Digital literacy unlocks new economic opportunities – Amao
Ibilola Amao is the principal consultant of Lonadek Global Services, a multi-award-winning company. In this interview with NGOZI OKPALAKUNNE, Ibilola, who is also a Fellow of the Energy Institute (EI), explained how she managed to sustain a brand in a struggling economy for 30 years. She also spoke on how women and girls can be encouraged to take up roles in STEM as well as how technology can transform the economy of Nigeria if properly managed. Excerpts:
How were you able to break the stereotype of a woman leading a company like Lonadek in a male-dominated field?
Personally, I believe that this is still a work in progress. It is my philosophy that putting an end to this stereotype requires continuous proof that women that have worked hard to be where they are didn’t get there by chance. Every win, every success, every contribution to ensuring that the platforms for women and women opportunities increase is breaking the stereotype! It is only male-dominated because not enough females have been given the opportunity, not because females are less qualified.
What can be done to encourage more women to take up roles in STEM in Nigeria?
Advocacy, improving gender support systems and creating more opportunities. We are grateful to Vital Voices, IWEC and WEConnect that have supported our Girls in STEM advocacy programmes over the years. I am pleased to have confounded the Women in Energy Network (WIEN) with two lovely ladies, Patricia Simon-Hart and Funmi Ogbue. With the Association for Professional Women in Engineering (APWEN), I am very active with leadership and mentoring. With other groups such as the Commonwealth Business Network Nigeria (CBWN), Women in Business (WimBiz) and the Energy Industry Council (EIC), we are executing value-adding initiatives to improve women representation in Engineering, Energy and Entrepreneurship.
With the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), Nigerian Content Consultative Forum (NCCF) Diversity Sectoral working group, I am contributing my quota to develop Girls in STEM initiatives. We need to put in place routes to improving diversity in male-dominated sectors. Lonadek is proud to be at the forefront of providing Women and Girls in STEM with on-the-job projects and industry exposure.
As you celebrate three decades of Lonadek existence, what is the story behind this great milestone recorded by you?
Lonadek started 30 years ago with one major goal: To empower and to transform lives through solving engineering technology and information management problems. It is important that people know that all our efforts, initiatives, projects, plans and activities have this constant goal in focus. Creating value and enhancing performance drive us and that is how we measure our success. More importantly, we have only achieved so much with the help of the amazing people, workforce, organisations and supporters that we have had over the years. Our story, really, is not so much in the projects or milestones we have achieved, but more in the support system we have had through it all.
How has your company changed the game in the engineering and technology sector?
We have been very fortunate to work with our local and international partners on various projects that have impacted the engineering and technology sectors. Our Consultancy and training activities with partners like AVEVA, Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), Shell Petroleum Development Company, Chevron Nigeria Limited, National Engineering and Technical Company Limited (NETCO) and many others in the technology and engineering sectors, have proven to be a significant driver of growth and a crucial solution in resolving the country’s infrastructural problems using forward-thinking solutions.
We have fully domiciled, domesticated and democratised Computer-Aided-Design and Draughting (CADD) in Nigeria. What was a novelty, I was born in Lagos, I travelled out and my return to Nigeria in 1991 is now pretty basic in Engineering. We have bridged the gap between industry and academia through innovative Human Capital Development Initiatives (HCDIs). Our prototype HCDIs are being replicated local, nationally, regionally and globally. I am pleased to say we are recognised for positively transforming lives and destinies.
Upon establishing Lonadek, were you ever afraid of how you will succeed on the journey?
I accidentally registered the company. I never planned this journey. As a natural problem solver, I simply planned to share my knowledge, skills and competencies with the wider public. The technology democratisation process turned into an adventure of discovering and solving so many problems which has become an enterprise of many parts with one common thread of empowerment.
I am never fearful. I am a firm believer in the scripture that: ‘All things work together for good to them that are called according to His purpose’. I see myself as a person on a mission; so, I just get on with different assignments that I am wired for.
Any business lessons learnt along the way while building Lonadek?
Integrity pays. It may take a very long time to achieve, but it truly pays. Even criminals want to be associated with people of integrity. Earning respect over time places you in a position to make the right choices. Diligence, continuous learning and development as well as engaging with bright minds is the best way to innovate.
It can be quite tasking to do business in general and specifically in Nigeria especially in my field. However, I have learnt to stay resilient and never give up. Another important lesson I have learnt and effected is to build a strong, mutually beneficial network of supporters. I am grateful for my community and the amazing people in it including my mentors, partners, supporters, influencers, advisors and so many more. Finally, I think everyone should learn to do this, I pay it forward. I do this personally and through Lonadek.
In 2006, your company launched a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project, in which you counselled and empowered over 100,000 STEM talents by 2020. Do you intend to embark on another impactful one, as you celebrate the milestone?
The Vision 2020: Youth Empowerment and Restoration Initiative was one of many projects that Lonadek’s not-for-profit youth and national development arm embarked on in 2006. While it is a major milestone, we have continued to push the envelope by engaging new talents in partnership with other educational institutions such as Yabatech. Our current focus is Project 1000: Developing 1000 STEMpreneurs and TECHpreneurs who will create businesses and jobs of the future. The future is now!
How may technology transform the economy of Nigeria, if it is properly managed?
According to a World Bank estimate from 2019, Nigeria is barely harnessing a fraction of its digital economic potential and will need to make strategic investments to accelerate economic growth.
Digital literacy, connectivity, skills, financial services, and other key areas of digital implementation can help Nigerians unlock new economic opportunities, create jobs, and change lives for the better. With advanced technology solutions, we can alleviate poverty, improve the quality of education, enhance performance, reduce production costs thus making Nigeria a destination for new businesses. Through technology, we all must focus on reducing unemployment and opening up jobs and opportunities across geographies.
What are some of the challenges you have faced so far in building your brand?
Corruption has been a huge challenge. We have had to pivot from our Oil and Gas focus into Energy, Engineering Technology and Information Management where merit is better appreciated. The Nigerian market is constantly evolving and we have had to continually evolve with it. We have had to adjust our business portfolio mix to grow the business. We engage in more regional and global activities to mitigate risk. On a larger scale, we’ve had to deal with the intrigues of Government pronouncements. It has not been easy. Although we have hit a few stumbling blocks over the years, we transform them in to opportunities.
In the next 10 years, what can we expect from Lonadek in the Engineering and Technology sector?
The sky is really the stepping stone with Lonadek Global Services. Our celebration of the last 30 years is more about building a foundation to last for future decades. We are currently working on long-term projects and initiatives that are in pre-launch mode. We will remain passionate about serving people in a manner that charts a course for a brighter future for them and us. We are strengthening our relationships with those who have had past experiences with Lonadek as staff, partners, alumni and supporters. We are also working tirelessly to build a seamless community that would unleash the full potential of the best STEM and TECH talents that come our way.