I grew up in Senegal where I am the second born of 3 children. I currently work in a global consultancy firm (Dalberg Global Development Advisors) focusing on Management and Strategy for development. I have worked on a wide range of projects in the sectors of ICT, health, agriculture, and education. My work spans research and sector analysis, project coordination and implementation, business planning and strategy development, evaluation of programs, projects and functions.
- Why did you pick the career path that you did?
My background is in Banking and Insurance and honestly I never imagined one day I would be working in the consultancy field. The adventure began in the year 2008. After my current boss had two different people talk to her about me, an interview was set for us to touch base and five years later, here I am very passionate about what I do especially when the projects deal with gender empowerment, education or simply have a tangible impact on the lives of the end beneficiaries.
- Who and what are some of your influences?
After God, it is my family.
- Do you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance? Please explain.
Oh yes! At times you have those gut wrenching feelings that you do not follow and it turns out if you had followed them things could have been done differently.
- What do you count as your greatest achievement?
So far what I consider my greatest achievement is my personal contribution to a project I was implementing here in Senegal. Co-funded by USAID and The Sonatel Foundation, this project program is aimed to support USAID-Senegal and Government of Senegal's objective to create better educated youth by supporting secondary education access and retention for high-achieving and disadvantaged girls.
The program specifically sought to provide the support girls need to complete middle and secondary school by addressing the challenges that hamper girls' education in target schools and regions. The main components of the program were: (1) providing scholarships (both cash and non-cash components such as school kits and hygiene products) and mentoring to the beneficiaries. (2) Providing income generation support to mothers of scholarship recipients and other women in the target communities. (3) The third and last component of the program involved public awareness and advocacy to emphasize the importance of girls' education, school retention and thus result in higher acceptance of girls' education, increased school attendance and achievement for girls, and increased promotion/transition to upper school grades.
During this project, I was actively involved in all three components and often had to spend weeks in the field to ensure proper implementation. One of the activities in the first component consisted in organizing a summer camp for the young girls. During the summer camp, I took part in discussions with the young girls to get an understanding of challenges they faced on a daily basis and what could be done to help address them.
Among challenges faced they indicated how difficult it was for them to express themselves in the French (the learning language) as they would be mocked by their fellow classmates who would rather express themselves in the local language and tease them stating they were show offs. This resulted in the the young girls developing a complex to express themselves in French in school and in their communities and was affecting their grades. Along with a colleague we were able to get a French NGO to donate over 1,000 books and I funded the shipping of the books from France to Dakar with a (2,000 USD grant), I had received for a project I was to implement. I had absolutely no regrets using that grant to help the girls as the books received enabled the girls to enrich their French vocabulary and that of their close entourage who could read. The project ended in September this year with over 90% of success rate for the girls who were in exam classes.
- What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?
The combination of my gender and nationality. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to be Nigerian. The struggles I face being a young Nigerian occurs usually during my travels especially when going through customs be it here or in other countries. Although, this does not happen every single time, at times customs officers ask me to step aside so they can double check my suitcase after I present my passport. This is usually not an issue to me as I know the best way to be done with this is to cooperate. However, the place this really shocked me was in an East African country.
It was my very first visit to the country and after presenting my passport at customs I was asked to step aside so my suitcase could be checked for drugs. The officer that asked me to step aside asked me why a young female Nigerian was traveling alone although I had presented all my papers (passport, invitation letter from the client institution in the country with phone numbers of staff members in the institution)…Thank God I was with a colleague and when he noticed the police officers had pulled me aside he came asking them what the issue was. Once he indicated we were colleagues, they handed back my papers and suitcase without searching it and told me I could go. Depending on the country, I am always aware that custom officers can give me a hard time especially when I travel alone.
- How have you overcome these struggles and/or insecurities?
I practice the meaning my name… Ndidi which means patience. When I am faced with such situations, I keep my cool, explain the purpose of my presence in the country, present my papers and let the officers do their job. When I feel offended, I write a correspondence to the Nigerian representation to inform them of the situation.
- How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?
I believe, I would not be the person I am today if I did not have the family I am blessed to have. Each member in their own way has helped build the person I am and influence the decisions I make.
- Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?
Each and every one of us have our own story, I believe it is important to share my story only if it helps make a difference in other people’s lives as little as the impact may be.
- In your experience, what do you think are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?
I think prevalent issues women face in their everyday life is work life balance. I know men also have these issues but in a society where women are constantly asked to step up their game, to keep their family together while giving their best at work it becomes more and more difficult for our super women to cope and find their balance.
- What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?
I think it is important to define our priorities and work by those. Once you know what is important to you, it is easier to find your balance.
- What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?
You need to be passionate about development or it may be very challenging both professionally and personally.
- What do you do to give back to your community?
I am yet to have an opportunity to give back to Nigeria, but in the meantime, wherever I have the opportunity to provide support, be it in the country where I live or elsewhere I do so. For example, a friend of mine has an NGO called DGirls in Cameroon and provides after school mentoring to young girls aged 10 to 19 to empower them and help them better prepare for their future. Whether, it is to take time to discuss with the young girls on matters and challenges they face in their everyday life or help raise funds for the activities of her NGO, I am always happy to do so.
Here in Senegal, I volunteered on a project aiming to build a hospital in an area which was in daring need of it. This resulted in the organization resorting to opening a mobile clinic which to date has served over 2000 patients in that community and its surroundings.
Within my firm, I am part of a committee called D. Community, the purpose of this community is to find ways in which we can give back to the community as consultants. Among our achievements, the office took part in a race organized by USAID to raise funds for the PEGE program in 2012. This year, we went into universities to provide students with training on how to get ready for a job interview. We provided the students with tips and tricks on how to develop a stellar CV and introduced them to the concept of case studies which is not very common in Senegal.
- If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?
I would share my personal motto which is: Love what you do, give it your 100% and the rest will follow.