems.’, she remembers the program she attended.
After attending the YALI fellowship, she came to the United States to get a master’s degree in international development policy. This gave her a deep insight into analytics and how to use data to solve gender-based violence issues.
She explains, ‘The main issue was how data is not readily available, and if you do not have the data, then you can’t make an argument for the policies you want to pass or stop. That’s why I navigated into tech, data analytics, and policy in general.’
The young activist had also founded a nonprofit organization in Nigeria called Boundless Hands Africa, which is dedicated to empowering women and girls living in underserved communities, and gender-based violence survivors by facilitating access to sexual reproductive health information or services and psycho-social support.
A social cause
The path of discovering what she wanted to do with her life was sometimes crystal clear to her, and she admits how her dream profession changed at different stages of her life.
‘Right from secondary school, I had dreams of being a lawyer. Then at a certain point, I wanted to be a politician as I felt like they were the ones with the responsibility to change the community and society. And for some reason, I ended up studying public administration.’, she describes her ideal profession while growing up.
She has been an active member and participant in various organizations since her university days, and the experience helped prepare her for her future roles.
‘I was sometimes in the rotary club or the AIESEC, and also Boundless Hands Africa which was one of the organizations that I created. I was also the vice president of finance and administration at Jos. We were creating programs that were meant to sensitize young children and adolescents in secondary schools about HIV and AIDS and older adults. So, we were already gathering data by talking to these children.’, she explains the various works she did at Uni.
After her undergraduate studies, she went to work in both the private and public sectors. And she would return to graduate school after a decade, and this time she knew what she wanted to do with her career. And coming to the United States was a different ballgame.
‘This time, I knew the kind of knowledge and skills I needed for my career. I was coming to the US from Nigeria, and my program was on international development and public policy at the University of Chicago. It was a cohort of world leaders from different aspects of the world. They brought in their different experiences and ideas from whichever country they were coming from.’, she shares of the program.
That experience would prove highly significant as learning from everyone’s stories, and experiences gave her a clear understanding of what she wanted to do with a data analytics program. And this would result in her launching a platform that gathers data to solve the issue of collecting data for enforcing or implementing policies in Africa, especially in her home country of Nigeria.
‘So, a significant achievement for me was to launch that integrated platform that helps people with any issues such as gender-based violence or human rights abuse. They can just come to the platform and register their issues, and then we connect them to different service providers within their communities or localities.’, she describes her most significant achievement out of the program.
She draws inspiration from different people and mentions personalities like Vice President Kamala Harris and the celebrated economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the current WTO Director-General, among people she deeply admires.
‘For a long time, it has been difficult to see women in leadership positions, and we are at a disadvantage when it comes to such leadership roles. But seeing these two women is inspirational, and they encourage women like me that if you’re consistent in what you do and you’re steadfast, then the sky’s our limit. We will keep breaking the glass ceiling.’, she shares her vision for women leading in crucial positions.
A unique journey
One of her long-time dreams had been to work for the United Nations, and she has been a community organizer for a long time, trying to understand the gaps that global policies are trying to solve.
‘I understand how innovations that have been implemented have not really achieved the goals it has set. When I was in school at the University of Chicago, I applied for an internship at the United Nations. And I got it. It was a six-month internship with the United Nations Department of Global Communications in the African session.’, she describes her internship.
Through that internship, she organized three different webinars focused on issues around Africa, and it was delivered through the department of global communications. It had participants from all over Africa. Their main focus was to bring out the issues around the world and supply solutions and recommendations on how they could be a part of the solution.
She explains the issues that bog the system, ‘Women have to prove their capabilities and expertise maybe twice more than a man in any industry, especially in the tech domain. No matter how long it takes, you have to keep empowering yourself and keep learning. The pace of the tech space is absolutely fast. New solutions come up, new innovations come up, and as a woman in this space, you need to keep showing effort before you are being noticed.’
In advising women in the tech space, she describes how there is a lot of free training material on EdTech platforms like EdX or Coursera. She also stresses the need for women to support each other.
‘I have realized how supporting each other is important and having conversations around the issues we face. So, I want to say that as women, we need to have that community around each other to help each other more and support each other so that we can achieve whatever we want to achieve.’, she vocalizes.
She stresses the need to understand that setbacks and disappointments are part and parcel of life and that not giving up is the key to success.
‘What matters most is when you don’t succeed, so I like to go back to the drawing board and start all over again. That’s what innovators and inventors do, go back to the drawing table and start again.’, she advises.
An exciting thing about growing up in Nigeria and her community was the concept of communal living, where everybody in the community was cordial, kids played together, and adults partied together before all the issues started happening.
‘I remember how in Nigeria at those times, there was always one event or a community program to attend. Everybody was everybody’s friend, and there was no issue of being afraid of safety. You could go out till late in the evening or at night. I was born in the 80s, and I can see how the environment and the society have become unsafe with a lot of conflict issues happening.’, she recollects growing up in her community.
She grew up in a pretty progressive family where both her parents had their own careers, and they encouraged her to get an education and find her independence.
‘I see the difference between whatever is happening within my house and outside. There were young girls being married off. And I have siblings who are professors, pharmacists, and in IT and entertainment. So, I had quite a diverse family where everyone was empowered and allowed to do what they actually wanted to do. It was really encouraging and shaped my life.’, she admits.
The way ahead
One of her favorite Yoruba phrases goes like this, ‘Nigbagbogbo ranti ọmọbinrin ti o ba wa ni,’ which loosely translates to wherever you go, always remember the daughter of who you are.
She reveals, ‘I am from the Yoruba tribe, and this is a saying that rings in my head with whatever I am doing or decisions I am making.’
She explains how the Yoruba tribe is one of the three major tribes in Nigeria, and they mainly inhabit the southwestern part of Nigeria. Historically the community is known for its delicacies and culture.
‘We are known for our parties, as I mentioned about the ones while growing up. Our wedding ceremonies can go on for three to four days. We are also known for being highly educated, and the western part of Nigeria has the greatest number of professors. The fashion is colorful, and we love good music. It is an interesting place to be in.,’ she explains.
Her favorite regional food includes Egusi soup, the much-loved melon seed-infused soup. And she narrates how such traditional foods are linked to their identity and heritage.
She describes her early experience, ‘Our food and festivals are a big part of our lives. Whether it is bush meat or our Egusi soup, or pounded yam, it is a celebration of our identities. I remember growing up in a time when things were very different.’
That pride and love for where she belongs have motivated her to work harder to bridge the gender issues in her homeland. She has seen how these gender biases exist not just in her country but in different forms worldwide and how it is a global issue.
‘One of the motivations for me is seeing the huge gender gap when it comes to women and the levels that they can achieve with their potential. Africa, in particular, is quite a patriarchal culture, and a lot of privileges are with the male folks. Even in the western world, I see the same issues. So, all around the world, most women are not given the same opportunities as most men.,’ she reveals.
Observing these differences has determined her to find the answers to this challenging problem. She feels grateful for being given the resources and platform to try and make that much-needed change.
She discloses her motive, ‘There are many questions such as can women have the same rights and opportunities as our male counterparts, especially in the social space. As I said, growing up in the 80s in the northern part of Nigeria, I was one of the few girls who had the privilege of being educated. I feel like I owe to do something for the people facing gender inequality.’
She stresses the need for a global community and utilizing the digital space to create a safe space for women to voice their opinions, seek consultations, register their issues and find a globally integrated support system to empower themselves.
‘My vision has always been to create a global platform, and we are on the conceptualization stage to connect women across the globe and be able to help every one of us through this community and the technology around us. Get empowered through our platform.’, she explains.
Titilayo has shown us how people worldwide work together and put their voices at the forefront to achieve a world of equality in its truest sense.
She admits, ‘I had times in my life when I was afraid to fight for the right things. Now, I would say not to be afraid and to go for what you feel is right. And to have that conviction and aspiration to do things no matter how big the tasks look.’
Titilayo’s passionate ambition to bring equality to the table is a dream of many who have come before her and will come after her in the years to come till we achieve this critical objective in the history of humankind.
The famous Scottish writer Frances Wright once famously said.
‘Equality is the soul of liberty;
There is, in fact, no liberty without it.’
Humankind has progressed further than we can ever imagine.
And a future without equality of genders would mean losing out on the soul of freedom that all citizens of the world have fought hard for…
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One Comment Add yours
Kudos sis! This is so inspiring !