Ode, a Sloan Fellow this year, knows her late father, Jacob, would be so proud to see her at MIT, an institution for which he had tremendous respect. A schoolteacher and education administrator in Nigeria, Jacob, along with Ode’s mom, Titi, stressed the value of education to their five daughters. Ode attended Catholic schools in her small Nigerian town and was encouraged by a series of Peace Corps volunteer teachers.
“One of the teachers took a keen interest in me. I used to help her in the library to identify books we needed to order. I read quite a lot and I got interested in the world out there,” Ode remembered. She studied hard and attended Ahmadu Bello University where she received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) in 1989. Although she never practiced as a veterinarian, the training taught her to “communicate with patients who can’t really communicate,” and piqued her interest in livestock economics. “I found it really exciting and interesting and I wanted a career out of it,” she said.
Following graduation, Ode had to serve a year of national service, and she was assigned to work in an agricultural bank, where she worked on a World Bank project that provided loans and advice to livestock farmers. Ode then took a position at the Ministry of Agriculture in Nigeria where she worked on policy issues such as livestock disease control and how farmers can make a living. It’s a struggle to be a farmer in Nigeria, according to Ode. “It’s still physically labor-intensive … and there is no dairy industry to speak of. Livestock management is mainly nomadic and pastoral … and Nigeria had gone through an epidemic so disease control was very important,” she said.
Ode became fascinated by policy work. “I felt that in terms of impact, if you work on policy, you can impact many more lives,” she said. Eager to learn more, Ode earned an M.Sc. in Agricultural Economics from Wye College, now part of the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, in 1994. She then took a position as a Livelihoods Adviser and Regional Coordinator with the British Department for International Development government in Nigeria, but set her sights on working for the United Nations. “I wanted to work for an organization that was more or less neutral … and there were more opportunities to progress to a position where I could influence events and decisions even within the organization,” she said. She worked as a Team Leader on Economic Governance & Private Sector Development for the United Nations Development Programme.
She first heard about the MIT Sloan Fellows program about five years ago, but didn’t think she had the technical qualifications to get into MIT. “I was interested in the Sloan Fellows program because I was looking for a mid-career program and I really wanted to learn about business management. I also wanted a program that provides leadership training, so I was looking for leadership and management together, and I think the Sloan Fellows program balances the two together beautifully.”
Ode, who is a self-sponsored Sloan Fellow and a single mom of a 7-year-old boy, Emoche, was at a point in her career where she needed to invest in herself. “I needed to get out of the rat race and take a look at myself. What is my legacy? What am I doing here? I don’t just want to go to work to make money,” she said.
Once she completes the program in May, she may return to the U.N., but she is keeping all of her options open. Ultimately, she wants to be in public service to help alleviate poverty in her own country but working closely with the private sector, because she believes that is the key to ending poverty. “If you want jobs, you need entrepreneurs and businesses to create those jobs. For someone to come out of poverty, it’s not about handouts or aid … I think if everybody had something to do to bring in an income, we’d have much fewer troubles in the world today,” she said.
Her year in Sloan Fellows has been “fantastic.” She said she learns something new from her classmates every day. “I am humbled when I hear where they are going and where they’ve been. And, the faculty is world class.” Specifically, she really enjoyed the class, Special Seminar in Management: Leading Profound Innovation for a more Sustainable World (15.975) taught by Otto Scharmer. “It was phenomenal. I sat in his class and thought, ‘Yes. This is what I’m looking for.’” She also found Leading Organizations (15.322), taught by John Van Maanen, to be extremely valuable.
The balance of being a full-time student and a mom has been challenging, but the way Ode sees it, she has no other choice. “I don’t think it could be any different. My son needs me, and I need to improve myself. When he goes to bed at night, I work on my studies. I also try to talk to him about what I’m doing, because I feel in the long run, that’s what memories are made of,” she said.