Scholar Spotlight - Echika Obijiaku

Laidlaw Scholar, Echika Obijiaku, is leading transformative financial literacy and job creation efforts in Africa.
Scholar Spotlight - Echika Obijiaku
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Echika Obijiaku, a Laidlaw Scholar at Oxford University's Saïd Business School, on eradicating debt and generating employment for millions of people across Africa.

From crunching numbers as an actuarial consultant to empowering African communities through innovative solutions, my journey has been driven by a relentless pursuit of impact. Today, with goals like getting 10 million Africans out of debt and creating 5 million jobs by 2030, the Laidlaw Scholarship at Oxford beckons as a strategic springboard to amplify my reach.

My foundation in actuarial science and finance offered a solid start, but leading my BPO startup, Mwanga, truly ignited my passion. Seeing over 300,000 users engage weekly and 1.5 million find debt relief solidified the power of impactful solutions. But the vision expands further.

Yapha Academy, my skills training platform, aims to create 5 million African jobs by 2030. This ambition stems from my unwavering belief in empowering individuals, reflected in my leadership roles across youth education, women's empowerment, and children's initiatives. Serving as the Nigerian Ambassador for Women's Entrepreneurship Day Organisation (WEDO) and co-chairing the Oxford Africa Business Alliance, I actively advocate for inclusive leadership.

However, I recognize crucial growth gaps in my journey. Earning an MBA from a leading institution aligned with my values seemed like the ideal catalyst to transform into a more strategic leader with the best support system. The Laidlaw Scholarship resonated deeply. Its commitment to empowering women leaders mirrors my dedication to future generations, and its global network promises invaluable connections to amplify my impact. This program transcends mere knowledge acquisition; it's about finding mentors and allies who will propel me forward.

Living a life of purpose fuels my every step. My vision transcends profit or numbers; it's about systemic change, responsible business practices, and unleashing individual potential. With Laidlaw, I envision a powerful partnership, empowering me not just to lead, but to inspire and ignite change across Africa and beyond.

Echika at Green Templeton College on her Matriculation day.

What is the biggest life challenge you have overcome and what did you learn from it?

For years, pursuing an MBA felt like reaching for a distant star. Juggling my businesses, leadership roles, and other commitments, every year brought a well-reasoned "not yet." "The team needs you," was the familiar refrain, echoing my own doubts. But something shifted. The question, "Can't I do both?" began to whisper, nudging me to examine my self-imposed timelines.

2022 was a year of bold decisions. With an application to Oxford, scholarship efforts underway, and strategic business restructuring in full swing, I squeezed the "MBA pursuit" into every corner of my life. Saying "no" became crucial, but I wasn't alone. My incredible support system - a best friend (an Oxford alum!), family, loved ones, and my faith - held my hand through every leap.

The results? Astonishing, but not in the dramatic sense. Not only did I secure admission with two prestigious scholarships, but the MBA experience itself has been a revelation. Leading the Africa Business Alliance, engaging in diverse activities, building new friendships and learning from a renowned faculty - each day brings enriching experiences. This journey has not only clarified my vision for my businesses, offering valuable insights for their future, but it has also fueled personal growth, bridging gaps I wasn't even aware of.

The biggest takeaway? The Nike slogan resonated deeply: "Just do it!" Yes, there were doubts and challenges, but embracing the leap unlocked unexpected potential. My businesses are thriving, my team is excelling, and the journey has been an invaluable source of learning and transformation. This was more than just an achievement; it was a year of becoming.

What is the most useful/impactful piece of advice you have been given in your life?

In life, you have to be comfortable with the unknown if you want to make a big change/move, so, just do it!

This advice has been the eventual push over cliffs that I needed especially in times when I was held down in the fear of the unknown or over-analyzing things. I switch from the “what if I fail?” mindset to “what if I fly?”. And over the years, I have learnt to embrace the results of my bold move with gratitude even if the result is termed as a “failure” by some standards, I always see it as a gift- a learning moment because you define what failure is to you. Remember, beauty often lies in the process, not just the destination. This is one of the reasons for my grit. Even if I fall several times, I will get up, internalize my learnings and make my next move. 

Conversely, what is the WORST piece of advice you have been given?

To prioritize feelings over boundaries. 

To give context, I am speaking of being unable to say “No” to certain people or offers because of how you think it will make the other party feel or what you fear you might be missing (FOMO as they call it). This can be seen most times when the other party is someone or a platform you have much respect or desire for. 

While there is a balance to this, as I believe that there are cases where you may have to make compromises, you must absolutely know when taking on a task or allowing people to cross a boundary with you will definitely be harmful to you. In these critical cases, the act of saying “No” in an emotionally intelligent way is a life skill that will save you.

At the Kellogg's library after the Buns Night event.

What are your top 3 leadership tips?

Becoming a great leader isn't a destination, it's a journey fueled by constant self-reflection and growth.

Here are 3 key areas to focus on:

  1. Become Your Best Self, Lead Others Better: Look inward and discover your strengths and weaknesses. Embrace feedback, both praise and critique, to fuel your self-awareness. Remember, authenticity resonates, so walk the talk with integrity, accountability, and passion to inspire your team. When you keep doing this, you become better at leading others to be authentic.
  2. Nurture Your Tribe: Tune into your team's rhythm. Understand their unique strengths, motivations, and challenges. Build trust and respect by connecting on a personal level. Remember, empowerment is harmony. Delegate wisely, unleash their expertise, and watch your team perform as a collective force.
  3. Chart a Captivating Course, Navigate as One: Paint a compelling vision that ignites shared goals and inspires your team's journey. Remember, clear communication is your compass. Regularly update, answer questions, and actively listen to receive and also give feedback. Remember, trust is the wind in your sails, guiding you through any storm.

What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?

Beyond the life-changing opportunity to get an MBA with the prestigious University of Oxford, being a Laidlaw Scholar means joining a sisterhood. These incredible women, hand-picked from across the globe, share my fire for change. Imagine us, arms-linked, cheering each other on, as we tackle our goals and transform systems. But the journey doesn't end there. This scholarship empowers me to lift them up too, becoming a pillar within this powerhouse community and a champion for the Laidlaw legacy. This isn't just an MBA; it's a collective force for good, ignited by gratitude and purpose.

Echika at Egrove Park during the Impact Lab Retreat.

Which leaders inspire you the most and why?

While I admire a lot of world leaders, the ones that have had the most impact in my life are most of the closest to me. I will write about just 5 inspirational leaders in my life:

  • Myles Munroe: Living Legacy: His self-leadership resonated deeply, inspiring me to embody his teachings and achieve results. He continues to guide me even after his passing.
  • John Obijiaku (My Father): Humble Strength: He navigated challenges with unwavering values, nurturing hope and resilience in our family. Witnessing his leadership translated into life-changing lessons for me and my siblings.
  • Onyinyechi Obijiaku - Fearless Love: My elder sister led with fierce compassion, uniting us as a powerful force. Her self-leadership and remarkable achievements continue to inspire us all.
  • Maria Rotilu- Resilience to Impact: Her inspiring journey, from resilience to empowering thousands, reminds me of the power of self-leadership. Her continuous growth and impact leave me constantly learning and in awe.
  • Ijeoma Emezie-Ezigbo - Designing an Eden Life: A polymath and leader, she balances personal and professional excellence with grace. Aside from leading the deal advisory at KPMG as a Senior Partner, I have witnessed her lead herself, organize her home, empower her children, and pursue her purpose. She motivates me to design my own "Eden life."

Describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.

Sunlight streams through Amina's bustling hair salon, reflecting off the vibrant murals she painted herself. Gone are the days of worry over late rent and mounting debt. Years ago, Amina felt trapped, juggling loans she barely understood. Then, she discovered a community workshop on credit literacy powered by Mwanga. Armed with knowledge, she negotiated lower interest rates and got the best support to consolidate her debts, while budgeted fiercely.

Now, Amina empowers others. Every Saturday, she mentors young women, teaching them to analyze their finances, understand loan terms, and negotiate with confidence. The salon bustles with laughter and financial dreams. One client, Ololade, beams as she showcases her new line of handmade jewellery, funded by a micro-loan Amina helped her secure.

Amina's journey extends beyond her salon. She leads neighbourhood financial literacy campaigns, her fiery passion sparking change. Gone are the whispers of "impossible" replaced by murmurs of "she did it, so can I." Local lenders, witnessing the responsible borrowing fueled by Amina's efforts, adjust their practices, offering fairer terms and fostering trust.

As Amina locks the salon door that evening, a sense of pride washes over her. The city lights shimmer, reflecting her transformed reality. Debt freedom feels less like a personal triumph and more like a collective victory. Her journey, once individual, has blossomed into a movement, paving the way for a future where urban African women like her own the narrative of their financial future.

Echika with her amazing team at Mwanga in 2021.

Quick-fire Questions

📺 Currently binging: 

Kim's Convenience [It's on Netflix till March 2024]

 

📚 My top book recommendation: 

I am currently reading "Designing Your Life" By Bill Burnett & Dave Evans – It has been a revelatory reading so far.


🎶 My anthem: Ogo by Dunsin Oyekan ft Theophilus Sunday 

🎵 Podcast obsession: How I Built This With Guy Raz

🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently:

I started a mini-book club! I wanted to go through a life-design book with some follow-on exercises and decided to share the idea with a few friends at the business school. They were excited and interested in taking this journey as well so I created a group. I shared the goal of the first book and I am super excited to see how we evolve as we go deep into it every week.

🚀 What else should we know about you?

Still on my quest to drive meaningful impact, I run an ed-tech called Yapha Academy where we train and connect Africans to global economic opportunities in the business support service space. So far, we have engaged 1,400+ people from 13 countries in Africa and have a goal to get 5 million Africans employed by 2030. We are seeking more employer partners to collaborate with us as we empower the working population of the continent to start earning and evolving. Follow us on @yaphaacademy on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn to engage with us

⭐ Anything else you'd like to add?

I am very grateful to Laidlaw for this opportunity and blessed to be in this community of impact-driven women across the globe. Don't wait for excuses to discourage you from taking that bold step. Do It Now!

 


 

Echika Obijiaku is a Laidlaw Scholar at Oxford University's Saïd Business School. You can find Echika on LinkedIn and Twitter (@echikaobijiaku).

The Laidlaw Women's Business Education Scholarship aims to help build a pipeline of future women leaders through access to best-in-class education, resources and global networks by providing full and half scholarships to women who would not otherwise be in a position to reap the benefits of attending an outstanding school. 

🔦 Discover more Scholar Spotlights: 

⚡️ Patrícia Gonçalves, a Laidlaw Scholar at Oxford University's Saïd Business School, on navigating the crossroads of public and private sectors and championing a sustainable, equitable future.

⚡️ Lucy Nyamaah, a Laidlaw Scholar at Oxford University's Saïd Business School, on pushing past gender norms and envisioning a female-led future in the Energy sector.

⚡️ Juliana Ruseva, a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School, on volunteering, helping women break the glass ceiling and tackling issues step by step.

⚡️ Adebusola Adegbuyi, a Laidlaw Scholar at Saïd Business School, on facing challenges with optimism and empowering young women to begin careers in technology.

⚡️ Aya Hammad, a University of York Laidlaw Scholar, on understanding the origins of cancer, promoting equality in healthcare, and learning to be adaptable.

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