Meet Jennifer Okoliko: The Woman Empowering Female Change-Makers in Underserved Communities of Northern Nigeria
Welcome to our new blog feature where we spotlight women who are making an impact. In this series, we’ll be sharing conversations with inspiring women who are accomplishing incredible things from humble beginnings and leaving a positive impact on the lives of others through their work and dedication. In this week’s episode, we are thrilled to highlight Jennifer Tim-Okoliko, a young visionary who aims to empower female change-makers from underserved communities. Get ready to be inspired by her amazing story.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Professionally, I’m a leadership and personal development coach focusing on cultural competence and inclusive leadership. I am presently a Ph.D. student of leadership studies and also serve as the program coordinator for an inclusive leadership program at the University of
Nebraska, Lincoln. I’m also the founder of the Girls Should Thrive Initiative and also the pioneer of the Leaders from UP movement, an initiative focused on raising leaders from unexpected places. Outside that I’m a wife to an extraordinary human – Timothy and mom to the most adorable girls; Hadassah & Hephzibah.
What inspired you to advocate for women’s education and leadership in underserved communities?
Growing up, I experienced limitations that could have restricted me to the traditional role of wife and mother. However, education and books enabled me to realize my full potential and become a role model for others. I now believe that every girl has the potential to do great things and be more than average. Excluding women and girls from vulnerable communities is causing us to lose out on their creativity and innovation, resulting in missed opportunities to solve global problems. Neglect of these girls can lead to problems such as drug use, teenage pregnancy, and depression. This has inspired me to advocate for women’s education and leadership.
What are some of the biggest challenges women and girls face in accessing education and leadership opportunities?
Of Course, we know the popular challenges like the lack of policies that support women’s education and all that but I’ll take it from another angle. I think the biggest challenge is the limiting mindset we have created for this group as a society. Because they have been told repeatedly that they can’t go above this line or aspire beyond a certain level, no matter how many opportunities come their way to get more education or lead, they draw back because if you don’t see something as a possibility in your mind, you won’t even try.
What skills and qualities do you believe are necessary for women to succeed in leadership roles, and how can they develop these skills?
The skills required for women to succeed are the same as that required for everyone else. Of Course unfortunately, because we haven’t achieved gender equity, women have to work extra on those skills to be seen and recognized so I would say one skill you need for today will be the ability to go the extra mile. Do more than is expected. Hopefully, this does not remain the norm but for now, it is what it is.
How do you work to empower and support women and girls in underserved communities to become leaders and navigate digital spaces?
We empower them to be the best and most effective way we know how – Educate them. While we are working on changing policies and re-educating society on gender equity, we must empower the women and girls themselves to demand their rights in little and big spaces and that is what education does. So education is the tool through which we empower them. And we do that by teaching them to read inspiring books outside of their academic books. Of course, we have other things including financial support and other resources but the most important is education.
What impact have you seen from your work so far?
One of the biggest impacts we have seen so far is an increase in motivation and desire to be more in life. Seeing girls from ordinary backgrounds dreaming and reaching for extraordinary things is one of the best impacts we have seen. Another one is that desire to pay it forward. One of the things we really wanted to accomplish was raising leaders who would succeed not just for themselves but for their communities. So seeing them talk about their desire to help other girls is a huge impact. 2 of our girls for example started a safe space for the girls in the houses around them and have been training them in what they have been learning. That was a huge impact for us as an organization.
How can governments, organizations, and individuals work together to create more opportunities for women and girls?
After reading Dr. Diane Rosenfeld’s book, I learned about the Bonobo principle, which emphasizes the power of togetherness in achieving gender equity. I believe that everyone needs to take responsibility for this issue, rather than pointing fingers. To make progress, we must all ask ourselves what we can do and who we can work with. By collaborating and creating programs and policies that directly impact women and girls, we can work together toward a more equitable future. Overall, taking responsibility and exploring meaningful collaborations is key for governments, organizations, and individuals to work together towards gender equity.
How do you see the role of women’s education and leadership evolving in the coming years?
There’s hope. The future is looking very very good and that makes me very excited for my daughters. Based on the trends we are seeing today and the successes we have recorded so far in different parts of the world, I believe the future is looking very good for women. We are closer to having a female president in Nigeria than ever before and I strongly strongly believe it will happen in my lifetime.
What are your hopes for the future of women’s empowerment in underserved communities?
My hope is that while policies are changing in favour of women, the women themselves break free from the dependence mindset. Women from vulnerable backgrounds will no longer see themselves as needing to depend on a man for a living or accept the mindset that they cannot do certain things. They would no longer see education as a waste of time and energy but as a priority. My hope is to set up libraries and reading clubs across different communities where they come together to have meaningful conversations about different subjects and improve their critical thinking while developing meaningful solutions to the different challenges around them. These are a few of my hopes.