Olusola Owonikoko studied a Master’s in Globalisation, Business and Development at IDS, graduating in 2018. Here he tells us why he chose the degree, what he’s doing now and how studying at IDS shaped his work. He also gives some great advice for anyone considering doing a master’s in international development.
Watch a short video excerpt of Olusola’s interview or read the interview in full below.
Why did you choose the MA in Globalisation, Business and Development?
I decided to study an MA in Globalisation, Business and Development because, after working for about five years in the international development space, I wanted a course that would introduce me to the private sector world. Most of the resources that we utilise in the non-profit space come from the private sector and I wanted to understand how the thinking is done there, and what the factors are that influence mobilisation of resources. And, of course, I wanted to do that in a top school, a school that is known for Development Studies, so I chose IDS.
What are you doing now?
So, right now I am the Programmes Director of Project Enable Africa. I founded Project Enable Africa five years ago. And, basically, what we do is promote digital inclusion and disability advocacy in Nigeria. We also do a bit of work beyond Nigeria in some African countries.
What impact has studying at IDS had on your work or career?
The impact has been huge. The first one is understanding better the place of collaboration, and knowing fully well that it’s not just enough to have interesting ideas or have some of the best programmes, but to understand that no single person would have all of the resources needed to make a project or programme successful. So that, for me, is one and it’s key. Then, second, is understanding how to translate global reports and data. It’s a world of data and sometimes it can be overwhelming, but through my studies here I know where to look to find the data to support our work, especially when we talk to donors and international partners. It’s easier for me to understand trends, to understand development reports and translate those to practical programmes that people understand, people from both sides of the world, people who are in the research space and those who don’t have an interest in the research space. I’m able to fill in the gap to speak a language that both parties can understand.
Before coming to IDS, Project Enable Africa was just a small project that we struggled to put together. But my year at IDS changed a lot of things. First of all, IDS changed my thinking on the place of inclusion in the overall development space. Importantly, the knowledge gained here was very useful in helping us access bigger grants, grants that today have turned us into a national organisation, enabling us to implement programmes on a national scale. Before coming here we had just three staff, right now we have about twelve. So, today, Project Enable has grown, we are well-positioned to take on issues on a national level. We now contribute to policies, for example a new disability bill has been passed in Nigeria and we are leading a campaign to push for its implementation. And that for us is huge, we have never worked at that scale. The knowledge and experience I gained at IDS has helped a lot.
What is your advice to anyone wanting to pursue a career in international development?
Well, I have five things to say: The first is that passion is essential, because sometimes the work can be a bit difficult, and what keeps you going is inner drive. But passion is not enough. There is always a place for understanding and that is the gap that IDS has helped me to build on – getting knowledge, relevant knowledge, and being in the right networks. Third, is the importance of business thinking. One of the major challenges I see in the development sector, especially in a developing country, is that a lot of programmes tend not to be sustainable and that is because we don’t have a business approach to them. So I’d really encourage a business approach to doing things to help understand that there’s a lot at stake for people. Fourth, the place of empathy is also important: understanding what people really need, what is necessary to be done, and seeing challenges from the point of view of those who are most concerned, instead of just coming up with solutions that are designed outside of them. That is very important. Lastly, institutional thinking is key, the capacity to think and try to build things into institutions, and institutions doesn’t mean large corporations necessarily, but building the capacity of local communities, to be able to sustain change.