Ujunwa Ojemeni, a senior investment expert at All On, an energy impact investment company seeded by Shell holds a Masters Degree in International Development (Development Finance) from the University of Manchester amongst other professional and academic qualifications. Ujunwa is a clean energy expert with expertise in financial modelling, project financing, project development, and management operational and strategic governance, who has participated in key gas and power projects in Nigeria.
In this interview with the OER Editor, Peace Obi Ujunwa identified affordable decentralized energy systems as quick and reliable solutions to Nigeria’s power problem, while stressing that shattering the glass ceiling is a matter of women having the right skills, maximising opportunities, being professional and being part of the solution. Excerpt:
Tells us about yourself?
I am Ujunwa Ojemeni. I am a clean energy expert with expertise in developing and financing, clean energy projects and businesses as well as providing operational, strategic and governance support to these companies to help grow the sector and close the energy gap in Nigeria. I studied Banking and Finance at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and obtained a Master’s degree in Development Finance from the University of Manchester, UK.
How long have you been in this industry?
I have been in the energy sector for over five years now. I was in project development for a while before actually moving into impact investment. While in project development, I developed various projects of various sizes, mostly in terms of doing the entire project planning, selecting equipment to use, raising the funding for these projects and reviewing all the agreements that needed to be reviewed before implementation. But currently, I work with project developers by structuring and providing them with appropriate financing for their businesses while providing them with the necessary strategic support.
In your project development portfolio, what kind of project did you start with it – grid or off-grid?
Previously I developed both on-grid and off-grid energy projects. Presently, my focus is on supporting off-grid businesses and projects to light up Nigeria one household and SME at a time.
So, what inspired your movement into the off-grid energy sector?
It was in response to the country’s energy need. It was just the right time in terms of what the country needed and where the energy sector was going. I believe the future of energy will require a mix of both traditional large scale grid energy projects along with innovative off-grid decentralized solutions that are smaller scale, lower cost and quicker to market.
While we try to solve the challenges associated with the grid energy source in terms of gas supply, transmission, liquidity and all of that, I think that if we want a quick win and that quick win is to get light to households and SMEs, then it would be off-grid decentralized solutions.
Decentralized energy solutions are easier to deploy and can immediately light up households, SMEs and help them to improve the overall well-being of people. So, connecting and improving the lives at the grassroots is actually the driving force for me. I studied International Development, specifically, Development Finance, and therefore development is something I am very passionate about even right from my childhood days. So, for me, this was really an opportunity to actually get my hands dirty in development for both financial return and social impact.
The energy sector appears to be male-dominated, as a woman, how can more women be encouraged to be part of this sector?
This is a topic I am passionate about. When I entered the energy industry, we were just two females in my team at that time. But over time, things have improved – more women are coming into the sector. However, if you look at the management of most companies, it is mostly dominated by men. Overall, I believe there is a need for increased consciousness for improved diversity as well as to attract more women into the sector.
Another way to encourage more women to be part of the sector and the corporate world overall is for organizations to stop penalizing women for having children. Some women after going on maternity leave are denied promotion that same year because some people feel they did not work the entire year while others do not employ pregnant women or newly married women.
In other organizations, there is no provision for things as small as nursing rooms for women who are still nursing children – they either have to stop or find a stuffy storage room or somewhere else unpleasant to get privacy. We must do better. A third example is the flexible working myth. Some organizations do not make any provisions for this, while others do in principle but in reality, they are penalized through some other ways. We must institute policies and make provision for women to perform their various unique roles.
In what specific ways do you intend to promote more active involvement of women in the energy sector?
I am working on a program to attract more women into the energy sector – African women in general. It’s called “African Women in Energy Development Initiative” (The AWEDI Network). It is the first Nigerian organization that is focusing on women across the energy value chain to offer a networking opportunity, professional development, mentorship, career sponsorship (acceleration) capacity building, leadership training for women at all stages of their energy careers and for female students at the secondary and tertiary levels.
The network will provide a platform for women to meet other professional women in the energy industry and to enhance their knowledge of issues facing the industry and skills required to succeed. Basically, our mission is to encourage and unite women in energy by offering a platform for their progress in the industry through career accelerators, mentors, professional development, training, and exposure. I expect it to have a significant impact in helping women to find their place in the sector.
What possible ways can women function and attain a balance both in their career and at the home front?
Every woman needs to set and get her priority right. She also needs to get the right support at home and at work. Women need to realize that balance is a myth. There will likely be some imbalance at various points but being aware of this and careful management of the competing priorities will make a difference. For example, when I was having kids I had to slow down on a lot of things.
As a career woman, a wife, and mother, how do you conveniently combine these roles and still function as a responsible mother and busy executive?
First, finding the right support in relevant areas is important, such as enlisting the help of grandparents, parents and others when necessary as well as setting limits for work is crucial. Secondly, knowing what is not acceptable to you and be very organized. I always plan my day with my to-do list at hand. My kids have their daily routines, meal schedules, etc. just to make life easier for us all.
As a young, beautiful and intelligent woman, how has it been managing nature’s benevolence with its usual attraction from different quarters?
For me, it is no big deal. I am a professional in everything I do. At no point should anybody think that you are being less than professional. Also, being sensitive to know when an engagement is going the wrong direction, redirecting it and putting a firm stop to anything that you think or sense that is inappropriate and actually being vocal about it.
I think it boils down to knowing your worth, what you want, what you stand for. That job or business deal is not for you if you must compromise yourself. So, for me, it is being on top of my game in my field and remaining professional at all times – it has been working for me.
What is the toughest job you have handled so far in this profession, especially in the advocacy for cleaner energy?
Different jobs are tough in different ways but I think various speaking engagements I have had, came with their various challenges. But one of the most exciting and tough responsibilities I had was being one of the judges for the National Finals of the Climate LaunchPad by the Nigeria Climate Innovation Centre (NCIC) September 2018 before the Global Climate LaunchPad in Edinburgh November 2018. This was tough because there were a good number of innovative solutions presented and we had to pick the top three that would represent Nigeria at the global finals. We had to consider how viable the business model is, how scalable the business is, the quality of the team, market validation of the product or service, marketing strategy, potential competition, etc. It was a great experience overall and we succeeded in selecting the winners; it is clear that we have brilliant innovators in Nigeria and I look forward to seeing them all succeed.
Many young girls are looking up to somebody like you, what is your word to the young women who will be reading you and possibly draw inspiration from you?
My advice is: ‘be confident, know your worth, read, and learn continuously’. Personally, I read a lot. I read every day, both sector-related and none sector-related materials. I just try to gain more knowledge every day.
Be bold, step up, and take up opportunities; do something while waiting for your preferred opportunity and bear in mind that there is hardly any perfect opportunity. Start something today, be ready to take risks, learn as you go along and do better. Finally, do not be passive and do not wait for things to be handed to you because as the saying goes “success only comes to the bold”. If you are not bold, it’s going to be a difficult journey.
How would you describe the role of men in being who you are today?
I think the male folks are doing great. Some men are very supportive and always willing to give you the opportunity to prove and improve yourself. In general, men have been very supportive but I am calling for more support from men. Also, organizations should not deliberately set policies or certain criteria that will limit the number of women on the table because it has been proven that women’s presence is truly inevitable in achieving set organizational set goals.
So I urge men to continue to support women because it is beneficial for all. Good opportunities with men’s support go a long way in nudging women for greater productivity and success for all.
So what do women really need to do to actually get in and occupy their place?
Women should get the right skills, seek out opportunities, take risks, improve their leadership skills, and be problem solvers. And again, don’t keep quiet! Don’t just wait for things to happen, be part of the solution!
So, young girls should stop asking questions like “what am I going to be when I grow up?” but they should rather ask “what difference am I going to make? How am I going to impact my country and the world at large?” So, find a role, carve a niche for yourself and get the right skills. Go for training, conferences, gain knowledge, read more and then before you know it, you begin to make a difference. Finally, mentor, sponsor and promote other women and leave a legacy.