Wired for Problem Solving
Dr. Ibilola Amao was born into a royal family in Nigeria. When her late father – a trained civil engineer – discovered she had a love for science and math, he encouraged her to pursue studies in this area. This was uncommon for a young woman in Nigeria at this time, However, Dr. Amao speaks fondly of her father’s sensitivity and progressiveness that paved the way for her success. Dr. Amao attended a boarding school in England when she was 15, where she was met with a host of challenges: adjusting to a new culture, first experiences of being a minority, as well as being one of the only women in her math and science classes. Dr. Amao recounts how a math teacher once told her that she was wasting his time because she would end up being a housewife in Africa. In the face of adversity, Dr. Amao leaned into her parent’s investment in her education as the motivation to push forward and knew that the best way to overcome these hurdles was to succeed.
And she did just that – Dr. Amao finished at the top of her class in boarding school and decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and pursue engineering. Dr. Amao studied civil and structural engineering, and further pursued a Ph.D. at only 20 years old, where she was the only woman in the program. She is now one of the top mathematicians in Africa. Upon completing her Ph.D. at 23 years old, Dr. Amao pursued training as a chartered engineer.
She then returned to Nigeria to volunteer at the National Service where she worked as a University Lecturer. However, she quickly realized that the technology that was being taught and used was largely outdated and not advanced enough for what she had previously studied during her Ph.D. But, Dr. Amao’s STEM background and ambition had wired her for problem-solving – and this was a problem for which she was going to find a solution.
Paving the Way Through Entrepreneurship
Not only was there a technology gap in Nigeria, but Dr. Amao also noticed that training and educational development was lagging as well. As a result, she founded Lonadek Global Services, a technology and solutions service delivery organization that focuses on human capital and local supplier development initiatives. Originally, Lonadek started as a technology service providing company. However, in trying to deliver services, Dr. Amao quickly realized that human competence in technology deployment did not exist in Africa. The educational processes were not providing young people with the right skills to succeed. Therefore, Lonadek expanded its horizons and developed training as well as human capital programs to perform skills gap analyses, then evaluate local compliance to innovate ways to increase the number of locals with the skills needed to fulfill these roles.
Lonadek has been very successful at reducing the tech and education gap in Nigeria. The company has empowered over 98,000 people in STEM and taken them to the next level. Lonadek is a very collaborative organization, and through partnering with different clients and tech firms they have also trained over 5,000 engineers. They are constantly working on bringing awareness to how technology initiatives can transform societies, and more broadly, help Africa achieve its sustainable development goals.
Improving energy access in Nigeria (and more broadly, across Africa) is an important part of Lonadek’s work. Dr. Amao explains how there is a huge energy gap across the continent. However, there are also many opportunities and potential for both conventional and renewable power. Working to develop the human capital needed to take on these projects is an integral part of solving the complex nature of energy development in Africa.
Right now, Dr. Amao’s role at Lonadek involves focusing on the strategy and global growth of the company. This includes further expanding the reach of the business and attracting more multi-national clients. Dr. Amao has worn many different hats throughout her time as an entrepreneur. The company has grown from only her as an employee, to have approximately 100 staff today, with a board of five professionals. This year, Lonadek is exploring the possibilities of acquiring oil and gas assets in Nigeria to help grow the business and its partnerships.
Empowering Women & Youth
In 2005, Dr. Amao was engaged by a company to recruit young talents in Nigeria. However, the quality of the new graduates was not up to standard for the oil and gas industry. She knew she needed to do something to help improve and identify top talent in STEM. In 2006, parallel to the work she was doing at Lonadek, Dr. Amao established Vision 2020: Youth Empowerment and Restoration Initiative to empower youth in Nigeria. Her vision included programs such as career counselling workshops, innovation competitions, industry awareness site visits, empowerment webinars and summer camps.
Later on, the organization shifted to focus more on increasing young girls’ participation in STEM. Dr. Amao noticed that young girls were not getting the same opportunities to participate in extracurricular STEM activities. As a result, the organization opened up offices for girls to spend time with female technology staff and participate in different projects. This is one of the many creative ways that Vision 2020 is working to get young girls interested and excited about STEM.
Vision 2020 also engages in advocacy work by encouraging governments and multi-national businesses to build capacity and competence in underserved communities. These partnerships are crucial because technology transfer works hand in hand with increased knowledge. The value of human capital development initiatives helps enable the adaptation of technology. Dr. Amao explains how traditionally, select experts are employed for tech-related jobs. However, because they are not locals, technology will not be fully adopted. In contrast, building capacity in emerging economies by training and employing local community members will not only result in the technology being better adopted, but the value will also be created and thus an entire ecosystem will be created around the technology.
In addition to her work with Vision 2020, Dr. Amao is also actively involved with mentoring rising women in STEM and advocating for better representation. She encourages women engineering graduates to aspire for leadership positions and especially enjoys working with those who have entrepreneurial aspirations. Dr. Amao is currently involved in an initiative to increase the number of Black minority representation on boards. She believes that mentoring and coaching the next generation will ensure the number of women in STEM increases.
As a Black woman in STEM, Dr. Amao has conquered many hurdles and is making room for other women to do the same. She has worked hard to earn her seat at the table, and to ensure that she consistently creates added value. Dr. Amao is thankful for the many role models and mentors that have pushed her when needed, holding her hand into decisions that she would have never made by herself. She highlights the importance of having a strong support system of friends and family that have helped her throughout her career, especially when she had young children.
Dr. Amao’s advice to women in STEM is that “no one is going to create your future for you. Have a clear vision of what you want to be and where you want to be. Don’t just seek out mentors, but also build an entire ecosystem around yourself, because your network is your net worth. Step out of your comfort zone, and your journey will become exciting, fruitful and rewarding.”
Written by: Micah Ton