When you meet Adenike Akinsemolu, the first thing that strikes you about her isn’t just her drive but also her confidence. This youngster is a passionate environmental researcher, educator, and female child advocate. A former intern at Clinton Foundation, Adenike’s work and enthusiasm for youth and the environment has taken her across the globe. She is currently a lecturer at Adeyemi College Campus, a college of Obafemi Awolowo University, one of the youngest to take that position and also the founder of the Green Initiative. In this chat, Adenike reveals how anger and pain led her into advocacy and many more
My childhood was filled with love and care from my parents. I remember when my dad got me my first bicycle, which was bigger than me. I would try to ride it and fall. My dad would encourage me to keep trying. And on this fateful day, I picked up my bicycle with no help and started riding. I remember yelling, “Daddy, I did it!!!” In that moment, I learnt never to give up no matter how big or impossible the task seems. However, I spent my teenage years away from my parents. This taught me independence. I worked after school hours. I remember working at Seven-Eleven, a convenient store where I sold coffee, cigarettes and other stuff as well as cleaned floors. I would work till 12am and wake up 5am in the morning to prepare for school. This taught me multi-tasking and hard work.
Passion for advocacy and development
I am a very passionate person. When I read the news or watch the TV and I see any form of injustice or feel something could be better, I always feel this anger and pain inside of me, which ignites my passion for advocacy. I have faced discrimination as an immigrant in the United States, as a female in academics, as someone working in a small town and as a young person with many leadership roles. I can relate to people in these areas. As for development, Ondo town inspired me. It is a small green town I am in love with. Ondo indigenes are doing really well nationally and internationally. Most of them are CEOs at a lot of companies abroad. However, the town is still very underdeveloped. These indigenes come home every Christmas or special occasions to show off their wealth. You will see them during Ekimogun festivals and other events donating millions of Naira to show off while their town is still stricken with poverty due to lack of jobs. It is only in Ondo town that you will see billboards used to display obituaries, birthdays and wedding ceremonies even though there are no industries. I can’t change the whole of Nigeria but I can do something no matter how little in my hometown. My dream is simple: using my head and heart to foster positive change in my own backyard. The goal is to think globally but act locally.
Being a young female lecturer
It is such a great feeling. I am able to mentor students, get involved in research with students and faculty members as well as share my passion for advocacy. My students see me as a role model and can relate to me both on a friendship and professional level. I am almost like them. I am still learning and they inspire me in various ways they can’t imagine. Sometimes it can be tough. Nigeria is a patriarchal society and we often equate age with respect. We also do not mind our business. There is also office politics that I try to avoid. However, I do not see these as limitations. I am in fact thankful for challenges in the system, they have shown me exactly who l don’t want to be and why I need to be different. “Different” is good and it is needed. There is this view that if you do not conform, it automatically equates being bad and that’s one of the reasons we are not progressing as a nation. They want you to be satisfied with the status quo. I am not. In fact, I am not “normal”, I have accepted that long time ago. Thankfully, I have supportive parents that let me follow my dreams and students who appreciate me and inspire me with their life stories. Some of them call me “mother” despite my small stature and youthfulness.
Helen Akinsemolu, a woman of substance, my best friend, my mother and someone that inspires me to strive for greatness. This woman has it all: Family, Career and Happiness.
Inspiration behind Green Campus Initiative
The Green Campus Initiative was inspired by my students. In one of my lectures, I asked my students what they understood by “Going Green”. Astonishingly, in a class of over 250 students, no one could explain the idea of going green. About 98% of them simply had not heard about it before. When you ask an average Nigerian youth to participate in community service or volunteer their time in helping the underrepresented communities, they simply ask “What do I stand to gain?” or “How does that put food on my table?” You cannot totally blame them. It is the culture. I also noticed students discard their wastes in classrooms and around the school environment. Additionally, a lot of them do not have skills needed to survive upon graduation. How can we encourage students to live their life in such a way they do not harm themselves, the people around them and most importantly their environment? This question birthed the Green Campus Initiative. It was established to educate, engage and enlighten young people to live green as well as equip them with the vital tools to positively transform their communities, nation and generation. Our programs encourages students to use bicycles and other means of sustainable transportation, conserve energy and water, utilize renewable energy, dispose their wastes properly, become social entrepreneurs through the development of vocational skills and be eco-conscious citizens.
The Bill Clinton Foundation experience
Working with the Clinton Foundation was a dream come true. That is where I learned about the power of giving in the form of community service. My favourite President Clinton quote is “People who work together generally do better than people who fight. People who build, generally do better than people who wreck. People who learn, generally do better than people who insist on remaining ignorant and people who care, generally fare better than the heartless.” And that quote is something that has shaped me and inform my decision to return to my hometown (Ondo) and do something, no matter how small. Luckily, I discovered my passion for teaching and it serves as a vehicle to effect that positive change.
For eight years, I have been committed to educating young girls in gaining their voice and place in society. My Girl Prize Program emphasizes the role of girls in developing a sustainable green economy and fostering a positive impact on the environment. This is a scholarship and mentorship program for girls interested in science and specifically environmental sustainability to enable them build self-esteem, develop leadership skills and recognize the value of community service. The girls meet monthly to network, listen to experts on the latest developments in science, the green movement, and receive various trainings. As we say in Africa: “When you educate a girl, you educate a whole nation.”
Engaging in positive things does not give you immunity from negative humans. It is part of the challenge and lesson to learn from. I always advise people that want to move back to Nigeria that if they do not have a solid backbone, a thick skin and ability to face all kinds of oppositions coupled with lack of support, by all means they should stay away. For me, giving up on my dreams is never an option. Never!
My greatest reward
Working in the education sector is a perfect fit. I love the fact that I am helping to create highly educated and responsible citizens, one student at a time.
Advice for budding entrepreneurs
Life is a journey, with problems to solve, lessons to learn, but most importantly, experiences to enjoy. All you need is a burning passion, an open mind and a compassionate heart. There will never be a perfect time to start a business. Start now, start right, start proud and don’t stop.
Being a woman of rubies
I am multidimensional. I do have my values and I am not easily compromised. I embrace my individuality. I follow my passion. I choose love and above all, I do things that make me happy.