Recently, Olajumoke Adenowo, one of Africa’s most notable architects, was announced winner of Forbes Woman Africa Entrepreneur Award for 2020 at a glitzy event in Durban, South Africa on March 6. The Forbes Woman Africa Award recognises remarkable women across the African continent who have made significant strides in their spheres of influence and serve as role models to young women who look up to them for inspiration.
Adenowo’s recognition as the continent’s foremost female entrepreneur for the year is the culmination of a journey which started decades ago when she was a young woman. In 1994, at the age of 25, she founded AD Consulting, her own boutique architecture and interior design firm. She has gone on to win multiple awards in her chosen field.
“I thank Forbes Woman Africa. I am honoured. This is validating and encouraging and is an affirmation of the fact that one can do things right and still be celebrated,“ Adenowo said during her acceptance speech at the award gala in Durban.
“I stand on the shoulders of African female entrepreneurs who are committed to serving their families, communities, and the continent, those who strive daily to optimise their potential against all odds.”
Long before precociously starting her own company, Adenowo had seen first-hand how a woman can hold her own in fields dominated by men. The Forbes’ award winner was quick to pay tribute to her mother as an inspirational influence on her life.
“The family is the matrix of aspirations. My mother Prof Olufunmilayo Oloruntimehin is a professor of Sociology and as a child, just watching her contribute value as she travelled the globe and handle her affairs competently, unwittingly gave me permission to aspire,” Adenowo revealed.
Adenowo’s mother is an achiever in her own right, and it is no surprise that she is her daughter’s chief role model. Oloruntimehin graduated from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1966 with a BSc Hons in Sociology and later obtained her Masters degree at the University of Ibadan.
She worked at the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER) in Ibadan, then started her career as a lecturer at the University of Ife which spanned over a period of 30 years from 1973 – 2003. This was a fruitful period in which she became one of the youngest and first female professors at Unife and the first alumni dean of the faculty of Social Sciences.
She served as the first African executive member of the International Sociological Association (an Initiative of UNESCO) when at their summit in Uppsala, Sweden in 1978 at the age of 37, and was elected by her colleagues as vice president, a position never held before by an African.
Oloruntimehin travelled extensively as a conference speaker of note and her plethora of academic publications, books and journals have been published globally by prestigious institutions such as Princeton University and translated into various languages.
Chip Off the Old Block
Adenowo has followed in the footsteps of her mother in rising above barriers. The Principal Architect of AD Consulting is a professional who is also an academic, having being appointed a Guest Laureate at the Technical University of Munich, Germany’s leading architectural program. She is also a sought after public speaker, an author, radio host and an expert on leadership, women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship.
Now one of the most influential architects out of Africa, Adenowo has been described as the face of architecture in Nigeria and CNN tagged her ‘Africa’s Starchitect’.
In 1999, she founded Awesome Treasures Foundation, a philanthropy recognized by the United Nations and affiliated with the Edmond De Rothschild Family Philanthropy Platform.
She is an alumna of a number of prestigious institutions including the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Yale School of Management, IESE Business School, amongst others. She is a member of the Institute of Chartered Arbitrators (UK) and a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Architects.
”My parents forgot to tell me being a woman was a disability. By the time I left home and the world tried to tell me, it was too late,” Adenowo said. “Just by seeing my mother shine, she was giving me the permission, telling me without saying a word that a woman could aspire not just for a happy family but to also add value to her generation beyond the home front.“
Adenowo and her husband Olukorede are blessed with two young men. “I think it’s imperative that women bring up their sons to respect women,” she tells this reporter. “Our sons respect me in my own right as a human being. To them, negative gender bias just has no basis. They have seen without having to be told that a woman is not inferior to a man in any way and I see them use their strength to protect women, to help and not oppress.
“When a mother’s son treats another woman badly it’s proof that he doesn’t think much of his mother either. As mothers, it’s our responsibility to mould our sons’ world view about women and they observe our actions more than they listen to our words. A mother’s failure to model exemplary womanhood may be personal to her but it’s not private, it has a ripple effect on us all in the sons she releases into society,“ she says.
Adenowo’s trajectory in life is an example of how early influences create the lens by which children view their universe. Mothers have a profound effect on their offspring and are models for their daughters. Without a word spoken, a daughter looks up to the closest example she has of her own gender and sees practical demonstrations of what is clearly possible and achievable .