REA: Building Young Nigerian Women for a Future in the Energy Sector

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How gender in the power sector will stimulate economic growth, create jobs, raise productivity and reduce poverty dominated  debate at the first edition of female Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workshop organised by the Rural Electrification Agency in Lagos. The gathering which brought together 180 female undergraduates from nine tertiary institutions exposed participants to opportunities in the energy sector. Sunday Ehigiator reports

You may say that the future of energy sector belongs to women, remarked a guest at the first commissioning of a solar hybrid power plant at Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike Ikwo (FUNAI), in Ebonyi State last  August which featured the graduation of 20 all-female STEM participants, who received certificates of completion for renewable energy training. The FUNAI power was one of the Energizing Education Programme (EEP) Phase One university projects meant to deliver clean and sustainable energy to nine federal universities and one University Teaching Hospital using solar hybrid and/or gas-fired captive power plants.

Commending the federal government’s effort to promote and encourage women, the Vice-President, Prof.  Osinbajo, at the event, gave kudos to the Damilola Ogunbiyi-led administration at REA for initiating the female STEM internship under the EEP.  “We hope that this experience will inspire them to undertake STEM related careers, including careers as engineers and project managers. I want to use this opportunity to congratulate all of them for this great achievement,” the vice president said regarding the initiative run by the young, innovative and dynamic woman.

Today, the programme has impacted lives as over 180 students from nine universities have been trained under the programme. The REA STEM impact is real under the leadership of its current Managing Director, Damilola Ogunbiyi. Again, the Buhari administration is committed to female empowerment and under the EEP progamme, where  180 Female STEM students have been trained to acquire skills to design power systems to meet desired economic, environmental, social, ethical, and sustainability needs; gain knowledge of contemporary issues and the ability to work with multi-disciplinary teams; apply knowledge of mathematics, science and engineering techniques. The Female STEM Internship Programme under EEP aims to promote the participation of young women in STEM related courses and careers.

Over the past  months, REA had developed a Female STEM Internship Programme, under EEP, which begun with 180 female students across the 9 universities getting training and on site experience in designing and constructing power systems by world-class contractors.  The goal of the initiative is not only to help young female students academically, but to expose and encourage more women to take interest and participate in the power sector especially renewable energy

The two-day Lagos gathering was the first STEM Workshop that brought professionals under the same roof. The workshop was organized by REA in partnership with leading private sector developers and was attended by power sector stakeholders and business professionals with the aim of bringing together young women in the same room with top power sector and business professionals to share knowledge and discuss the opportunities for women in the industry.

Enumerating the benefits to the energy sector, the orgnaisers believed the development of the renewable energy sector, advocating for energy efficiency and  productivity may lead to numerous job and business opportunities throughout Nigeria. Women, who are often underrepresented within this sector, have large roles to play in the development of sustainable projects that add to the socio-economic development of the Nation.

While encouraging women to see themselves beyond the flowers around the table, they noted  that the workshop is important to continue to show young women the realities ahead of them whilst also creating a platform to facilitate the increase in leadership and development of young women involved in the Nigerian energy sector and beyond.

The well-attended conference featured panel discussions and keynote speeches from respected professionals connected to the energy sector. The conference also provided a platform for students and professionals to network, share knowledge, discuss achievements and encourage the advancement of women across all facets of the industry. The two-day workshop helped STEM students to understand the African energy sector and the career potentials for women, created an awareness of senior roles in the marketplace acquired by women, brought a new approach to assimilating a new generation of female leaders into energy and related companies, to understand the major challenges women face in business and politics and network for potential mentoring and job opportunities.

Listening attentively under the tutelage of professionals, the discussions which focused on reality of the challenges, overcoming diversity and seizing opportunities threw light on what to expect as they embrace the larger society in the pursuit of their careers  .

In his opening remark, the Minister of State for Power, Mr. Goddy Jedy-Agba said, “I feel honored to be at the  transformative milestone event that celebrates and motivates our young women. The EEP, which was approved by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016, has so far produced a total of 9.9MW of electricity through independent captive power plants across three university project sites (Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike Ikwo, Ebonyi and Bayero University,Kano respectively).

“The achievements of this programme, thus far, are possible thanks to the development and execution of strategic policies initiated by the Ministry of Power in coordination with REA. These policies have supported and enabled federal universities to host off-grid power plants.  A core part of the Energizing Education Programme is the practical and technical training of 20 female STEM students at each beneficiary university. This is where policy meets gender mainstreaming in the power sector and specifically on electrification projects.

“To the young women who have participated in the STEM Internship Programme, I want you to know that gender and social exclusion will soon be a thing of the past. As a government, we are working to ensure that we mitigate the plight of women and promote equality and inclusiveness across all sectors. We cannot hope to reform the power sector without the skills, innovation and expertise of our women. That is why the importance of events like the one we are having today cannot be overemphasized. I therefore urge you to take charge of your future and make good use of the platform that has been established for you.”

Jedy-Agba seized the occasion to commend the Managing Director/CEO of the Rural Electrification Agency, Damilola Ogunbiyi and her team for their zeal in executing the EEP and the enthusiasm in empowering Nigerian youth but specifically, the talented young women.

In her remarks, Ogunbiyi expressed her delight at the first edition of EEP STEM Workshop. “This Workshop was designed to facilitate the increase in leadership and development of professional women. It is also a platform for the 180 female students and professionals present to network, share their knowledge, discuss achievements and encourage the advancement of women across the energy sector.

“As you all know, the Female STEM Students Internship Programme is very dear to my heart. What seemed like a dream is being actualized today – young women receiving the necessary skills needed to transform the Nigerian power sector. I hope this will be a catalyst for many more gender-based events in the Nigerian energy sector.

“There is no gainsaying that gender inclusiveness forms the core of what we do at REA. This is evident in the increased number of women in Senior Management roles under my leadership, from just one to six. Currently, there are a total of 25 female Project Managers working across different REA initiatives. In addition, tendering companies under the REA Nigeria Electrification Project, are expected to have at least 30 percent female employment rate to qualify as eligible.

“As part of the drive to foster female participation in the power sector, REA flagged off a gender-focused workshop in collaboration with the USAID Nigeria Power Sector Programme, aimed at bringing together women in the power sector to drive the conversation and initiatives on gender inclusiveness.

“To further push REA’s gender agenda, the Energizing Education Female STEM Internship Programme was initiated, as part of the Energizing Education Programme (EEP) an initiative of the Federal Government of Nigeria aimed at providing clean, safe and reliable electricity to 37 federal universities and affiliated university teaching hospitals. The focus of the internship programme is to provide hands-on training to 20 female students offering STEM-related courses in each of the EEP universities, beginning with 180 female students across nine universities under Phase 1 of the programme. These hardworking females are seated here with us today.”

Ogunbiyi thanked  the Federal Government, under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, for continuing to facilitate environments that empower the Nigerian woman with all that she needs to become a world changer.  She also thanked the Federal Ministries, especially the Ministry of Power, for their efforts in integrating gender into their policy formation and governance of the sector. 

The final activity of the workshop was the Project Shark Tank competition between the participating universities in which students of Bayero University, Kano emerged first and won a prize of N1 million.