YEWANDE ABIOSE (ENERGY WOMAN)

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Visionary, Result-Driven, Passionate; these are attributes that aptly describe Yewande Abiose. She is an energy economist with over 17 years of experience spanning professional services, financial audit, and business performance management within the energy sector. Yewande currently works as Managing Director (Africa) at the Energy Institute where she leads and initiates cross-industry discussions amongst corporate organizations by liaising with market leaders to proffer energy solutions and also develop strategic plans to expand the institute’s network. The Energy Institute is a professional membership body registered by the royal charter UK bringing together expertise to tackle urgent global challenges. They support the energy industry by bringing to light the importance of proffering solutions to today’s climate emergency while also meeting the energy needs of the world’s growing population.
She started her career as an Auditor at Deloitte West Africa where she consulted for various upstream, downstream, and oil service companies. She later joined Total Nigeria as an internal auditor where she worked with a team of experts to implement innovative procedures for different aspects of the business. Her quest for excellence and ability to take on challenging roles led her to become the pioneer Business Development Manager of the Nigeria branch of the Energy Institute; a professional organization registered by the UK Royal Charter that promotes skills and knowledge sharing across disciplines within the energy sector.

Her tenacity and significant contributions to the growth of the branch led her to become the first Managing Director of the Institute in Africa. She led the team of professionals that won the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCFR) grant from the Royal Academy of Engineering UK and trained young Nigerian engineering graduates to become power and renewable energy experts. She also successfully launched Nigeria’s first Energy Sustainability Conference (ESC) in 2018, a conference that brings together professionals from across the entire spectrum of the energy sector. She holds a B.Sc. in Economics and M.Sc. in Energy Economics & Policy both from the University of Surrey, UK. Yewande is passionate about professional development for young professionals and a strong advocate for gender equality within the energy sector.
We recently had an engaging Q&A with her:

Are you concerned about the energy transition narrative against the backdrop of a massive energy dearth in Africa?
Concerned” is not the word I would use. “Challenged” is a better word in my opinion. There is an urgent challenge facing the continent, its governments, and industry professionals to change the structure of Africa’s energy mix currently comprised of mostly traditional hydrocarbons; Oil, Gas, Coal, and Biomass (Firewood/Sawdust, Charcoal, Waste), which are not the best for the environment. During the recent United Nations Climate Change (COP26) summit in Scotland, most of the nations of the world, including Nigeria, agreed to certain goals and objectives to address climate change and reduce global warming to a 1.5 degrees limit.
I believe Africa has all it needs to achieve these targets if we all work together with the Energy sector leading the charge. We have no choice, even as governments and energy giants in Europe, for example, are no longer providing fresh funding for new traditional hydrocarbon projects, preferring projects with sustainable, eco-friendly models. The entire funding structure for Africa’s energy industry is being turned on its head!
What this means is that today’s global energy transition to net-zero will have profound effects on most African economies. In my opinion, the Nigerian energy transition narrative is yet to be formally articulated. It is critical for stakeholders within the energy sector to develop an energy policy that holistically addresses issues related to cleaner energy growth and usage.
It is important to note that every country will have different models. What will work in Ghana may not work in Nigeria, for example. So every country needs to consider their own energy transition journey and articulate this in policy, making it a part of the legislation, and eventually creating a new “energy culture.”
Our focus at the EI right now is supporting our members — individuals and corporates — as they carve their professional careers into a cleaner and more sustainable energy future. We are an honest broker in promoting safe, sustainable, environmentally responsible, and efficient supply and use of energy.

How do you structure what you do within the energy sector?
Today, oil and gas provide 54% of the world’s energy and this percentage cannot drastically change immediately. In Nigeria, Oil & Gas provides over 99 per cent of our energy requirement, but a focus on investment in gas for example is helping to reduce emissions. Gas; Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), is being pushed as an alternative to typically refined hydrocarbon for use in transportation, for example. We must keep up with the rest of the world in regard to energy technology development, deployment, and efficiency, in other words – transition to cleaner energy sources. Several governments across Africa, Nigeria included, together with donor agencies, are funding alternative energy investments like solar, making it more affordable for households. So the change is already happening.
To help hasten the pace of this energy mix restructuring, we at the EI understand the need to bring about changes in behavior across the board – from governments, industries, businesses, and even households. We work collaboratively across the energy sector by providing an ecosystem for professionals as they develop their skills; gain recognition for experience and expertise; and also access information, insights, and networking opportunities across the energy system.

What’s your vision for the Energy Institute and what do you expect to achieve in the next 5 years?
The next five years will see many changes take place across the energy sector. The EI will continue to be at the forefront of this change, leading intellectual discussions, contributing to policymaking whilst continuing to provide training and a platform for learning and access to information for professionals engaged in the Energy Sector.
At the moment, I am working with our team in the United Kingdom to develop a global network strategy where our member communities and volunteer engagement all over the world will interact creatively using tech. We will be leveraging on our members’ contributions and ensuring that their success stories are appropriately recognised. I am very excited about this new phase of my work with the EI and I am certain it would bring professionals closer which would foster global knowledge sharing.

The entire funding structure for Africa’s energy industry is being turned on its head!

 

EI in Nigeria will continue to bring to light the world’s most pressing energy issues and address knowledge gaps affecting the industry. We will promote industry best practices using our training programmes and conferences as our primary tools for fostering collaboration between industry professionals, operators, regulators, policymakers, and other stakeholders to help us reach Nigeria and Africa’s desired energy transition goals.

Tell us about your annual Energy Sustainability Conference in Nigeria.
Following my earlier mention of COP26, and governments and companies worldwide are grappling with the twin challenges of climate change and access to affordable energy. To achieve all these targets, a diverse mix of energy supply and demand technologies will be required. These challenges have inspired us at EI Nigeria to create a platform for all stakeholders — industry professionals, operators, regulators, policymakers — to gather and discuss the pathway towards a sustainable energy future for Nigeria, with the clear understanding that oil and gas companies will be an important part of the solution.
The Energy Sustainability Conference (ESC) is a platform for professionals to exchange knowledge and experience in this global journey to transit to a cleaner, safer, and more sustainable energy system. The ESC has now become an all-embracing platform that brings stakeholders together to share their views on how energy mix dynamics can meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. Past participants in the ESC have found the plenary discussions, break-out sessions, and networking, invaluable even as they fashion out innovative solutions to critical energy issues and challenges facing them on a daily basis.
We started in 2018 and the next edition of this successful conference comes up in October 2022. Additional details are available on our website www.escafrica.com

As a woman, what would you identify as the most difficult glass ceiling against female energy professionals? And how did you manage this?
The most difficult barrier is a preconceived notion that certain functions, positions, levels within the energy sector are for men.
The Energy industry, like a lot of industries in the world, is a male-dominated one. Although female representation at all levels has increased significantly over the last 50 years, it’s still not enough. Despite accounting for 48% of the global workforce, women only account for 22% of the workforce in the traditional energy sector, and the figures decline further when you look to more senior and management positions and board rooms.
Thankfully, this is changing, and women are now reaching previously unattainable levels in the energy industry.
I have been fortunate in my career to have benefited from the power of the “He for She” Men aka men that support ambitious women. Whilst I did all of the work, significant advancements in my career came mostly often from external push — some female but mostly male (Well, with a male-dominated industry, I guess this is expected) — mentors and supporters clamouring that I “apply for that position!” “make a business case for that creative idea!” and “you have what it takes!”
So the key here is support. We need more mentors who understand the importance of giving their time to support younger professionals. If you are a professional, you need to find credible mentors and sponsors in your field who can speak of the great work. People you can learn from who are honest enough to share their mistakes and ‘lessons learned’ so you can better chart your career path.

What this means is that today’s global energy transition to net-zero will have profound effects on most African economies.

As a woman in the industry, I also need to credit the fact that I had some strong supporters and mentors that pushed for me to get to where I am today. I must give a special mention to Olufemi Abegunde (of blessed memory), who was Deloitte West Africa Deputy Chairman and my first boss. He was instrumental in my career growth and my eventual journey into the EI and I credit him for his mentorship.

 How would you describe work-life balance? And how have you managed it?
Work-life balance? Does it really exist? [laughs] What has really helped with my career journey is “aspiring” towards a work-life balance. Something always has to give, but it’s about prioritising what is important and seizing opportunities where you can. Some times you are hyper-focused on work, some times you have to focus on family. I give myself a pass mark out of 10, grading the different aspects of my life with compassion and patience. As a woman especially, if you are a wife and a mother balancing a successful career, you need to accept that some days you will give some more energy to one thing over the other. Tomorrow’s always another day. It is about patting yourself on the back for every little win. Gratitude and perspective are very important for staying grounded and balanced.

What leadership style do you subscribe to? And why is it preferred to other styles you’ve encountered?
I was recently described as a “positive disrupter” [laughs]. I think it is fair to say that is one component of my leadership style in addition to a collaborative and democratic style. As a leader, I take my personal strengths very seriously and I take time to identify the same in my team. When you work on something within a flat structure where everyone is valued for their own strength, it creates an environment where people are not afraid to challenge or disrupt the status quo. I know my weaknesses and I encourage my team to be forthcoming about theirs. I have come across more hierarchical and even authoritative styles and all I can say is I don’t like it. I prefer to focus on building on strengths and ensuring that my team feels empowered and supported.

What skill set would you recommend to young professionals in the energy sector for a sustainable career path?
The most relevant skill in today’s world is something we call strategic skills, formally called soft skills. The ability to connect, communicate and leave a lasting impression is so powerful. It’s important to build a solid network in such a vast industry. So I’d say to young professionals that connecting with new people, having a genuine interest in the challenges they face, and fostering these relationships is essential. Yes, you may face some obstacles; some personal, some mental, but there is always help out there. Ask for help. Your career path needs a strong network to grow.

What is the Nigeria of your dreams?
gender equality and female empowerment in all states of the Federal Republic. As a nation, we are privileged in the sense that women still have many support systems as the family unit tends to be physically closer than we see in western cultures. This social construct as well as the availability of young, able women makes a good case for Nigeria to invest its resources in women. My dream is to see a Nigeria today that is focused on ensuring that young girls and women are equipped for the future by providing access to education, funding, mentorship, and training.
Women, I believe, have a role to play in achieving this dream. Typically, men have a natural confidence and ability to market themselves into something grand and impressive (nothing wrong with this), whereas some of our finest and most powerful women are hidden (by self or others) or tend to talk themselves down or out of high-level opportunities. This needs to change and women that are in power are best placed to act as a catalyst to this change by making themselves not only visible but accessible. I am committed to being a catalyst to effect this change.
Globally, less than one per cent of oil and gas Chief Executive Officers are women, and female board representation is equally as poor. At the Energy Institute, we are running several initiatives to support diversity, specifically, women within the sector. We do this through our Powerful Women platform, Women-4-Women Mentorship Connect, and our annual Women in Energy Breakfast which we run in partnership with the Women in Energy Network (WIEN).

We must keep up with the rest of the world in regard to energy technology development, deployment, and efficiency, in other words – transition to cleaner energy sources.

 

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