ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: NKECHI ODUKWE

Tell us your JA Story: how & when did you get involved? My English teacher who was also my mentor along with Barrister Franca Nnaji introduced JA to my school in Jos. The class ahead of me were the pioneers and I had seen them sell products and have meetings. Although I didn’t know what it was all about, I knew I wanted to be part of it. As soon as the opportunity came for my class to get involved, I opted to join JA in 2005.

What were the highlights of your JA experience? My JA experience is unforgettable because it was a pivotal point in my life. First of all, I’ve always been interested in leadership so my contact with JA gave me another opportunity to lead. I had my eyes on the Company President position but it was assigned to someone else. However, I eventually became the President by assuming the responsibilities of the office when the elected President wasn’t playing his role. JA taught me leadership and “response-ability” which remain elements of my core values.

It was no surprise I was chosen to represent my school in LEAD Camp 2005. LEAD Camp was an eye opener and experience of a lifetime. I was so proud to be among the 50 girls selected nationwide for the camp, nonetheless, I was quickly humbled by the caliber of girls (the likes of Ink Eze, founder and CEO of Asoebi Bella) participating in the camp. Camp was fun and enlightening; I made friends, listened to inspiring talks from “glass ceiling breaking” women from various industries. zz

How did your JA experience change your perception about life, entrepreneurship, etc.? Yes, JA really inspired me to aim for greater things. As a young girl growing up in Jos, JA took me to Abuja and Lagos, affording me the opportunity to interact with my peers in Camp and those I met at JA Young Enterprise exam, travel by air for the first time as well as many other first time experiences. All these greatly affected my perception about life. I got to learn entrepreneurial skills that are useful to me today.

 Volunteerism is a big part of JA’s program. What are your memories of the person or people who delivered the program? Oh! I remember “Aunty Franca” (National Coordinator for JA in Nigeria) very well. She was very pleasant and caring. Also, JA stirred up the spirit of volunteerism in me, which I’m a big fan of. I recall cleaning an orphanage in Ajegunle with other participants of LEAD Camp while playing with the kids.

 What are you doing now in your life? Currently, I work in Cell Therapy Development and Operations for one of the leading biopharmaceutical companies in USA. In addition, I’m an Academic Specialist in a University where I work with and mentor minority, first-generation college students, offering supplemental instruction. During my spare time, I design and make women’s clothes, as well as do a little bit of food catering.

How did JA program influence your career path and you in general? Interacting with those professional women I met at LEAD Camp who had broken through the glass ceiling in various fields made me realize I can have great potential and can be a woman of influence. JA fanned into flame my passion for entrepreneurship.

What motivates you? Who are your role models? What books/authors inspire you? My faith in God and my desire to see females succeed especially in the STEM field motivates me. I admire influential women who have a voice and lead the way for others to follow, too numerous to mention. Ben Carson’s “Think Big” was one book that inspired me!

What advice would you give to other young Nigerians like yourself? Don’t give up on Nigeria. Someone recently told me that I’m either too “naive” or “wicked” for believing in Nigeria (strange right?). Anytime I introduce myself as a Nigerian, people almost always excitedly tell me about Nigerians they’ve had as friends or colleagues. Nigerians are great people; we just need to fix our country one step at a time.

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