Ujunwa Ojemeni is a financing, business development and clean energy expert with experience in the areas of opportunity maturation, project financing and impact investing.
She has been in the energy sector for over five years now. She was in project development for a while before transiting to impact investment.
While in energy project development, she coordinated several gases and power development opportunities valued at approximately $300 Million.
In energy impact investing, her work has involved working with partners to catalyze funding to the clean energy sector such as the $100Million Off-Grid Energy Access Fund (OGEF) along with the African Development Bank and others, as well as driving investments in and managing investments in various clean energy companies.
She is currently working with project developers by structuring and arranging appropriate financing for their businesses, working with partners to deploy innovative energy solutions and providing long term strategic support to key energy enterprises.
Tell us about some of your projects
Earlier this year, I was selected as one of the 60 young African Clean Energy Leaders for the Open Power Africa 2019 program by Enel Foundation in collaboration with top African and Italian academic institutions.
I was one of the 16 finalists of the program who proceeded to complete the final module of the fellowship based on the quality of our capstone projects. I also emerged as a finalist in the IFC Sustainability Exchange Ideas Contest for Youth Innovations 2019.
To promote the participation of more women in the energy sector, I recently launched “The African Women in Energy Development Initiative – AWEDI Network”.
It is the pioneer African organization focused on women across the entire energy value chain to offer mentorship, career sponsorship (acceleration), capacity building, and leadership training for women at all stages of their energy careers and for female students at the secondary and tertiary levels.
I have always been passionate about helping SMEs to be successful and founded the “SME Transformation Project” through which I provide business advisory and funding to women-owned
SMEs in low-income communities.
I help them navigate through basic business challenges such as marketing and distributing channels, product line expansion, and most importantly, funding, which they have difficulties accessing from traditional financiers.
In addition, I am a mentor at the Cherie Blaire Foundation where I provide support to women entrepreneurs to help them grow as they build their businesses in different parts of the world.
Before all of these, I worked in the management consulting unit of KPMG where I focused on startup advisory and process improvement for such enterprises.
Share your experience with female inclusion in the energy sector?
In 2014, when I started my professional involvement in the energy sector, there were only 2 women on the team, and I was unclear how to navigate or how to find suitable mentors within or even outside the organization.
Although the numbers are gradually improving as more attention is being
given to the subject – more women are coming into the sector.
However, if you look at the management of most companies, it is mostly dominated by men. In fact, although female representation is improving globally, it remains considerately low.
In fortune 500 companies, only 6.6% of CEOs are female and 25.5% of board seats are held by women. This was one of my motivations to launch the African Women in Energy Development Initiative (AWEDI Network).
Being a woman in any sector let alone a male-dominated sector is generally tough and there is still significant room for improvement to make it more conducive for women to thrive.
As I always say, we are equal but different. Women are saddled with the responsibility of childbearing and a lot of times childbearing and home keeping.
Issues such as not employing pregnant women or newly married women are really sad and worrying. Organizations are typically worried about the gaps caused by maternity leave but the evidence is clear that a diverse workforce is good for the bottom line.
Furthermore, returning to work after maternity leave is not always smooth especially when you have been sidelined and not promoted along with your peers who may not even have performed as well as you.
In some other organizations, there is no provision for things such as nursing rooms for nursing mothers.
Another issue is the ‘flexible working myth’. Some organizations do not make any provisions for this, while others allow it in principle but in reality, it is difficult to utilize it as you might be considered unserious and penalized for it.
As a society and as corporate bodies we must institute
policies and implement the same to enable both men and women to perform optimally – paternity leave is still not taken seriously by many.
What were your major challenges in the industry and how can African women manage it?
One challenge is being undermined maybe because one is young. It is an interesting combination to be young as well as an African female committed to achieving big goals.
Nevertheless, I believe that being an expert in your craft is most important and clearly demonstrating this expertise by being visible. At meetings, there is always something you can contribute – most times we know more than we realize.
So I always encourage women to be bold and speak out more. In addition, we have to network sensibly; unfortunately, we usually do not have the luxury of time to attend all networking events due to other responsibilities but we should pick the most relevant events to attend.
We should also network horizontally and vertically i.e. with our peers and with those in higher cadres.
Another tricky challenge is finding the balance between being confident and people thinking you are self-promoting.
I have learned to ignore any naysayers and self-promote because if you don’t talk about what you have done and what you are doing and keep waiting for someone else to notice you, you will be waiting a long time.
So tell your managers what you have accomplished; share with your network your key accomplishments. We live in a social media age, so accept and embrace it.
Finally, it is easy for people to get threatened by your brilliance and even try to bring you down. But you must rise above that and focus on how you intend to bless the world.
Make your bosses look good but don’t dim your light because others are mediocre. Shine, shine, shine!
How can young businesswomen position themselves in order to benefit impact investment?
Simply put, impact investments are investments that are made with the intention to cause positive, measurable, economic, social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.
The major criteria generally agreed for an investment to qualify as impact investing is that it is intentional i.e. it has a positive impact on social or environmental impact, it is profit-oriented i.e. a clear expected return and although metrics are still being debated, that the impact is measurable.
There is a growing impact investment market globally and particularly focused on developing countries to provide capital to address the world’s most pressing challenges in sectors such as sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, healthcare, education and many more.
Young women can definitely benefit from this growing market either as impact investors themselves or by adequately positioning their enterprises to benefit from those funds.
The key is ensuring that the enterprise meets the criteria mentioned above, as investors are clearly keen on supporting such innovative enterprises.
A quick way to assess how impactful an enterprise is could be assessing its impact of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and considering broader metrics such as how many jobs are created through the enterprise.
Therefore when wondering if your enterprise would be attractive to impact investors, ensure it has economic, social and/or environmental impact accompanied by a financial return. So, impact investments are regarded by some as “doing well by doing good”.
Are there any career opportunities in energy and financial inclusion for women you can share with us?
There are numerous career opportunities in this sector depending on one’s interests, skills, readiness to take on these opportunities amongst others.
On the AWEDI Network platform, we share numerous opportunities daily and weekly. The real decision is for women to decide that they are qualified to take on these roles, apply for them, get the skills required and soar.
The statistics are that women mostly only apply for opportunities when they meet 100% of the hiring criteria while their male peers apply when they meet 60%. So I always encourage women to look beyond their shortcomings and believe in themselves.
In the energy sector whatever your interests are, it could be in legal, governance, finance, investments, technical, etc. there are opportunities for everyone.
Finally, personal development is crucial – I am a proponent for acquiring crucial skills for my next level it could be leadership skills or a new segment of the sector I believe is the future.
Before I joined the clean energy sector, I was in the gas and power sector. This had no form of renewable energy solutions. Over the years even before I switched, I started reading extensively on the future of energy, attending seminars and training to prepare myself for my next steps.
To improve my finance skills I did various financial modeling and investment courses some more structured while others at my pace.
So, I suggest women identify where they want to go and acquire the skills needed for their next level and put themselves out there when the opportunity arises or better still seek out suitable opportunities and read widely.
One thing I learned a few years ago was about ‘pain letters’ from Liz Ryan – she is the founder of Human Workplace and is very vocal on LinkedIn. She proposes that the job seekers identify the pain they are solving for their hiring manager, and write directly to them explaining how they will solve the key challenges.
That is definitely the next level of being proactive and has yielded fruits for many.
What is next for you?
I am currently working on a broader program to better support green enterprises – super excited about this project and the impact these businesses will have in achieving the SDGs.
I will definitely share more details with your network soon.
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