Odunayo Eweniyi, 27, spoke to Africa Renewal's Damilola Ogunbiyi about her upbringing, managing business as a young woman, and gender equality.
Twenty-seven-year-old Odunayo Eweniyi is making waves in Nigeria as a successful tech start-up specialist. She is also known for advocating for the empowerment of girls and women having helped to raise about$1.1 million in support of the #EndSARS movement--a youth-led activism against police brutality in her country. She has also launched two women's empowerment non-profits, Feminist Coalition and Wine & Whine Nigeria.
Ms. Eweniyi is the co-founder of several tech start-ups, including Piggyvest, FirstCheck Africa and PushCV. For this, she has been featured in some major international publications, including being listed in TIME100NEXT, The Bloomberg 50 and Vogue's 12 women leaders that changed the world in 2020.
Ms. Eweniyi was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State, South West of Nigeria. She earned a Bachelor's degree in computer engineering from the Covenant University, also in Ogun state.
Her parents were university professors and so she and her three younger siblings had access to books.
On how her parents treated their children, she fondly remembers: "There were words of affirmation and not a lot of judgment. So, we grew up being confident and creative."
At an early age, no one, not even her parents or siblings, thought Ms. Eweniyi would eke out a living in business. She had an affection for the computer and books, which signaled at the time that, like her parents, she would likely move into academia. She liked the technical aspects of things.
Now, she says, "I am the Chief Operations Officer for all our companies. I have now almost abandoned the technical aspects and moved into business and finance."
On her first job
Ms. Eweniyi first job was as a social media manager for Somto Ifezue, the man with whom she would later cofounded PushCV. The company was their first big break, having raised sufficient venture funding.
"The idea behind PushCV was that as at 2009 there were at least 380 people for every job advertised in Nigeria. That meant sorting through hundreds of CVs. Employers at the time had to look through the first 10 or 20 applications, conduct interviews and move on, leaving most applications unattended to. At PushCV, we created a system where job applications are pre-screened and the best 10 applicants are identified and referred to employers for interviews," she says.
Ms. Eweniyi had gained significant experience working as a social media manager at SAJ Parolz Ent, as a junior editor at TechCabal, editor-in-chief at Tech Point, and as a founding writer at Zikoko; these experiences were central to her success at PushCV.
Not too long after PushCV, she joined Joshua Chibueze to co-found PiggyVest, an online savings and investment platform with more than two million customers currently.
On doing business in Nigeria
Ms. Eweniyi finds excitement in what she does despite the challenges of doing business in Nigeria. "It's a lot of work to start and grow a business in this climate. Some of the challenges include the regulations and a lack of adequate infrastructure," she says, maintaining that, "We know for sure that there is talent in Nigeria."
She proposes clear regulations and for government to "move out of the way so we can work. I like rules and when they are clear, you know what is right and what is wrong. The problem we have is that a lot of the rules are grey, and innovation moves faster than regulations."
On dealing with sexism
Like many women around the world, Ms. Eweniyi has fought her fair share of battles against sexism and systemic exclusion of women from economic opportunities. She says: "Some people didn't think that women could run companies; some managers wouldn't hire a woman because they fear she would get pregnant or get married and not be able to focus on her work. So, we have a net result of women being left behind."
She acknowledges having faced "systemic exclusion: when people have conversations about the sector that I should work in and have included everybody else except me, intentionally or unintentionally."
However, she is relieved that, "That has changed now, but it happened quite a lot in the early days. I dismantled that by speaking up, because a lot of the time sexism isn't always in your face, and you kind of start asking what's up? Is it because I am a woman, was that sexism or am I crazy? And then you figure out how you're going to react to it."
On helping other women
Ms. Eweniyi feels a sense of responsibility to help other women along the way, which was why she established the Feminist Coalition. "I just feel a sense of duty in that I am one woman who's had it relatively easy. I have a strong support system and I think that there's been a healthy amount of luck involved in where I am today. Where we started from, where the journey has gone--right place, right time, and all that.
"My co-founders are probably the best I could have met because they don't hold me back. They allow me to be the full expression of who I am and so did my parents, so did my siblings. So, I have gone through life surrounded by people who allowed me to be who I am. It doesn't seem like that for all women, but it should.
"For me, the mission is that all women should be included, and I feel I have a responsibility to bring more women in. As a woman, if you've somehow been able to keep the door open for yourself and move in and get all of the things that traditionally or historically women haven't been able to get, you kind of have a responsibility to hold that door open for the generation of women behind you.
"Since the launch of the Feminist Coalition in October 2020, there hasn't been any shortage of character assassination efforts," she says, adding: "But that doesn't mean that the women who are successful are going to stop working. The journey into the future might be painstaking, but it's going to be steady, and I think that's how women can look at whatever sector they are trying to get into. Women need to stay steady, know who they are and where they are going."
On her future plans
Ms. Eweniyi is excited about her future and she's not slowing down anytime soon. "I think that you have to keep the mentality to keep achieving. There is a lot left to do. I must do as much as I can in this space so I leave it in a slightly better shape than I found it. But then, I am just one person. We are now in finance. Hopefully, we'll go into the mass market and then into education. There is a lot to be done there. I'm still hungry. The only challenge is how many hours there are in a day. I just hope that we have the time."
Message to young Africans
"My dad used to say, 'nobody is coming to save you; you're going to have to save yourself!' It's unfortunate for young Africans, but that's our reality. That's where we are. However, every win that we get will be hard fought," she says, adding: So, just get ready. The results of the next few years will be because of the actions we take or don't take today. It just means we have to try. So, go in there and do your best."