All is Bright Campaign featuring inspirational women - Tessy Ojo CBE
To celebrate the strength, bravery and light of women around the world, we've interviewed a collection of truly inspiring women to share with us their journey, inspirations and advice for the future. Today's guest sits on the board of Comic Relief, the Royal Taskforce on Cyberbullying, Generation Change and the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. She's also a CEO and was recently on the Queen's honours list, awarded a CBE. It is our pleasure to introduce you to the lovely, Tessy Ojo.
Q: Tessy, growing up you lived in a few European countries for the first part of your life before moving to Nigeria for University and are now the proud CEO of a national youth charity in the UK, sit on more advisory boards than I can count and were recently awarded a CBE (huge congratulations). When you were young, did you always imagine yourself as a leader?
A: Growing up, my parents taught us the value of leading without a title. It was the principle of if you see something that needed doing, just do it. Don’t wait on someone else to fix it. This was pretty much the principle that underpinned my childhood. When you have a diplomat father and a mother who is a headteacher, you’re often drafted in to support one cause or the other, so leading or giving back in any capacity was the norm in our household. I remember at 14 when we first moved to Nigeria, my Mum drafted me in to lead on various children’s clubs in her school. I was running a reading club, dancing club, all after school, so being a leader was very much a part of my upbringing.
Q: Origin’s All is Bright campaign is celebrating female empowerment and leadership. Do you have a female icon or is there anyone you look up to now?
A: I do, this is a great question. At the start of Black History Month I was asked who are my female icons. Initially I thought I’m inspired by women who break moulds, who show incredible strength. It didn’t have to be loud strength - just women who have purpose and use that for good. I will name 3: firstly, Rosa Parks - her strength inspired me. She saw a need and demonstrated her strength and paved the way for generations to come. Next is Oprah Winfrey, purely because growing up in Europe, I barely saw anyone like me on TV. Oprah made me visible. Watching her on telly allowed me to feel visible and made me realise that impossible is nothing and seeing Oprah day in day out helped me see that. My third is absolutely Michelle Obama. She demonstrates leadership with integrity, authenticity and with grace. To me, she shows the balance between leading with a title yet remaining authentic to who you are. I loved seeing how she brought fun to her role, even as the First Lady. She was unafraid to do things different and that really inspires me. Like going on TV and dancing!! PS: She might have inspired me to go on TikTok!
Q: Can you tell us a little about what you do as CEO and how you are helping shape the next generation of female leaders?
A: As Chief Exec it is a privilege to represent The Diana Award - a charity to support young people and help them thrive. Our work helps build resilience, creates opportunities for them to thrive irrespective of background. Unfortunately, statistics in the UK still shows that a child’s opportunity to thrive is tied to their parent’s status and that is just not good enough. We also work to nurture young people and shape future leaders - we work with all young people giving them a voice to lead and redefine their own society. Personally, a few years ago I made a commitment that I would mentor 5 young females, at any level of their career and work with them for a year. I know as a female, a mother, a wife - how easy it is for women to check out because of their struggles. I want to share my own experiences and show them how they can be the best person they can.
Q: Reading the news recently there are awful reports coming out of Nigeria around the ENDSARS campaign. At Origin we keep a keen eye on issues like this in Africa and we try to help out and raise awareness where we can. Is there anything you think people can do to help the situation in Nigeria or any organisations to support?
A: I spent a few years in Nigeria and left unaware of the level of police brutality and the special forces that were created. Like everyone else, I saw the uprising on socials and this is a country I have a huge affinity with - the country of my parents’ birth. I do want to say that firstly, I was incredibly proud to see young people in Nigeria rising up and saying no and staying true to the cause. It was so powerful to see the public join and protest but I couldn’t believe seeing the horrendous news of the massacre of young protesters. My hope is that the Government will be tried - this is a dip in justice against humanity. Any country that kills its young because they want change has no future. This applies to any country across the world. The young are the leaders of tomorrow. I hope Governments across the world take note. There are a number of organisations that people should support. I have outlined them below:
Enough Is Enough
Q: Finally, to end on a positive note, 2020 has been crazy but there are reasons to be positive and optimistic, like the wonderful young people you work with and the positive change in our society. I know you love a good African proverb - do you have an inspiring message for our followers as we look to Christmas and a better 2021?
A: I would love to say something about hope. In everything, we must always find reasons to be grateful. Hope is the one thing that keeps us going. What is life without hope. The fact that we are here, we live in this moment is a reason to be hopeful. One of my favourite songs is Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen. He wrote it when he was in the middle of so much despair, not too dissimilar to how people feel now - so much going on around us. What he needed to do to maintain his own sanity was to take a step out of his mind for one moment, throw his hands up in the air and just be grateful for whatever he could see with his own eyes. He captured that moment and called it Hallelujah. Even in the midst of so much despair, we all need a moment to step away, step back and just look. Be grateful that we are here, we have breath, we have food to eat, we have shoes on our feet - basic things that some others do not. If we can all find that moment, that will get us through.
A huge thank you Tessy for your time and your candour. I hope you all enjoyed reading her words as much as we did listening to them. Up next we have another CEO and founder of a global movement to connect female leaders and empower women to thrive. Stay tuned for our next inspirational woman, coming soon.
This series is celebrating the launch of our Brave Woman t-shirt. You can get yours here!