• Saturday, February 24, 2024
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Lilian Ajayi-Ore, the research scholar and data scientist living for global impact


Lilian Ajayi-Ore, Ed.D., is an award-winning Chief Learning Officer, Chief Marketing Executive, Research Scholar, and Data Scientist with over 17 years of relevant industry experience working with Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies. She has +12 years of experience in learning and talent development, named Top 50 L&D Executive. Founder of an award-winning 501c3 non-profit organisation, Global Connections for Women Foundation (GCWF).

She is a member of Marshall Goldsmith’s Top 100 Executive Coaches. She has spoken in over 50 cities worldwide. She has been invited as a keynote speaker by the United Nations, UN Women, UNDP, UNFPA, the World Bank, Toronto World Leaders Conference, TEDx American University of Paris, Harvard Business Publishing, Dell, and Social Media Week, to name a few.

She is a research scholar and University lecturer at Columbia University, teaching Digital Marketing, Data Analytics, and Digital Communication Strategy. She has designed and managed new course development, entrepreneurship programmes, executive leadership programmes, real-world corporate partnership courses, and investment readiness programmes for various learners domestically and internationally. Her passion for education has allowed her to give lectures with other institutions, including New York University, St. John’s University, Baruch College-CUNY, UBS Investment Bank, Female Founder Collective, University of Pennsylvania GSE, and ISM, in a wide range of certified programmes, undergraduate, MBA/MSc., and Doctorate programmes.

Named a Brilliant Mind in Academia by Harvard Business School Publishing Education, she is rated Top 10 Marketing Professional in Academia on LinkedIn, nominated for Teaching Excellence Award, named Inspiring Mind in Academia by Harvard Business Education Publishing, and ranked multiple times as Top 100 Women in the World, Top 50 Female Leaders, and Top 40 African in the diaspora. Featured in Forbes, Black Enterprise, Huffington Post, The Harvard Business Publishing Education Journal, and Diplomatic Courier and is a Member of the Forbes Nonprofit Council.

Lilian holds a Master’s in Education and a Doctorate Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education – Ranked the #1 Education Programme globally. She received double distinctions merit on her mixed-methods dissertation research on Pedagogical Effectiveness and Teaching Prowess.

From your early years till date, what influences would you love to share?

As a Nigerian-American, my origin has always humbled me and challenged me to do more to represent my people well. I was born in Nigeria, a country rich in spirit, culture, and heritage. I enjoyed growing up learning the various traditions of each tribe, and coming to terms with what was expected versus unexpected. I also watched the inequities that plague our society, where the poor become poorer, and the rich get richer. Growing up in the United States, I learnt something different. I learnt the importance of using my voice, finding my place in society, how to give back, and discovering what matters to me. All of my various experiences have given me the confidence and joy that I feel every day, and it also serves as a motivation to keep creating value, to keep impacting, and to keep supporting the world around me.

17+ years of relevant industry experience working with Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies, share your experience and lessons learnt

My professional experience working with Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies has been invaluable. I started as a search engine analyst and later became a Data Scientist and Digital Marketing Executive, responsible for designing winning digital marketing strategies, deriving consumer insights from big data analytics, driving consumer engagement, and building consumer loyalty and retention. My experiences thus far have taught me how to negotiate, build, and grow a business, identify and engage a target audience/market, run in-depth data analysis, and find ways to compromise in business.

Share your experience and passion for developing talents. How does it feel to be named LinkedIn’s Community Top Voice in Leadership Development?

My passion for developing talents stems from my genuine desire to help people reach their full potential, and to see them achieve their personal and professional goals. Reflecting on my professional experience, I have had several people support my career, and my passion and commitment to developing talent is my way of paying it forward. My experience in the academic space has given me the distinct opportunity to work directly with young and senior executives in reaching their goals. Being named LinkedIn’s Community Top Voice in Leadership Development is a testament to a precise alignment between my passion for talent development and how the world sees my contributions. I am grateful, inspired, and humbled by the recognition.

You received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award and Presidential Pin from President Joe Biden, and GC4W was awarded Best Charity in Manhattan for eight consecutive years. Tell us about this

I started the Global Connections for Women Foundation (GCWF) to give back to society domestically and internationally. Our mission is to connect, educate, and empower by providing female entrepreneurs and business professionals with access to resources, educating them on how to use them, and creating an environment that enables their empowerment. Our yearly conferences, webinars, training programmes, and the GCWF executive network provides this access. We hope it empowers women and others to think differently and achieve more using our shared tools. We offer leadership and entrepreneurship training, executive coaching, and mentorship programmes to support female entrepreneurs and to propel women’s advancement within the workplace. We also provide programmes to help underserved communities and communities with disabilities. Recognition of this magnitude is humbling and reassuring for my team, board, and myself.

You are one of Marshall Goldsmith’s Top 100 Executive Coaches, give us more details

100 Coaches is an organisation that brings together many of the world’s leading executive coaches, top business thinkers, and best leaders to make good executives better. Together, our goal is to prepare, develop, and energise inspired leaders for the future.

Being a part of the MG 100 family has been incredible because it has allowed me to unite with other inspiring individuals passionate about supporting human capital and development. What unites us as Marshall Goldsmith’s Top 100 Executive Coaches is our genuine passion to pay it forward, to share our talents and capability in places that most need it. Being a part of this group has also motivated me to do more to support others, keep developing as an executive coach, and find ways to make a difference in the world.

On being a research scholar and University lecturer at Columbia University, what has your experience been? How do you rate the representation of Nigerians there?

Columbia University is an incredible institution. It was a value alignment where I felt a strong sense of belonging. We have a commitment to academic excellence, student success, and research. We are an institution that believes in a kind culture to ensure that our students feel they belong in our institution. We prefer a scholar-practitioner approach, which means our faculty are field professionals who can bridge the students’ knowledge gap using industry practices with theoretical frameworks and research to support our students in developing their academic and professional acumen. As a research scholar, I aim to focus on insights that inform the industry and educational practices. I am working on a mixed-method research study with IPG Kinesso, an advertising agency, to understand the relationship between crucial marketing promotional attributes and their impact on consumers’ purchasing behaviour. This mixed-method study is a combination of quantitative survey inquiry and ethnography observations. On Nigerians’ representation, truth is, Nigerians are everywhere and of course, I am honoured and proud to see us represented in the faculty and student body at Columbia University.

What makes Columbia University tick? Why the decision to lecture there?

Columbia University is an Ivy League, one of the Top 5 universities in the world. The school attracts the best-in-class faculty, administration, and student body. Our students and faculty are some of the world’s most innovative, admired, and famous leaders. The best part of teaching at Columbia University is our students. In our classrooms, you find dedicated and enthusiastic students with a strong desire to learn and grow, with unique backgrounds and international experiences. Our students are passionate about being future executives, scholar-practitioners, entrepreneurs, and innovators. Our students are hardworking, so much so that they challenge us to come to class prepared with the most up-to-date industry insights and creatively share stories that will make a difference in their prospective careers. My other favourite part of being a part of Columbia is our faculty. We have the best educators in the world, my peers and our leadership profoundly inspire me. Their accomplishments and teaching styles motivate and challenge me to be a better educator and learning leader.

You teach digital marketing, data analytics, and digital communication strategy, tell us more

The courses I teach are a direct reflection of my professional experience. My responsibility as a digital marketing executive, data scientist, and now scholar-practitioner creates a dynamic opportunity to engage my students in the field approach and to juxtapose those insights with literature, theological frameworks, and research. It is the understanding for scholar-practitioners to share insights from the industry, as we prepare the next generations of industry leaders, data strategists, and marketing executives. The best practices in the classrooms allow our graduates to secure jobs and have everything they need to build strong relationships, become thought leaders, and rise between the professional ranks.

How can businesses leverage data analytics to gain insights and improve their digital marketing strategies?

Data is a gateway to solving some of the business challenges in the world today. Therefore, businesses can successfully leverage their data analytics insights to maintain their competitive advantage with a rapid response to the needs and wants of their customers. Regarding data analytics insights, businesses should:

1. Prioritise their data collection strategies to capture all customer touchpoints and engagement accurately.
2. Employ a talent in-house that understands how to interpret the data insights and can provide actionable insights.
3. Allow significant amounts of time to test new digital marketing strategies.
4. Learn from past mistakes.
5. Create a pathway to hear directly from their customers.
These recommendations allow businesses to create a data culture where data informs business practices and decisions.

In what ways can businesses leverage emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in their digital marketing efforts?

The reality is that, not all businesses are created equal. Not all companies can afford to utilise artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools due to budget constraints, even though we are starting to notice the use of machine learning in some inexpensive automation tools. Still, most of these platforms are built for medium-sized and larger companies. To that end, businesses with fewer budget constraints should invest in AI and ML for ease in predictive analysis and real-time engagement and response. These innovative technological tools increase a company’s ability to preemptively design digital marketing campaigns and accurately target high-potential customers who are more likely to purchase their goods and services.

You were ranked multiple times as one of the Top 100 Women in the World, named a Brilliant Mind in Academia by Harvard Business School Publishing Education, and now LinkedIn’s Community Top Voice in Leadership Development. How does that make you feel?

In all truthfulness, I am ever so surprised and appreciative. I know there is something dynamic and intentional about my life choices. I am purposeful in contributing to the world and supporting as many people as possible in achieving and realising their dreams. With each recognition, I have a renewed motivation to keep on going and to continue on my journey and momentum.

Despite some negative reports on Nigeria, many Nigerians (like you) are excelling excellently. How does this make you feel? What must the international community know?

Unfortunately, some Nigerians have made their share of mistakes, and as the international communities learn to trust us again, seeing shining examples of what Nigerians can do is just as pivotal. I believe global communities understand the value of human capital, and with movements such as “Black Lives Matter” and DEIAB initiatives in business, inherent biases are being addressed in all areas of society. No one should judge their past mistakes, and it is comforting to note that several others continue to work hard to improve the image of being a Nigerian in the diaspora.

Why are you passionate about teaching/lecturing?

I am passionate about teaching because it allows me to enlighten and to be enlightened. It is an opportunity to share my personal and professional experience with the future of the workplace. It is also a chance to reimagine the purpose and mission of new talents in the workplace. With each lecture, I often tell my students to feel free to challenge the status quo and to be open to testing new ideas that emerge from them while in the field.

What can be done to improve the education system in Nigeria?

Brilliant question. Tough response. I have the fortune of teaching at some of the top schools in the world, and one of the many things I have noticed is the institution’s consistency in delivering academic excellence and rigour. Some schools in Nigeria endeavour to achieve academic excellence and rigour, but they are few and far between. We need consistency and deliberate actions to create a learning environment that inspires our students. We need consistency in learning institutions and their commitment to academic excellence. We need consistency in designing a learning environment that produces innovators, CEOs, and entrepreneurs.

What should the Nigerian government do to reduce the exodus of her bright minds?

Brilliant question. Easy response. Create more opportunities. We now exist in a world that is in search of top talents. Therefore, top talents and minds are actively sought in whichever country they reside in. However, winning the fight over the departure of bright minds, will mean prioritising their needs alongside all the urgent matters the Nigerian government confronts. The lack of prioritisation of their needs can also explain why we have lost too many and continue to lose top talents in Nigeria.

Why is women’s empowerment important?

Growing up in a third-world country, I was constantly reminded of the societal inequities and the socioeconomic disadvantages women faced daily. In the household, women worked harder than men, caring for the home and their children, and at the workplace, women made a lot less than men and were restricted in advancing their careers. The list goes on… I care about women’s empowerment because I have always known that a powerful woman is a woman who knows her self-worth and is unafraid to use her voice to get what she deserves. My mission through the Global Connections for Women Foundation, is to ensure that women and girls feel the confidence and freedom to ask for more and to get what they deserve in any society.

Never to be forgotten day and why?

I will never forget when I heard my dissertation chair say, “Congratulations, Dr. Lilian Ajayi Ore, on completing your dissertation research with double distinctions”, the final step to achieving my doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education. I received this news during the global pandemic and in quarantine, when emotions were exceptionally high. It was a very challenging time for me, as I struggled to focus on my research as the world faced the most gruesome time in our lives. We were constantly updated on the number of lives lost globally, feared for our lives and our loved ones, and even wondered whether the world as we know it would ever overcome this pandemic or return to normal.

How will you describe your relationship with your students?

I have a coach-teacher-mentor relationship with my students. The role of a professor extends beyond teaching them concepts, but also making yourself available to their questions, concerns, and reasoning. I respect my students and vice-versa, and I have noticed over the years that my office hours have also become a safe place for them.

Concluding words

I hope that my story inspires anyone who reads it, that there is something as self-made. I was blessed to have a mother, HRH Chief Temitope Ajayi, who knew and believed that her daughter would positively change and impact the world. I am blessed to have mentors who showed me the way, and their coaching ensured that I learnt from their experiences and past mistakes. Lastly, I have been blessed by the support of my spouse, family, and friends, whose faith in me and my aspirations gives me the drive and motivation to keep moving forward in my sincere mission to help others reach their fullest potential.