I didn’t choose my career path, rather it chose me Click To Tweet

Olufunke Baruwa is named as one of the ‘17 women changing the world’ by the Institute for Inclusive Development at its 2015 Colloquium held at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is a Nigerian gender and development practitioner, feminist and public speaker with a particular focus on women’s leadership, gender relations, and governance.

Olufunke currently sets the strategic vision and mobilizes resources as the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund – a technical and financial resource for women in politics and decision making in Nigeria. She has been widely recognized for her work with Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund by The Guardian and other publications. She is also a member of the Women Waging Peace Network.

SLA  contributor Anuli sat down with Olufunke to understand her success thus far in governance, shed strong light and guide millennials committed to career longetivity.

1. Find your calling or let your calling find you

“I started out with the private sector, I wanted to be a successful woman in the corporate world (when my dream of becoming a medical doctor faded) but then I got a job with the defunct Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF) in 2000 as a Program Officer (Roads).

My time there showed me first-hand how the social sector really impacts on the life of the ordinary Nigerian. I fell in love with that line of work and subsequent postings as a civil servant have taken me to where I can directly influence government policies and interventions for the good of the vulnerable; women and children.

However, on October 5, 2002, I got a second shot at life. My aha moment came when I worked in the MDGs Office for almost 10years as Gender Advisor…that was where I really found my calling and here I am today and there has been no turning back.”

Do a soul search and find that path you know you are led to go and never turn back! Click To Tweet

2. Passion: love what you do

“My father is a retired civil servant. Though not a senior officer, his dedication and love for his job was infectious. It didn’t pay much and I never imagined I’d end up in the civil service but like I said, my career path chose me. So, I decided to be better than him.

The difference between a job and a calling is passion. A job will put food on the table, get you life’s luxuries, take you to places and all, but a job that’s a calling will give you fulfilment in addition and endless opportunities! Ever wondered why some successful people are unhappy and miserable even when by all standards we judge them as ‘made’?

Your love for your job will influence people and bring you big responsibilities beyond your wildest imagination!”

3. Dedication and commitment

“Even the Bible says that a man who is diligent in his ways will stand before Kings. Be committed and dedicated to what you do, no half measures. Let it radiate and influence everyone around you to sing the same tune when it comes to you.

Never rest until the task is done.”

4. Integrity and focus

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll stand for nothing. While the public service can open you to great opportunities, it can also offer other attractions that can make you compromise your values – it comes with the territory.

There will be many opportunities for compromise, you must stay focused and look at the big picture. Ask yourself some critical questions like: Is this why I am here? Why should I settle for less? One of my mentors always says ‘I can negotiate my views, but never my values’ that has also been my mantra.”

5. Be ambitious

“The first time someone told me I was ambitious, it broke me. I thought it was a bad trait until I checked the word in the dictionary and found that it meant: go getter, determined, striving. It also meant –ruthless, pushy.

So, find the word that you want to describe your ambition and go for it. I chose – determined, go-getting, striving. Don’t let the negative definition of a word define you. Define yourself!”

6. Create a niche for yourself

“Distinguish yourself, be indispensable. One of the dangers of the public service is that efficiency is difficult to measure and because of that, one can get easily drawn into the regular routine of ‘soldier go, soldier come; barrack remains’. Don’t fall for that. Whether you are appreciated, rewarded or not, keep getting better, keep improving yourself, keep outdoing yourself – soon, someday, it will pay off. I am still a work in progress…

It’s very easy in the civil service to fall into the doldrums of the regular. Be irregular. Find an area in government even within your office that you are passionate about. Do research, read, study, improve yourself. Be the best in that field that they can’t do without you.”

7. Find a mentor

“I am privileged to have many mentors, most of them women who have gone ahead to defy the norm and distinguished themselves. I’ll only talk about 4 of them here.

  • Deputy Secretary General to the UN, Amina Mohammed gave me my first and greatest break, she saw something in me that no one else did and I’ll be forever grateful that God used her to shape me. I owe most of what I am today to God and her little talk with me in 2005 ‘It’s not rocket science Funke, you can do it!’
  • Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi always pushes and supports me to do more, be more and always says ‘you’ll go places Funke’
  • Dr. Oby Ezekwesili taught me to never negotiate my values. I always use her favourite quote ‘I can negotiate my views, but I can never negotiate my values’
  • Dr. Amina Salihu inspires me every day, she breaks the norm in every way possible.
    I could go on.”
Open yourself up to superior knowledge. Find a mentor who inspires you to reach for the skies Click To Tweet

8. Reinvent yourself – know when to move on

“Public service is very bureaucratic and routine. The chances of getting into the regular cycle is high. So, always re-invent yourself. Add something to the package of you that makes you a new improved product like marketers do.

When it doesn’t work, know when to move on and be open to other opportunities. Take a break if you must and break new grounds.”

9. Get ready for criticism but don’t fall for it

“People will say terrible things about you, especially in our part of the world where strong, intelligent women breaking the ranks and cracking the glass ceiling is considered against the norm. Your greatest critics will come from your inner circle – close friends, family, immediate bosses and even yourself.

So, be prepared and get ready to deal with it but don’t let them define you. Rather let criticism spur you to achieve more and take bold steps.”

10. Be with a partner who supports your dreams and believes in you

“The choice of a life partner is something I really don’t like to get into in public forums but after 17 years with my husband, I have come to realise that your very first advisor, support and springboard to your dreams is your partner – choose wisely.”

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