Opeoluwa Wonuola Olawale is the Chairperson of the Board and CEO of the SIXTERS Energy. She has a Bachelors degree in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Ibadan and also a MSc graduate of Imperial College London in 2016.
In this exclusive interview with TOP TEENS, she shares with us her story of success, the inception of SIXTERS Energy, what motivated her and many more.
Read her interview below; we hope this will inspire someone.
My name is Opeoluwa Wonuola Olawale and please no ‘mas’. And let me mention how always humbled I am to be given an opportunity to share my story and meet new people through several channels. For this one, I seem to be super-thrilled by the vision of the Top Teens and knowing it is Nigeria’s Independence Day of 2017, I have decided to give you an exclusive today. No hold backs.
A LITTLE ABOUT MY SCHOOLING AND BACKGROUND
I am from a family of eight, six children. Three boys and three girls. You might understand my gender equity story from this angle at least. *smiles* Well, it’s a joke it seems that I only understand. And for schooling, I’d like to keep it simple: graduated high school at Debest College, Ikorodu in 2007. Started University of Ibadan, the premier college, in 2008 and finished in 2014 (thanks to our national strikes amounting to almost two years extra) and as a MSc graduate of Imperial College London in 2016 within the petroleum engineering sphere of the energy sector.
ON WHO INFLUENCED THE CHOICE OF MY COURSE/CAREER
Let me try to say this story in the most unappealing way. You know one could have this personal idea of a dream course while younger that seems to engulf you because it seems like the only way to become an inventor or make impact in your world. Mine was aeronautical engineering. I wasn’t interested in flying planes exactly, I wanted to build them. I wasn’t interested in conventional ideas, I was blown away with how rare attention was placed on creativity and ingenuity in my immediate environment, especially in the transportation sector. Well, when it came to people who should have the money to pay for my fees and supposedly had the know-how of making a choice for you, they understood me differently. They saw a bright young chap who should be an engineer since medicine or the sight of blood will literally make her collapse. They also saw a tender girl who wanted to explore the far ends of the world in pursuit of purpose but needed to be thoroughly guided. This was especially with filling the form for my university matriculation examination (the famous “JAMB”).
My parents, especially my mum, chose petroleum and mechanical engineering from the list of engineering courses I could find helpful to replace my aeronautical engineering love, at least to stay close to home and not journey to Zaria or Owerri- the only places back then in Nigeria that offered the course or journey to Massachusetts in the USA, my dream school as at then. I wept for days non-stop. As a matter of fact, I considered not waking up a way out. I felt strangled, and hopeless. My elder brother, brother David would try to talk me into seeing how nothing is the end of the world. His idea of seeing their own perspective, especially with finances and making a solid plan to complete my journey was more important. Perhaps he was right. I really don’t know.
But this I would say, throwing me in this “strange” field (that, at first, I had no understanding of or exact love for) taught me self-love, purpose, perseverance and focus in a way that not many can relate to. My parents were blunt, they said things like, “you always talk about making Nigeria a better place if you could, do you think flying planes is the priority? What about the highly mismanaged energy sector? What about the fuel that produces the electricity and ensuring its supply? What about Psalm 1 that says anything you do shall prosper?”. How could I refute such argument? They won! I found my love for solutions win over my fantasies about flying objects which truly was born in the first place out of wanting to be a solution to transport problems. So, in the end, they really had not diverted me as much as anyone might think, they only made me localize my relevance in a global context. This is an exclusive story, just so you know. It is the first time I am openly talking about it, cos I would have
simply told you how big I am on solving energy-related problems in the African context, but how I became that energy enthusiast and entrepreneur is what you just heard.
Deep sighs… everything is easy and nothing is easy. I say this because it is always about perspective and the person involved. A simple mantra I hope might help with this interview is this: “For with God, nothing shall be impossible”. It is only in the human mind that we create classifications of impossible and possible. We make out grades and then classify some as difficult or easy. These are the words of relativity; there is nothing absolute about it. Take for instance, lecturers who set examination questions. In most cases, they prepare marking schemes for these questions, which means they have the answers right? When they hand over these questions to you, they expect that you answer them based on what you have learnt so far? And perhaps, believe that these questions will help improve your problem-solving skills and relevance in life right?
Now, if every exam, test or class seems to be that problem-solving lesson and way to learn relevance to real-life issues, tell me what you think might be the major challenge. For me, the bigger challenge was believing constantly in how I saw life and not how people saw me. It was staying focused on the big picture of how I was contributing to the sphere of life and the people around me. If I was living my full potential or was competing against someone else’s potential. Those were my biggest challenges. Choices to see value rather than money. I can’t even get started on how I define these things, and that’s because you might ask when my next seminar is. Either ways, this is what I want you to know, it wasn’t a matter of ease, it was a question of whether I was learning or not and seeing every opportunity as time to show if I learnt or not. And somehow, it seems having above 70% all the time was good enough. Of course, they were times I couldn’t show I learnt anything in a course given the grades output, or sometimes showed the failure of the lecturer to pass his message across as well. So sometimes, it was both parties… just smiling about how weird I made this… it’s either excuses or results. Simple!
I wish this advice could be useful to everyone but maybe it is all about understanding whatever opportunity you have around. It could be a family member, a friend or your organizational support system. Mine were all these combined, especially having my elder brother in the same school. He was my guardian angel. I had no idea of how anything worked. My parents were right. I needed to develop a support system.
Many people neglect this, but I am glad I acknowledged that I was young and naïve and many times, I needed to cry or laugh. So, one resolution that kept me going was that I have a Father and that everyone around me was sent by Him for my good. My parents taught that well. That was pretty hard sometimes, given that I felt hurt by the unreasonable actions some people took towards me. Regardless, constantly saying my Father has all things working for my good, even when I could have deferred admission in 200 level because I had no fees to pay, was a big deal. My same elder brother, David Olawale and our fellowship then came in handy until my parents were buoyant enough and interestingly, I never needed their financial help from that time forward. Story for another day. What I just said is this, “Get a support system and stick with it!”.
Oh! A story may help answer these two questions but please be patient. You see, first, it was not the activities I saw, it was people I saw and related with. I used to account for my 168 hours a week and reason that it was more than enough to do everything that you needed to do. The people I could help and get to work with, the classes and the trips were more than enough to work with once I knew they were in line with my defined purpose at the time and were positive or neutral additions.
Now the story of how I never had to ask for money from my parents after the big financial blow in 200 level. Before that story, remember that it was about learning and asking what is my own potential. I had met this guy, Williams Adeyemi, a senior in petroleum engineering who was famous for having a perfect GPA in 100 level. I did not have that luxury in 100 level. I had failed woefully in a 4-unit Mathematics course (I blame my fear for learning the seemingly hard course of which I could have done something about, but obviously stayed in the fear and the terrible way the lecturer delivered that course) and had two other courses out of 15 courses below distinction. So you know why I didn’t finish with a perfect GPA. Anyway, I spoke to sir Williams asking him what it took to have a perfect GPA as he had in his first year. He explained that you only have to get above 70% in almost every course and trust God. He talked about how it was tough in 200 level for him and how he never got a perfect GPA since then. Albeit, he graduated best student in the college for his set. I know this will sound silly, but I wanted to have perfect GPAs from that moment onward not so I could be the best student, but to know that nothing was impossible.
Now that you have that background about my wanting to just learn, be my best self, and not compete or compare, we can go forward with the other activities. Unlike many others, my mum had warned me not to run after scholarships and that if I was good enough, scholarships would do the running. And really, as naive as I was, I did not apply for any funds like my mates in 100 level. Even when I tried, I never completed the application process. I was pathetic, you’d say. But you know what? In 200 level, many things happened. I started seeking ways of making ends meet given my parents were going through their own tough times. I was Vice President in Mountain Top Freshers’ Company and actively generated funds for the organization, thanks to the President, Paul Adeyoyin, who was my friend. He usually acknowledged my innovative ideas and usually said he owes it to me that I invited him to the fellowship in the first place. We have remained very good friends and later worked side by side in pioneering Engineers Without Borders, University of Ibadan. An organization I started out from a mail I titled “The Big Change”. Funny how these things spiral out of control. Another story.
Remind me to stay focused please. There’s so much that has happened and cannot be fully expressed in one sitting. I perhaps should consider writing a biography of my unfinished life, weird, right? Not because I see an unusual story, but because many African lives have stories that remain untold and perhaps, chronicled could help demystify our diverse but rich background sometimes. I also sold eggs at some point, interesting things that happen just like I told you. Now, my story on the scholarship race. My 100-level result had me in the top five students in my department and perhaps nowhere near top 100 in the school. But it seemed enough to qualify for nomination to write the Petroleum Technology Development Funds (PTDF) scholarship exams. I should mention that my department was like another family away from home. I had a class rep that remains a true leader, classmates that I think are from heaven and lecturers that were more than mentors, but also parents. My HOD, Prof. Isehunwa and my lecturer, Dr. (Mrs) Akintola called me to know why I had still not come to school during semester break to pick up my own form when others who were first class candidates had done that. I was like, my parents are currently not financially buoyant and I didn’t have transport fare to school. They said, okay. They made sure to ask if any of my classmates was willing to drop the form for me in Lagos since school was in Ibadan. My mum was overjoyed. She said scholarship will run after me, didn’t she? Oh well, my poor self was lucky to have one of my classmates, Femi Asiwaju, bring the form to me in Lagos, thanks to him and the best lecturers who were like parents. And after the scholarship exams, everything else is history.
I got my first scholarship by the end of 200 level after a turmoil starting out that year that meant I could barely feed. Not many people knew cos I was always smiling and only cried in front of my brother. From the end of 100 level till the beginning of that year when my brother practically struggled for both of us to make ends meet, I just had to keep being useful to life. I had always been prudent with money and thinking of creating value rather than money. But this time, I was super prudent. I knew how to live on nothing and still be happy. God kept telling me I was wealthy. Of course! I am wealthy on nothing. One time, I lived on five naira (N5) in my purse for two weeks.
So back to activities, I continued helping out in the fellowship and was Hall pastor for Idia Hall, helping with tutorials both in class and at church, helping friends with chores they had, and reading motivational books on purpose and living right even though I would go to bed hungry many times. I also used to study with Damilola Adedapo, Sope Ajiboye and Bisola Otesile in school. These ones were mentioned cos they were rare gems. I remember Damilola and Sope, my best friends, help me with dinner sometimes when they noticed I had nothing to eat and would still not complain. One time, this same Dami gave me a bag of food items. I remember crying so hard and praying for her that God bless her. So yes, I had several activities going on for me. Family and friends were one huge part. I cannot mention all the names of wonderful people that surrounded me and how they all contributed to helping me come through so many low moments of my life. But this I can say, it would not be about activities when you understand purpose, it will be living each day in line with a plan that you have set out. It would be about seeing more to life than just one part. I truly recommend “The Purpose-Driven Life” by Rick Warren. I worked on several things in school.
To mention a few in no particular order, I played several roles in different capacities including
-Co-organizer, Petroleum Family Prays (PFP)(2010-2012)
-House Member, Father’s House Project (FHP)(2011-2014)
-Team Leader and Pioneer, Engineers Without Borders (EWB) University of Ibadan chapter that evolved from “The Big Change” as I called it in its early days (2011-2014)
-Delivered tutorials in teams at different times even as Academic Team Secretary, Pet Class ’08 (2009-2013)
-Member, Electoral Committee- SPE UI, 2010/2011
-Public Relations Officer, SPE, University of Ibadan Chapter (Most Outstanding Chapter 2012, African Region)
-Pioneer, Best Brains Movement
-Mentor and Vice-President, Fresh students, Mountain Top Freshers’ Company, (2011- 2012)
-Volunteer Mentor for several 100-400 Level students (February 2013- 2014).
-Hall Pastor and Representative, MFM- Idia Hall (2010/2011 session), influencing both older and younger colleagues to work as a team in achieving set goals.
All these were part of my opportunities given by God and demonstrations across campus over the years that stood me out in a crowd of other first-class students, I suppose.
click here for the concluding part of the interview