If there was one thing Olugbenga Ogunbowale looked forward to as a child, it was Sundays spent with loved ones, sharing food and fellowship with family.
“We would have jollof rice or yams and eggs after church, a sharp contrast to the other meals during the week,” Olugbenga says. “Sundays brought good food, time with family and lots of laughter.”
Today Olugbenga, a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow and founder of The Orphan Empowerment Society, is working to support orphans across Nigeria, providing them with the tools and resources they need to survive.
“Years ago I visited an orphanage in southwest Nigeria; that’s where I met Ruth, a 10-year-old girl with a hunger-stricken frame and infected with ringworm,” Olugbenga says.
“Ruth was one of 50 children in that tiny orphanage. These kids were in desperate need of food and medical help.”
After meeting Ruth, Olugbenga began assembling volunteers to help orphans across the state. In November 2019, Olugbenga took his initiative a step further and organized a YALILearns session on financial planning. Using the Fundamentals of Grant Writing YALI Network Online Course, Olugbenga spoke to the importance of finding and securing funding for new ventures.
“My favorite part of the session was the panel discussion,” Olugbenga says, referring to a roundtable he hosted with other young leaders, taking questions from participants on grant writing and other topics.
“I learned that teaching is ineffective without listening and without interaction,” Olugbenga says.
Though Olugbenga’s session was in person, the panel discussion format and YALILearns sessions more generally are just as feasible online and allow for increased audience participation, with attendees able to tune in from across the globe.
One of Olugbenga’s primary concerns today is how sustainable global development efforts and even small-scale projects will be years into the future. In this, he emphasizes the importance of long-range planning and of following up with target groups long after a YALILearns session.
“It’s better to help five people and give them a strong footing over an extended period than to try to empower 10,000 people at once with little resources, no evaluation and no sustainability plan.”
“It comes down to what a leader is for me: It’s someone who loves people,” Olugbenga says.
Olugbenga says leadership is a choice we make every day. His dream is to end orphan poverty in Africa. With a focus on others, and on showing love day in and day out, he’s already on the way there.